The doctrine of unconditional election (absolute foreordination) is an important aspect of my theological forecast that heterocentrism will be deposed as an intruder in Christianity, the way racism and slavery were. Heterosexism is the systemic privileging of straight relationships, perspectives and people to the marginalization of non-straight relationships, perspectives and people. But this series is not primarily about refuting anti-gay theology or proving the moral innocence of same-sex love under some or other circumstances. Rather, its purpose is to establish the backbone of a more fundamental biblical reality, a biblical reality on which stands and falls every other: the righteousness of God. Relative to that indescribably high mark, defending the innocence of some same-sex activities and those that participate in them is like Job’s insistence on defending his innocence before his accusers. Job’s focus on God’s goodness was so eclipsed by his his fixation on establishing and defending his own righteousness, he didn’t realize that he’d been prepared to sacrifice God’s righteousness on the altar of his defended innocence. The righteousness of God is fundamental and primary. So the relevance of this series to the struggles, experiences and perspectives of same-sex attracted Christians will be sprinkled throughout the series very much in passing.
The typical Christian’s understanding of judgment is at odds with the biblical revelation on God’s judgment. Most people think that at some point in the future, each individual will stand before God, and that God will assess the actions of those individuals against the standard of the Law and from this assessment determine how the person will spend eternity. There are verses that indicate that this is how judgment works. Hebrews 9:27, for example, says, “It is appointed unto man to die once and after this, the judgment.”
But based on many other verses, I think Hebrews 9:27 isn’t talking so much about a judgment as it is discussing a verdict. The judgment is long settled by then. I’ve blogged at length about why I think the bible is fundamentally Calvinistic so I won’t roll out the individual scriptures behind the view I’m about to flesh out. This view would be true even if unconditional election weren’t true, simply because salvation by grace is. If salvation is by grace, then God will not be using anyone’s works to determine whether he’s saved or not. “Judgement” would have happened already at the cross.
Not based on anything that was in those people themselves, God in eternity appointed some to eternal life and excluded others. As a result of that, those who have thusly been appointed will, at some point in their lives, receive the free gift of eternal life from God and produce fruit that reflects that new life as a testimony of God’s judgement – which happened in God’s choice to appoint them to eternal life.
The resultant fruit may or may not be in accordance with the prevailing culture’s idea of what righteousness is, even if the culture calls itself Christian. The fruit may or may not be in line with righteousness as per the Law. There are other posts where I show that it just isn’t. The obsession with measuring fruit is the essence of legalism. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath he argued for mercy over legalism. At any rate, the foreseen fruit of salvation or their greater disposition towards producing more fruit is not what made God pick those people over others; rather, the fact of being elected produces the fruit in the elect. If a person has to strain to act like the elect he may already be an eternity too late to change anything, and if he’s elect he has all eternity to catch up to what God has already done for him.
Being God, God will not wait for creatures to impress him with their gold-star behavior or sincere desire to be “good” before he makes a decision about their fate; his decision precedes their actions. God has already issued the judgment. We show up for the verdict and sentencing. Here, the Law is footnote, and anyone who bothers to appeal to it will only prove his sinfulness. Yet the greater part of Christendom trifles with this approach every day, and Christianity is culturally understood to be in the business of creating “good” people. Where is the Reformed Church?
John 3:18 seems to present Christ as the sole touchstone for assessing what God’s judgement on each person is:
“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.”
There stands the judgement in its entirety. There was a judgement, but it never was against anyone who believes in him. He who does not believe has already been judged.
It literally happened before we were born. Listen to Romans 9 again, bearing in mind that any distinction between any Pauline discourse on nations’ election to service and individuals’ election to salvation is entirely man-made; an imaginary boundary, wonderful, pretty, forced into the text and foreign to it like the cherished – and fictional – distinction between the ceremonial law that Christ abolished and the moral law that he supposedly didn’t:
“Yet, before the twins were born (bold mine) or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger’. Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’. It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?’ But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: ‘I will call them “my people” who are not my people; and I will call her “my loved one” who is not my loved one’, and, ‘In the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be called “children of the living God”.’
