on election

No, not the recent U.S. election… rather the biblical doctrine of election.

(This will be a quick one)

Election is one of many themes in the Bible, but it is a large one.  When studying it, one should know at least two things about it: 1) the biblical understanding of Election (from Genesis 12 right through to the New Testament) grows and develops over time; and 2) it retains the same basic ‘shape’ (which I like to call ‘the Genesis 12 shape’) right through.

In closing, here is an example of how election is NOT shaped in Genesis 12:1-3 …

The ‘election’ of Abraham and the people he is to be representative of, had nothing to do with their post-mortem destination (i.e. “I shall whisk the souls of you and your people away from your decaying bodies and up here to heaven after you die…”).  Rather, it had everything to do with investing them with a task to perform on earth (i.e. “I’ve chosen you to bring blessing to all the nations of the earth…”)…

16 thoughts on “on election”

  1. So if God elects certain people to do certain tasks on earth, how are you supposed to know what God has elected you to do, if anything?

  2. Cheers Jack,
    I think we can discern two kinds of ‘vocation’ that are given to humans. One is the general vocation or ‘job’ we have to do, which is summed up in the word ‘love’ (which does no harm to a neighbour), and the other kind would be the kind of things which would only apply to one person (i.e. ‘get clean drinking water to this or that community’, or ‘get along side that struggling youth and be a mentor to them’, etc.).
    As far as the Abrahamic election to ‘be a blessing’ to the nations of the earth is concerned, I think this is a vocation that extends to all humanity, which we see focused in the calling of Abraham. There’s a Jewish phrase which reflects the task humans have of wisely governing the earth, which says something like “I’ll make Adam (humanity) to watch over things, and if he doesn’t, I’ll send Abraham (renewed humanity) to sort it out.” So, what you see in the stories (i.e. Noah’s flood, Babel tower, etc.) within the first 12 chapters of the Bible (and also afterward) is humanity failing to be truly human and then being renewed (re-humanised); which is what the Bible (including the person and work of Jesus) is all about really, making us truly and fully human (or to say it Christologically, to conform us into the image of God in Christ – the true human) – queue Pilate: ‘Ecce Homo’ (‘Behold, the Man!’) :)
    and now, I’m REALLY rambling. :)

  3. Do you think we really are being made more truly and fully human or more Christ-like? It seems to me that history repeats itself and mankind is no more human than it was in the first 12 chapters of the Bible.
    And while the Abrahamic election can be viewed as a vocation for all humanity, do you believe that God still elects individual people to do particular things?
    Don’t sweat the rambling, I find it helpful :-)

  4. Good question,
    You’re absolutely right, I think, that history repeats itself. And you’ll get mixed/contradictory reports about whether things are getting ‘better’ or ‘worse’; but… for me, the work of becoming more fully human is our task whether things are good, bad, getting better or worse.
    As for God still electing people to particular tasks, I certainly think He does. We may not get the ‘audible’ command, but if we’re looking (and I think God wants us to be looking!) for opportunities to be an agent of change, we won’t have to look long. There are likely to be many such opportunities around us where only you or I as individuals can bring change (family, neighbours, workplace, etc.).

  5. But sometimes there might be in a church say a need in a particular area, eg cleaning the toilets, and people say its not their calling,not what they have been elected to do, they are for example ‘a visionary’and their time is better spent in a comfy office dreaming up big plans for the church. I can agree that God, if He exists, calls all people to love others and have servant hearts etc but what about this idea of being called or elected to particular jobs. Is called and elected the same thing? Could I say that I’m not going to church because God hasnt called/elected me to?

  6. haha – the ‘not my calling’ excuse is classic :)
    a few more thoughts:
    -a personal vocation/calling will always be in harmony with the universal human vocation/calling, so (I like to say) a personal vocation/calling will always have that same ‘genesis 12 shape’ (being a blessing to the nations of the earth) to it.
    -a personal vocation/calling will not always (or even very often?) be about you doing something that makes you feel warm/fuzzy/comfortable, etc. (contrary to much TV preaching);… it will always have to do with using the abilities, wisdom and opportunities you’ve been given for the cause of ‘being the difference’, etc.
    -as for ‘not going to church’, it depends on what you’re calling church. Some ‘churches’ are essentially about the sunday meeting, and little (if anything) else. ‘Church’ always refers to a gathering of people. I think it’s true that if a person/family wishes to be a part of the saving/humanising/restoring/repairing/kingdom-bringing mission of God, they will do this most fully when supported-by and/or attached-to a body/community that believes-in and lives-out that mission. So, whilst I don’t think ‘not going to church’ (as commonly perceived) bothers God as much as some church-folk think it does, I don’t think God ‘calls’ people to be a part of His ‘rescue-mission’ “on their own” so-to-speak. Hopefully that has answered your question and pointed to a much broader understanding of ‘church’ :)

