Exploded doctrines

God loves us "with an everlasting love."

ON a hot, windy July day in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a curious crowd gathers on the dim lower deck of a pilgrim ship. An earnest, bearded man in heavy clothing perches on the edge of a wooden sleeping berth that looks uncomfortably short for him. In sermontoned seventeenth-century English, he answers questions about his religious beliefs and the persecution that compelled him to leave England for America.

Sounding perfectly resigned to the facts, he explains to the circle of children and adults that before their birth God had determined which people would be saved and which damned. We cannot know why this is so, he says. It is enough that God in His infinite wisdom knows.

As the adults stand silent, a girl barely in her teens asks in a tone of polite disbelief, "Can God change His mind?" Appearing somewhat surprised at the question, the man pauses. Almost reluctantly, he cites Scripture which indicates that God can make the fallen rise and bring down those who are exalted. But, he concludes solemnly, this is rare, and not to be expected. The girl persists. "If I'm not going to be saved, should I try to be good?" The pilgrim demurs. "Learned questions, child, and wellposited. I believe one should try. But I shall have to ask an elder of the church about this matter."

This is the end of the issue. Ready to explore further?
November 29, 1999

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