The Elephant In The Room

Lets face it, there are some difficult passages in the Bible. More often than not I think it is easy for us to develop an idea of who we think God is and how we think God behaves and when we stumble across tough Scripture that counters the way we see God we either pass over it with the thought that we must not understand it properly or we simply attempt to make it fit the way we already view God. I’ve got to tell you that the more I study Scripture the harder it gets for me to make God fit into my finite view of him. The truth is God will never fit into my limited understanding of Him and the more I try to make him fit the more I create for myself an idol that serves my purpose. A God who has boundaries that are limited by human understanding is no God at all.

Therefore, when I come to a passage that is difficult to accept or hard to understand I recognize that the problem is me. The problem isn’t that the passage is too difficult, the problem is that I don’t see or think of God rightly and because of my limited understanding of God I cannot fully grasp or embrace the truth being taught in the Scriptures. Thus I find myself longing for a greater and fuller understanding of God so that I can accept those passages that seem difficult to me.

One of the more difficult truths found in scripture that is hard for people to understand and accept is the doctrine of election. It may be the opinion of some that we should not talk about it, treating it as if it is some obscure thought that shouldn’t be given the light of day in church. The problem is that scripture talks about election and predestination as a reality in well over twenty five different passages. It isn’t something you can ignore without ignoring a lengthy and significant portion of God’s Word.

I understand the difficulty that people have with this particular doctrine, but at the same time I think it is foolish on our part to ignore it all together. To take an element of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross that God has intentionally revealed to us in Scripture and make it something that we fear, ignore, or reject all together just seems wrong to me. Isn’t that wrong? Should we not embrace that which God has revealed to us in his word? We should at least talk about it. Regardless of what our final conclusion is concerning its meaning, we need to at the very least have the conversation. In the end we may not agree on exactly every point of the doctrine of election, but at least by having the conversation we are able to admit that it is real, it does exist, and it is important enough to be included in God’s Word.

At the same time we must be careful not to make this an issue that divides us. The existence of election and predestination is undeniable and cannot be debated. The interpretive issues involving exactly how election and predestination affect salvific history is not quite as concrete. Whether or not God’s election is universal or restricted (corporate or individual) is what continues to be the dividing line among believers. Are we chosen in Christ corporately so that all those who are “in Christ” belong to the nation of Israel and thus are the elect or has God chosen before the foundation of the world individuals who would be brought into eternal salvation? While I believe we can have a healthy conversation about the principles of each of these views I don’t believe that this is an issue that should be allowed to bring disunity among believers.

Regardless of your final interpretive stance on the doctrine of election the realities of life, death, and spirituality do not change. It is still a reality that not everyone will go to heaven. Hell exists and there will be people who go there to spend an eternity separated from God. The Bible speaks of this fact as a concrete truth and our interpretive view of specific doctrines will not change this reality.

There will be some people that go to heaven. Jesus Christ came in the flesh, died on the cross, and physically rose again from the grave in order to save lost sinners. There will be a remnant of people that will enter the kingdom of God. Salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone and only those with faith in Christ will enter his kingdom. Regardless of our interpretive position on election and predestination, these realities remain unchanged.

There is still a need for salvation. People are still saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith comes from hearing the gospel and hearing the gospel happens through people proclaiming it. Christians must still proclaim Christ, care for widows and orphans, look after the poor and disenfranchised, and live on mission for Christ in the world. None of that changes with one’s view of election and predestination. 

Regeneration, conversion, faith, justification, sanctification; these are all still necessary elements of salvation. Human individuals still make a decision to follow Christ, some will follow and some wont, and each individual will be held accountable for the decisions that they make regardless of how one views election and predestination. There will never be anyone that truly has faith in Jesus Christ and desires his salvation who is denied it, nor will there be anyone who is given salvation that doesn’t want it.

One’s theological stance on the doctrines of predestination and election should never bring about dissension and division among believers so far as it remains Biblically sound and gospel centered. And honestly, that is the key. The reason there is apprehension when it comes to this topic is because there has been so much abuse from those who take such extreme stances on election and predestination that their theology is no longer Biblically sound or gospel centered. Because of the negativity and division that has surrounded the Christian community regarding election and predestination, these doctrines have been sadly neglected in the church. Pastors, leaders, and Sunday school teachers will often avoid the topic like the plague. I believe, however, that it is important for us to stop treating election as if it is the elephant in the room lest we be in danger of rejecting parts of Scripture that make us uncomfortable.

We have to remember that God isn’t going to fit into our box. There will be things that we don’t fully understand. But the more we study God’s word, all of it, the greater and fuller our understanding of God will be. And who better to teach us about those things we don’t understand than God himself? May the spirit enlighten your hearts and minds as you diligent seek his truth in all you do!