Election and Relationship

I find myself defending a high Calvinist position often in theology class because I want people to give it a fair hearing. But this brings up many questions with respect to election. Are we forced to come to faith? Are we forced to love God? What about my choice to love another? These sorts of questions are common place in such discussions. I think underlying many of these concerns are our modern concepts of liberty and relationships. After all, we are Americans, which carries with it some semblance of anti-authoritarianism. We want and desire free will; we can determine our destiny with the choices we make. We have rights to not be forced to do things we don’t want to do. That’s the liberty aspect. The relationship aspect elevates the free choice of love to great heights. In some ways this is true. Sometimes we have to choose to love another person even when we do not want to. But another part of the modern idea of love is the promotion of feeling to center-stage. We need to feel good in our relationships and feel the love of another.

What are the implications of liberty and love on the theological doctrine of election? Well, I’m glad you asked. Two things come to mind. First, our initial response to election is we feel repelled. Nobody can force us into relationship with them. We are not automatons – we can make decisions and live freely. Thus, liberty confronts the idea of election. But, the second implication is a shift in our understanding of humanity’s relationship to God. With the rise of the modern concept of love, we primarily think of love being given between two peers, two lovers. This has become the primary metaphor for our relationship with God today and I find it lacking. We don’t pray to God our Lover, but to God our Father. Jesus is our Lord not our boyfriend or girlfriend or adolescent crush. But this is what too many praise and worship songs reinforce today – the love relationship between peers built merely upon feelings.

I said I found this metaphor lacking. Let me tell you why. First, our primary relationship with God is one between a father and his children. I think this is the overarching motif found in the Bible. We don’t choose to be a part of a family. Either we are born into it or we are adopted into it (both biblical ideas again). These are both passive. This is why I think election makes sense. Covenants in the Bible are not voluntary associations one can join on a whim or to make new friends. No, you are chosen to be included in them. I don’t think the new covenant changes in this regard in relation to the OT covenants. The Father-Children metaphor needs to be recovered in the church today, which is difficult because of the often bad relationships children have with their fathers in our society. Nevertheless, we should emphasize this metaphor.

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