Defending God's Unconditional Election1
I recently came across a blog written against the doctrine of God's unconditional election. The author, a Christian blogger and speaker, set forth what he believes are five logical implications of this doctrine which he finds repulsive and inconsistent with Scripture. Interestingly, he himself is responding to a post by John Piper which set forth five reasons to embrace unconditional election.
Although I emphatically disagree with every single implication he draws, I nevertheless appreciate his willingness to write about his struggles and ask questions of this difficult doctrine. Further, I believe much of what he says is representative of the struggles many American Christians have when confronted with this doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty over the salvation of man. In that regard, the questions he asks are a helpful reminder for those of us who are on the "inside" of reformed Christianity to make sure that we are communicating our position in a way that does not present unneeded stumbling blocks.
What is the doctrine of unconditional election? Simply stated, unconditional election (hereafter UE) is the biblical teaching that God has chosen in eternity (before the creation of the world and mankind) those who will be saved, and that this choice was not based on anything in the person chosen. As the standards of our church, the Westminster Confession of Faith, put it: God's choice of some men for salvation was "out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in...them" (WCF 3:5).
So what are the "logical" implications to this doctrine which this brother finds so repulsive?
1. If it's true, salvation is an arbitrary lottery.
Uncondtional election, "seems to paint God as random and capricious...it implies that God picks and chooses favorites for no apparent reason."
Reponse: It is true that Scripture never gives us the specific reason why God chose whom he chose, but Scripture is very clear that his decision was not arbitrary, not a random lottery. It was, as Paul states, "according to the purpose of his will" (Eph 1:6). In other words, God had reasons sufficient unto himself for the decisions that he made, and while we don't have access to them, it doesn't mean that they don't exist.
2. If it's true, God's creation is an act of cruelty
"If God chose before the foundation of the world who He would save and who He would not save, then it is an act of unimaginable cruelty to create those people He has already chosen not to save. They never have any hope of anything other than eternal conscious torment."
Response: First, we ought to be very slow to make these types of assertions. God's ways are so much higher than ours that we must approach questions like these with a proper dose of humility. "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'why have you made me like this?" (Rom 9:20). Second, although he does not seem to recognize it, this implication is also a problem for his own view. Unless the author is a universalist - believing that all men will be saved (and I don't get the impression that he is) - then I can put the same question back to him. You see, even if we assume that man has "free will" to choose for or against Christ, and that ultimately his eternity is in his own hands, we are still left with God creating the world knowing that some would freely choose to reject him and spend eternity in hell. He still created people, in other words, that he knew would not be saved, and had no hope of anything but eternal torment. So this "implication" does not only need to be answered by those holding to unconditional election, it needs to be answered by anyone who holds any view other than universalism.
3. If it's true, then loving my neighbor is an unfair demand
"This leads me to wonder, if God only loved a few enough to save them from hell, why should I love my neighbor?"
4. If it's true our natural response will be survivors guilt
"When I even briefly entertain this notion of unconditional election, I’m overwhelmed by the unfairness of it all. Why should I be saved and others damned? If there really is no reason beyond “God’s free choosing”, I’m just one of the few lucky ones, a survivor of God’s fierce wrath."
5. If it's true, God cannot be trusted
"Suppose this is true, that “before you were born or had done anything good or bad, God chose whether to save you or not.” If I believed that, I’d be terrified to have children. I’d live in constant fear that perhaps they weren’t chosen before they were born, and they will be damned to fiery torment no matter how much I love them and try to point them to Jesus."
Response: I have elected to respond to the final three implications in one sitting, because I think they all reflect the same error - that of trying to "peer" into to the doctrine of UE in a way that goes beyond what Scripture says, and leads to conclusions that are against what Scripture says. It is natural for us, especially when faced with a doctrine like UE, to begin to ask lot's of questions. I understand that. However, we have to be careful that we do not let our questions lead us into speculation about truths which God has not revealed. After all, as Moses had to tell the people of Israel, "the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children" (Deut 29:29).
These last few objections provide a good example, in my opinion, of why classic reformed Christianity has always warned against speculating beyond what God has written in his Word. Our own Westminster Confession, for example, states in 3:8 "The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care..." The Canons of Dort, which is where the doctrine of UE was formally articulated, has a very similar warning regarding how election is to be taught: "without vainly attempting to investiage the secret ways of the Most High" (Article 14).
One of the classic signs that the the doctrine of UE is being distorted and not handled with 'special prudence,' is when we begin to ask questions and draw conclusions like those above - conclusions that lead us away from that which God has clearly revealed. For example, the author raises the specific example of being 'terrified' to have children, because he would always worry about whether they were chosen or not. As a father, and as someone who firmly believes that UE is biblical, I freely admit that this thought has crossed my mind at times. What do I do when it does? Well, I suppose I could spend my time obsessing over whether or not my children are 'elect,' or not, but not only would this be an exercise in futility (as it always is when we seek to look into the secret counsel of God), it may actually keep me from doing what God does clearly call me to do for my children - love them, pray for them, point them to Jesus, raise them in the fear of the Lord, set an example for them of Christian life, and trust in God's covenantal promises to be a God not only to me, but to my children.
Here is the bottom line: God has revealed the doctrine of UE in Scripture, but he has never revealed WHO is elect. Moreover, he has clearly not commanded that we use this doctrine to be the grid through which look we look at ourselves, our children, or our neighbors. God commands us to love our neighbor, not because they are 'elect,' but as a reflection of his general love for mankind (Matt 5). To speculate about our neighbors election is to use the doctrine in a way that God never intended. With respect to ourselves, God calls us to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, not to spend hours speculating whether we are personally 'elect.' This would actually be to put the cart before the horse, as we only know our election through our belief in Jesus and living a life of obedience to his commandments (2 Pet 1).
Finally, I can only express a certain bewilderment with my brother about the personal effects of UE. He says he would feel guilty. But again, is this how God says it should make us feel? Read Ephesians 1. The doctrine of UE is intended to bring us comfort and assurance, but also to lead to praise for God glorious and his indescribable grace. If we don't feel the way God says we should feel about this doctrine, I would humbly suggest that it is highly probable we do not understand it rightly.
That I, a wicked and rebellious sinner, would be unconditionally loved by a Holy God before the foundation of the World? That I, who deserved nothing but God's wrath and judgment would be pulled as a brand from the fire at great cost to our Savior? What can I say but "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!"