To Choose or to Be Chosen: Lessons from "The Giver"

Even as young Jonas comes to believe that he must bring more personal freedom into the community, his own life retracts the notion that such opportunity for choice is necessary for authentic experience. It is not the choices that Jonas himself might have made that give significance to his life; what gives his life meaning is the fact that he was chosen. The text draws attention again and again to what it calls his "selection" to the office of the Receiver of Memories, a selection that was made without Jonas's knowledge or participation. In the choice that really matters for his life, Jonas is not the chooser but the chosen.

The Christian message of the New Testament makes this same distinction between the chooser and the chosen. It is the ways in which the disciple is acted upon rather than (or, anyway, in addition to) the ways in which she pro-acts, that defines a life of discipleship. Christ said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you." And for what is the disciple chosen? For the cross, for submission to injustice, for suffering, for humility and humiliation. For a life of being acted upon.

It is much more difficult to find a basis for these ideas in LDS scripture. In the restoration worldview, humans are "agents unto themselves," and they are put on earth to "act for themselves and not to be acted upon." There may be glimmers of a theology of chosenness in the notion of foreordination, for example, or perhaps in Christ's calling of twelve Nephite disciples, but there are problems with such a reading in both of those texts. It may take a more subtle reader than I to reconcile the spirit of restoration teachings on agency with the New Testament vision of discipleship. And it remains an open question why and on what authority I would undertake such a re-reading, anyway. But I continue to be drawn to deeply attenuated notions of choice and subject, and I intend to stay on the trail.

1/26/2011 5:00:00 AM
Rosalynde Welch
About Rosalynde Welch
Rosalynde Welch is an independent scholar who makes her home in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and four children.