For the longest time, I’ve avoided thinking too hard about the inconvenient or uncomfortable aspects of the faith.
With “predestination” for instance, I simply packed it up in a box and wrote “God is sovereign” over the lid. And that was that. When it came to “election” – the Calvinist doctrine that believers are already chosen – I didn’t even approach that can of worms.
I settled for simple definitions of the terms that had little to do with me — little to change the way I thought or lived. Because, honestly, while there was a part of me that was just lazy to delve into the theology — there was a much larger part that was simply afraid.
What if I learnt something I couldn’t deal with or reconcile? What if God didn’t elect my loved ones?
Fear was what I felt about election when I first heard of it as a teenager. The notion that God picks some people and not all to be saved was deeply offensive to me. It seemed to go against everything I had been taught in Sunday school and still believed — surely God was supposed to love and save the whole wide world!
So I lived with the convenience of quiet confusion, even as I did all the other Christian stuff I didn’t have to think too much about.
Is God fair to save some and not all?
My blissful ignorance to the larger cosmic workings of our existence continued until just recently, when someone asked a question at Bible Study Fellowship about Romans 9 that made my head hurt.
Well, surely. But just as I was about to lock in that thought, a thought came to mind, and I remembered how my father looked as he lay ruined from cancer. I had told God then that He wasn’t being fair. Why were other Christians healed, but my father wasn’t?
Accusations of God’s unfairness or injustice most frequently rear themselves in suffering, and are symptomatic of a certain entitlement and carnality. Our demands are damning: Do we even accept that His ways are higher? Are we willing to submit? And do we submit under our definition of fairness or God’s? They aren’t the same.
The difficult truth I had learnt to accept in life is that God doesn’t owe us anything. We just feel entitled. So what would be “fair” would be for all of us to be hurled into hellfire. Because that’s what we truly deserve — death — and yet Jesus has given us life instead.
Do we even accept that His ways are higher? Are we willing to submit? And do we submit under our definition of fairness or God’s?
But I squirmed in my seat as I listened to the teaching leader speak about election.
“God is fair. No one can say God is unfair: The offer of salvation is universal and excluded to none. ‘Jacob I loved, Esau I hated’ — Why? Both were sinners, both deserved judgment — neither deserved salvation.
“God chose who would respond in faith to His promise. We are so ruined by sin, we are unable to respond by faith — unless God is first at work in us to give us the ability to respond. Salvation is God’s work. It’s not human effort.”
As he spoke on, he challenged what I quickly realised was a very incomplete understanding of election. Maybe there was some remnant pain in my life from seeing my father not having been chosen for healing. But I found it hard to reconcile the fact that God predestines some for salvation and not others.
It’s just hard to swallow. Because fundamentally, most of us believe and feel that we should be saved. The way we see it, a good God shouldn’t send anyone to hell. The human view is that a good God would snap His fingers and save the day.
To be fair, He did save the day, but I hadn’t really internalised how much of a just God He is as well.
I tried to break it down for myself by imagining God was throwing a party.
Was it the case that God would invite some people, but not the rest? A bojio by God felt unfair to me. Here I was tempted to think of people off in some unreached jungle in the world, but even they have a shot at knowing Jesus and are without excuse (Romans 1:20).
Or was the party one where God graciously invited everyone, but only a few responded and showed up?
As I read the Bible, the Lord led me to Matthew 22. In this parable, a king had sent servants to invite guests to his son’s wedding banquet, but some of these guests “paid no attention”. Worse still, other invited guests “seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Matthew 22:5-7).
What really caught my attention was verse 14: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
I really couldn’t wrap my head around being chosen, because I had told God in the past that I firmly wanted nothing to do with Him after my father passed on. So I was one of the first invited guests.
The way I see it, if God had drawn up some cosmic list of names which said “you can enter” or “you cannot enter” based on a moment of choice and free will — I wouldn’t be writing this article. After all, I’m inherently too much of a worm to pick God (Romans 3:11-12). Instead it is solely by His sovereign grace that I have been chosen.
God stands outside of time, omniscient, and I believe He sees and can confirm the great choices of our lives. So why didn’t He harden my heart like He did with Pharaoh’s (Exodus 7:3-4)? Why instead did He soften my heart, that the Spirit would quicken faith within me again, years later as a young adult?
It can only be mercy. Mercy I will never deserve. I rejected God, and yet I am chosen, when I too should have been buried under an ocean of sin. Now I see that at the end of it all, God stands sovereign. Just as He heals who He wants to heal, He saves who He wants to save.
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:15)
But just a chapter on in Romans 10, the Bible also teaches the parallel truth that election does not exclude the offer of the gospel! Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Human choice is not discounted in the sight of a God with outstretched arms, waiting for us to call on Him. All are invited to the party, but only the chosen will want to repent from sin and become His friends.
In the time I’ve been chewing on this, my good friend shared something from RC Sproul which left me deeply moved.
“Another significant difference between the activity of God with respect to the elect and the reprobate concerns God’s justice. The decree and fulfilment of election provide mercy for the elect while the efficacy of reprobation provides justice for the reprobate.
God shows mercy sovereignly and unconditionally to some and gives justice to those passed over in election. That is to say, God grants the mercy of election to some and justice to others. No one is the victim of injustice.
To fail to receive mercy is not to be treated unjustly. God is under no obligation to grant mercy to all—in fact, He is under no obligation to grant mercy to any. He says, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy” (Rom. 9).
The divine prerogative to grant mercy voluntarily cannot be faulted. If God is required by some cosmic law apart from Himself to be merciful to all men, then we would have to conclude that justice demands mercy. If that is so, then mercy is no longer voluntary, but required. If mercy is required, it is no longer mercy, but justice.
What God does not do is sin by visiting injustice upon the reprobate. Only by considering election and reprobation as being asymmetrical in terms of a positive-negative schema can God be exonerated from injustice.”
I see that I am the one who has been unjust. In truth, I have been unjust from conception. Yet I have wagged my finger in God’s face countless times, demanding things I will never deserve — all while He withheld wrath from me in mercy.
Honestly, it feels like the more I learn about the nature of my salvation, the less I really know of the infinite God. But what I’ve learnt about election is that He is merciful and just and I … I am just totally depraved.
But since I am totally depraved, I want to be totally humble about what I’ve learnt. Just as much as I am chosen, I am a beggar pointing other beggars to the banquet.
God I pray that even as I learn about the hows of faith, You would keep me looking at the so whats. Use me wholly, totally, sovereignly as Your humble and obedient vessel to do Your will. Let my deeds outweigh my words — make my life profit Your Kingdom. Thank You for choosing me, and for all You have done and will do.