Thursday, September 8, 2011

"If you will, you can make me clean."

I've been thinking a lot about predestination vs. free will lately. What it comes down to, in my mind, is that going completely predestination, with no sense of real free will, means that Jesus does not want most people to get better.

Think about that.

It means that when Jesus tells all who are burdened and heavy-laden to come to him, it is inevitable to some (those he has already irresistibly called), and a taunt to everyone else, all the poor saps who will never receive rest because Jesus doesn't love them enough. Whatever terms you use, whether you separate divine desire from divine providence or insist on some sort of "totally depraved" free will that is no free will at all, that is ultimately what it comes down to. And that is not the Jesus I see in the Gospels.

Check out Mark 1:40. Jesus is just walking along, going from town to town in Galilee, preaching, and a leper comes to him and says, "If you will, you can make me clean." Most other translations say, "If you want to," or "If you wish." That is what he is saying. The leper says, "I know that you are capable of making me clean. I want you to make me clean. Do you want to make me clean?" Immediately, Jesus is "moved with pity" and says, "I will; be clean." Jesus wants to make him clean. He desires it. He doesn't hesitate. He doesn't test him further. This verse demonstrates Jesus' fundamental attitude towards humanity: "I want to make you clean. Be clean." This is Jesus' attitude towards literally everyone who comes to him or asks him for help. Now let's check out another instance, this time of a person rejecting Jesus' offer of help.

Flip forward to Mark 10:17-22. A young man comes up to Jesus and asks him how to inherit eternal life, saying that he has kept all the commandments since he was a child. And the text says that Jesus, "looking at [the man], loved him," and Jesus tells him that he still lacks one thing: he needs to sell everything he has and give it to the poor, so that he may follow Jesus and receive treasure in heaven. The young man, however, is unable to do this, so he goes away sad. This man comes to Jesus for help. Jesus loves him and tells him what he needs to do, actively calling him to follow. But the man is unwilling to do so and walks away.

Is Jesus just messing with the guy? Did he know that the young man would be unable to follow his teaching? Did he "call" him, but not really call him? It doesn't appear so. It appears as though Jesus loved him sincerely, called him earnestly, told him how to respond to that call... and yet the man walks away anyway. That's what appears to happen.

Reading the Gospels without an underlying assumption of free will makes for a very strange Jesus. Every time Jesus tells the people to come to him, it is either pointless (it would have happened anyway) or a taunt (they are literally incapable of following him). Pure predestination amounts to Jesus telling the lame man to pick up his mat and walk without healing the man’s lameness. Put that into spiritual terms and you have what the Calvinist Jesus does to all the non-elect. It is Jesus telling the Centurion that his son has been healed when in fact he has not, Jesus smearing mud on the blind man’s face not to restore his sight but merely to remind the man that he is blind and will never see.  It is mere mockery—mockery of the hapless damned, offering them glimpses of something that Christ has no intention of giving them.

To all Calvinist brothers and sisters in Christ: I think you're wrong, but I love you. I pray that all of us continually strive for and, in fact, achieve greater maturity in the faith, as Hebrews 5:11-6:3 teaches.

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