Predestination and Donald Trump
The doctrine of predestination is part of Christian teachings. It is to be found primarily in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, chapter 1 but there are also various hints of it in Christ's words. For instance, when Simon Peter cut off the servant's ear with his sword in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said: "Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" -- John 18:10.
The early Christian reformer, John Calvin of Geneva, was a great expositor of predestination. He placed it front and centre of his teaching. But it was a difficult doctrine. If everything is predestined before we were born, what is the point of trying to be good? We could personally have no hand in what we did. And, more to the point, whether we were saved to eternal life in heaven or not was also pre-ordained. So, as Calvin saw it, the interesting thing was to see which group you belonged to: The saved or the damned.
And you could find that out by looking at the lot that the Lord had given you. If you lived a virtuous and prosperous life, that suggested that the Lord had picked you out as one of the good guys and you could be proud of that.
So that was a considerable discipline. If you misbehaved, it would reveal you as one of the damned. And all good people would shy away from you. So you had to act very virtuously or you would have no hope of eternal life. So Calvin built up a reasonable ethical system that way, that did take predestination into account. You were always looking for signs of God's favour to reassure yourself of your destiny and the signs were your own ethical behaviour.
And Calvin was influential. His disciple John Knox took his teachings to Scotland, where they took strong root and the various Presbyterian churches preached it from their pulpits. And the Dutch Reformed churches are generally Calvinist too. Protestant Dutchmen in Australia generally just go along to their local Presbyterian church.
In my lifetime, however, I doubt that I have ever heard any mention of the doctrine from a Presbyterian pulpit. It has sort of unofficially died out as being too "difficult" a doctrine. The odd thing, though, is that the doctrine has lived on among the Presbyterian laity. I remember well the way both my mother and my aunties would say to me on occasions -- with quiet confidence -- "Don't worry, John. It was all planned out before were were born". The people are still often Calvinists, regardless of what the clergy are.
My theology is no better than Calvin's so I don't propose to attempt an improvement on it. I think it may be helpful however if I point out a few things.
The most important is that predestination is part of the mercy gospel, which is a prominent element in Christian teaching. Its powerful preaching in Matthew 5 is well known: "If a man smiteth thee on thy right cheek ..." So predestination fits in there. If you know that an evildoer cannot help it, that he was predestined to do that evil, you are much more likely to be forgiving than if you think he could possibly have refrained from doing that evil deed. "There but for the grace of God go I". So predestination makes Christians merciful, which is probably a good thing.
Predestination also helps to make sense of the world. If strange things happen, you will not be disturbed by them. They are just God's will and nobody can know the mind of the Lord. So the doctrine gives you mental repose. Whatever happens, it is all taken care of. There is no cause to worry. And it seems to work. In my experience Presbyterians do seem to be steadier in the face of life's uncertainties and difficulties. "It's all God's will". So they just get on with their lives as best they can. It's about as non-neurotic as you can get.
The great example in our era of steadiness in the face of furious and prolonged abuse and attack would have to be Mr. Trump -- and he was brought up as a Presbyterian, courtesy of his Scottish mother. Did he hear from his mother: "It was all planned out before we were born"? I would be surprised if he did not.
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