In Deuteronomy 14:2 we read:
“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
And in Ephesians 1:4 we read:
“He [God] chose us [elected us] in Him before the foundation of the world.”
Two significant themes, or assertions, in both Testaments is the idea of being chosen or elected, out of all the people of the earth, in all times. We speak of the Jewish people as, “chosen,” and Calvinists speak of Christians as those who were elected, predestined to be such, while those who end up in hell, the non-elect, are those who were predestined for perdition (double predestination). According to each scheme, we have then, the Gentiles and the non-elect. Both doomed to an unclean, unholy, “otherness,” existence, regardless their choices. In one case, it is a matter of birth and ethnicity. In the other, it is a matter of divine decree from before eternity.
I doubt I need point out the concerns of believing such. For instance, obviously, such beliefs could lead to a sense of superiority or pride. Is there a greater contributor to the “othering” of people different than us, or outside our understanding of “salvation,” than the notion we were “chosen,” and “others” were not? And not chosen or elected for any reason we can ascertain, but due only to holy fiat, the inscrutable will of God. We were simply lucky.
Some might say, no, “blessed.” Really? When we hear those who say the reason some were elected and chosen was exclusively to demonstrate something regarding God’s glory, of what type of “glory” would this be? One wonders if rather than “glory” all it does is demonstrate a pure, amoral, and supreme power or will. A will, it would seem, that has nothing to with the good or even love.
Putting that aside, let’s consider the notions of being “chosen” or “elected” from a different perspective. And this perspective is hardly original but has been put forward by, as many know, Karl Barth. While original to Barth, it dovetails with many ancient church fathers (for instance, Origin and St. Gregory of Nyssa) and their belief in the redemption of “all” things (even if Barth was equivocal on the matter of universalism/apokatastasis). Let us consider Romans 5:18:
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”
I am aware of the counterarguments (Moo for instance), but as “types,” it is difficult to get around this verse and others if we follow the logic behind Adam’s “one” trespass implicating all humans—for all times. If we argue the one act of righteousness doesn’t lead to justification and life for all men, how do we then claim all humanity is under judgment and in need of salvation because of Adam’s fall? Is the “all” used here different for the “one act” as opposed to the “one trespass?” If “Adam” was the first representative “man” or humanity, then the Incarnation allows for Christ to be the second and true representative man, but who is without sin.
And just as Israel failed to live up to their calling (as did Adam, as do we), Christ fulfills their role as well. Jesus is the true Israel. In other words, the chosen people and the elect, do not point to a divide but rather act as the specificity we see in Christ, a single human, in a specific place and time. That specificity however points beyond itself to take on a universal character, thus their being “chosen” to bless all the peoples of the world.
And if Christ is the only elected and chosen one, to what end is such a status put? He did not come to be served, but to serve. He especially singled out the poor, the down-trodden, those who were thought or assumed not to be “chosen” or “elected” as being the focus of so much of his teaching (Sermon on the Mount; Matt 25:31-). He identifies with and has good news for these:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free…” (Luke 4:18)
The paradox of these ideas regarding being “chosen” or “elected” like the rest of the upside-down world that Christ introduces in his coming, is the reversal of fortunes if you will. It would appear that one (Christ) is chosen and elected, for all those who were told they were not. Further, this suggests that these then, all these “others,” all those who were not chosen or elected (in the minds of those who deemed them such, but not in reality), were, paradoxically, the reason for the choosing and electing of Christ, almost to make this very point—that all are chosen and elected. Consider these verses:
“For in him [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven…” (Col 1:19)
“as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:10)
“Our savior God…intends that all human beings shall be saved and come to a full knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:3-4)
Keep in mind the “all” in these passages. What does “all” encompass? For all those who believe we should take the Bible at its word, or “literally,” are they willing to take the “all” literally in these passages? Perhaps we shouldn’t, but why in other places, but not here?
If all things in heaven and earth will be reconciled and gathered up in the elected and chosen one, then by his life, by his death, and by his resurrection we are elected and chosen. This is why, ultimately, there is no, “us” and “them” or no true enemy. All existence, all creation, was elected and chosen by way of his being elected and chosen—and this gathering up of all things in Christ.
Further, is the reconciliation of all things an eternal object lesson for those like the son who remained home, while his prodigal brother roamed? Is it a parable trying to teach humility and grace to every power or person, every will or soul who believes it is somehow chosen above all others? I wonder, was it this very pride and conceit that led to Lucifer’s fall? Is believing one is chosen and elected the very seed bed of sedition, rebellion?
We live in the slow-motion world of temptation, one of the greatest being our tendency to see everything through a binary, black and white, us vs. them, lens. In a fallen world, wisdom demands understanding that some still operate from hate and not love. And that “some” includes “us.” Thus, we navigate that environment with laws, customs, and wisdom as best we can. However, we should never lose sight of the ultimate end of “all things.”
This is why, I believe anyway, the gospel is good news for everyone, all things, and not just an “elect.” Any theology that seeks to divide, to “other,” to create an inside/outside, holy/profane, clean/unclean, saved/lost, two story universe of any kind goes against the sweep of Scripture and the, “grain of the universe.”
A demarcated world, a two-story, inside/outside, universe of “chosen’s,” of the, “elect,” always ends up being bad news for someone. Usually, someone unlike… “us.” That alone should give us pause. It tells us so much about such schemes.
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