Notice Paul’s total emphasis not on anything promised or produced by any human being, but on God’s unilateral decision to love and shape the vessel into what he wants.
I’ve seen it argued that Romans 9 makes an allusion to a Jeremiah imagery of the Potter and the Pot. The Potter is flexible in that passage, responding to changes in the pot’s attitude. Therefore, the argument goes, when reading Romans we must import the idea of divine flexibility into this passage. This argument belongs in the same category as objections addressed in the previous post.
Judgment Has Already Come
Spiritual self-sufficiency breeds godlessness – that is, the absence of any felt need for God, the absence of any appeal to God for mercy, and, therefore, the absence of God himself. Many of us don’t think we’re as bad as the Pharisee in Luke 18 who says,
“God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector”
but in stories, attitudes are sharpened, made more vivid, more graphic, for emphasis. In “real life” those attitudes, and their opposite despairs (“God could never love me – I’m too bad!”) are entirely human, humanistic and presuppose that God’s love is a response to something in or about the elect. So even trying to correct this attitude is entirely for people’s benefit and not God’s. Correcting it may just be further proof that we think we will grow worthier of God’s love if we rid ourselves of pride. The strange and wonderful truth of God’s love, along with his whole-hearted approval of his people, is that they can never be “good enough” or “too bad” to receive it entirely as a gift. If they were given an expectation instead of grace, his people would cease to grow in his love and remain in a state of failure.
Grace is the divine power whereby God freely delights in his children and as an indirect consequence of so delighting in them, makes them delightful. Harboring expectations wouldn’t only strip the cross of its power but also God of his. It’s one and the same power, of course. Also, it doesn’t make sense for God to expect when he has already ordained. In other words, we’ve spent so long creating God in our image that we wouldn’t know him if he revealed himself in scripture, in Christ or in the resilient faith of those we think he has written off as not-his-children, not-his-people and not-his-beloved. Christ didn’t get crucified by people who were spectacularly more evil than we are; he was killed by us in a different age. The being Christians worship who loves some believers less infinitely than others until they live up to some whitewashed expectation, is not the biblical God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob.
Yet in churches, I meet an atmosphere thick with expectations. Oh well, I guess…
“Blessed are the poor in spirit” Jesus taught. Most of us don’t have enough awareness of our existential poverty to realize that before we were born or had done anything good or bad, God elected. At the judgment, many of those people will discover that in spite of life-long professions of Christianity and external signs of Christianity (as our culture understands it), God never knew them. He knew about them, certainly. But he never elected them. And this showed itself in their failure to love, though they got everything else “right”.
There is nothing more off-putting than this self-righteous religiosity. “Your righteous works are as filthy rags before me!” God said, because framed in this self-sufficient worldview, even goodness looks hideous because it always gets dispensed as a wage and not as a gift. The person giving it has never known himself as being entirely graced by love and so cannot give to others what he ha never known. Even his tender mercies, then, are just plain cruelty. “I just love you so much that I feel the need to bash you with this bible and tell you that you’re an abomination in God’s eyes” may be an exaggeration given for emphasis, but it’s still true. We forget this. If Christ is the end of the Law for them that believe, then in the very place where it was said of them, “Abomination”, it can be said, “Beloved Children”.
Conditional goodness is hideous because it is void of one essential ingredient – agape – without which even the tongues of angels are nails on a chalkboard. This sort of Christianity is water that doesn’t wet the tongue; it’s a blanket that doesn’t keep in any warmth. It is why most atheists of good conscience can’t stand churches and often accuse us Christians of hypocrisy. Unless we know ourselves to have been loved for nothing that resides in us, we cannot help holding out on humbly loving others the same way.