God, Bureaucracy, and Eschatology

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As I see it, the doctrines of universalism and double predestination, seemingly incompatible, are actually two peas in a pod. Or to use a theological version of the biological taxonomy, they are two doctrinal species under a single theological genus. How can this be?

Helga Nowotny once lamented that the nostalgic idea of the future, which is understood to be open and contingent, is being replaced “by the idea of an extended, but manageable and controllable, present.” The future, in other words, as we think of it, either can be, or will be, depending on one’s perspective, be abolished through careful management of human options. As Bauckham and Hart put it, “A world without future will be a world in which everything, including people, will be completely managed by bureaucratic administration.”

It is unfortunate, to be sure, that for many Christians, the study of eschatology has become little more than an attempt to peer into the divine decisions for the future–an attempt to peer over God’s shoulder as he methodically applies his sovereign control (bureaucratic administration).

Or to put it another way, if there were a way to completely wrest away all human choice through the exercise of divine bureaucracy, then there are really only three ways to accomplish it:

  • God could make a singular choice to damn the every single human being (a doctrine never seriously taught to my knowledge–theoretically possible but never actually entertained in the history of doctrine); or,
  • God could make the choice on behalf of every human such that each and every human is, by God’s eternal, hidden decree (Calvin’s “Decretum horribilis”? Institutes, III.17), either elect or damned (i.e., the doctrine of double predestination); or,
  • God could make the singular choice to redeem all, regardless of their status or relationship to God in life (i.e., the doctrine of universalism).

However, setting the options out in this way reveals something quite appalling: it makes God out to be a rather efficient bureaucrat whose decision is dictated wholly by a singularly applied divine decision (call it the “divine policy”) that is no respector of persons. Whether all are damned, some damned and some saved, or all saved, the result lies solely upon the Divine Bureaucrat carrying out his pre-determined policy. And in all three versions, we do have an eschatology at work, but in none is there a sense of hope for which Scripture seems to enjoin Christians to exercise (e.g., Titus 2:13), but only a sense of fait accompli. For whether damned or saved, all such eschatologies are no longer about hope for mercy before a gracious but righteous God. Rather, it is either a wish that one’s fate will fall on the positive side of God’s Divine Ledger of Salvation (double predestination), or else an epistemological certainty that regardless of what happens, all will end well for everyone (including me) after all (universalism).

Einstein once said, “God does not play dice.” Although I am sure he was speaking more about his repulsion toward “randomness” in the universe, the other side of the coin (to mix the metaphor) is, “God does not push buttons.”

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One thought on “God, Bureaucracy, and Eschatology

  1. As I read Barth, he does indeed oppose both double predestination and apokatastasis for the same basic reasons. Both attempt on the ostensible basis of protologically-eternal decrees (and on the real basis of speculation from the world as understood) to declare that the world will end up a certain way. Both tend likewise to extend backward into a protology that declares that the world was made in a certain way conformant with the eschatological presupposition (which is actually a historically-derived presupposition). The resulting systems are neither proper protology nor proper eschatology, and they are also not proper understandings of the present. We are the lower-level bureaucrats who seek to use God’s auto-pen to underwrite our policy ideas, and so make God into the ultimate upper-level manager.

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