Stories on the edge of familiarity

Monthly Archives: August 2012

Is God *Really* in Control of Everything?: Heaven and Hell, part 2

About a month ago, when I posted about why I don’t consider Christianity a religion@theliz13 tweeted to me and mentioned her problem with religion. I found what she said so interesting that I decided to write this three-part series in order to address her comments. This is the second part of the result. Here’s part one.

The third tweet from @theliz13 in our conversation, and the one 
that caught my attention the most (the whole conversation 
is posted in the first part of this series).

The traditional interpretation of sovereignty

There’s this funny word that Christians like to use in reference to God’s power and will, and it is sovereignty.

(It’s part of the vocabulary of what I refer to as “Christianese”, which is made up of words from the King James translation of the Bible that most people who aren’t Christians don’t know the meaning of, and that Christians use all the time when talking about anything to do with Christianity. Much of the time, Christians don’t really know what those words mean, either, but we know how to use them.)

Several Christian denominations (groups with different interpretations of how Christianity works) teach that God’s sovereignty means that he has complete control over every single thing, and that he exercises that level of control all the time.

Others moderate this to different degrees, and the one I’m the most familiar with goes like this: God set everything in motion with complete knowledge of how everything will turn out, and so he set it in motion in such a way so that everything would turn out the way it has and will.

No matter how you phrase it, these both make God into Fate with a personality. The Christianese term for this idea of God being the puppet master behind everything is predestination.

The problem is that total predestination comes from a faulty definition of the word sovereignty.

The Biblical meaning of sovereignty

Let’s suppose I was the ruler of my own country and I made a set of laws which I made sure that everyone followed.

Then let’s suppose that I broke every single one of those laws and let myself get away with it because of my status as ruler. I could, and did, do whatever I wanted because I was the one in charge.

This is what we call a tyrant.

This is what the traditional view of God’s sovereignty would say about God, and I will never serve a tyrant. I would rather die. I would rather go to hell after I die than spend eternity with such a god.

It doesn’t matter that he’s God the all-powerful and all-knowing. If God is worth serving, then he will follow the laws he set in place; he will never go back on his word. He will keep all of his promises. Because it’s not enough for God to be ruler, he must be the perfect ruler, and that requires that he obeys his own laws perfectly.

What does this have to do with predestination?

Total predestination assumes that God overrides our free will, and that God can come in and mess with human beings and the universe whenever he wants. The problem is that that is in direct contradiction to what he said to the first human beings right after he finished creating everything:

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” (Genesis 1:28, NLT)

In other words:

Then God spoke all the bountiful and beautiful desires of his heart for their future and said, “Have lots and lots of kids. Go everywhere and be in charge of everything. That includes absolutely everything I created before you.”

Yes, that’s right. God put human beings in charge of his creation. That is, he gave us free will, and he made us the ones with authority and rulership over the entire freaking universe (but not each other, which is something I just noticed and find extremely interesting).

That means that he’s not the one who decides our futures. We are. We are perfectly free. Even if we choose not to act that way, we choose it. We are never forced upon it, no matter what the circumstances may tell us.

Suddenly, the fact that Jesus talked about stewardship (the idea of taking care of something for someone else) more than any other topic makes quite a bit of sense.

What does this mean about hell?

If we choose our own futures, and God doesn’t make them for us, then that means that God doesn’t “send us to hell”.

We go because we choose it.

“But, Thea, if God is perfect, and perfectly loving, then wouldn’t he make it so that no-one goes to hell, ever? Wouldn’t it be that hell doesn’t really exist, because God wants us to have a perfect eternity with him, rather than an eternity of torment?”

I know that a lot of Christians have turned to this interpretation of the Bible as a reaction to the traditional, messed-up idea of God’s sovereignty. They have found a god they are willing to serve through this, and it breaks my heart to tell these lovely people that they have come up with an interpretation just as repulsive as the one they were trying to get away from.

See, if there’s only heaven and no hell, then that’s like giving someone a choose-your-own-adventure that only has one ending.

God cannot give us free will so that our love for him will be real and then rig it so that there’s no way we could choose to turn away from him.

In the same way, he cannot say with one breath that we choose our destiny and then with another that there is only one destiny we can choose.

Why?

For the same reason that he cannot make it a law of the universe that we have free will and then break that law and micromanage our lives just because he’s God.

If he did such a thing, he would contradict his own laws.

That would make him a liar and a betrayer, which would make him imperfect, which would make him not God. More importantly, that would make him a tyrant.

And a tyrant is not worth serving.

Next week: Using one of the stories that Jesus told as a metaphor, we’ll discover the final step in how this whole heaven and hell thing really works, how the core of Christianity fits into it, and what the real point of Christianity is (because, contrary to popular belief, it’s not all about having a free pass to heaven and being a dick to everyone you think is without one while you’re waiting to get there).

And here is the promised part three.