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Election, Love, and Wrath

Moses, Abraham, Miriam, and other great figures of the Old Testament, depicted at All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street, London
Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP/Flickr

2 Lent, March 12

Gen. 12:1-4aPs. 121
Rom. 4:1-5, 13-17John 3:1-17

Abram is the old man of God, called away from his country, kindred, and father’s house to a distant land of divine promise. “Go from your country,” God says (Gen. 12:1). Walking along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus sees Simon and Andrew, and he calls out to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17). Saul of Tarsus is breathing threats and murder against the Church. Suddenly, a light from heaven and a voice stop him, hurl him to the ground, blind him, and promise a future work. Among those called by God, “There is none righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). Abram is not justified by works, nor are the fishermen, nor is Saul.

Election is a black and beautiful mystery. It is both a gift and the capacity to receive the gift. God calls out to the ungodly, gives life to the dead, and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Rom. 4:5,17). To be sure, the elect of God had a form of life and a measure of dignity prior to the divine summons. They had a country and a home and friends and work and a reputation. But in comparison to the call of God, the past is something from which to press on toward an upward call. “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).

There is a fundamental distinction between every “relative good” and “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Indeed, knowing Christ is the lens through which the world opens to the mystery of its divine origin; the world becomes a world “so loved” (John 3:16). Election shows the world held in being by the One who creates and sustains and calls and suffers in the heart of history. God is love, and God has loved all being into existence.

Yet all over the pages of the Old and New Testaments there is another word, heard less often today in the more ancient churches, though often tossed about elsewhere for cheap political gain. The word is wrath. Even when not used directly, it casts a wide shadow over so much Scripture. In a sense, election is deliverance from wrath. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath” (John 3:36).

Although human metaphors are used profusely, divine wrath is not human anger amplified. Consider the following definition: “Normally … the OT traces provocation of God’s wrath to deliberate human attempts to thwart his will and purpose for [human] salvation” (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible). God wants to save, but apart from God there is nothing. Passively, wrath is the nothingness and emptiness of life cut off from its source. Actively, wrath is God’s opposition to any attempt to thwart his will for the salvation of the world.

So, God elects with a fierce love. God calls out to a world already in rebellion, a world gripped by the dominion of death. God “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). God pulls a people from the abyss up into life evermore.

Look It Up
Read Ps. 121:1 and John 3:14.

Think About It
Love is the Truth.


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