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God's Elect!
In The Bosom of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob
By Raji Johnson, Austin, Texas

Being a Sunday school teacher I constantly encounter questions from my students and very often I confront my own queries– time and again I am searching for logical answers which has taken me to many exciting places both Orthodox literature and other writings –of course which includes the holy Bible.

Given Abraham's, Isaac's and Jacob's history, how can ANYONE think they were righteous?"

In Genesis 15:6 we read that Abraham "believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. In James we read that Abraham's righteousness was based BOTH on his deeds and his faith: "Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? – You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works (which includes his willingness to commit child sacrifice readily--- the man who is generally unafraid of speaking his mind to God (Gen.18: 23-33) did not open his mouth to salvage his only child - some ancient literature writes that Abraham actually accomplishes the task!–how horrible). Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,' and he was called the friend of God (James 2.21-23). So, at least for the New Testament church, Abraham was considered righteous not only in faith but by his works.

But how can that be, given Abraham's history?

In Genesis 12 and 20 we read the stories of Abraham and his wife Sarah traveling south to escape a severe drought in Palestine. Apparently Sarah was an attractive woman and in Genesis 12 Abraham tells Sarah that if the Egyptians make advances to her that she should say she was Abraham's sister, that way they wouldn't kill him to get his wife. The Pharaoh does find Sarah attractive and makes inquiries and discovers she is "available" he takes her into his household/harem. In Genesis 20 we read a second story very similar to Genesis 12. In this account it is Abraham who tells the ruler that Sarah is his sister. In both stories a catastrophe is visited upon the rulers' households because Sarah is actually Abraham's wife. In Genesis 20, Abraham tries to wiggle out of his deception through a technicality and justifies his previous statement by saying, "Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife" (Genesis 20.12).

The list of recklessness include: inciting Sarah to lie, causing her to sleep with another(at-least- twice), and marrying his half-sister. Hardly, a desirable husband (-yet Orthodox matrimonial hymn glorifies their union) or a very admirable man by any standards. And yet, scripture heralds Abraham not only as the father of two nations (Israel and Arabia), and the father of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, but a man to be revered and respected and we Orthodox covet his bosom both for our dead and for us. Why?

One logical answer we can come up -- -- is probably because righteousness is the aspiration. Life is the reality. Abraham (and David, Job and Moses) strove for righteousness in their lives, but life got in the way sometimes and they made bad choices. Often their choices cost them dearly, while at other times we just don't know what it cost them. Certainly their poor choices brought them guilt and often shame. It's not that they wanted to miss-the-mark, but-----

And that's where God comes in. The neat thing about God is- according to psalmist (psalm 53:3) there are none who are righteous -- "No, not one." it's GOD who decides about righteousness. King David is portrayed as a murdering adulterer and a pretty poor parent to boot. Job accuses God of being less than fair. Moses loses his temper ---- repeatedly. And Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are no different from any of the other great biblical characters, they did not lead very charmed existence – initially, but they reached out to God and God reached right back-- repeatedly. God is willing, indeed eager, to reach back whenever we call on Him.

Or is it?

John Calvin in his famous (Institutes of the Christian Religion) is convinced that God elects whom he pleases and these are chosen "before the founding of the world" (Ephesians 1:4) to enter into eternal life, while those who are not chosen by God are bound for eternal punishment. Calvin seems to suggest that the elect have a sense of assurance in their election; however, the damned are not so certain. In fact, those who are not elect may believe God has been gracious to them, when, in fact, God has destined them to eternal punishment.

What does scripture say about the subject? Those passages that speak of the "elect" seem indeed to support Calvin's assertions. For example, Romans 9 is devoted to explanation of the elect versus those not elected: "Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God's purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call). Rebecca was told, 'The elder shall serve the younger.' As it is written, 'I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau'" (Romans 9:11-13). It doesn't paint a very pretty picture of God and leaves us in great tension!

On the other hand, if we examine the whole of scripture and its story of the elect, we get a different picture. In the beginning, God chose all peoples to be "of God." But people turned away from God and only one person, Noah, was faithful. God elected/chose Noah and his family from the whole of the earth to be the "saved" from the flood. Since the whole of the population after Noah and Noah's descendant, they were all "elect." However, these too turned from God and God found Abraham, a righteous man, and entered into a special covenant with him and he and his descendants became the elect. This covenant was continued through his grandson Jacob (later renamed Israel) and his descendants became the nation of Israel who were called God's faithful, the house of God, a holy nation, the bride of God, and so on.

But what of these elect? To what did God elect them? Isaiah wrote that they were elected to be, "God says, 'It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth'" (Isaiah 49:6). In other words, Israel was chosen to bring the world to elected status.

Later, Jesus would tell the disciples to share the good news with "every creature" and that everyone who believed would be "saved" (Mark 16:15). Indeed, even Paul, in the (in)famous ninth chapter of Romans writes that non-Jews have become the elect of God, thus all peoples are elected through faith.

There are passages that support election by God. And there are passages that refute election over choice. And so, let us examine what God Himself says; Jesus said: "Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow ---(Matthew 6:33-34) today's trouble is enough for today –---.

Should we be too concerned where we would go after death? I guess, if we take care of today by spreading the love that Jesus showed us -- - ---we will go to the right place. To be right with Him. (Ref: - How to read the Bible for all its worth by G. D. Fee.)

Source: IOIF

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