Friday, March 24, 2006


Today in my systematic theology precept (small group class) we discussed divine Providence, which inevitably (at least from God's perspective--ha!) led to a discussion of predestination. So I've been thinking about predestination and wondering what the official Quaker view is on the matter.

Now, admittedly I haven't read Barclay's Apology all the way through, and I haven't even read the parts I've read for about 6 years, so I don't know for sure if Barclay addresses this issue, but I just found the Apology online and did a search for the world "predistination" and neither of the two places it showed up did it really outline his position, as far as I could tell. I'm not sure if there's a Quaker doctrine on predistination, although I think Quakers are generally not really excited about predestination.

So what's the big deal with predestination? The major question is, does God know ahead of time what everyone will do and what will happen in all of history? And there are tons of subsequent questions. If God knows what will happen, do humans have any free will to choose their actions, or is the fact that God knows the future limiting us to act in the way God foreknows? If not, then is God really omniscient and can God have everything under control, headed toward a specific goal, as the doctrine of Providence says God is doing? And even if we don't think about the doctrine of Providence, if God doesn't know what's going to happen, who's in control and where's the meaning in life? If God foreknows what will happen, is God causing that to happen, or just knowing, and is there a difference?

If God knows what will happen, why does God allow bad things to happen to innocent people, good things happen to people who are not so nice, and allow natural disasters? If God knows what will happen and uses it all for good, does that mean that when people do things that aren't good they are doing the will of God, and if so can they really be held accountable for it?

There are also questions of salvation through faith or works. If we assume a Christian pespective (which I'm sure not all Quakers will do comfortably but bear with me), does God offer salvation to all people? If so, whose fault is it that some accept it and some do not? Is it people's fault for not recognizing God in their lives? Or is it God's fault for not presenting God's self in a way they will accept, when God knows full well that they will not accept God from the experiences they're given? Does God create some people knowing they will not accept God? Why does God even create them in that case? And if God doesn't know who will end up choosing God or not, is God bound to time as we are, or is God able to hide things from God's self until the time comes to know fully, or what? And if we're all presented with the ability to be "saved," and we have to choose it, doesn't that mean that our faith--our own human action--is what saves us rather than the grace of God? (Most Protestants have a huge problem with this part.)

Put in Quaker words, if everyone has the Light of God within, a piece of themselves that can connect with God and others on a spiritual level, then why do some respond ot it and others try to stifle it? If everyone has the Light of God within but some are taught to pay attention to that and nurture it and others are taught the opposite, whose fault is it if someone doesn't respond to that God-spark? The individual's, because they have God's presence right there inside; the community who raised them, for not teaching them better; or God, for not making God's self known in an understandable way?

I don't have any answers for all this, except to say that somehow, I believe that God does have knowledge of what's going to happen, but this knowledge doesn't mean that God causes us to do things. Somehow we still have free will. Somehow God presents God's self to us in a way that each of us can understand if we choose to, and this choosing has to do with the Spirit guiding us to understand as well as our own willingness to be guided by the Spirit. So we do have to take action in accepting God's Light as our inner guide, but God also has freely extended that to us without our deserving it. God is moving the entire universe toward relationship with God, and we have the choice to participate in that or not. God's will will be done, however, whether we cooperate or not.

So that's my stab at this Quaker's doctrine of predestination, and I suppose I could come up with proof-texts from the Bible to support these views, but there has been enough of that in the history of the doctrine of predestination to make anyone sick, so I won't put you through that. Instead hopefully we can allow the Spirit to sift the truth and falsehood for us in each of our beliefs and help us understand this matter more clearly.

Or, more likely, this is just part of the beautiful, paradoxical mystery of our present God that we will never understand...but I think we are to die trying.


Peter the Anderson said...

Hello Cherice,
That's funny. The 'inevitable' discussion about predestination. Made me laugh.

You did have the option of directing the conversation elsewhere. God could tell, by knowing the inner states of everyone in the room, that no one was going to rock the boat or set off a bomb or anything distracting like that. So He knew that you would discuss predestination.

Likewise He could know that as I am thinking about what a soul is, immortality, and predestination at the moment, and exploring the world of blogs, that I might stumble across your blog on these areas of thought.

He also knows what effect me reading your blog will have on my life. Perhaps it will do alot. But the beauty of Christian thought as a common stream of philosophy which transcends all time is becoming apparent to me through reading your blog and thinking about the fact that we all think about these mysterious ideas.

The importancce of preaching the message is obvious isn't it, when you think about how we all have only a limited range of options to choose from, and if no one hears, no one can believe.

cherice said...

Thanks for your comments, Peter. It is cool to realize that so many people around the world are struggling with these transcendental questions. I didn't give many answers, just raised all the questions I could think of, but hopefully it was encouraging and thought-provoking.

I agree about preaching the message. For some reason God chooses to use us to get through to each other, and if we're not paying attention we can change the course of history. Kinda' scary, huh? But it's amazing that God chooses to let us be in on the process in this way, and I'm really grateful to be given the chance to listen and participate.

Peter the Anderson said...

Hi Cherice,
It's a bit of a spin out. I think God is gently waking us up to our responsibilities by drawing his providence and the knowledge of our boundaries to our attention.

The basic message I take from the 'doctrine' of predestination is that we can make our choices and do what we want, and we only discover what is predestined after having done so. It's our job to be human and be free, and to hell with those who want to limit the freedom of those doing God's work - i.e. charity. Read your post on lib theology, btw, and am mystified by the Roman view. Will look into it. I thought it was only the 'liberation of the poor' bit, but if it's simply an ideological net to drag people into a heirarchy which may or may not be holy, then I question it.

Anglicans say they believe in the 'holy catholic church', as distinct from the 'Roman Catholic C', so whenever the Romans (or any others) act in holiness, I believe they are working for the body of Christ, but when anyone doesn't act in holiness I believe that they aren't acting for the holy catholic church. Catholic as an adjective.


cherice said...

Re: predestionation, that's an interesting thought, that we only find out what we're predestined to do after we do it...probably pretty close to the truth.

Re: liberation theology, I didn't mean to say that Catholics are just trying to pretend to be doing good to the poor while just drawing them into a hierarchy--I think their motives are pure, and I appreciate what they're trying to do. I just am not a big fan of hierarchy in general, especially in religion, so it's hard to see those meshing really well.