A Misunderstanding of Election
I have a confession to make…
I used to be a Calvinist.
For a number of years the Doctrine of Election, the teaching that God chooses whom God would love and save, was the comfort of my soul. But…
I was comforted by a false idol.
Furthermore, while the Bible does teach election—the selection of Israel over every other nation, the choosing of Jacob over Esau, people predestined before the foundation of the world to be adopted children of God—I believe this has been misread. From the beginning, that is, from the choosing of Abraham and Sarah, the selection was never an end of itself. It was a means. In Genesis 12, when God chose Abraham and Sarah, God said, “All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (verse 3; NLT). The Divine purpose of choosing Abraham and Sarah was that “all the families on earth”—not just the Jews, nor the Christians, nor the Muslims, but all—would be “blessed through [Abraham].”
The word translated “blessed” is “barak” and it means “to kneel” as in homage or praise or respect. The obvious questions are, “Why are ‘all the families on the earth’ kneeling in respect or praise? And to whom?” To me, the obvious answer to the second question is they are kneeling in respect and praise to Yahweh, the Creator God, the God of Abraham and Sarah. But why? Ah! That’s the question.
Some people, at this point, look at the election of Abraham, Sarah, and their family (whether they’re Jews or Muslims) as the whole point. That is, God chose them to be the true people, the only people. “All the [other] families on earth” were made for destruction (as some suppose Romans 9 teaches). But that’s not the case. The point of choosing Abraham and Sarah, as we have seen, is for the rescue of the whole world. It was through Abraham and Sarah that God would rescue the world. They’ll be God’s instruments, God’s agents, in a world-wide rescue operation.
This all goes back to worldview. How do we see the world? Is it so thoroughly corrupted that it needs to be destroyed? Or is it innately good—indeed, “supremely good” (Genesis 1.31)? For a very long time, the Christian world view has been that all of creation is “supremely good,” though broken (or as St. Paul put it in Romans 8, “subjected to frustration”). Somewhere around the fifth century or so, the idea came about that, because of the “Fall”—the sin of Adam and Eve—all of creation is now so full of sin and decay, the only “righteous” thing God can do is destroy it. Obviously, this would include people. But, as the theory goes, while God’s Holy and Just and Right and therefore fully justified in destroying everything, God’s also Love so God chose to love some of humanity (and we don’t really know who that is, even though we pretend we do). (As an important aside, the doctrine of “original sin” isn’t found in Judaism or Orthodox Christianity and had it’s start, ironically, in the Gnosticism of the second century.)
Furthermore, what’s interesting about God’s choice is that there’s nothing to love about those chosen. There’s nothing redeemable. God, by God’s own power and right, just chose one person from among many. In some cases, as in the case of Jacob and Esau, it looks like God splits a family apart for no other reason than because God “loved Jacob but...hated Esau (Romans 9.13)”. Indeed, in that chapter, St. Paul wrote that God’s choice “doesn't depend on a person’s desire or effort, it depends entirely on God” (verse 16). “So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen” (verse 18; NLT).
Therefore, with all of God’s chosen people destined to spend eternity with God, God can now destroy everything else. I realize this is an oversimplification, but it’s the gist of Calvinist teaching.
But, as we stated above, this worldview misses a huge point—that God’s dream is to rescue all of creation, not just some of it. We see this played out in various other passages. For example:
Psalm 22.27-31(adapted): Every part of the earth will remember and come back to Yahweh; every family among all the nations will worship you. Because the right to rule belongs to Yahweh, he rules all nations. Indeed, all the earth’s powerful will worship him; all who are descending to the dust will kneel before him; my being also lives for him. Future descendants will serve him; generations to come will be told about my Lord. They will proclaim God’s righteousness to those not yet born, telling them what God has done.
Romans 11.11-12, 15-16; 11.32 (adapted): So I’m asking you: they haven’t stumbled so that they’ve fallen permanently, have they? Absolutely not! But salvation has come to the Gentiles by their failure, in order to make Israel jealous. But if their failure brings riches to the world, and their defeat brings riches to the Gentiles, how much more will come from the completion of their number!...If their rejection has brought about a close relationship between God and the world, how can their acceptance mean anything less than life from the dead? But if part of a batch of dough is offered to God as holy, the whole batch of dough is holy too. If a root is holy, the branches will be holy too…God has locked up all people in disobedience, in order to have mercy on all of them.
1 Corinthians 15.21-22: Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ.
2 Corinthians 5.19 (adapted): In other words, God was reconciling the world to Godself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. God has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.
Ephesians 1.10: This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth.
Colossians 1.19-20: Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in Jesus, and God reconciled all things to Godself through him—whether things on earth or in the heavens. God brought peace through the blood of his cross.
From these passages (and many others could be sited), we see quite clearly that the point of the election of Abraham and Sarah was the reconciliation of the entire cosmos. And, if I may sharpen that point a little bit more, that reconciliation has already been accomplished!
Notice again 2 Corinthians 5.19. God “was reconciling the world” through Christ. This is past tense. It’s already been accomplished. The people of God have been given that message of reconciliation. If we want to know what to do, if we want to know what our “calling from God” is—it’s that. Furthermore, Paul was even more clear in Colossians 1. God “reconciled all things...through Christ” and “brought peace through the blood” of Jesus on the cross.
There’s a lot of talk lately about God’s covenant (agreement) with the people of Israel. Of how the sacrifices that were made on their holiest day (Yom Kippur) were made for the whole nation. An Israelite didn’t have to “accept” this sacrifice to receive the benefit of it. The sacrifice only had to be accepted by God. If it was accepted, then forgiveness and mercy were bestowed upon the entire nation. New Testament scholars see in that event an example of what God did through the death of Jesus. That is, since God did the same thing with Christ’s death (once more, God took what humanity meant for evil and turned it into good, see Acts 2.22-24), all of humanity, all of creation, has been reconciled to God! The vocation of God’s people now, i.e., the people who are “called” or “chosen” or “elected” by God to work now, is to implement that reconciliation in our world today.
The old way of seeing election only continues to foster this “us vs. them” worldview. God’s worldview is much bigger. It involves the entire cosmos. We need to open our eyes to what God is doing. We need to let go of “childish things” and see the way God sees. We need to see that the entire creation is “holy land” and that all water is “holy water” (Romans 11.16). We need to see that all people are God’s people and that they’re our brothers and sisters.
My friends, God’s dream for creation isn’t limited by our understandings. It transcends them. We can’t fathom a world in which the “enemy” is indeed a human being with needs and wants of love and kindness and mercy just like ourselves. But that’s the way God sees it. All of creation has been reconciled to God through Christ. That includes our enemies as well as our friends. That includes our neighbors as well as our families. We’ve been chosen to a great vocation. We have to work at building bridges to those around us. We need to look towards God’s ultimate future where “we’ll hammer our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2.4) It’s toward that goal that we’ve been elected. Our enlightenment now is for that purpose—to bring God’s realm of peace and love and mercy to the whole creation.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br Jack+, LC