Caution: Children and Predestination

Predestination and Children

My friend, Ryan Stollar, posted this on his Facebook wall, and I was struck at how damaging Predestination can be to children, especially vulnerable children. Shoot, I think it could scare adults, too! Special thanks to Ryan for writing about this and giving me permission to share it.  ~ja

First off, what is predestination?

predestination

noun

  1. The act of predestining or the condition of being predestined.
  2. Theology
    a. The doctrine that God has foreordained all things, especially that God has elected certain souls to eternal salvation.
    b. The divine decree foreordaining all souls to either salvation or damnation.
    c. The act of God foreordaining all things gone before and to come.
  3. Destiny; fate. (Source)

John Piper is an advocate of predestination, but even he understands that it is a very difficult topic. I was surprised to read that he recommends that if you are getting hung up on a righteous and holy God who sends people to hell, then he encourages you to not believe in predestination (at least that is my interpretation from this article).


Predestination and Children

Maine, October 2018

Predestination does a number on you.

Growing up in a Reformed household, where I read Loraine Boettner’s “Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” in high school for “fun,” I believed that God elected some people for heaven and some people for hell. But here’s the thing: I was a messed up kid. I was abused. So I was depressed and acted out and did all the “sinful” things that traumatized kids tend to do. I was screaming for help but I didn’t know how to verbalize it.

This didn’t make me doubt God’s existence. Instead, it made me hate God. I believed with all my heart (because all the evidence pointed in this direction) that God had elected me to go to hell.

Do you know what that does to a kid? Do you have any idea how horrible it is to live with the realization that there’s literally nothing you can do to save yourself because God made you a vessel of wrath?

It destroyed me from the inside out.

I thought God elected my abuse and God elected my damnation. And I wanted nothing to do with that God. This of course became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as I chose to rebel harder and harder just to stick it to the God who damned me.

I can’t even count how many times I said “F@#$ you” to God in high school and college because of predestination.

I’m not sure if I’d say “Don’t teach your kids predestination,” but if you believe in predestination, you need to understand that it can create some serious secondary trauma. For me, it was like being abused all over again, but this time deep within my soul.

Don’t do that to kids. Please.  ~R. L. Stollar

32 comments on “Caution: Children and Predestination

  1. There’s a pretty decent debate over whether “double predestination” is heretical, even in Reformed circles. I for one (prooftext alert) think that God could not desire all to come to repentance if he is also actively also choosing them to be objects of his hatred. I think it’s a confusing topic and a lot of people think of it in terms of “fate” – like in Greek mythology where some person is told that his son will kill him and marry his own mother, and through some twists, the son ends up doing just that.

    The key in “fate” is somehow this concept that no ordinary human would ever want to do the thing that they are fated to do. Yet, predestination is the flip side of the coin of free will, where we are free to do what we want. So, Adam was, in one sense, predestined to eat the fruit, but on the other hand, he was completely and utterly free to decide what he wanted to do. He was not a robot. In the same way, we are free to make our decisions, but the decisions we make are ultimately part of God’s plan.

    The other facet that I’ve considered in the last year or so is the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. God’s purpose in allowing the Tares (evil people) is so that the Wheat (children) are not accidentally uprooted. I think this also fits within the theme – that “history” is so complex that God could not have brought the Wheat to salvation without permitting the Tares to do evil. Some believers are children of unbelievers, as an example. They would not have been born if God somehow wiped out their parents.

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  2. I would like to encourage anyone reading this to please watch some YouTube videos on Conditional Immortality.

    I was taught Eternal Conscious Torment as a young believer.

    I now believe that the doctrine of the immortal soul is false, and that eternal life truly is a GIFT to those who are destined to perish (not be burned in fire for all eternity).

    Edward Fudge has some good stuff on YouTube.

    Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.

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  3. It is no wonder that teaching predestination can totally wreck a child, and adults can have a hard time to believe in a loving God as well.
    I know several accounts of how people finally found freedom from that legalistic bondage, into the assurance of God’s mercy which is available to whosoever will.

    For those interested of the topic, some of the best debates on this subject are available on Youtube, with Dr. Michael Brown and Dr. James White (both are confessing, devout believers in the Lord, from the different sides of this question)

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  4. While I’ve never believed in predestination in the sense that God elects/predestined some for salvation and others for damnation, I can see how this belief would lead you to believe and then fear God and never really have any assurance of His love and acceptance for you.

    There is another way of understanding this doctrine thru Karl Barth and TF Torrance (Trinitarian theology) which has been life changing for me. While they can be difficult to read, there are many resources available that discuss their view of this doctrine.

