As I mentioned last time, it was the Jew Albert Einstein who said the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible and that light (energy), space-time, and matter are bundled together in relationships. In other words, relationships are behind everything.
That God is somehow detached from creation and that the universe is mechanistic is the kind of dualism that the great Scottish Theologian TF Torrance disliked most. Torrance believed that throughout the pages of the Bible, we meet a Triune God who is personally and deeply related to the cosmos by His word and through His Spirit. This deep and personal relationship is seen most profoundly in the Incarnation event, where the Triune God came to us personally. Torrance famously states that there is no other God behind the back of Yeshua/Jesus. That in Yeshua/Jesus, God came among us as one of us, and He has pledged Himself to us for our sakes, not His own, that we could share in the life of the triune God.
Btw, the idea of plurality within the Godhead is not foreign to Jewish Theology. The 1977 book, “The Two Powers in Heaven,” by the Jew Alan Segal and Michael Heiser, “The Unseen Realm,” examine this fact in more detail.
See Daniel 7:9-14 for a glimpse at the two powers… “The Ancient of Days and one like the son of man”…
First, a few words about the bigger picture. The scriptures describe a plan to have a cosmos filled with free human and spirit beings who would voluntarily love and be devoted to God without coercion. These individuals would willingly submit to processes that result in the formation of characters so hardened against sin and harmonized with their creators that throughout all eternity, the cosmos would be filled with free human and spirit beings who will always choose life.
To carry out this plan, choices had to be made, and God chose first… one of those choices was Israel. The $10 word for the idea that God makes choices is “election,” and it’s a controversial, bewildering, and offensive subject. We can have a narrow and confined understanding of what choice means when it comes to God’s choosing. We think of choice as exclusive… I can go this way, or I can go that way. And while it can certainly seem that way, this narrow view has resulted in some pretty disturbing pictures of who God is. When you boil them all down, most creepy ideas start with exclusivity… some folks are in, and the rest are out.
By the way… like the other articles in this series, these are my “Cliffs Notes,” and, like the other essays, this installment is not meant to comprehensively treat this enormously important subject. These are my thoughts as I’ve read, studied, and thought about it. To paraphrase St. Paul, we all see through fogged-up glasses.
When it comes to exclusivity, the hardcore, 5-point Calvinists… the “Caliban” or “Calvinistas,” as they are sometimes referred to, love the idea. They relish in the fact that, in their view, from the beginning, God chose some for heaven and some to writhe in Hell forever. This is why men like Pastor Mark Driscoll, for instance, once preached to his congregation that God hates some of them and how the great Rev. Jonathan Edwards could preach his famous sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” with pictures of a God who dangles certain people over the flames of Hell like spiders by a thread… a God who “abhors them and is dreadfully provoked.”
In this theological scheme, there are two groups of people, those “elected” to salvation and those “passed by,” or “deliberately damned” or “reprobated” before the foundation of the world. These perspectives result in alarming pictures of God’s character. I’m bringing this up because, as we’ll see later on, many of the folks who see election this way are the same folks who think Israel is out and the Church is in. At its core, Calvinism gives us nothing objectively real to proclaim as divine fact and leaves us with no basis for absolute assurance.
While the principle of “election” can be challenging, it discloses a deep and beautiful pattern. An unspoken but discernible “inner logic” hidden not only within the Bible but within all creation helps make the ways of God intelligible to us.
Here it is: There is the elect, and then there is the elect within the elect.
That sounds really exclusive, doesn’t it? These ideas can appeal to our pride because we like exclusivity. We want gated communities, closed groups, private schools, and clubs. We enjoy a favored status.
To get a mental picture of this “elect within the elect,” consider a recurring sequence in the Bible. God moves from one to many, then back to one within the many. Within redemption history, it looks like this: Abram, one individual chosen from among the nations who, btw, would later become known as Gentiles… Abram, the one who became Israel, the many. Then, from within Israel the many, God narrowed it down to Judah the one. Then as Judah became many, in the fullness of time, Yeshua (THE ONE) was born, and then from Yeshua back to the many.
This is what Theologians call the pattern of divine reversal, and it’s how God planned for Yeshua to undo the damage done through Adam.
The genius of God’s plan is that it’s always been about the many, but to pull it off, He started by choosing one.
