Street and lawn signs are appearing and media advertising and the information barrage has started. We are in the midst of an election.
Did you know, the verb elect comes from the Bible? It means ‘select, or choose out.’
In scripture, an election is mostly something God does. It’s in both Old and New Testaments, from Moses to St. Paul — here’s a sample: For he (God) 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 man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. (Romans 9.15-16)
How someone gets elected in a democracy like Canada is pretty straightforward. It should involve almost nothing we would call mysterious. There should be no controversy about it. We believe that we can make a contribution to our community, as their elected representative. Desiring to be chosen, we enter a fairly lengthy process of preparation, nomination, campaign, interviews, debates and meetings — all in an effort to best present ourselves as worthy of peoples’ trust and support. Finally the day dawns, the votes are cast and, if we and our team whom we represent have done the job, we are elected. We’ve won, by our desire and effort.
The biblical doctrine is rather different from this (although many people wish it were not). Like every other truth about God, there is a certain amount of mystery here, and sometimes controversy and confusion. Basically, we aren’t comfortable with a personal God who makes ultimate choices regardless of our own deserving; regardless even of our desire, our effort to resist him.
Every religion has at its core some system whereby merit is rewarded. Work hard enough, for long enough, and you will be safe. Saved. Elected! Christianity alone does not. It ignores the whole, “I’ve done my part so God should do his part,” idea. Christians have no idea why it was God’s good pleasure to choose us in particular to believe in Jesus Christ. We do not know who else he has chosen either.
What we do know is that had we not been chosen for life we would not be believers now. Furthermore, we trust that since the initiative was God’s, we ought to rely upon him to accomplish everything that is ultimately-important for us. Knowledge that God has elected me, chosen me out of a world which does not believe, to believe, is a phenomenal joy and comfort to me, every day.
This is mysterious, and I know it’s controversial — today especially, in such a time of so many spiritual options (what theologians call ‘pluralism’). If you wish, you can dismiss biblical ‘election’ very easily, as just something Christians think. You might even add, “as some Christians think,” although it’s impossible (for me) to think I had anything to contribute apart from saying, “Yes, please!” when God asked me to be his child.
You can dismiss election. But I hope you can’t forget it.
In 1973 Fredrick Buechner wrote, “The fact that I know you so well that I know what you’re going to do before you do it does not mean that you are not free to do whatever you damn well please.” Theorizing about God will never work: he’s all about grace; unmerited favour; unlimited power; ultimately, he’s all about love. We should view everybody, and anybody we meet, as possibly being numbered by God among the elect.
And we should ask ourselves, “Am I?”
Rev’d Guy Bellerby is Minister of Christ’s
Church (Oceanside), Anglican Network in Canada