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  5. I first heard about this back in elementary or middle school while reading a biography for a book report. I forget who exactly it was–Harriet Beecher Stowe, maybe?–but, as a child, she was tormented by predestination. She’d look in the mirror and fear that she was damned to hell and there was nothing she could do about it. I forgot everything else in that biography, but that image is burned into my brain as a reason not to believe such a horrible doctrine. I was raised Arminian.

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  6. The old, “scaring people into believing” schtick. .. tantamount to emotional abuse of children. Anyone who promotes this ought to be ashamed of themselves. What garbage.

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  7. I have long considered predestination is not in the NT to be argued about, to tie us up in knots, but rather is there for our blessing and encouragement. It is about assurance of being accepted by God and where we are headed.

    For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.

    It means that in the past (pre-) God decided that our goal (destination) as believers in Christ would be adoption as full sons, like Christ, and thereafter ‘in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus’. Predestination reflects a God who is loving and kind. That is definitely safe for children!

    Is it coincidence that the predestination verse above follows God ‘working everything for good’ in believers? That it is followed by the verses saying how much God is for us, paid the ultimate price to get us? Then the verses about persecution and tribulation, which might make believers doubt their call (assurance) and that ultimately God is kind and they will receive their inheritance from him.

    The Romans verse and parallel Eph 1 verses do not oblige you to believe that God has ‘chosen’ unbelievers to stay in unbelief. Strictly speaking Rom 8 v 28 doesn’t say he predestined us to be ‘saved’, but rather the destination of those once they are ‘saved’.

    It’s not as though following the fall of man God reluctantly decided to save a few from sin and rebellion, but wills to keep the numbers down, not to overdo it. Grudging. It’s his good pleasure to give us the kingdom, which will have ‘many brethren’, multitudes like the stars in the heavens that cannot be numbered. This despite the fact not one of the recipients deserves it. This generous God is no monster!

    Even less does predestination relate to calamities and illness being foreordained by God to be part of the believer’s experience, although he clearly permits this. I have been blessed never to have heard anyone teach this.

    Isn’t a better view of God’s sovereignty that he never loses control, rather than actively wills to being about everything we see around us? His will is not always done on earth as it is in heaven.

    God is so absolutely sovereign that he doesn’t need to show it all the time by controlling everything we do. (Some pastors badly need to take that on board.)

    Get believers into ‘all the good that is ours in Christ Jesus’, that they are forgiven, accepted, deemed righteous, welcomed into his presence, get them into grace and out from being under law and legalism (and evangelical law in particular!) as in e.g. Rom 1 to 8, show God’s great generosity then teach Romans 9 to 11 and deal with it honestly. God does have mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills. He does have the right to dispose of his erring creatures as he thinks fit. We have to accept that he does not have to treat us as we think he ought to, where reformed theology is a good corrective to much of modern Western evanglicalism.

    Sorry to go on, but there are so many people messed up because of this word, and it’s agony because they don’t need to be! That’s not something God has foreordained!!

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  8. Islam is also heavily into Predestination and God’s Sovereign Will.
    (Especially the sects and forms who get into the news these days.)
    Look at the side effects and see where it got them.

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  9. Growing up in a Reformed household, where I read Loraine Boettner’s “Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” in high school for “fun,”

    The same Loraine Boettner who wrote “Roman Catholicism”, the go-to Bible of 20th Century anti-Catholic hate literature?

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  10. Pingback: Wednesday Connect | Thinking Out Loud

  11. Yes, the word “Predestination” can be dangerous if taken to mean that God chose some to go to hell! No one was chosen by God to go to heaven or hell outside of Christ.

    Ephesians 1:4 “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…” The key idea is: God adopted us in His son Christ Jesus – and we become chosen when we trust in His redemption through Jesus.

    It’s not luck. It’s not partiality or favor that made some special. It’s only the Cross that opened the way for anyone’s salvation. God is not willing that any should perish. Whosoever believes in Jesus will have everlasting life!!!

    No one is “doomed” to perish. That’s Satan’s lie! We can’t play God and assume that sharing the gospel is not necessary.

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  12. In birdotheair’s condescending response is the classic, ‘blame the victim’ suggestion — in case any of you missed it. 😦

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  13. @ Carmen.
    Re: post by birdoftheair.

    If you grant birdoftheair’s world view’s premises, such as, there is a deity and an after life, it sounds to me as though he (or she) is opting for what sounds like an Arminian view, which, IMHO, is a step above the Calvinist world view.

    At least with the Arminians, you get a choice in your eternal destiny, but the Calvinists say their deity has already chosen for you, even before you were born – you don’t get any input.

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  14. Thank you for the feedback.

    From my understanding: This is what God predestined in His salvation plan for all of us: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Jesus suffered and died, but He was not a victim. He rose after he had finished the work. He took away the blame from us.

