Thursday, 31 August 2006

Theology for beginners (9): Election

Summary: The triune God constitutes himself through a free decision: he decides to be God-for-us.

We have said that the triune God is the event that happens in Jesus’ death and resurrection. But we must now take a further step: the God who happens in the history of Jesus also precedes that history. God does not become the triune God as a result of Jesus’ history – rather, the history of Jesus expresses what God already is.

This means, then, that God’s relationship to the history of Jesus is a relationship of freedom. Behind the history of Jesus stands God’s free decision – his decision to let his own life unfold in this particular historical way. In other words, the God’s triune life is a free decision. Before human history, God decided to be the God of human history. Before humanity had existed, God decided that he would be none other than the God of humanity. Before the man Jesus had existed, God decided that this particular man would be the goal of God’s own triune life.

Thus God constituted himself through a free decision. He decided what kind of God he would be. God does not first have a “being” which then makes certain decisions; rather, God decides to be who he is, he decides what his “being” will be like. And the name of this decision, this election, is – Jesus Christ!

Jesus Christ is the whole content of God’s decision about himself. God chooses that his triune life will unfold in the historical existence of Jesus. God chooses that his triune life will travel down a particular path, and will arrive at one particular goal: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In the resurrection of Jesus, God arrives; in the resurrection of Jesus, God’s decision about his own triune life is fulfilled. In the resurrection of Jesus, God becomes what he has decided to be – he becomes what he has always been! In the resurrection of Jesus, God reaches the goal of his own decision, his own life, his own movement through history.

Another way of saying all this is that God has decided to be the gracious God. The content of God’s eternal decision is Jesus Christ. God decides that he will be the human God, the God who unites himself with humanity, the God whose whole triune life is expressed in this covenant union. From eternity, God is for us. From eternity, God has made us humans the goal of his life. From eternity, God has taken humanity into his own heart and life. Even before we humans had existed, God had gathered us into the living fellowship of his triunity! Even before we existed, God had been our God!

Indeed, humanity exists only because of God’s free decision. In the overflowing life of the triune God, the Father sent the Son to become human, and the Son freely obeyed the Father, freely choosing humanity as the mode of his divine life. This is where humanity originated: here in God’s own triune life, here in God’s eternal decision! Human history is the path down which God’s humanity will travel. Before any human history has existed, God has already been human, and has already decided that his triune life will travel the path of human history.

In a nutshell: we exist because of the man Jesus! Even from eternity, his story is our story! The story of Jesus is like a mould into which all human history is poured. The purpose and meaning of all our history is found in this one man – the man whose story is the content of God’s decision.

We have been saying that God’s triune life “precedes” the story of Jesus. But we can now expand this thought and make it more precise. After all, God’s eternal life is not merely historically prior to the life of Jesus. Rather, the “place” of God’s life is the future – from eternity, the triune God is the God of the future. He stands not only behind history, and not only in history, but also ahead of history, creating it and summoning it towards him. Thus God’s election is an event not only of the past but also (and especially) of the future. From eternity, God summons human history forwards into the future of his own kingdom. From eternity, God gathers us into fellowship with his triune life.

This, then, is the meaning of election: God chooses to live his life not for himself, but for us, in covenant with us. And so we are chosen to participate in God’s life – in the life of the future, the life of resurrection.

Further reading

  • Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics II/2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1957), pp. 3-194.
  • Barth, Karl. The Humanity of God (London: Collins, 1961), pp. 69-75.
  • Jenson, Robert W. Systematic Theology, Vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 173-78.
  • Jüngel, Eberhard. God’s Being Is in Becoming (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), pp. 83-98.
  • Maury, Pierre. Predestination: And Other Papers (London: SCM, 1960), pp. 19-71.
  • Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Human Nature, Election, and History (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), pp. 45-109.
  • Weber, Otto. Foundations of Dogmatics, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), pp. 411-507.


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