Note: I have heard that some of you have been reticent to sign up for in person worship because you do not want to take up a space that someone else might want or need. What a beautiful concern! Here’s how you can address it. So far, we have not had to deny anyone because we’ve reached our max capacity. Even so, when you register there is a space for you to add a note. Simply indicate that, if we reach our max, you would be happy to yield your seat to someone else. Then, if that is necessary, we’ll contact you with thanks. If not, you’re in!
During this month I am addressing the topic of election. You can read the two previous essays on my blog here. Today I want to address the most common way that people think about election: “Election means that we are predestined to go to heaven or hell regardless of what we believe, how we live, or what we choose.” If election is that automatic, we appear to be nothing more than programmed robots, and here we are imagining that we have lives of passion, conscience, deliberation, and choice.
First, let me say, this common presentation of election is simply not biblical. Biblical election is when the texts express confidence in God’s power and God’s goodness together. And, biblical election is found in texts that deflate human arrogance by reminding us that some folks have ears to hear and some don’t; some folks have hearts that are hardened and some don’t; and that God is free to initiate, rather than dependent on our invocations or incantations. So, something as simple as beginning a prayer with “God is great, God is good” reflects part of the biblical tradition that ascribes sovereignty and freedom to God. Still, it is overspeaking to describe election as God’s whim that takes away human agency. There are too many texts, stories, testimonies, and claims in the Scriptures that express the human capacity to participate in, to follow, to trust in, and to respond to God. Claims about God’s power and goodness do not preclude human choice and will. In fact, the name “Israel” means “one who wrestles with God.” That’s not a robot.
Also, the chief way that God is described – perhaps the only claim that tries to get to God’s essence – is that “God is love.” The nature of love, insofar as we understand and experience it, is that for love to be genuine it requires freedom. Therefore, if God’s love is important to us, then God’s freedom to love (or not) is important to us. And love not only requires freedom to be given, it grants freedom to be reciprocated. God’s freedom to love and our freedom to respond are expressed and implied repeatedly in the most repeated phrase of Scripture, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”
So, election, as God’s free choice to love, really is a thing in the Scriptures. All of the great stories then begin with God’s free choice: Creation begins with “Let us make ….” The promise to Abraham begins with God’s choice. God consistently exercises freedom by choosing the younger over the older (Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau), inverting the typical means of allocating power in the Ancient Near East. And, of course, in the New Testament, it is God who sends God’s son to bring salvation.
However, while the idea of “election,” as God freely choosing, is the foundation for the biblical stories, that is far different from a definition of election that makes God an arbitrary power and that reduces us to robots. Love requires freedom, yes, but it also requires vulnerability. And that is where we’ll pick it up next week.
Mark of St. Mark