    This is our response: “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). In spite of our past trials and suffering, we can choose to trust that love and have a new life, and be in God’s family again. Respect and honor are restored, and even more than we can imagine.

    Peace on earth, and good will toward all souls…..especially at Christmas time!

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  15. Here’s my understanding: Sin is an imaginary disease invented to sell you an imaginary cure.
    Think on it. 🙂
    And that really IS good will.

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  16. Quite aside from the question of predestination, the idea that you don’t teach something because it might cause some people trauma is not good thinking. You teach the truth, and if predestination is the truth, you teach it.

    But back to the idea of predestination, even if you deny the Reformed teaching, and I’m not sure the post presents it fairly, you still have a problem. If God is all-powerful, He can certainly stop bad things from happening to you, and he could decide not to create you at all if he knew you were going to go to hell. Taking the Reformed out of it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s not any less potentially traumatic to tell someone that God could have prevented their abuse or whatever but that He chose not to. The “Why?” question remains.

    Taken to its logical conclusions, this post requires you to abandon classical Christian theism of all stripes, Reformed or not, if your goal in teaching is to avoid traumatizing people.

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  17. Robert, “Quite aside from the question of predestination, the idea that you don’t teach something because it might cause some people trauma is not good thinking.”

    So, why are Christians so opposed to Sex Ed?

    What I mean by that is that there is a question of appropriateness given the level of understanding. For example, it is probably not helpful to tell kids about police abuse of power. It is better to tell them that policemen can be trusted, since most can. There are things we explain in general terms and answer when the understanding of the child is mature enough. Even Peter and Paul lament that their audience is not mature enough to be taught deeper truth. It’s not that Paul is somehow unrighteous in withholding truth from them, but he is wise that deeper truths can often be misunderstood and abused (as predestination is!) without the proper groundwork.

    Even a seminary-trained college professor of mine said that predestination was because we would always sin if given a chance, therefore God accomplishes his plan by choosing when to permit the Holy Spirit to prevent us from sin, and when to allow us to make our own choice (and sin).

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  18. I didn’t walk my children through the details of child molestation when they were two, but I DID tell them if anyone, including adults, told them to do something that made them feel uncomfortable or icky, they could always come talk to us. As they got older and more able to understand, we talked in depth about respect and boundaries and that they should watch out for people who pushed their boundaries. (Incidentally, we went to their schools’ parent info night on sex ed, and that was a big message from the school as well). I expect at some point, we will have to be pretty point blank about the kinds of creeps out there and the ways they victimize women, but I don’t think that’s appropriate for a two-year-old.

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  19. Carmen, “Sin is an imaginary disease invented to sell you an imaginary cure.”

    I don’t see how there can be evil without sin. The concept of evil in and of itself assumes that there is something that is not evil. Even if relative, a better and a worse, although that begs a question of what standard we can possibly use to judge whether something is better or worse.

    I think evolutionary psychology sheds a lot of light on the antithesis of morality. For example, we might say that it is “wrong” for a mother to abandon her child, but an evolutionary psychologist would say that no, a mother who abandons her child is not immoral. Instead she “instinctively” knows that the child is not worth raising. This threw a monkey wrench into Dawkins’ writings because paradoxically, he wants to recognize the great benefit brought by evolution, and yet he wants us to fight the very instincts that evolution has produced in us.

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  20. Evil is a word I don’t use, Mark. There’s no such thing; it’s another religious word which suggests there’s some sort of ‘force’ (i.e. ‘the devil’). People’s actions exist along a spectrum – in different situations it can be expected we do things in reaction to those situations; some of those would be considered anti-social and some definitely abhorrent. Some people cannot seem to help their anti-social/abhorrent actions but most of us do what’s considered ‘good’ most of the time. All of us are capable of good and not-so-good and the human condition warrants that we make mistakes. Mistakes Mark, not ‘sins’. There’s no such thing.

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  21. Also, this business about children being born sinful – nasty, detrimental, soul-sucking garbage. Adults who continue to pile this idea of ‘sin’ on children – no matter where they get the idea from – are sick individuals.

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  22. Who decides what is a mistake? If I “cheat” on a college entrance exam, gain admission to a top-notch university and become successful, is that a “mistake”? And… to further this, what gives someone else the right to decide that a mistake is serious enough to warrant punishment? I’ve asked this of many atheists and it always goes along a path of ‘moral consensus’, until I ask whether slavery was right when it was the ‘moral consensus’, then the discussion is over.

    So, for Christians, there is the problem of evil, and for atheists, it seems the problem is how to justify the use of force and incarceration against someone who “makes a mistake”.

