They stare at me with suspicion. A dozen or so men and women—teachers, businesspeople, students, professionals. Parents, grandparents, their children. These are people of experience, intelligence, and faith. They suspect that I’m crazy when I talk about predestination.
So…we have nothing to do with it? We have no choice? Our choice doesn’t matter? Couldn’t I do whatever I want, if it doesn’t matter? These are good questions. I shrug sympathetically.
We’re gathered in the church’s sanctuary for a short class on Heinrich Bullinger’s Second Helvetic Confession. Bullinger wrote its 30 chapters in 1562 as a personal statement of faith, and it might have remained mostly private, attached to his will as requested, if Frederick III the Elector of the Palatinate hadn’t borrowed it for his defense against heresy a few years later.
The historical background might be mildly interesting to the small crowd in the sanctuary, but we’re stopped at Chapter 10, “Of the Predestination of God and the Election of Saints,” which is clearly hurting everyone’s brains, as the topic of election always does.
“Therefore, although not on account of any merit of ours, God has elected us, not directly, but in Christ, and on account of Christ, in order that those who are now ingrafted into Christ by faith might also be elected.” (Second Helvetic Confession, Ch. 10)
How do we know about ourselves? Could we be wrong? Couldn’t we all be wrong?
Yes, I reply, that’s the point. We’re human, and we get things wrong all the time. We get ideas wrong; we get relationships wrong. We are small and selfish people who can’t really see much farther than our own noses, so, left to our own devices, none of us could know God.
The doctrines of the predestination of God and the election of the saints answer nothing more–and certainly nothing less–than the question of salvation, specifically, “How?” By grace alone. By grace? Then, by God. By God? Then, by choice. By choice? Yes, God’s choice. Hence, predestination.
The crowd agrees, begrudgingly, to a point, but they are still just smart enough, just confident and competent enough, that they suspect they might just choose God if left to their own devices. That’s why they suspect I’m crazy.
I go on to quote Bullinger again:
“It is not for you curiously to inquire about these matters, but rather to endeavor that you may enter into heaven by the straight way.”
When Alice stepped into the looking glass, she did so out of idle curiosity, wondering how she might break through. Bullinger warns of the same.
“Let Christ, therefore, be the looking glass, in whom we may contemplate our predestination.”
“We shall have a sufficiently clear and sure testimony that we are inscribed in the Book of Life if we have fellowship with Christ, and he is ours and we are his in true faith.”
Our faithfulness may bring about our reassurance of salvation, but not salvation itself.
More questions, but not now.
The hour is coming to a close, and the nursery staff wants to go home. We’ve had enough for today, and our questions have not been answered. Perhaps, our questions aren’t meant to be answered on this side of the glass, though I have a hunch we’ll keep trying.
Perhaps, it is enough for now to know God, and trust that His goodness and grace will be sufficient to carry us over the threshold.