Thursday, May 10, 2012

Omniscience, Omnipotence, Justice, Love, and Election

I recently read much of "Perspectives on Election," one of those books where four or five different theologians/pastors each defend a view on a controversial topic and then respond to each other.

There are several biblical passages that appear to clearly support this or that view on election, but arguments over election also become arguments over God's attributes. Those arguing for pre-destination might say, "If God is omnipotent, God can bring about any end God wishes, so anyone who is not 'saved' must (at least in some regard) be that way by God's choice (either omissive or comissive)." Of course, true Calvinists argue something much stronger than that.

Conversely, Thomas B. Talbott points to "God is Love" (1 John 4:8 and 1 John 4:16), meaning not merely that God "happens to love," but rather that love is an essential aspect of God. Talbott uses this to defend Universalism because God must be loving in all God's acts, precluding eternal damnation.

One thing that irks me about this type of debate is the careless logic involved when we begin using terms like "omnipotent" or "all-loving."

If we say "God can do anything" we must be leery about what we mean by "anything." For example, a careless interpretation of that would say it means God is able to sin. But saying that God has the "power" to sin is illogical on its face, for it unravels any reasonable definition of "sin." Nor does it mean "God has the power to create a rock that God cannot lift."

Saying "God is omnipresent (everywhere)" does not mean "God exists in the homeland of Adam's Grandfather." Nor would it mean "God is in hell," assuming one takes the absence of God as one essential aspect of hell. Similarly, saying "God is omniscient" should not suggest that "God knows the name of the integer between 1 and 2," as no such integer exists.

These observations do not violate a belief in God's "omni-" attributes. Saying "X is everywhere" means "X is every where," so a place has to qualify as a "where" before X can be said to be there. Certain "places" are not "where"s at all because they don't exist. Similarly for things like "God can do any thing." There are certain feats that don't qualify as "things" because they involve a logical inconsistency and hence do not exist. Sometimes these are logical inconsistencies relating specifically to the item under discussion (Adam's Grandfather's homeland does not exist), and in other cases they are logical inconsistencies because of some other attribute of God (like the notion of God sinning).

This naturally extends to such things as God's love. To determine whether an act is loving or not, one has to consider the logical boundaries provided by God's other attributes, such as God's righteousness and justice. One also has to consider that an act may seem unloving toward one person while being loving toward another.

None of the above is meant to push for one or another view on election, but I will say I'm intrigued by a view I read where "election" is cast in terms of how God saves rather than who God saves. In other words, this view suggests that certain people are elected to be God's ministers to others, bringing God's word and love to the world so all may praise God. As interesting as this sounds, I don't see how it gets around Acts 13:48, which clearly describes some as being "appointed" to a portion in the World to Come.


danebrennan said...

My humble thoughts.

A year ago, your book got me thinking in a new way about the election. And I still think you are on to something there. In a similar way as God appointed Israel to be the light (minister) of the world, God welcomes post-resurrection gentiles to share in the ministry. In that way, said gentiles are appointed, elect. This is not to say that the elect are the only ones who will be looked on with mercy at judgment day, but that they are mediators of God's regenerative work on the earth, and messengers of his kingdom to mankind. In this regard, they are very privileged indeed.

As for Acts 13:48, a word-for-word translation reads "as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." Is it possible that this usage of "eternal life" is similar to many usages in John's gospel, i.e. referring to the indwelling of the holy spirit? If so, that would line up with the hypothesis that new testament election refers to ministry.

Again, these are just my humble thoughts. I really appreciate your writings. Thank you so much.

David Rudel said...

Thanks, David, for sharing your thoughts. Just a note that I now approve comments manually to cut down on spam. That is why your comment did not show up when you posted it.

Yes, I'm going to look more into this notion of election unto eternal life. I wonder if John 12:48 is an issue here.