Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wrestling with election

No, this is not another political post. I'm talking about sovereign election, the Bible's teaching that God really does choose those whom He wants to be His children and the corollary teaching that He has not chosen everyone to be saved. For the 2nd week in a row, I am wrestling through these issues with my Wednesday morning Men's Group.

That the Bible teaches election is obvious from even a cursory reading of the biblical text. After all, who has not at least heard of the Jewish nation referred to as the "Chosen People"? Indeed they are, but such references make no sense apart from the Bible's teaching concerning God's sovereign choice. That's the most obvious example of course, but consider God's choice of Abraham out of all the moon god worshiping pagans in Ur, of cheating Jacob rather than honest, if short-sighted, Esau, of Saul and then David and then Solomon as kings of Israel, and so on.

Moreover, Romans 9 is even more clear from the questions it raises and answers. For example, after writing for a while about God's sovereign choice of whom to save, Paul says this:
You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (v. 9:19-21, ESV)
It thus seems to me on reading my Bible in depth on this topic that any understanding of election in which God is not so sovereign in his choice that Paul's rhetorical question must arise is not a biblical understanding of it. I therefore find myself forced by the Bible's own words to embrace a strongly Calvinistic theology of election. That said, I am still not quite comfortable with it.

Specifically, my objections to election boil down to questions of mercy and caprice. While I don't want everyone to be saved (i.e., I like the idea of a heaven which does not include Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Alexander, Mao, Ceausescu, Che, the Castro brothers, and various other tin pot dictators and evil men), I also like the idea of a great wideness in God's mercy which encompasses most everyone except the most evil. Since God's Spirit can transform sinners into redeemed saints, why doesn't God do so in all but the most hardened cases? Or even do this with a few of the hardened cases just to make the point that God's mercy far exceeds even the greatest and deepest of man's sin? To put it another way, while it comforts me that God is perfectly just, so that He will finally balance the scales of cosmic justice, I find it at the same time disquieting that there will apparently be a lot of ordinary sinners (in other words, people like me) who go to hell. Since I am an ordinary sinner, but lots of other ordinary sinners will go to hell, does that make God capricious in his mercy?

Let me be clear: I do not think that God is either capricious or unjust. I believe rather, that God is unbelievably merciful by saving anyone, and my deepest reaction to the fact that His mercy includes saving me is one of indescribable gratitude. Yet there is still a part of me which longs for the salvation of people I know and love but who do not seem to be included in God's mercy with me. For them I grieve, and pray, and continue to wrestle with God. Moreover, I find comfort in my wrestling in Romans 9. For alongside Paul's strong statement of God's sovereignty ("Who are you, O man..."), you also find Paul saying this:
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsman according to the flesh...(v. 9:2-3, ESV)
So I guess I'm not alone in my wrestling. It's even in the Bible. I hope that those of you, my loyal readers, who are theologically inclined will keep wrestling along with me, struggling toward a deeper and fuller understanding of our mighty and matchless God and Father.

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