The following is a short homily I wrote for a preaching class. I am working on expanding it for a sermon this summer.
Original Sin and Election
“It’s just not fair!” She had a pained look on her face. OK, so a lot of high school juniors have a permanent pained look on their faces while I am trying to teach them their Sunday School lessons, but this look wasn’t just put on.
When I asked her what she thought was unfair, it turned out that she was upset by my statement that only those people who God chooses are saved. “It’s so random,” she complained.
And in a way, it is random, at least to us humans. Our minds can’t fathom why God chose some and not others. We know that all humans are sinful and deserve only death and punishment. We recognize that Jesus Christ’s willingness to bear the punishment and death we deserved is an incomprehensible act of undeserved mercy. We confess what the Canons of Dort say: “The fact that some receive from God the gift of faith within time, and that others do not, stems from his eternal decision.” We can even say, as I did, that God works according to a good and merciful plan, but a plan we do not completely understand. Yet God’s decision to save some and allow others to remain in their sin still bothers us.
A different student made a wise statement: maybe we ought to simply thank God for the salvation He has given us, instead of worrying about who is elect and who is reprobate. That student was absolutely right—God is God, and He does what He does to bring honor and glory to His name. Think about it—don’t we bring more honor to God by living lives of gratitude for his merciful acts than by dwelling on how He went about deciding to whom He would give His greatest gift? Let’s go out and spread the news to everyone, in hopes that God will use us as a small tool in his plan.
But it turned out there was more. The girl with the pained look said, “But what if you believe in God and do good, but it turns out you weren’t one of the ones chosen?” It was then that I realized that this was more than just the standard teenage complaint about “fairness.” This was a crisis of faith. And that’s when it struck me that even the cold, dark truth of total depravity, that we are so helplessly lost in sin that without God that we can do nothing righteous, can bring us comfort.
If our sin is truly so pervasive that we humans are totally unable to turn to God and do what is right and pleasing in his eyes, then the only way we can be saved is by something superhuman—by God.
If we recognize in ourselves a faith and belief in God, even if that faith seems weak, and regularly challenged, then that faith had to have come from God. If we recognize in ourselves a desire to do what is right in God’s eyes, even if that desire is often accompanied by temptations to do otherwise, then that desire had to have come from God. And if God, as we confess, is almighty and all-powerful, then the very fact that He is working in our lives ought to persuade us that He has extended His mercy to us and we can rely on that mercy. Once we recognize that God has chosen us, we can rest assured that that choosing is for all eternity
The fact that God chooses us, that we belong to him, can be disconcerting to us humans, who like to think that we remain in control. But that choosing, that assurance that we belong to God, gives us comfort that we belong “body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”
At the end of the class we read Q&A 1 from the Catechism. The pained look didn’t completely disappear from the student’s face. But I am convinced that God had provided a measure of comfort to one of his chosen.