And the Lord said to Job: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”
Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”
As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
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? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
Pastor Randy is back!
It’s only temporary as he’s leading a group on a two-week trip to Israel in the middle of this month (and alas, I won’t be going with them), but we renewed our conversation last Wednesday evening. We spent very little time in Lancaster’s Galatians book, but we did revisit Calvin and his five points, otherwise known as “TULIP:”
- Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
- Unconditional Election
- Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
- Irresistible Grace
- Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)
I have to admit, Romans 9:13-24 is a devastating argument and one that I can’t ignore. The last time this came up in our conversations, I blogged about it and came to the uneasy peace that God’s mercy outweighs His justice and He desires that none should die, but all live in Christ.
And even Jesus said that “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), which does not seem to mean for God so loved the elect… He loved…loves the world.
But what do I do with all this? I happen to agree that “He who makes the universe makes the rules” and that God is sovereign over all, even when we don’t like how He expresses His ultimate sovereignty over our existence.
If God “pre-chose” who would be saved and who wouldn’t be, who am I to argue?
But one of the things I really like about Judaism is that it’s OK to wrestle with God about the “hard stuff” and not be afraid (though I expect to get banged up in the process).
One theory of “election” is that God already knew before He created the universe who would accept Him in faith and who would not, so the “elect” are simply those who would have chosen God anyway and the “non-elect” are those who, no matter what, would never have accepted God.
But that’s not how Romans 9:13-24 reads. It reads like God made His decision and, as his creations, as clay jars from the potter’s hands, we have nothing to say about how we are formed, if we are formed “saved” or “doomed.”
On the other hand (I actually argued this last Wednesday), we are all formed in God’s image, which means that everyone has something of the Divine in them/us. We are all searching for God, granted some in pretty malformed ways, but that’s why the very concept of “spirituality” exists in our world.
Pastor Randy didn’t buy it.
But I do remember reading a Rabbinic commentary (I can’t remember where anymore) that said part of being made in God’s image has to do with having a built-in desire to do good as God does good, which may account for both religious people and atheists trying to help our fellow human beings. Even the person who denies the existence of God still is made up of the essence of God, the Divine spark within man.
And free will is one of the effects of being made in God’s image according to the Aish.com Rabbis. But if we are “pre-chosen” since before the creation of the universe and we absolutely cannot lose our salvation as a “pre-chosen” group of people, then free will is an illusion.
Or is it?
I won’t give the details, but Pastor Randy did tell me a story that undercut his own argument. Apparently, he knew a man who was an exceptionally fine Pastor and Christian, a man who served God and man unswervingly for decades, a man who no one doubted was is in God’s hand and that doing the will of God was his only waking thought.
Then he suffered a terrible tragedy, but not one any more difficult than many other Christians. The effect through, was astounding. Again, I won’t paint you the full picture, but this man of God, who even Pastor Randy was convinced was a trustworthy servant of the Most High, did a terrible thing and sinned against not just a few, but ultimately against anyone who had ever believed in him.
Most of the time, if we take a Calvinist point of view, we can look at a “Christian” and realize that they are not really committed to Messiah as shown by their behaviors, their “fruits,” so to speak. Yes, even the best of us struggle with sin, but there’s a difference between that, and remaining captured by the ways of the present world and only paying lip service to God.
The falling of Pastor Randy’s friend was almost literally something that came out of left field, a totally unanticipated event. How could it have possibly happened? Even Pastor Randy is baffled. Either this guy was a world-class actor, or there is something wrong with Calvin’s theory. It could mean that God has allowed some small part of us to be completely outside of His control.
But if God’s plan is absolute, cannot be defeated, and if God Himself can’t be surprised, what do we do with free will and what do we do with election?
We talked about another interesting thing that relates to all of the above: sequencing.
As human beings living in linear time, we understand the world in terms of sequencing. That is, something happens first, then second, then third, and so on.
But as far as I’m concerned, God isn’t subject to linear time. He doesn’t “see into the future” or “look into the past.” He exists outside of creation (although He can intersect it) and is not subject to the rules of our reality. For God, there is no before, during, and after…there is just is.
OK, this is all speculation, but what the heck, I can’t lose anything by giving it a shot.
God decides to create the universe but saying that, it really means that God has already created the universe, God is in the process of creating the universe, and God is about to create the universe, all at once. It also means some interesting things. God gives man free will to choose or not to choose Him but that happens at the same time (everything happens at the same time from God’s point of view) as us making all of the decisions we’re ever going to make from birth to death. Literally, the act of God creating the universe means that He is not just starting the universe and then letting it progress, He’s creating the universe from Big Bang to the last gasp of entropy and everything that occurs in-between in a single, unified act.
Try to get the implications of all this.
It doesn’t mean that God created the universe, and then the earth, and then the garden, and then Adam, and then Eve, and then all the animals, and then watched Adam and Eve sin, and then the fall happened, and then sin entered the world, and then….
It means that God created the universe, sun, moon, stars, earth, garden, humans (all of us), and at the same time, all we humans committed every single event every single living being would ever, ever commit from zero to infinity, all as the same creative act.
Yes, I can’t prove any of it so don’t ask me to try. This is just my imagination shooting off sparks and hoping that some illumination will occur.
But what if it’s true? What would it mean? It would mean that at the instant of creation, predetermination and free will, even seemingly minor and random actions (how dust motes float through the air), all happened in a single instant and as a single action.
It’s only from a human being’s point of view from inside the bubble of creation that concepts like election and free will have any “legs” so to speak. It’s not like God decided who was saved and who wasn’t before they were born, exactly. And it’s not like we have free will to defy God and His plan, exactly. Our decisions from birth to death were all part of the creation process. Yes, we will make, are making, and have made those decisions of our own “free will,” but since our entire lifetimes go “squiggling” across the nearly infinite panorama of cosmic history, we’re all part of the single creative act by God wherein He “created” that history.
It’s terrifically metaphysical and impossible to truly communicate in human language, since we (including me) are all designed to communicate accurately only about the environment contained in God’s creation. “Metacommunication” is practically a “mystic art” since it requires describing the indescribable.
That’s the closest thing I can come up with to explain why God isn’t heartless and cruel (though, as Job 40 and Romans 9 seem to say, I don’t have the right to question…but as Genesis 32 seems to say, I do) and at the same time, feebly try to explain the co-existence of man’s free will and God’s total sovereignty. I know my theory’s got more holes than a golf course, but as I said, it’s the best I can do.
I think God created the universe exercising just slightly more mercy than He did justice, so we’d even have a fighting chance, but given that, at the moment of creation, our lives flashed across history like a hyper-energized photon, so even if creation took any time at all from God’s perspective, within that unimaginably fleeting instant, we made all of the free will decisions we would ever make, and when God declared creation a done deal, so were all our decisions…a lifetime’s worth.
It just seems as if we have future decisions to make from inside linear time.
So God has mercy on whomever He wills and hardens whomever He wills. Because His will was, is, and will be the will of Creation and we human beings willed (are willing, are about to will) inside of that creative act.
A lousy theory, I admit. If you’ve got a better one that explains all the facts and still accounts for God’s sovereign will and man’s free will, I’m all ears.
Oh, and if the hard and fast rule of Divine Election turns out to be true, what do we do about Luke 14:15-24?