Wrestling with God - Part 2
In Part 1 of this article, I described a conversation between our ministry and a reader, who I have named "Sally." Sally asked a series of difficult questions concerning God's program of election. In the course of our exchange, Sally described her emotionally painful reaction to learning of God's sovereignty in salvation, so we tried to offer her some perspective from Scripture.
Part 2 of our conversation follows below:
Thank you for your response. Honestly, your email did not help me at all. It has hurt me! To think that God didn't choose me or anyone in my family, or anyone in the world for that matter truly hurts!! God knew before He created the world that Adam would disobey. and God knew how this world would turn out yet He still chose to create us knowing He was going to send the unfortunate to hell!!! How is that even fair? How is God a loving God if He sends people to hell, when He decided not to have mercy on them??
I always thought that GOD wanted us to come to Him and to truly love Him and to want to worship Him. If He is picking who gets saved, is God truly being loved and worshiped? Why did Jesus have to come to earth then, if God already decided who would be saved and who wouldn't, and how do I know my prayers are being heard? If I haven't been chosen then I am essentially wasting my time going to church, and trying to learn more about God. I always thought God had mercy on everyone and that He loved all of us! (everyone on this earth).
I don't like the feelings and thoughts that I am having. I don't want to be rejected by God and I want God in my life and I was happy knowing or at least thinking that anyone could be saved, but now I'm just sad.
You are not alone in your negative response. Every Christian we know has experienced this same struggle to accept the truth of election when they first came to know of God's sovereignty in salvation. Even Jesus' disciples struggled with the concept when He taught this truth in John 6:
John 6:58 “This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”
John 6:59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
John 6:60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “ This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”
John 6:61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble?
John 6:62 “What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?
John 6:63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.
John 6:64 “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.
John 6:65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”
John 6:66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.
Did you notice in vs.65-66 when Jesus stated that God elects Christ's followers (i.e., "no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father...") that then many disciples began to withdraw from Jesus? Obviously, this truth has always been a difficult thing to accept, so we are in good company.
As the truths of God's purposes in salvation and His sovereignty over His Creation come into conflict with our preconceived notions and flawed human understanding, the effect will be uncomfortable and disorienting. We will fight to maintain our point of view, and we will search for the flaw in what we're hearing and reading in Scripture. We may say to ourselves, "It CAN'T be true." Still, we must remember that our feelings and our assumptions will lie to us, but Scripture is truth.
Objective truth is not determined by our feelings, so even though we may feel uncomfortable or unhappy about something we learn in God's word, that doesn't mean it isn't true. For example, when we learn that a loved one has died, we may experience intense anguish at hearing the news, and our strong feelings may even lead us to deny the truth of the person's passing. Nevertheless, we must eventually acknowledge the reality despite our initial negative reaction.
Similarly, our initial response to the truth of election may be negative (simply because the doctrine will challenge long-held assumptions concerning salvation and God), nevertheless we cannot reject the truthfulness of what we read in the Bible because of how it makes us feel. The truth of God's word often makes us uncomfortable, and this is as it should be.
God's ways are not our ways, the Bible tells us, and so we shouldn't be surprised when we discover God works in ways that are different from what we assumed. God's word is intended to disrupt our blissful ignorance, so that after our false views are torn down, the Spirit can begin to refashion us into disciples who have the mind of Christ.
You can see now why many well-intentioned (but mistaken) pastors have shied away from teaching this doctrine. They don't want to offend their congregations, and they know if they teach election as the Bible presents it, they will receive many difficult questions – and perhaps some church members will leave to seek a teacher who will tickle their ears.
Nevertheless, the Church is supposed to understand these things and teach them to one another so that we will mature in our understanding of God and His plan. We encourage you to allow time for God to answer your objections and give you peace concerning His plan rather than rejecting it out of hand on the basis of your feelings. We can assure you that - in time - God's Spirit will explain the truth of these things and will give you understanding and comfort. We pray you won't be as one of those disciples who walked away from the Living God rather than accepting the truth of His word.
Finally, we wanted to respond directly to a few comments in your second letter.
First, you questioned how it could be "fair" that God would create a world in which He knew men would go to Hell, and the Bible answers that question. (Keep in mind that if God were truly "fair" to everyone, He would send all sinners to Hell without exception, so we should think twice about demanding that God be "fair.")
Remember that God made all things in Creation for His glory. He designed all Creation and Man in particular so that we would have the capacity to fully appreciate Him and glorify His name and God's plan of election ensures that God receives the most glory from His creation for Who He is.
If the world never knew judgment for sin, then Man could never know or appreciate God's perfect justice, judgment, wrath, mercy and grace. These attributes of God can only be understood and appreciated in a world that contains both saved and unsaved, sinners and saints. As God judges sinners and saves believers, the creation witnesses a contrast that allows it to appreciate both sides of God's character and thereby give Him glory for all aspects of Who He is.
