By then, I was already having doubts.

Sitting across the table from new friends who didn’t see any reason to believe in God, I had tried to explain to them why I did and why it mattered.

But this was the real world, and in the real world “because the Bible says so” doesn’t always carry much weight. After all, if they don’t believe in God why should they believe the Bible He supposedly wrote?

I tried to explain it, but the words felt far away, like they were coming from somebody else. Over plates of hot wings, I tried to piece together a convincing argument. At that point, I wasn’t even trying to convince them; I was trying to convince myself.

_____________________

I was in college, and they say that college is where Christian kids lose their faith. Even Christian college.

Somewhere between the abstract discussions about “best possible worlds” and research papers attempting to resolve “the problem of pain”, we wound up so close to the tapestry that all we could see were individual threads. But individual threads are weak.

I was haunted by fear. My faith was a house of cards, and I knew it was only a matter of time until the day the last support was pulled away and it all collapsed.

_____________________

That day came sunny and unexpected. A casual conversation suddenly grew deep. Words like “predestination” and “election” and “sovereignty” weighed heavy on me, words that often swirled in the air in those days and those places.

“Why does God keep creating people and then not predestining them to salvation?” 

It seems like an abstract, philosophical question now. On that day, it was the last card in the house. And it was slipping.

“We believe that every life is precious. That God knits us together in the womb. And yet, He randomly predestines most to eternal destruction? But why? Why doesn’t He stop creating people that He knows He won’t predestine to salvation?”

The answer was probably something about His ways being higher than our ways. Maybe something about God getting glory from both the people who go to heaven and the people that go to hell.

“But how can I enjoy my salvation, knowing that it’s just the luck of the draw? That I won a divine lottery to keep me out of hell, but that most won’t? How is salvation good if it’s unmerited, arbitrary, random, and most are predestined to destruction?

It’s a heavy question, with many layers. But the answer was quick, and devastating:

“That I was saved and others are not, that there’s nothing I could do to earn it, that there’s no reason why — this just makes my salvation an even more special and precious gift.”

The last card slipped, and the house fell.

_____________________

How could I worship this God? How could I sing of His beauty and love and goodness, if He created people just to kill them to make my salvation seem even better?

This wasn’t love. This was…  This was survivor’s guilt.

If this was God, I wanted nothing to do with Him.

_____________________

Words matter.

Abstract theological conversations are all fun and games until I’m an unwilling agnostic lying in bed praying to a God I don’t believe in anymore while my young wife lies next to me wondering if she’s going to go through life with an atheist for a husband.

Our conversation was a caricature of the theology we hinted at. Even those who share this theology would probably write those words off as a straw man of their beliefs. But they weren’t spoken from a disillusioned critic of the movement; they came from a member of the flagship church. And they wrecked my fragile faith.

I don’t think he realized how much his words mattered that day. They were just sounds filling the sunshined air. He didn’t know they were the last card in the house.

Scripture references and sound logic are dangerous when the God they paint is a monster.

Words about God are heavy. Don’t sling them about carelessly.

_____________________

Eventually I gave up on answers. Whether or not it made sense, I would believe in God. I clawed my way back from agnosticism to faith one day at a time, praying the only thing I could: “Help my unbelief.”

It’s only now that I’m realizing my agnosticism was closer to the truth than I had dreamed. I was right. That god was a monster. I’m so glad I stopped believing in him.

Even more than that, I’m so glad the monster wasn’t real.

What I thought was the end of my faith was really just the beginning.

When I lost that terrible version of God, Jesus found me. And in Jesus, I see God more clearly than ever before.

_____________________

Epilogue:

I heard this sermon from Renovatus a few weeks ago, and I heard myself in Pastor Jonathan Martin’s words. This, this is good news. Listen:

What this text is all about is completion, reconciliation, bringing things full-circle. 

Predestination is a good word. Predestination is a Bible word. We should not give up on it. 

The problem is, people will use this word “predestination”, especially in a place like Romans 8, and this is what they think is going on here: 

They think that this is about how God selects some people in the beginning of time that He wants to have on His dodgeball team, and then He selects the others that He does not like. And then we’re just living out this game of chess that God is playing.

I want to say something very clearly that I know makes some people uncomfortable because it sounds presumptuous for a mere mortal to say this, but I mean it with all of my heart:

If that is who God is, then He is a monster. And I do not want to worship him, and I will not love him.

Is that stark enough for you? I would not worship him, I would not love him, no matter what he did. I would not serve a god like that. 

If that’s who God is, then He is a monster on par with, if not greater than, the Biblical portrait of Satan. And I have no clue why anyone would want to worship a tyrannical, sadistic, monster like that.

Thankfully, that’s not what Paul is doing here. He’s making the fairly simple point that all those who are in Christ, He has predestined to finish the work He started. 

Election is another word that Paul uses that is badly perverted. The word election also means a simple thing… You wanna know what election is about in Scripture? It’s about God choosing some people to show his light and glory through so that everyone else can be drawn to Him. 

It’s not about having some people who are pets and some people who are not pets. It is always about how God chooses some people in a special way to be a light to draw others to Himself. 

These are the elect ones, the called out ones that God is then going to use to bring others to Himself. 

( “Nor Things to Come” – beginning @ 35:26 )

[ image: eglasrud ]

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