Imagine a couple on a walk, just engaged. They stroll quietly, watching the sunset, warmed more by the soft glow of the moment. “Why do you love me?” she asks. The young man hesitates. He doesn’t trust his own way with words. A little fear grips him. In his mind’s eye a deep gap has opened up between them. He sees a narrow, swinging bridge and begins to test it, step by step, word by word.
“I love your twinkling eyes, bubbly enthusiasm, and care-free spirit. He says it more like a question. She looks at him blankly, like he hadn’t answered yet. “Wait ’till I’m 8-months pregnant!” she thinks to herself.
In the strain, the young man rallies. Remembering a poem he had to memorize in college he says, “Honestly, I don’t know why I love you, but let me tell you how.”
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet 43
She gives him a look of marked satisfaction. So he confesses, “I supposed the best I can say on my own is this: I love you just because.” And they lived happily ever after, mostly.
Human beings hunger for acceptance just because. And we do taste that a little in life’s sweeter moments, one to another. But the soul needs something definitive, an answer that rights the wrong of our human nature. Now and again that nature reveals itself—did I just think that? Say that? Do that? The unconditional acceptance of God is the only place a person can live above circumstance past, present and future. The invitation of Unmerited acceptance makes us willing, vulnerably, to exchange our worst for God’s best. Believe it or not, what I’ve just described here is a principle called, “predestination.”
Many people don’t like this word because they think it turns human beings into robots. Like they have software installed before they’re born with no freedom apart from it. Forget all that. Predestination simply represents the loving initiative of God in a person who experiences the grace of God. God does not force our response. But in the big picture, when someone does respond, this principle shows how the credit goes to God’s initiative, not human merit.
A story of Grace
Some people hear “predestination” and think “determinism!” No. Determinism suggests God is a Grand Puppeteer and we are mere puppets. Scripture does not support this view. God’s sovereign rule does not hinge upon our cooperation. His will is dynamic. It does not require micromanaging every human choice.
A story at the end of Genesis shows the difference between what people cause and what God controls. Joseph, sold as a boy into slavery by his brothers, makes a profound gesture later in life as an elder statesman. Having become one of the most powerful men of his time and reunited with his brothers he says, “What you intended for harm God used for good.” God is not the cause of selfishness and evil along our path but he does set the course of human history. Not all things are good, but “He works all things to the good” (Rom. 8:28).
The Mystery of Grace
God’s overtures of grace find us daily through inward conscience and outward circumstance. Why some respond and others do not remains a puzzle. In fact, God “…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). God is in control and people have a choices. It is difficult for us to let two truths stand in tension. So, some churches choose to emphasize one or the other: human choice (Arminianism) or divine choice (Hyper-Calvinism).
C.S. Lewis preserves the biblical tension between them like this:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.”
Control and choice. That’s the biblical view. God’s rule can overrule self rule without breaking the rule of free will. It’s an invitation to be formed around something more than self alone. With the slightest mustard seed of surrender, human will can be reformed. We can become the kind of creatures you’d want populating eternity, centered upon relationship, just because.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us… (1 John 4:10a).