Day 222: Matthew 24:36

No one knows, however, when that day and hour will come—neither the angels in heaven nor the Son; the Father alone knows.

[The disciples want to know when Jesus will return.  This is one of many scriptures in which Jesus talks about the timing of his “second coming.”  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

Well here’s one of those scriptures that is quoted again and again and applied to all kinds of situations.  Mostly, it’s applied to one’s time of death, but it really can be applied to anything.  I mean, who really knows about anything in the future?  We may know something will happen, but it’s pretty tricky to predict the timing with 100% accuracy.  There is always the possibility of an element of surprise.

Jesus wants to warn his disciples that no fortune teller, no prophet, no messiah can tell them when the end will come.  Jesus is saying that even he himself (the Son) does not know when the New Age that they are waiting for will begin.

Here is my premise.  The traditional Jewish view was that a Messiah like King David would be born, everyone would convert to Judaism, and then we would enjoy a time of peace and prosperity known as the New Age.  The Christian view is pretty much the same, but they are waiting for the Second Coming of Christ.  However Jesus, throughout his whole ministry, seems to assert that the New Age will begin when we submit to the will of God – loving him and loving one another.  If we begin to collectively stop killing and hating and being greedy and selfish and materialistic and prideful and decide to live according to God’s will then we won’t need anyone to rescue us.  The New Age, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, the Peaceable Kingdom will already be here.   (I’ve sort of evolved into this perspective as a result of doing this blog.   For a bit of an overview of my reasoning see Days 128, 145, and 150 as well as many others.)  Actually I just found out there’s a name this theological premise. It’s called postmillennialism.  Now I have another label – postmillennialist.  No matter how unorthodox one’s philosophy might seem to be, you can rest assured that someone has already had the same thought and someone else has already applied a label to it.  I digress.

Anyway, if this is the case, no one can tell when humanity will finally come to its senses and start living according to God’s will.  No one will know until it actually happens.  On Day 204 Jesus says, From now on, I tell you, you will never see me again until you say, ‘God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord.’”  I think he’s saying we won’t see him again until we are willing to get on board with the God program that he lays out for us.  We shouldn’t be waiting for him.  He is waiting for us.

Of course this is only my personal opinion (shared with my fellow postmillennialists), and it’s a reflection of both my interpretation of the words of Jesus as well as my beliefs regarding predestination and free will.  So that’s what I’m going to talk about.  Deep stuff that Christians have argued about extensively over the centuries.  The apparent conflict between predestination and free will.

We all know what free will is – that we live our lives free to choose our actions.  We have the freedom to choose between good and evil, to indulge our selfish interests or to serve others.  But predestination?  That’s the concept that everything has been pre-planned.  Call it fate, call it doom.  Predestination asserts that we do not have free will, but that we simply live out a life that has already been pre-planned for us before we were born.  We are slaves to our fate.  Our power to choose is illusionary.

John Calvin, a theologian who lived in the 1500s, was the main champion of religious predestination.  He asserted that all people are evil, but some pre-selected lucky ones are saved by the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  Calvinists aren’t much fun.  They definitely represent the “dark side” of Christianity.  Churches with “Reformed” in their name are Calvinist.  Presbyterian Churches also came out of the Calvinist movement, as well as the Puritans and the Pilgrims. Remember the Scarlet Letter?  The Salem witch hunts?  Those folks.  All the really grim ones.  No wonder they were so mean.  They thought of themselves and everyone else as bad to the bone.  It’s hard to be happy when you have such a negative world view. Probably today’s most famous celebrity Calvinist in our time is Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life.  You have a purpose – get it?  It’s all laid out – predetermined.  Of course, Calvinism has softened considerably in modern times, and Rick Warren seems a little embarrassed about his Calvinist roots. Even though it still influences his thinking, you wouldn’t have much trouble distinguishing Rick Warren’s teachings from those of a Puritan.  For one thing he’s a lot more upbeat.  Calvinism has lost a lot of its edginess.  But it still upholds that general assumption about the depravity of man.

Why do Calvinists historically believe in predestination?   The root of it is a perceived contradiction between free will and the concept of an omniscient, all-knowing God.  Calvinists perceive God as all-powerful and all-knowing.  The idea is that if humans are in reality free to do whatever they want, then God cannot know in advance what they are going to do.  Because they believe that God knows everything, then humans must not really be free to choose.  Humans might choose something unexpected and surprise God, and an all-knowing God cannot be surprised. Hence, predestination.  The argument is also strengthened by certain scriptural passages that seem to indicate that some people are “good” and others “bad” (for example, see Day 128 about the wheat and the weeds).

Of course, over the last 500 years there have been many theories offered up to explain why God’s omniscience and human free will are in reality perfectly compatible.  Once again I found out just now that my own view already has a name.  It’s called the “God is Outside of Time” theory.  The way I look at it, God is eternal so he can look at things from any position in time.  He can see the past, present, and future at the same time.  This means that even though I have free will, God can see what I will do, what I am doing, and what I will do all at the same time.   I make the choice, but he knows I will do it before I do it because he can look back on it.  I share this perspective with Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis.  It also seems that my belief is compatible with this scripture.  Only God exists outside of time – so no person or angel or even Jesus could know when the New Age will begin because it is dependent on the decisions and actions of billions of people.

For Jews like Jesus, this predestination business would be nonsense.  Like any other Jew, Jesus would have asserted that God is leading and guiding at all times, but that people always have the ability to choose whether or not they want to follow. Jews never looked at themselves like pre-programmed robots sleepwalking their way through their lives.

Free choice is the prevalent view among today’s Christians, mainly because predestination doesn’t make any sense relative to the teachings of Jesus. When you read the words of Jesus it’s pretty clear that he wanted us to make good choices.  All you have to do is read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew Chapters 5-7) where he says, “do this” and “don’t do that.”  I don’t know why he would waste his time giving us all this advice if all of our choices were already predetermined in advance.  It wouldn’t make any sense if the entire game was rigged.  The idea that we are all helplessly adrift on the sea of life doesn’t exactly promote social responsibility.  Fatalism leads people to turn on, tune in, and drop out.  Why bother if the fix is in.

I think Jesus is issuing this admonition to the disciples precisely because they do indeed have free will.  He doesn’t want them being taken in by fortune tellers, false prophets and false messiahs.  None of these people, not even “the Son” (presumably Jesus himself) has the answers.  Only God can see the future with 20/20 hindsight.   If the disciples want to know the future they will have to learn to listen to God.  And maybe if they learn to listen to God and teach others to do the same, they will make better decisions and the Kingdom of God will emerge!!  But only God knows the day and the hour when that will happen.  That or anything else in this life, for that matter.

What does this scripture say to you?

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