In Christian History class we’ve been studying the Reformation and spending a lot of time on Luther’s theology. My professor, who happens to be Lutheran and truly a person of grace, was waxing eloquently about Luther’s theology of the cross. He emphasized the grace of God in being present with us even in our sins, and how wonderful it is to know that we are not able to add anything to Christ’s salvation. As I listened to the beautiful words of grace and mercy describing Christ’s love and suffering for humanity, it struck me how odd it was for Luther to have such a high view of God’s grace, and yet believe in double predestination. Double predestination teaches that God has created some human beings for salvation and some for damnation, and there is nothing anyone can do about their eternal destiny. All of these wonderful descriptions of God’s grace become one side of a double-edged sword, of which the other edge is the blade of damnation and eternal hell-fire.
Given the way that the new testament speaks of God’s love for all of humanity, and how God ultimately intends to redeem all of creation (not just a few elect human beings), how can we attribute to God the malicious behavior of creating people in his own image for the purpose of damning them to hell? It flies in the face of the definitions of love and justice that come to us from the scriptures.
My patient professor pointed out (after I rather passionately voiced my frustration with Luther’s theological position), that the Lutheran church does not believe in double predestination as their theology was codified by Malanchthan rather than Luther. He also explained Luther’s top-down understanding of love and justice as being defined by God and not by any standard outside of God. Thus Luther could believe that God both loved humanity, and damns most of it to hell, at the same time. I am just an amateur theologian. I have neither the brilliance nor the knowledge of the Reformers. I offer my thoughts with the humility of someone who knows less and less about what she believes for certain with every passing year of theological study. But this idea that God could simultaneously love human beings who bear God’s image, and have created them for eternal suffering in hell, is so absurd to me as to offend the deepest well of my faith. Does not the Bible teach us what love is? With no personal offense to my Calvinist friends, if I really believed that God’s love translated into predestining people for eternal hellfire, I think I would love God in kind by turning my back and walking away. With love like that, who needs hatred?
I am reminded of a woman who was in one of my undergraduate classes who shared the gut-wrenching story of losing her infant daughter in a tragic accident. She explained how people would try and offer her comfort by telling her that it was God’s will that her daughter was killed in such a horrible way. This woman only survived the crushing blow of grief by clinging to God’s presence and God’s love and care for her in that experience. She said with some passion, “Don’t make out the God that I love, who has sustained me in my suffering, into a murderer.” I feel this way about double predestination. Please don’t make the God that I love, the God who I am seeking daily to surrender my life to, into a malicious creep who damns people to hell and calls it love.