Elected to What? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter J. Leithart   
Monday, 25 October 2010 12:02

“Predestination” is spoken in whispers in many churches, when it is spoken at all.  In the popular imagination, it raises the specter of an arbitrary, tyrannical God who created billions of robotic toys to play with.  Some He decides to keep, most He burns.  Like flies to wanton boys, so are we to the Presdestinating God; He kills us for His sport – to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Glouchester.  Calvin’s idea that election fills us with assurance and security falls on deaf ears.  For many, election sure don’t look like good news.

Calvin is right: The gospel is shot through with election. Jesus is the Chosen One of the Father, the embodiment of chosen Israel, the chosen Seed of Abraham, and through His death and exaltation the Father gathers a people, a new Israel, chosen and elect by being grafted into the chosen tree of Abraham (Colossians 3:12; 1 Peter 2:9).

Behind the choice of Jesus and the church is Yahweh’s choice of Israel.  The first chapter of Israel’s story is Yahweh’s choice of Abraham (Genesis 18:19), a choice that is the foundation of the great act of redemption that is the exodus.  Yahweh chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and loved them in that choice, and because he loved the ones He chose, He also chose their seed (Deuteronomy 4:37; 10:15) out of all the nations of the earth (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2).  Likewise, Jerusalem becomes Yahweh’s city by His choice (Psalm 132:13), the place where He chose for His name to dwell (Deuteronomy 12).  David is His chosen King (2 Chronicles 6:6; Psalm 78:70; 89:3, 19).  He persisted in His love and choice even when Israel turned from Him, and through His “chosen one” He redeemed them (Isaiah 42:1; 43:10).

As Christopher Seitz has pointed out, Israel’s election is not simply a privilege for Israel.  Its aims are bigger: The chosen people is “the means by which sinful creation receives the blessing originally intended for it, for all nations and people.”  Yahweh elects Israel for mission: “Blessing will come through election, and mission – God’s word of blessing to the nations – will be the means by which God uses Israel to accomplish this.”

The mere fact of Israel’s existence is gospel.  That Yahweh, the Holy One who created heaven and earth, would reach into a human history of corruption and chaos to choose Abraham so that He can bless all the families of the earth: That is the best possible news.

Israel’s election to mission isn’t dependent on Israel’s obedience to her commission.  Election has “ontological” not merely ethical weight.  Elect is what Israel is, whether or not she acts as a chosen nation should.  In the event, it is precisely through Yahweh’s judgment of her unfaithfulness that blessing flows out to the Gentiles, because God’s calling and choice are irrevocable.  Seitz says, “In Israel’s curse, to use the language both of Genesis 12 and Deuteronomy, there is God’s missionary act of blessing.  By becoming the sinful goy in judgment, being sent forth into the hands of the nations . . . there stands the paradoxical fulfillment of the promises to Abraham.”  Israel’s history as chosen people typifies that of Jesus, the chosen, and rejected, Son.

And of course, behind the choice of Israel is the choosing God, the eternal God of election and the God of eternal election.  To say God the Creator elects is to say that God is free, free to choose, free to love, free to be God for us.  To say that God is the God of eternal election is to say that He determined from the beginning to accomplish His ends for the world, determined from the beginning to sum up all things in His Son, determined from the beginning that He would pursue this aim with undeterred determination.

This is the brilliant insight in Barth’s initially jarring claim that election is fundamentally God’s self-determination of His “being.”  Barth doesn’t mean that God stopped for a moment before two alternatives – to be a faithful God, or to be a cruel and unreliable despot . . . coin flip . . . comes up heads.  Yet in being the faithful God, He is purposely and consciously faithful, not compelled to be faithful by anything outside Himself.  When God freely created the world, He freely determined that He would be a Creator of a creation distinct from Himself.  And when He freely created the world, he freely determined that He would be God of this Creation to the end, no matter what.  He determined that He would be the Alpha from which all things move and the Omega in which all things are reconciled.  He freely determined that He would be a God who goes to the cross for His people.  He freely and joyfully determined that He would be that kind of God, and not another.

Election is not fundamentally about the elect, but about the character of the electing God.  And election demonstrates not only God’s utter independence from His creation, but also the relentlessness of His love and His absolute trustworthiness.  Election is good news from top to bottom, good news infinitely from one side to the other, since election proclaims the God who elected to be God for and of Israel, God of and for us.

Insofar as election is about us, it’s about how we get caught up in what God has chosen to do in His world.  We get caught up in what God has elected to do because the electing God has elected us.  As Suzanne McDonald put it in her recent Re-Imaging Election (Eerdmans, 2010), Israel is elect to representation, to represent Yahweh to the nations and the nations to Yahweh, so that the promises to Abraham will be fulfilled.  So are we, and that means that the Creator who has determined to bring His creation to fulfillment has determined also to employ us to realize that fulfillment.  If the electing God is with us, what can stand against us?  What could be more energizing than that?

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