Election: The Attributes of God
Nothing is more worthy of discussion than who God is. Yet, for the purposes of this post, a brief study is all that is allowed. Therefore, if you have not done so, I recommend you read J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. If you've read Packer and desire a deeper discussion, try either Hermann Bavinck's The Doctrine of God or Stephen Charnock’s classic The Existence and Attributes of God.
The question we have to ask first is “Can we know God?” The Biblical answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Yet not because of our own ability, but through what Calvin calls the “accommodation of God.” That is, that God in humility speaks to us in a language we can understand. (This is possible in part because we are created as persons, and relationship and communication is natural between persons. This communication between persons on earth is but a shadow of the greatest communication of all as it occurs between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity.)
Briefly, Scripture shows this accommodation. God reveals Himself to Moses (Exodus 3:14) as YHWH, or “I AM THAT I AM.” This indicates God’s eternal nature, and is the covenant name for Israel. By this revelation we gain true knowledge of God. But no knowledge of God is as complete as that knowledge found in Jesus Christ. As Dr. Douglas Kelly has stated, “Christ’s incarnation is the supreme demonstration of God’s knowability.”
If we are to rightly understand election, God’s independence, His infinity in regards to time (eternality), His simplicity, His omniscience and wisdom, His holiness and righteousness, and His will need to be discussed. First, consider that God is independent. As such, He requires nothing from His creatures. God is happy and complete in the Godhead. Therefore, He did not have to create anything, nor did He have to save anyone. Both of these are gifts of His grace and love.
Also, God has been from eternity. He is not self-created, but uncreated. Eternality implies more than infinite time. It implies that God transcends time. Hermann Bavinck notes that because of this it is in the strictest sense improper to attribute foreknowledge to God, since foreknowledge implies knowing in advance, and there is no “advance” for God, there is only now. We will speak of foreknowledge, however, in the way the Bible uses it, viewing God’s work in time, while acknowledging that time does not constrain God.
Very important as we discuss the decrees is to understand that God is “simple” or unified. His attributes are not in opposition. He does not stop being just so He can be loving. Likewise, He does not stop being loving so He can be just. We speak of different attributes, but they are merely the same character of God seen in different ways. This unity plays out in the decrees of God, which is really only one decree, working itself out in all of creation. We perceive different aspects, but it is all part of the plan.
Not only does God have a plan, but since He is all-knowing (omniscient) and wise, we know every detail and option have been considered, and that only the best options were chosen. John Piper has noted that believing God is sovereign, all-powerful (omnipotent) and wise means that this is the best of all possible worlds. If we truly grasp this, it will help us to address questions in the vein of why are all not saved, or why do some never hear the gospel?
But we must be sure when we look at those questions to remember that God is holy and righteous. God is not the author of evil, nor does anyone get “railroaded” in the heavenly court. If we think God owes us something, in particularly a chance at redemption, we are mistaken. We owe Him our undying, unfailing love, yet in our fallen state we choose not to give it to Him. He would be perfectly just if He saved no one.
Finally, we have to acknowledge that God has a will. He is a person and will is an aspect of personhood. Only God’s will is sovereign in the universe. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:11 “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”
All of this serves to prepare us for a look at the Biblical doctrine of election, as a work under God’s predestination mentioned in Ephesians 1:11. Before we finish here though, one other aspect of God needs to be mentioned, His incomprehensibility. Earlier I stated that because of God’s revealing Himself to man we can truthfully know God. What was not said was that while we know God truly, we do not know Him comprehensively or exhaustively. To study God, and His works, we must come humbly, submitting ourselves to the limitation of Deuteronomy 29:29, knowing we will have questions to which God had not revealed the answers. With this in mind, we will next look at the decrees of God, first predestination and then more specifically election.
Footnote: Where, you might ask, is the love of God in this discussion? After all, John tells us that God is love. The answer is that understanding election is so tied to understanding God's love, that God's love will be discussed with the specific subject of election.