By the way, Paul anticipated that the truth of election would lead us to question God's fairness in choosing to save some but not everyone, so Paul addressed the question directly in Romans:
Rom. 9:19 You will say to me then, “ Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”
Paul says we might ask why does God still find fault (i.e., condemn some to judgment for their sin) since no one can resist God's will? In other words, why does God hold some people accountable for their sin when He has the power to elect everyone to saving faith? Like you, Paul asks why doesn't God save everyone from Hell? Paul knew that this question would be on our minds, so he answers by saying:
Rom. 9:20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?
Rom. 9:21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
Paul says we have no right to demand God explain Himself or satisfy our objections on the question of His mercy. Paul says we are answering back (i.e., blaspheming God) when we ask this question because we are impugning His holy and good character and implying His plan wasn't right. Paul asks rhetorically doesn't the God of Creation have a right to do whatever He pleases with His Creation? The obvious answer is yes. Paul ridicules our thinking by asking can the thing that is created (i.e., the clay pot) judge its Creator, God? The answer, of course, is we are in no position to judge Him.
In His omniscience and wisdom, God created some people for honor (i.e., some "pots" are destined for glory) and others He destined for dishonor, and this is the Creator's sovereign right. He doesn't owe us anything, including an explanation, yet He has graciously provided us with His word so that we might understand the way God works.
More importantly, He has chosen to save the elect even though all men are sinful and none deserve His mercy. The fact that a holy and just God chose to show mercy to some sinners (like us) doesn't mean He is obligated to show mercy to everyone. God is no less holy because He chooses to show mercy to only some, as Paul said concerning Pharaoh:
Rom. 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “ FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.”
Rom. 9:18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
To your question of why Jesus came to die, our faith must have an object, and the object of our faith is the propitiation of Christ. Christ's coming to Earth was necessary because there must be an atonement for sin, but then God brings faith to a person so that they will accept Christ and His work on the cross. Christ's atonement was sufficient to save all men from sin, but it only rests upon those whom the Father causes to believe in it. As Jesus said:
John 6:37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
John 6:38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
John 6:39 “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.
John 6:40 “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
Thirdly, we can assure you that your prayers are being heard by God. As Scripture teaches:
Prov. 15:29 The LORD is far from the wicked,
But He hears the prayer of the righteous.
God always hears the prayers of His children. In fact, you can be sure He hears you because you are His by faith. Again, the doctrine of election does not mean God is uncaring or uninvolved in our lives. On the contrary, He is living in us by His Spirit!
By the way, we have an extended teaching, entitled The Purpose in Prayer, that explains how God works through our prayers in light of His sovereignty.
Fourth, why are we called to attend church (or do any other good work of the faith)? We are called to go to church and grow in our faith so that we may please the Father and receive an eternal reward at our judgment moment. Although faith saved us from the judgment for our sin, nevertheless believers still experience a judgment moment after our death. The judgment for believers is a judgment to evaluate our good works, and it is for the purpose of assigning eternal reward.
Paul taught concerning the judgment moment for believers in 2 Corinthians 5:
2Cor. 5:9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
2Cor. 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
We must all give an account to Christ concerning how we lived while in this body. Paul also teaches that this judgment will be a process of acknowledging our good works while discounting any selfish, unholy works. Paul used a metaphor of a building to represent our life's achievement of good works. Some believers will build something lasting and worthwhile while other Christians will waste their lives on earth building useless and temporary things. As Paul explained:
1Cor. 3:10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.
1Cor. 3:11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1Cor. 3:12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
1Cor. 3:13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.
1Cor. 3:14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.
1Cor. 3:15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Notice that even if a Christian builds nothing of value in their life, they are still saved, because their salvation came by faith alone and not by their works. Their faith made possible a life of works to please the Father. An obedient believer may earn great reward in Heaven, while the disobedient believer will receive little or no eternal inheritance in the kingdom.
This is why we share the Gospel with unbelievers and go to church and study the Bible and seek to serve in many ways. We wish to have a good testimony when we stand before the Lord. When we do good works like sharing the Gospel and teaching the Bible and caring for the brethren and supporting Christian ministries, etc., we are acting obediently to our Master's call and pleasing Him by our faithfulness.
You were not saved for your own sake; God chose to save you so that you might glorify Him by your good works. As Jesus said:
Matt. 5:16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Finally, we cannot stress enough how valuable our Romans study would be for you. We can assure you that this study will address most if not all of your questions and help you come to grips with this Biblical truth. God has given us the book of Romans for this very reason: so that we could understand and appreciate His plan of salvation.
Please trust us when we say that this study will bring you to an appreciation for how God's plan of salvation is a reflection of His goodness rather than an indictment of His character. Even Paul himself was overwhelmed with admiration for God once He grasped the wisdom of God's plan, as he wrote in Romans:
Rom. 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
Rom. 11:34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?
Rom. 11:35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN?
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
Thank you for your response! After crying, being mad and praying, I eventually came to the realization that it is what it is. It is God's will. No matter how torn up I am inside or angry I am, nothing will change. I still don't fully understand, but I will read through Romans and I will listen to your recordings. I will never walk away from God! Of course, I still have questions but I will talk to my pastor and see what he says.