When the Bible Blows Your Mind
The Bible teaches us to expect mental jolts when we think about God. It teaches us that our familiar ways of seeing things may be replaced. For example, it says, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33). Or again, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).
One of the reasons (not the only one) that some people reject the biblical teaching of unconditional election is that it seems and feels to them out of sync with other teachings in the Bible - like the compassion of God for people or the moral accountability of people before God. It seems to many that God can't choose unconditionally to save some and not others and then also feel compassion for those he does not choose and hold them accountable for their sin.
The problem here is that our instinct or intuition for what is right or possible for God does not fit Scripture. And the danger is that we shape Scripture to fit our feelings.
The Scriptures teach that God chooses who will be saved before we are born or have done anything good or evil (Romans 9:10-12). "It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Romans 9:16). The Scriptures also teach that we are responsible for the obedience of faith and will be judged if we are disobedient. "But for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury" (Romans 2:8). We are chosen (or not chosen) unconditionally for salvation. And we are accountable for our faith (or unbelief).
As I said in my sermon on 12-8-02, I do not fully understand how God renders certain the belief of the elect and the unbelief of the non-elect. If you want to go deeper into this, I recommend Jonathan Edwards' book The Freedom of the Will. It is slow reading, but you will grow more from the effort than you can imagine.
To help you accustom yourself to living with such felt tensions (unconditional election and human accountability) consider two similar ones from the example of Christ.
First, we see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem because the things of the kingdom were "hidden from [their] eyes." But on the other hand we also hear Jesus say that God has "hidden these things."
- Luke 19:41-42. And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes."
- Luke 10:21. In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will."
Second, we see Jesus feeling compassion for those who were sick - irrespective, it seems of their faith. On the other hand, we know from illustrations and teachings elsewhere in the Bible that God is finally and decisively in control of sickness. So we have Jesus feeling sorry for people who have sicknesses that God's wisdom has ordained (at least for a time).
- Matthew 14:14. When [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
- Exodus 4:11. Then the LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?"
- 1 Samuel 2:6. The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
Implications: 1) Don't cancel one truth in the Bible because it feels out of sync with another. 2) Don't draw emotional or behavioral implications from God's sovereignty that contradict faith, compassion, accountability, prayer, evangelism, or hard work. On the contrary, consider Colossians 3:12 and let your unspeakably happy condition as "chosen, holy and loved" produce "compassion, kindness, humility and meekness."
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