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  23. Society decides what a mistake is, Mark. They always have. From my perspective, you’re the one with the problem because you depend on an invisible, unprovable entity who supposedly ‘decides’ who’s made a mistake – in this case, the ultimate mistake — one which might send them to an imagined hell. This topic is about instilling fear in children – the fear of GOD, by the way – which damages them for life. Haven’t you ever read the stories of adults who wake up in a cold sweat because they’ve dreamed they have to face the priest and confess? I’m talking about men and women in their late 60’s and 70’s here Mark, who are STILL suffering the effects of their indoctrination.
    Stick to the topic and save your philosophical discussion for someone else, please.
    Your christian audience may be lapping it up but for me, it’s something that makes the grass grow green.

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  24. Please don’t make the mistake of putting words in my mouth, Mark. I have already responded to you in the above comment.

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  25. You haven’t responded. And you still didn’t respond when I reiterated the question.

    The problem with “society decides morality” is that it leads to an untenable situation in which on one hand, morality supposedly changes over time, yet on the other, society today condemns past societies for not recognizing immoral behavior.

    That’s why even the Deist framers of the Constitution recognized that rights were inalienable – somehow built into the fabric of the universe, and thus the process of eliminating slavery wasn’t “society deciding morality” so much as society recognizing something that previously existed.

    I’m actually concerned that a societal shift has occurred from “inalienable rights” to “society decides morality”, because that has created certain lines of thinking around law enforcement. For example, I’ve seen comments on people refusing police searches, and the typical comment is “only someone who has something to hide would be upset with a police search”. Black people have lost their right of due process because somehow only a guilty person would run from a police officer, thus a bullet in their back is just.

    “This topic is about instilling fear in children – the fear of GOD, by the way – which damages them for life.”

    As I said above about predestination, it’s not the truth that creates nightmares, but how appropriate the discussion is for certain maturity levels. I don’t plan on taking my kids to watch Schindler’s List any time soon, but in many ways, that movie portrays the truth about evil in a very compelling and graphic way. I don’t deny the Holocaust simply because I had nightmares of piles of dead bodies. I don’t think of Stephen Spielberg as an evil man because he told a story that gave me nightmares. Neither do I go into detail about it with my children. They’ve asked about it in general terms and I’ve told them in general terms. But that doesn’t stop parents from doing stupid stuff. I was at the bus stop today and there was a ten year old talking about watching Nightmare on Elm Street. (I haven’t seen it and I don’t plan to, but I have a pretty good idea what it was like from previews and overhearing descriptions)

    I think the bigger problem is that pastors fall into an authoritarian trap, and keeping people in constant fear is a way that they can manipulate and control people. So, people having nightmares is more likely a sign of a spiritually abusive pastor who is using Hell as his whip to keep the congregation in line.

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  26. Carmen – Society decides what a mistake is, Mark. They always have. From my perspective, you’re the one with the problem because you depend on an invisible, unprovable entity who supposedly ‘decides’ who’s made a mistake

    On what basis does society decide what a mistake is? How do they know?

    The bible does indeed acknowledge that God is invisible. But he is evidenced by what has been made (which is visible), in human conscience, and more importantly the centre of the Christian faith is that God took human form in Jesus. Jesus was highly visible, seen touched heard. What he did and what he said was recorded for posterity by eye witnesses at the time (not centuries later!!).

    Now I would assume that you do not believe the bible is true. But if in reality it contains God’s revelation of himself (and Christianity is a revealed religion) then I don’t think your claim about an invisible, unprovable entity can stand.

    If your atheism involves acceptance of Darwinian evolution (macro-evolution), and I can understand you being miffed at having words put in your mouth if you don’t, but this and atheism usually go together as to how we got here, then you have your own problem of ‘predestination’. All our actions are simply the product of blind, impersonal forces, in an amoral, material-only universe, over which we have no control. Random biological inheritance. Evolution explains why I believe, and why you don’t; freewill is an illusion.

    You end up back at the beginning. With this as its origin, how does society know what a mistake is, what ought to happen, what’s right or wrong?

    But if God created the heavens and the earth, then he knows what he intended it to be like, what it ought to be like, even though at present due to our sinful fallenness it is not what he ultimately intends, as the bible claims. ‘Sin’ is what ought not to happen. Any attempt to teach anyone a difference between right and wrong acknowledges the existence of ‘sin’, even if the word isn’t used.

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  27. KAS, not disagreeing with you, but I was only reacting to the statement that “sin is an imaginary disease invented to sell you an imaginary cure”, by pointing out that at least the modern alternative holds no weight either. People cannot both say that slavery was wrong, and that it was right, and that is in the macro sense. At the micro sense, you get determinism which is what you’re talking about. And the question there is that if all of our thought patterns are chaotic predetermined interactions, then how can we say that one person’s chaotic patterns are superior to another’s.

    I was trying to avoid creation vs evolution because I think the path there is well worn and unproductive.

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