Even as the future is not controlled by God, we are predestined to be loved by God no matter what. Everyone and everything else is likewise predestined in this way.
The love takes the form of shared suffering, fresh possibilities in the moment at hand, and possibilities for creative transformation.
The love is comforting but not suffocating. It is pure gift. It is like the nurturance of a truly caring mother or grandmother, father or grandfather.
We cannot control or destroy God's predestined love, but we can be grateful and amazed. And we can seek to be channels of its grace in our own lives.
Predestination is God's plan-in-process, and it includes our freedom
The Comfort of Predestination
I want to make a case for predestination of love. I do this because I believe in it, and also because I am troubled by Christians and others who quickly dismiss predestination as a horrific idea best reserved for the dustbin of history. What they don't realize is that words are metaphors, that they can function in different ways in different circumstances, and that meanings are multivalent. There is a rigid literalism in knee-jerk rejections of predestination that misses the heart of what some people feel when they say "God has a plan." The people I have in mind are those guided by what John Sanders calls nurturant values.
Historically, for some people, the idea of predestination has functioned as a comfort, reminding them that they are not, and need not be, in full control of their lives and that everything that happens in the world, no matter how tragic, finds a home in a deeper love named God. Their feeling is that things are somehow together in divine love, even as they are apart on earth. To say the same thing, things are woven together in heaven even as they are not thus woven on Earth. God has a plan. Maybe not a pre-written script, but rather, as it were, a tapestry in the making, woven from the strands of worldly events. The tapestry is the plan.
The preceding paragraph is true to open and relational (process) theology and, I believe, to many ordinary people who instinctively feel that God is "in control" in this weaving way. This kind of control is not coercive or manipulative. It is is indeed nurturing. But it is persistent, and there's nothing we can do to change it. We are predestined to be loved by a nurturant God. This is the insight I want to affirm.
Predestination in Process Perspective
Even before her child was born, Mary was committed to loving him no matter what. She called it no matter what love. She hoped that he would become a happy and good person. But she promised herself that her love would be unconditional. Even if he became a horrible person, even if he did terrible things, she would not stop loving him. She would fuss at him; she would discipline him; she would be angry with him. If he hurt other people, she would try to help him understand their feelings, their situation. She wanted him to be empathetic and compassionate. But she would not abandon him. She had a nurturing spirit.
Open and relational (process) theology sees God in the image of Mary. We are predestined to be loved and to receive this love in at least two ways: in inwardly felt fresh possibilities, derived from God, which are the best for the situation at hand and in the companionship of God as a fellow sufferer who understands our situation. Everyone on earth and elsewhere is predestined to be loved in this way, and there is nothing they can do to avoid it.
Indeed, if there is life after death, they are predestined to be loved in whatever continuing journey they enjoy or suffer. We will never be abandoned, not even if we find ourselves in hells of our own making or hells imposed upon us. And it is predestined that our experiences on earth and elsewhere will be woven into the ongoing memory of God.
This may or may not mean that we are all redeemed. Redemption requires our cooperation with the lure of God in this life or the next. We may choose not to cooperate forever. This would be everlasting hell. But it would be our choice, not God's; and it is hard to imagine why anyone would choose this. Even the devil can be redeemed.
We are predestined on other ways, too, not by God but by other factors. For example, in the immediacy of each present moment, we are predestined by the limits and contexts given us by the past actual world. Some of these limits are the result of choices we made in the past, but most of them come from other sources: history, society, our bodies, our genes. We can respond to them with some degree of freedom, however modest, but we cannot change what has been. All that we can do is try to influence what can be in the future, given what has been in the past.
This capacity to influence what can be in the future is itself subject to still another kind of predestination. Even as we are not totally controlled by the past, the past does set limits on what is possible for us in the future. We are predestined by whatever range of possibilities is available to us, given what has happened. The future, too, sets limits. For example, even if might we wish to create an entirely just and loving world tomorrow, where there is no suffering, unlimited compassion of each for all (including other sentient beings), what is possible in the future is partly constrained by the weight of the past and the way the world works. Not completely constrained, but partly constrained. God or no God, not all things are possible. We are predestined to be partly constrained.
Still, there is a predestination of love. People who believe in traditional predestination see all things as foreordained by God. Open and relational theologians disagree. They speak of creativity and self-determination within the depths of life, of freedom and choice in human life, of an open future, even for God. But they, we, believe that we humans and all other living beings (on our planet or anywhere else) are predestined to be loved by a nurturing spirit in the ways just mentioned. Our freedom cannot change this. The predestination of divine love is beyond our control.
There is still another aspect to divine predestination. Some call it grace. When it comes to being loved by God, merit is not the issue. None of us is fully deserving; all of us fall short of the love of God. And yet it is given, by God, no matter what. It is the love of Mary for her son.
My own hope is that, in fervently rejecting predestination as foreordination, we process theologians might gently affirm a predestination of love, inviting others, and ourselves, to trust in an nurturant Love beyond our control, by which even the most undeserving among us, whoever they might be, are tenderly embraced.
- Jay McDaniel, 1/13/2023
For further introductions to Christian process theology, click here.