Election

Commentary on God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

The Bible calls us “the elect” (2 Timothy 2:10) … but many believers are not sure what to do with that. From an evangelical perspective, “election” can sound like, “You’re out of a job!” or more to the point,  “You’re wasting your time soul-winning.”

But the New Testament shows people acting… well… evangelically… imploring people to believe in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38) and advancing God’s kingdom here on earth (Matthew 28:19-20). So, what does election mean? Do we go forth? Or do we let go and let God?

That’s a false dilemma, of course… because even a rock-ribbed Calvinist understands that the job of making disciples is still on the table (Matthew 28:19-20). But what about the other part… that role we seem to play in leading people to Christ? (1 Peter 3:15). Is that a function of our will? Or are they rather predestined to be saved… and soul-winners are therefore puppets — playing a role they cannot help but play in a foreordained salvation drama under election? (Ephesians 1:5).

If by election you mean that people are predetermined, then we don’t have agency in anyone’s salvation. The main problem with this scenario is that people feel as if they are exercising their free wills when they receive Christ… but it would be just that — a feeling… but one generated by God. How else could we feel like we “own” an action that God — on some level — would be forcing us to take?

If this is the case, then our lives are indeed deterministic. But this comes at a huge price. If that’s what’s happening, then God is propagating a falsehood. He would be inserting a feeling that we did not earn or truly “own” — one that our ontological selves did not generate… and one that we body/soul dualists assume is the province of the will and/or the soul.

Most people would say that they feel volitional when they take an action — and under theism, there are only two ways this can occur: God made us so we are truly volitional — that is ontologically volitional — or he made us so that we will feel volitional… but in the absence of true volition. If the latter is true, then God is deceiving us… and I can’t think of a reason why he would.

My position is that we are truly volitional… but this comes with its own difficulties, namely, the work we do for Christ would not get done if we didn’t do it — and that includes speaking to other people about Christ. If this position is true, then election can’t mean predetermination. And what does that mean? It means that God respects our free will so much that we can out-and-out refuse to do what he wants and effectively retard the progress of his kingdom.

I’m not saying that there won’t be consequences when we refuse to do what God wants us to do (2 Chronicles 16:9). But I am saying that — given the rules he laid out when he made this universe — even our sovereign and omnipotent God cannot force us to do anything that we are not willing to do… not and have us still be volitional creatures.

As to election, if we were predetermined to believe in Christ — and this is what election sounds like — then free will would be absent from the salvific transaction (Acts 16:31). And without the free will of humankind, I see no purpose for creation. My assumption is that God knows he can make things… and what non-volitional creatures might think about him wouldn’t really matter any more than what fire-hydrants would think of him. So, what would creation be for if election meant predetermination? (Romans 1:18-20).

But what we choose to think of him means everything to him! After all, he sent his Son to die for us (John 3:16) … and he would not have done that if nothing were truly at stake (Luke 22:42). For that reason alone I do not believe that election means determinism… although I admit that saying God’s sovereignty exists — and that the libertarian free will of humankind exists at the same place and the same time — sounds impossible… but it’s really not.

One way through this election dilemma is through Molinism. Molinism brings God’s omniscience, his omnipresence, his omnitemporality and his omnipotence into the free will equation. Under Molinism, I am still under election in that God "elects" me… but he elects me to a position I freely choose.

To see how all this works while maintaining a faithful notion of biblical election, we need to make sure that we understand those four attributes of God — and perhaps even see them in a new light! So, let’s look at them briefly before we go on to solve the election paradox.

God is omniscient; this means that he knows everything… but what does everything include? Every actual thing? Or every possible thing? It must be the latter. If that were not true, then there would be things that would be logically possible to know that our “omniscient” God did not know… and we can’t have that.

God is omnipresent; this means that he is everywhere… and this means he is everywhere fully and at the same time. But what does everywhere include? Every actual place? Or every possible place? It must be the latter. If that were not true, then there would be places where it was logically possible to be that our “omnipresent” God could not be… and we can’t have that.

God is omnitemporal; this means that God exists at all times at the same time. But what does “all times” include? All actual times? Or all possible times? It must be the latter. If that were not true, then there would be times when it was logically possible for an “omnitemporal” God to be that he could not be… and we can’t have that.

God is omnipotent; this means he has unlimited power — and the universe displays this! (Romans 1:18-20). But what does “unlimited” include? The power to conceptualize and build the actual universe? Or the power to conceptualize and build every possible universe? It must be the latter. If that were not true, then there would be universes that were logically possible for God to conceptualize and create that our “omnipotent” God could not create… and we can’t have that.

Okay… now here’s the magic. This combination of attributes makes it possible for God to be present in an infinite number of universes (via his omnipresence) and watch us live every one of our possible lives in real-time — but at the same time (because of omnitemporality). Since God spends no time or energy (because of his omnipotence) doing this, he can create or conceptualize any number of possible universes, and all the data from every possible permutation is continually available to him (via his omniscience).

A God who knows this kind of “everything” can compare every life’s counterfactuals with every other life’s counterfactuals. That is, he considers every possible life with an understanding of how it would affect every other person’s life… because their lives, too, are being evaluated in the same instant. Now, do you ever wonder why and how you are here… living this particular life? Molinism has the answer.

God — who has all the data from the infinite number of lives he’s observed us living — chooses one from among those where we freely received Jesus Christ. But he has other objectives, too. So he also selects the life that will give optimal benefit to his kingdom. Then he actualizes that life… and we live that life… and here we are reading this! ... trying to figure out election!

What election does is guarantees that the life you are living is the best possible life for both you and for God. As such, the question should be, since God handed you the best life of all your possible lives… shouldn’t you be handing the best one back to him?

Molinism also shows us why the condemnation of the lost is necessary but not cruel. You see, God doesn’t actually condemn anyone. People condemn themselves (John 3:18) — and they do so by rejecting Christ in spite of an infinite number of chances to grab onto him (John 3:16; John 6:44). Nevertheless, God still actualizes whichever life of the unsaved will best fit his objectives because even the unsaved have roles to play in God’s kingdom.

But why wouldn’t he annihilate the unsaved instead… and save them (and us) from all the unpleasantness of eternal damnation? Dream on! Annihilating a person on the grounds that they chose not to grab God’s outstretched arm would also annihilate free will. That’s how important the free will of humankind is to God.

Besides, if 100% of the population got saved, then it would be obvious that the process was not free… and that someone made null the “free” choices of millions of people. A world like that would prove that free will is a sham… and we can’t have that… even at such a high price.

So note this well: we are all living our lives in real-time while making real choices. It’s just that God (in his omniscience) saw that — in this particular life — we would choose to be saved. And since God had a hand in the redemption process before the foundations of the world (1 Peter 1:20), we are legitimately classified as “the elect” from before the foundations of the world… while those who chose not to listen to God are legitimately classified as “the lost” — aka the non-elect... and that's how election works under Molinism.

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