  7. I think it’s very often in the form of an obvious need sitting there right in front of us that we know we can do something about. There will always, of course, be various reasons we opt not to act on this opportunity – apathy, despair, negativity, busy-ness, etc. But I think it is often just that obvious.
    Also, I do think there can be a ‘call’ to less obvious jobs/vocations. Sometimes we need a little nudging from those around us telling us that, for example, we might be just the person for ‘x’… I also think we often need confirmation from those around us that we truly are an effective ‘fit’ for the task/vocation.
    And again, I think the ‘genesis 12 shape’ is a pretty good thing to test it up against…
    I’ll also add that I don’t think we should think of God’s calling as a kind of winning of the lottery or drawing the right straw or any similar thing. For me, a hospital metaphor is quite apt. The ‘big picture’ of the hospital is that everyone’s job (whether the architects who design the buildings, the electrician/plumbers, the cleaners, the cafeteria workers, the surgeons, the receptionists, the nurses or the volunteers, etc.) to help people get better. But there will be individual special tasks within that larger picture. A janitor might just happen to know Spanish and be able to translate in a situation (even if it’s just to help a patient order dinner!), etc., etc., etc.
    It’s all meaningful, it’s all restorative, it’s all ‘our job’…
    does that help at all?
    (always good questions)
    -d-

  8. But can an atheist be called by God to do something? Anyone can see an obvious need in front of them and respond, what makes you sure God’s calling has anything to do with it?
    To use an example, I once had to make a choice and it was wrong despite my believing that it was God’s will. I managed to believe the advice of the wrong people, managed to misinterpret the bible and spend hours in prayer only to get that ‘answer’ totally wrong too. So I feel left with two explanations: either that despite the negative outcome it was God’s plan for me (in which case I am afraid of such a God) OR that I have no ability to know, hear or understand God’s will for me so there’s no point trying to follow.

  9. I think atheists do God’s will all the time, and yes, if something is a universal ‘vocation’ for all humans, that would include (even if they are unaware or opposed to it) to atheists. As for whether this good ‘vocation’ is from God or not – that depends (obviously) on belief in a God.
    And without knowing the details (and don’t hear that as me prying – I honestly don’t mean to) of your example, I honestly cannot comment on how to use people’s advice, the bible or prayer more effectively… It could be (just guessing here?) that you may have been given less-than-wonderful instruction on how to trust people’s advice, or interpret the Bible or how to pray to get the ‘answer’?
    The Bible, for example, isn’t (to use the hospital metaphor) a kind of ‘technical surgery handbook’ to be scoured for literal instruction on any given procedure, but rather instead provides an over-arching story about a Great Physician, who has a mission to heal people, and who is enlisting all kinds of workers, etc. (the point being: not to refer to the ‘manual’ for incision instructions, but rather to orient one’s life to the Physician and his healing mission)
    And I think there are way more possible explanations that just the two you mention; i.e. you honestly did the best you could to do what you had been persuaded to think God would want, and it didn’t seem to work out that way… (what else can we do but our best?)

    (btw, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be up tonight – I have to feed Thomas soon, and I’m pretty sure God wants me to do that! :) – might have to pick this one up next week) :)

  10. I don’t really want to go into details here for several reasons (none of them personal I assure you :-) ). I guess the end result is that I don’t know how to follow God (have no confidence in my ability to) because a) The bible can be interpreted a zillion ways b) I’m no good at ‘hearing’ God, being prompted by the Spirit, praying for answers, interpreting signs etc c)It seems to me that sometimes God can plan things that, while they may be part of some bigger picture/plan, seem wrong to me (I’m thinking OT deaths of first sons etc).

    Hope Parachute went well!

  11. Cheers Jack,
    I fully respect your choice to refrain from going into detail. :)
    I can honestly sympathise with your a, b and c (they might warrant some posts, actually! gee, thanks! :D ).
    Like life itself, I’m persuaded that the whole ‘following God’ thing is at the same time both a complicated (I like to say ‘rich’ :) ) and very simple (though never simplistic!) thing. I do think the theme of Genesis 12 (the faithful fruit tree bearing fruits of blessing for the nations) is a [the?] major theme of the entire Bible, though (and not at all to the exclusion of other significant themes). I think (speaking biblically, theologically [anthropologically, ecclesiologically, christologically, pneumatologically and eschatologically!!!], philosophically and praxeologically!! :D ) all ‘following God’-ness should be filtered through that theme :)

  12. and yes – parachute was a good time :) our set was well received. (especially by two more-hilarious-than-they-knew teenage girls, who were instant fans of pretty much anyone who was ‘in a band’… :)

  13. (also, Jack – don’t know why, but your comment got spammed again – it’s ‘caught’ several normal comments lately – normally it’s quite good – has me corn-fused!)

  14. Cheers Dale …phew there was some big words in that, didn’t know ‘theology’ was so complicated.
    Glad parachute went well, laughed at the teenage girl comment. I guess band members are often idolised in a flash, not sure why. No wonder so many teenage lads want to be in one!
    Not sure what’s up with the spam thing, suspect its me not you as it has been happening whereever I post…maybe God is telling me to stop reading blogs and start planning some lessons for next week, arghhh. OK I’ll hit ‘Submit Comment’ and try again…

  15. on complicated theology:
    rich, I say, rich! :)
    (I’m tempted to ‘briefly’ outline how wonderfully Stanley Grenz works through his systematic theology with the ‘integrative motif’ of community – but I think I won’t – and I think I’ve got a PDF on that anyway under ‘essays’ tab :) )
    on spam:
    I’ve still no idea – it occurs to me that lesson plans being planned is what enables them to be called lesson plans, aye? :D

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