(edited, and made you anonymous just in case) —
I had always rejected the idea that God had an elect and chose people. I thought, how could a God of love truly choose people? That was ridiculous! I wanted to rip Romans 9 and ephesians 1 out of my bible … But the false dichotomy I posed between Love and Sovereignty made me cringe when people talked about God’s love. As much as everything inside of me wanted to tell everybody God loved them, I couldn’t do that with a clear conscience, especially reading Romans 9. This view of God wore me out and I know it can’t be right. But in my feeble mind, it seems the only option is to either take hold of God’s love, and disregard sovereignty, or vice versa. I know you are reformed in thinking, yet very much preach the truth of God’s love.
Hey my brother! Thanks for your honesty and your very insightful question. While I can’t claim to fully comprehend such a huge doctrine, maybe there’s a few things to consider that will unburden you.
I want to say first that I apologize if I came across as mocking Reformed Christians. I was much worse about this before and it did come off as mean-spirited and in poor taste. So if you feel ashamed about that at all, it’s definitely my fault. I really do love my Reformed brothers and sisters (and as you mentioned, I am one).
So let’s break this down a bit together …!
1) There is a very fine balance between God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will. I’ve read plenty of doctrinal studies (and have done my own – yep, nerd here) where for every Bible passage that implies election, there is at least an equal number of passages that imply choice. Apostle Paul will even speak of predestination and free will in the same exact verse.
If we swing too much in one direction, we can end up with an imbalanced theology that overemphasizes one side over the other, and people get hurt. Christians are meant to keep balanced doctrines by often holding two tensions together in a paradoxical orbit.
2) If a certain part of a doctrine causes you unnecessary burden and angst, it might not really be from the heart of God. God does not want His children confused, joyless, or spinning in circles. Certainly there are some tough questions in the Bible that will keep us wondering, and of course there is a specific kind of burden we have for lost people, but if a theology moves you away from the Greatest Commandment – loving God and loving people – it’s probably not a theology worth having.
3) If you ask me to reconcile Predestination and Free Will, I just can’t do it. My head isn’t big enough. I have a tiny 3 lb. brain that can barely remember where my keys are. This isn’t a cop-out, but I’m not so prideful to simply say: I don’t have the memo on this one.
I just know that somehow, within God’s infinite endless knowledge, He makes both of these truths work at the same time. Somehow God perfectly balances love and justice; He balances His anger against evil and His compassion for the broken; He is jealous for His people without hurting them; He knows the future but gives us the ability to choose. I don’t know how this works, but it does, and I’ve long stopped trying to force a doctrine that unnaturally fits the two together.
4) Reformed Calvinism is not the only theology to say something about this subject. I’ve kept my ear to the ground on different viewpoints here, and Calvinism becomes untenable to explain certain facets of God. No single theology can fully explain Him. After all, the Reformed movement itself is only a few centuries old, and God has been around longer.
5) About Romans 9 – Let’s view the context. In Romans chapters 9-11, Paul is talking about God’s sovereign plan for the nation of Israel. [As a sidenote, Romans 1-3 is about Sin, Romans 4-5 is Salvation, Romans 6-8 is Sanctification, Romans 9-11 is Sovereignty, and Romans 12-16 is Service.] So already, Paul is talking within the context of the Old Covenant with a specific people-group. All this is before the New Covenant of Christ’s sacrifice.
Now the questions are: Was Paul really talking about today’s church too? Would it be dangerous for us to say that God readily accepts anyone? Are we lying if we say “God loves you” to everyone?
I have been so confused about Romans 9 that I’ve read it slowly over and over, poring back and forth to understand. But Romans 10 is what blew up everything. Suddenly in Romans 10:6, Paul introduces the Covenant of Christ. Then he says in 10:13, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Now if it was dangerous to say that “God accepts everyone,” I highly doubt Paul would’ve said verse 13. But there it is. Paul continues on about proclaiming the Gospel and then human choice. So if a theologian claims that Romans 9 is the entire theology for God’s love, then they haven’t read very far.
Here’s what I believe about this: I truly think that Paul was talking about the nation of Israel in Romans 9. Just read it slowly, and I mean VERY slowly. He proposes a theoretical argument in Romans 9:22 by saying, “What if …?” about God’s Sovereignty, which indicates that Paul is basically saying, “If God wanted to do it this way, He would – but He sent Jesus, which changes everything.” So while double-election is a possible doctrine, I think Paul is making a hyperbolic argument to underline God’s love. Paul does this all the time.
But let’s assume my interpretation is wrong. Still, you have to deal with the fact that Paul says in Romans 10:13 – “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He has rounded out his declaration of the Gospel with this simple conclusion. So we should never be ashamed to tell others, “God loves you and He is willing to save you.”
Let’s assume further that predestination is the ONLY theology. Even then, we don’t know who is predestined anyway. So I’m not going to pick and choose who I tell “God loves you.” That’s God’s business and not mine. And if Paul was still telling everyone essentially that “Christ died for sinners” and that “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people,” then I would say it’s not only permissible to declare God’s love, but downright mandatory.
I know that perhaps you might be thinking, “Well what about this verse and this word and this phrase –?” and I understand that I might have missed some nuances or angles. I’m sure you have looked deeply into this and I don’t mean to sound like I have the complete answer.
But please, please, please consider that nothing should ever hinder us from proclaiming God’s love. I really believe it’s the lie of the devil to keep us from joyfully expressing the incredibly powerful awesome nature of God. Anything else that imprisons you into silence cannot possibly be from God Himself. Sure, we must temper ourselves with the knowledge of sin and wrath, but even these points only serve to highlight the recklessly free love of God.
I hope this helps even the slightest. Thanks for your patience and love you my brother.
“God will not hold us responsible to understand the mysteries of election, predestination and the divine sovereignty. The best and safest way to deal with these truths is to raise our eyes to God and in deepest reverence say, ‘O Lord, Thou knowest.’ Those things belong to the deep and mysterious profound of God’s omniscience. Prying into them may make theologians, but it will never make saints.”
— A.W. Tozer