Electing & being elected

The word “election” is both political and theological. Interestingly, though they both are about the process of making a choice, the political and the theological are done in exactly the opposite way.

During political elections in our republic, the people do the electing. The many people elect their one leader. Theologically, this is topsy turvy. The one God elects his many people.

Living in a setting that makes election a democratic process plays havoc on our theology of election.

Instead of trusting the one God to choose his many people, we all want a say in this choosing. In fact, having been so indoctrinated into the democratic process, we firmly believe that locating the choice of election within the people is somehow an innate human quality and right. Going back to the American Revolution, we have rebelled and continue to rebel against the idea that election is somehow located within the sovereign one, not within the people.

This creates problems for the average Christian in believing in God’s sovereign choice in election.

As much as we push back against it, God’s kingly but gracious election of his people is bedrock theology in the Scriptures. Though it is everywhere in the Bible (where “king” is the most common metaphor for God), our most elegant expression of it is probably Ephesians 1:4-6 —

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace,which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 

We don’t create our own selves, our own bodies, our own souls, our own spiritualities. All of who we are is a gift of grace.

I love how Bono puts it in the song “Magnificent”:

I was born
I was born to sing for you
I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise

This is election at work. Predestination. God’s will setting things in motion, choosing. The singer responding.

What is even better than Bono’s song is Leonard Cohen’s glorious song “If It Be Your Will,” where he submits not only to God’s previous election, but to his ongoing sovereign will:

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will
If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

(Why isn’t this song sung in more churches? Come on, worship leaders!)

What I love about these two songs is their willingness to offer back to God what he’d given them. Their voices were not their own in the first place. They were gifts from God, acts of grace, means of election. Acknowledging this, both Bono and Cohen offer back their voice-gifts to God in recognition of his magnificence and praiseworthiness — a freewill response to being elected.

This stands is stark contrast to most popular songs, which express our wants and our feelings, not God’s will. Us as electors, not God as elector.

Should we continue to elect our officials? By all means! As long as our system allows our participation, let us participate. But in this culture which suggests that we should act like little gods who live by our wills, our choices, our desires, we need to reject this self-obsession by offering ourselves back to the one who has elected us, the one who has chosen us as his very own.