Monday, March 26, 2012

The Doctrine of Election Questioned

I’ve always struggled with the theological concept of election. As it was often presented to me, it described how God has elected, or chosen, some to be saved and live eternally with him in heaven, and elected others to suffer eternally in Hell. I know the doctrine has a long history, but it still has always given me fits. It made the unfortunate ones who were excluded from God’s favor seem like the human presto-logs that were needed to keep the fires of Hell stoked.

Theologians and biblical scholars like Lesslie Newbigin, Gerhard Lohfink, Christopher Wright, and others have helped me with this. They frame the idea of election, not as God’s way of excluding some over others, but rather the election of the few for the sake of the world.

Israel is God’s elect, gathered to be his own people through whom, all the families of the world would find blessing (Genesis 12:1-2). Israel came to into existence for the sake of the world.

Jesus is God’s elect, and through him God is reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5). Jesus was born, lived, suffered, died, and rose from the grave for the sake of the world.

Those who follow and trust Jesus are also gathered as God’s elect, not for their own sake, but for the sake of the world that God loves and is reconciling to himself. We participate in God’s mission for the sake of the world.

I know that different faith traditions have other views of election. However, there is, in my view, a problem with the idea that God would simultaneously love the world and yet pre-condemn the majority of human beings to eternal suffering and torment. I don’t see that the larger narrative of scripture supports that view.

The ability and freedom for people to receive or reject God’s love is a human prerogative rather than a divine imperative.

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