Dluxe's World

Sunday, October 15

(Pre)Destined for debate [3]

Catch up by reading Part 1 or Part 2...

When we left last episode, proto-Dluxe had a problem. According to my pastor's take on Romans 8:28-30, God looks down the hallways of history and perfectly knows what will happen... This knowledge includes who will choose to embrace the salvation He offers. However, God's foreknowledge is not to be understood as 'election' - an active choice by God to save some and not others. While this sounded good, it also meant that I slammed into a theological wall at 100mph as soon as I read Romans 9.

So, back to the Pastor's office I went. As a result of reading Romans 9, I had three key questions:
  • Did God 'love Jacob and hate Esau' simply because He knew that Esau would scorn his birthright? Based on the interpretation of Romans 8:28-30 I had been offered, that's really the only option.
  • It would be unfair for God to choose salvation for [some of] us, right?
  • But Paul is clearly implying something else (especially given his defense in 9:14-21)... Is God really that mean? How could God, to borrow Mark Driscoll's terminology, play Duck-Duck-Damn with people?
As I walked up to my pastor the next Sunday, thumb stuck in the middle of Romans, I'm fairly confident that he was hoping the Rapture of the Church would arrive before I did. Nonetheless, he graciously sat down and patiently listened to my questions. Unfortunately, he really didn't have an answer... Saith the pastor:
Well, Romans 9 is hard to understand. But you'll notice that Paul never says '[Election] is the way it is, folks'... He just deals in hypotheticals. Who are we to question God's methods? Does the potter reserve the right to whatever he wants with a lump of clay? Sure. But that doesn't mean he does. Similarly, 'What if God chose?' doesn't mean that God actually did/does. It's just hypothetical." He finished with a flourish: "God does not choose to damn some people arbitrarily. God could not do that and be loving and we know that God is love. Besides, this is only one book of the Bible... Read the rest and you'll see Paul's statement is abnormal.

You know, I was literate after all! I could just read the whole thing and then see the whole picture. So, that's just what I intended to do.

Well, sorta. I wanted answers right then, rather than in 6 months after pouring through thees and thous. So, feeling that I didn't have time, I decided to become "proto-Dluxe - Master of Strong's Concordance". So, I went home and started looking for choices, choosing, election, predestination, and the like. The problem was that all of the passages seemed to tell me what I didn't want to hear:
This little 'Bible exploration' taught me two things (neither of which seemed comforting). First off, the Bible clearly shows that God both reserves and exercises His divine right to choose who is blessed or cursed. This is held in paradoxical tension with the fact that we are responsible for a 'choice' that was effectively made for us before time was time. I couldn't believe it, but God played Duck-Duck-Damn... And yet, somehow, God was also loving?!?!

The other thing I learned was that even Pastors can argue from a worldview rather than Scripture. I went back to our pastor one more time, begging him to show me the Scripture that would sway me the other way... Instead, he could only repeat that a "loving God couldn't do that".

For the next year and a half, I was very angry with God. I believed in God, but just didn't like Him all that much. I imagine I felt something like children with angry, distant fathers must feel (not that I had first-hand experience)... I can remember listening to sermon after sermon talking about a "loving God" and just hrmph-ing at the whole business. The irony is that if I had pulled out that concordance one more time, I might've saved myself a lot of headaches.

The breakthough came when I was 19. I was involved with a youth 'minstry' called Chrysalis which takes a mixed-team of adults and youth out camping with 20 unchurched kids in an effort to win them to Christ. They have one weekend for the guys and one for the gals. I was asked to serve on the guys team, the girl I had a crush on was already on the girls team, participating meant getting to sit next to her at at least two church functions (and teenage Christian girls get all googley at youth events), and so I was on-board within 5 seconds of being asked.

The patron of our team was the Godliest man I knew, Charlie Barton. 80 year old Charlie was the former district superintendant for the Methodist Church and was just cool. He always had an answer for the toughest question we could fire off, he was always right, and he always delivered his answer with an easy grace that made you think you were talking to a loving grandfather. Charlie loved reaching kids, too... To this day, my mental picture of him involves Charlie, in his sweater "since the furnace didn't work so well", playing volleyball with a bunch of under-20 guys on a humid, 90 degree summer day at Pecometh. Unreal.

During a break in that volleyball game, I walked Charlie inside and helped him to sit down. We chatted and then he asked me why I was so 'detached' from the weekend. Charlie had sponsored me when I went to Chrysalis the first time (as a 'caterpillar') and I later served on youth councils that he oversaw, so he knew me and could read that something was up.

After pouring out my heart and all the story above, I was practically in tears (no surprise to those of you who know me). Charlie smiled, patted me on the shoulder, and stood up... Flashing in my mind was the notion that he had no better response than my pastor at home. But as he shuffled past he stopped and calmly said, "Just read Ephesians 1 & 2 tonight. And talk to me tomorrow."

It's funny that the remedy to a complex, charged situation can be uttered in 2 seconds... "Just read Ephesians."
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding...

In [Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14, NIV)

Here was what had be outside of my grasp... A stone's throw away from where I was reading Romans 9 and probably one line further down in the concordance when I was looking up words. Finally, I saw it - and not just with my eyes. Here was love and sovereign choice woven together rather than set up as some either/or proposition. It had to be this way, because:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved... and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:1-10, NIV)

God had to choose us because we do/would not choose Him. We have made our choice and we choose sin 7 days a week and twice on Sundays. How much clearer can it be: "We were by nature objects of wrath." But God, because of the love He chooses to show to us, intervenes and rescues us. We have been saved not because of an act of our will nor because of what we've done - our wills could not natively make such a choice and our righteousness is pitiful at best. We have been saved by the grace of God, extended to us in love for the purpose of glorifying Him.

And so, my walk towards Calvinism started in a camp bed with a Bible and a reading light. Tomorrow, I'll try to briefly sum up the rest.

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