“For God so loved the many that He sent THE ONE” John 3:16-17
“For as in the one man Adam the many died, so in the one Yeshua the many shall be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22
I know how this can sound, and although there are valid biblical reasons to hope all will be saved in the end, I’m not a universalist. I’m not saying this pattern means every human being will be saved. At the very least, it means God’s mercy has reached all mankind. At the very least, it means that Israel, as an entity, will acknowledge Yeshua/Jesus as its Messiah.
That said, there are valid biblical reasons to be an Orthodox Universalist.
In Romans 9, St. Paul begins a dense description of “election” that concludes in Romans 11. Academic Theologians say it’s the most condensed and sustained theological train of thought in the Bible. You have to put your thinking caps on; it’s not light reading.
Within those dense chapters are plenty of opportunities to get lost and to misinterpret the thrust of Pauls’s argument by putting a few pieces together isolated from the larger picture. This is especially difficult for us today because, as a culture, we’ve developed such short attention spans.
Romans 9-11 is all about God’s election of the community of Israel, and St. Paul states emphatically that God’s gifts and His calling are permanent… final… irreversible, despite their rebellion and sin.
“Election” is God doing the choosing because He knows the end from the beginning. He chose Israel because He wants Israel… and through his covenant with them, the cosmos has been and will be reconciled to Him without coercion. At first glance, the election of Israel seems exclusive, and, in one sense, it is. But in the larger scheme of how God will redeem the universe, while it appears to begin with exclusivity, it culminates with inclusion.
The plan has always been totally inclusive. Theologians sometimes refer to “election” as “The scandal of particularity.”
It’s a scandal because it’s so particular. It has something in it to offend everyone, the chosen and the unchosen. But there is one thing we want to avoid when we think about this topic. Don’t confuse “election” with favoritism. It’s easy to do with verses like “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.” Yes, God chose Israel as his key to redeeming the world, but let’s not forget it’s been an excruciating and agonizing ordeal. And Israel has suffered like no other people, which is one reason the modern State of Israel is full of so-called atheists. Their atheism is a thin disguise for a deep offense at God for His historic dealings with them.
We prefer a God who is more egalitarian… what we think of as fair. We want a level playing field, a God who doles stuff out equally. God is like that with some stuff, like the rain falling on the just and unjust. But when it comes to how He will redeem the cosmos, God chooses. When He chooses, especially from within a family, it makes people envious and angry.
Ishmael & Esau are two men who felt the sting of not being chosen or skipped over. As a result, what crept into their hearts is still playing out in history today. When God chose Abraham, it wasn’t because Abraham persuaded Him. There is nothing in the narrative of Genesis 12 that indicates there was something about Abraham that attracted God to him.
God simply made a choice, and Israel has had to deal with the consequences. Trusting God can be difficult if you don’t know his character. Luckily, we only have to look at Jesus/Yeshua, who discloses to us God’s faithful and complete character. Hebrews 1:3
Take a look at Romans 5:20 and Romans 7:5. These verses provide insight into a design feature hidden within the redeeming genius of God. St. Paul wrote that the law came in to increase the trespass… that the law stimulates a sinful response… by design. I think the election of Israel works the same way.
By design, the election of Israel provoked a reaction not just from within Israel but from the nations. These responses were predictable and necessary for how God would redeem the world. Sort of like every action resulting in an equal and opposite reaction. God knew what the reactions would be, and His plan considered those reactions and devised a way to include them in his ultimate dream of redemption.
Let me zoom out. To include all of us in the triune life of God, God made a series of particular choices; choices about a specific time, a certain place, a particular method, and a particular people, all leading up to the actions of one specific person.
The divine election of Israel has the following structure. Knowing the events that choice would set into motion, it was decided that to include all of us, God needed to predestine us for adoption as sons and daughters before the foundation of the world. And for that to happen, the eternal Son would need to be slain before the foundation of the world to preemptively deal with the inevitability of sin. (Revelation 13:8 and Ephesians 1:4-5.)
These decisions were made before the Principalities and Powers existed… so no one but the Father, Son, and Spirit knew about these choices. And they became the foundation of the foundation. 1 Corinthians 2:8-9
In a future post we’ll look at an even smaller and more central pattern. How “the one represents the many.” This pattern helps us understand how Israel continues to bear witness to God even though the current State of Israel is secular. Most of the population isn’t even sure there is a God, let alone the idea that they missed their visitation.
Next time in Part 6 of Why Does Israel Still Matter? We’ll look at How Israel continues to point the world to God.