God has placed us in a world that confronts us with mysteries wherever we look, and with questions that can never be fully answered. In the book of Proverbs, Solomon writes that “three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky; the way of a serpent on a rock; the way of a ship on the high seas; and the way of a man with a virgin.” It shouldn’t surprise us, then, with the created world being so full of indecipherable behaviour, that God’s revelation of Himself contains some of the most profound mysteries of all. These truths resist our efforts to explain them, regardless of how well-developed and creative those efforts are, and leave us stuttering stupidly and slowly sinking to our knees.
One example is the doctrine of the Trinity. There’s nothing in nature that exists in the same fashion as the Trinity, and there’s nothing in the world of thought that can help us to wrap our minds around it. How three distinct persons exist in one substance is a mystery that cannot be understood through our experience. This is why using examples from the world to explain how the Trinity works always ends up perverting the reality. Perhaps you’ve heard that the Trinity is like an egg. The shell, the white, and the yolk are the three distinct components of the one egg. The problem there, however, is that while the shell, the white, and the yolk really are three distinct components, they also happen to be three distinct substances. Another example that’s been used is the three-leaf clover. The clover is the one substance and the petals the three components. But this goes wrong in that the clover petals don’t accurately depict the uniqueness of each person of the Trinity. It turns out that whatever example you pick will fall short either at the oneness of substance, or at the uniqueness of the persons.
The same thing is true of God’s divine election, as well. Our inclination upon learning about election is to think that God is being unfair. He chose for some to be saved and for the rest to be damned? He loves some people and He hates others? If He is good, and it is in His power to save every human being who has ever lived, then why hasn’t He done that? When confronted with these questions, whether from others or even from our own hearts, we tend to grasp for examples from the real world that allow us to exonerate God. But you’ll notice that that grasping is what Paul rather abruptly shuts down in Romans 9. And he isn’t passive about it, either. He doesn’t just tell us that we can’t know the answer; rather, he sharply rebukes us for even considering the question: “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” Who do you think you are, punk, that you dare to put your Creator on trial? In the same way that our Lord tossed the money-changers from the temple, so His Spirit tosses our questions out the door. It’s the sort of answer that leaves us prideful creatures feeling… disgruntled.
Goodness, truth, and beauty, however, find their unity in God, which means that everything that God reveals about Himself is always good, true, and beautiful. We may see the truth of election because it’s revealed in Scripture, and we may even admit its goodness in that God shows mercy to some and justice to others; but election as something beautiful? This is probably where the disgruntledness finds a safe haven, even in the hearts of God’s children. We might accept the goodness and truth of election, but teaching it might have the same character as teaching our kids about sex. That is, it’s necessary and important, but no one’s going to be looking anybody else in the eye. The parental duties over, everyone scatters. Yet just as parents must recognize the profound beauty of what it is that they are teaching their children, so we, too, must recognize the beauty that characterizes the doctrine of election.
But it’s a beauty that doesn’t come easy to us modern people. We prize our intellect very highly, no doubt the result of being immersed in a culture that has made a god out of Reason. Our world assumes that there are no mysteries that cannot be unlocked by the mind of man, that with the proper methods and questions man can come to dominate all of reality. It’s the same arrogance that drove our actions in the garden, the same ambition that wants to de-throne God. We want to see ourselves up there, with the universe around us bowing in submission.
But this submission that we demand is the very submission that the doctrine of election demands of us. We cannot internalize this doctrine while allowing our intellect to run the show. So when we take the necessary actions, when we revoke the business license of our intellect, we find that there awaits for us a very different sort of profit. It’s the reward of peace. It’s being delivered from the tyranny of our intellect and being freed to rest at the feet of our great God. It’s the discovery that the doctrine of election does not produce in us a particular posture of the mind, but a posture of the heart. The stillness of knowing that He is God is the beauty that we may embrace in the doctrine of election.