When climbing from lowlands to mountaintops, one must often pass through clouds. That’s the way it has been for me all my life as I have tried to get the best views of the glory of God.
When you enter a layer of clouds, it helps to have a guide to keep you away from the precipices and on the path to the other side of the murkiness. That’s one way to view this book. I hope it will serve as a guide upward through the haze and confusion about God’s electing and saving will.
Steep Paths and Thick Clouds
I admit that some of the paths in this book are steep. And some of the steepest places are through the thickest clouds. The climb is not for everyone. We all have different gifts, and not everyone is called to this kind of intellectual climb. I don’t mean that the non-climbers will see less glory or worship with less passion. There are glories in the valleys. And there are paths into beauties of God that are less intellectual. I would not dare to claim that those who do this sort of climbing always see or savor more glory than those with wider eyes for the glory that is right there in the meadow.
Nevertheless, some of us are wired to make this climb. There is not much choice in it. We should no more boast about doing it than one should boast about being a morning person. Almost every time we open our Bibles, we see challenges. Puzzles. Mysteries. Paradoxes. Mountain paths beckon us, but seem to lead in opposite directions. We move toward these paths like bumblebees toward morning glories.
So if you are like me in this way, I would like to invite you to take a climb. I don’t claim to be superior, but it may be that on this mountain I’ve gone up and down enough times to be of some help. There are clouds. It can get really murky on the way to the brightness on the other side. I would like to help if I can.
Two Paths Beckon
The paths that beckon us on this mountain are the path of God’s election and the path of God’s will for all people to be saved. Election seems to say that God has a people who are his, and he sees to it that they come to Christ and are saved. But the other path seems to say that God loves everyone and invites everyone to come, and wants them all to be saved.
On the mountain path of election, Jesus says, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (John 17:6). And in another place, he says, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65). Or, as God says in Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Then Paul draws out the inference: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16).
But on the mountain path of God’s desire for all, Jesus says to the city that is about to kill him: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). And he offers an open and free invitation to everyone who is heavy laden, thirsty, and perishing: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28); “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37); “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
It’s an old paradox. I didn’t climb this mountain by myself. More seasoned climbers than I helped me along the way. I’ll introduce them to you as we go.
For the Love of God and People
The aim of the climb is not intellectual satisfaction. The aim is worship. God gets more honor when we worship on the basis of what we know about him than he gets if we worship on the basis of what we don’t know. If our effort to know God more clearly is not an effort to love him more dearly, it will be fatal. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). This means that the only knowledge worth having in the end is knowledge that leads to love — love for God and love for people.