Feast upon the Word Blog

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Of Paul (yet to come): predestination…

Posted by joespencer on June 4, 2007

I’m going to begin quite controversially and say that I believe wholeheartedly in predestination. After all, Paul uses the very word, and though we can translate it away by reading “foreordination,” it is not at all clear how that is supposed to help us: the words are not only basically equivalent in meaning, but they are both used in Calvinist theology to mean what we usually intend to militate against by the re-translation. Hence, in all faithfulness to the Bible (here translated correctly, as the JST might be taken to confirm): predestination is a true doctrine.

But what dictates us to interpret predestination in terms of causation or of cause and effect, that is, deterministically? Let me quote Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans: “But the knowledge of God is eternal and unobservable: it occurs altogether beyond time. It must therefore be distinguished absolutely from temporal human knowledge, of which it is the KRISIS, the presupposition, and the dissolution: ‘If any man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth not yet as he ought to know (1 Cor. 8:2).—For the things which are seen—that is, what is known—are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor 4:18). That is Spirit, that is Truth! Such also is the peace and the assurance of those who love God. The eternal decision in Spirit and in Truth is the ground of their ordination and calling. Embarrassed before God, they have peace; insecure, they have assurance. Fear and trembling is the lever with which they are and have and do. Condemned, they are justified; blind, they see; slain, they live. And yet, these contrasts are never cause and effect. Those who love God are so utterly dependent upon Him that at every moment of time they remain what they are.” (Romans, p. 325)

This passage is quite rich, and I haven’t the time at the moment even to begin to think on its depth. Let me return, rather, to the question I asked above: what dictates us to interpret predestination in terms of causation or of cuase and effect, that is deterministically? Let me ask it this way: what determines us to think deterministically? or what causes us to think in terms of causation? How is it that we are “free” precisely as we “become servants,” or more literally, “slaves,” as we are told in Romans 6:22? In fact, Paul opposes in verse 23 of that same chapter wages and the gift: aren’t we precisely bound when we receive gifts and free when we receive wages? But Paul asserts the opposite…

Hence, we are situating ourselves in the infamous problematic of works and grace. Indeed, the very assertion of “salvation by grace” is usually interpreted by Latter-day Saints as an affirmation of predestination. Let it be so, but why are we determined to read into predestination the implication of causation? And what causes us to read into grace the implication of determinism? Why are we not free to read these two “doctrines” in any other way? Why are we slaves to a certain interpretation here?

But let us approach Paul’s word in fear and trembling, that is, with a lever to uncover the (still-to-be-translated) text: might there be something in our very questioning here that reveals something about what Paul means to teach us? The same apostle, in weakness, also wrote:

But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.
16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor 3:14-18)

And lest anyone think this is unrelated to the question of predestination: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30).

How, then, do we begin to fear and to tremble?

One Response to “Of Paul (yet to come): predestination…”

  1. Robert C. said

    Joe, I particularly like this wording of your question: “aren’t we precisely bound when we receive gifts and free when we receive wages? But Paul asserts the opposite….” And I think this wage/gift way of thinking nicely opens a way for reading this post and robf’s (and the others on the prodigal son) in light of one another. That is, I think we are born with the gift of freedom (as sons and daughters of God, destined for a divine inheritance…), but until we see this as a gift, we are bound to “kick against the pricks” as D&C 121:38 so aptly puts it (and there it is clear that as soon as fail to recognize the gift of freedom, by trying to “exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the chilren of men”[*], we become once again captive to the devil…).

    Also, I really like the way the veil is taken up in the 2 Cor 3 passage you quoted, esp. “the vail is upon their heart” phrase in verse 15 (though I’d like help thinking about how this might be related to the woman’s veil in the temple…). I think this link between the temple and grace is a nice way to think about the veil. Sometimes it seems we’re inclined (at least I’m inclined) to wear the garments of the priesthood in a way that makes them feel burdensome rather than liberating, and I think it is precisely this attitude which betrays a veiled mind-set….


    * Actually, I think the subsequent qualifier, “in any degree of unrighteouss,” is intriguing. Is it wrong to “exercise control or dominion” over others any time, or is it only wrong when we do so unrighteously? After all, verse 46 promises an “everlasting dominion” (though it seem to work “without compulsory means”…), and the dominion mentioned in verse 39 is qualified by the term “unrighteous” (cf. the “dominion of Sheol” in verse 4…)—does this mean there is such a thing as righteous dominion? I’m inclined to think there is, though the contours of such I’m only beginning to think about. Also, I think the phrasing in Dan 7:27 is intriguing, “all dominions shall serve and obey him”—reminds me of Abr 3:19ff….

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