Rev. Chip Hammond
The Holy Grail of twentieth and twenty-first century physics is the quest for a Grand Unified Theory – a mathematical equation that will reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable truths about the physical universe that arise from the Theory of Relativity on a macro scale, and Quantum Mechanics on a micro scale. According to a Wikipedia entry,
The modern world of physics is notably founded on two tested and demonstrably sound theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics —theories which appear to contradict one another. The defining postulates of both Einstein's theory of relativity and quantum theory are indisputably supported by rigorous and repeated empirical evidence. However, while they do not directly contradict each other theoretically (at least with regard to primary claims), they are resistant to being incorporated within one cohesive model.
We’ve made progress. Before Isaac Newton, most physicists assumed that there was a different set of laws that governed movement on earth and movement in the heavens. Saint Isaac showed us that this was incorrect, and demonstrated that one set of laws ruled them both.
Quantum Mechanics began when my brother’s boyhood hero, Saint Michael Faraday, discovered cathode rays in 1838, though it took a while to work out the implications. Albert Einstein (best described as a deist) did not like Quantum Mechanics because it relies on probability descriptions rather than precise calculations (viz. his famous, “God does not throw dice”).
Until God brings a genius on the scene again, we’re stuck with understanding that both these things are true, but not really being quite sure how they fit together.
There is a theological corollary to this problem in physics. It has to do with God’s sovereign decree and the very real effect of our choices. The Westminster Confession of Faith addresses this problem without really answering it. It asserts the duel truths that, “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so that God is neither the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”
Einstein, genius that he was, pretty well dismissed Quantum Mechanics because it didn’t make sense to him. It just wasn’t the way he thought it should be. Likewise, some Christians feel more comfortable with one perspective or the other taught in God’s Word and want to dismiss the complement to make their theological world more comfortable to live in.
What is the relevant data? On the one hand, the Bible says things like this: “And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:3, Jesus speaking to the Twelve).
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Hebrews 6:4-6).
“Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5).
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them-- bringing swift destruction on themselves” (2 Peter 2:1).
On the other hand, the Scriptures affirm things such as, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand” (John 10:27-29).
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30).
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3-5).
There are some who wisely see that we’re not home until we’re home. But this causes them to dismiss God’s sovereignty in election and predestination. I had a friend recently tell me that he didn’t like the words to the hymn A Debtor to Mercy Alone, particularly the line, more happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heaven. “But we’re far from secure. We are on a very perilous journey.”
Well, from one perspective, he is correct. Certainly, we do not know what lies ahead. We would do well not to underestimate the strength of the sin left in our hearts, and the ability of the world and the devil to woo us. But from God’s perspective, we read, “Those he foreknew,” leads in an unbroken chain to “these he also glorified.” Not a single one is lost. From the perspective of God’s eternal plan and sovereign power, those who are foreknown will be glorified. From this perspective, they are as secure as those who are already there.
From my perspective, however, I’d better not presume, for the wilderness is littered with the bodies of those whom the Lord brought out of Egypt and subsequently destroyed, and the Holy Spirit through Jude tells me to look on them and be warned.
The comfort of the doctrine of election and God’s sovereignty is not to be found in my being arrogantly presumptuous about his grace. The comfort of the doctrine of election and God’s sovereignty when coupled with his character and the central teaching of covenant is this: God will never go back on his word. He’ll never say, “Oh, let’s just forget the whole thing. I’m tired up putting up with you.”
Where these two truths integrate (even if we can’t yet adequately explain it to ourselves or others) is in this: no one who walks closely with Jesus, sensitive to and acknowledging his own sin, and keeping short accounts with the Lord and with others, will fail to enter the Kingdom. There simply is no instance in the Gospels or anywhere else that someone came to the Lord in sincere repentance and humility recognizing his sin and his need for a savior, with a sincere desire to change, who was turned away – ever.
There have been people, like Esau and Judas, who lived with self-deception, but I’ve got to believe in my heart of hearts that they knew deep down that they were lying to themselves. Because I know deep down when my pride or my anger gets the better of me that I’m lying to myself, and I eventually flee back to Jesus, confess my sin, and ask for help (thanks be to God). Judas and Esau never did (but for the Grace of God go I).
This is the great mystery. If you think you can come up with a Super Unified Theory of these biblical realities, have at it. Maybe you’ll be the theological genius that solves this one for us. (Before Anselm, all Christians knew that the death of Jesus saved us, but weren’t sure how. After Anselm posited the theory of a substitutionary atonement in the twelfth century, Christians now say, “How could anyone ever have missed this?”)
For now we will have to live with a paradox, an apparent contradiction, which we know can’t be a real contradiction because both perspectives exist in the Word of God, just as the perspectives of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics exist in the world of God. How does this work out in practice? Do you see the gate yonder? It says, “Whosoever will may come.” And those who enter that gate, and only those who enter that gate, will turn to see the inscription on the other side that says “Chosen for salvation before the foundations of the world.”