In last night's class, we concentrated a lot of effort on Romans 9. That's odd, because the eschatological promises of Romans 8 are probably the most moving passage in the New Testament. They are certainly the most beautiful thing St. Paul ever wrote.
Lot's of people, it seems, don't like the idea that God might arbitrarily decide who is the beneficent recipient of grace and who, through neither virtue nor fault, will suffer the eternal reprobation reserved for the Devil and his angels. For some reason, all the other stuff the Old Testament and New Testament says about God's desire being for all creation to return to God; that God never ever ever ever ever ever ever stops pursuing us, calling us, whispering in our ears, seducing us, even cheating to get us to follow the Divine Way just disappears when we pout, because we, rightly, understand ourselves undeserving of the grace and love we have in Jesus Christ. We all turn in to Pelagius, it seems, because, dammit, we WANT to be in control.
While I consider myself Wesleyan, I think on this and related matters (as the title suggests) I console myself with St. Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and the Reformed tradition in its affirmation that the judgment of God, revealed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, reveals God's wrathful declaration that sin is contrary to the will of God, that the new life in Jesus Christ is a free gift from the overflowing love of a God who has demonstrated the prodigal nature of the Divine love and life in this act of sacrifice and reclamation.
If we take grace seriously, which is little more than taking God's judgment upon our sin seriously, then the idea that God's graceful decision for humanity, for creation, expressed on the cross and in the empty tomb either mean everything or they mean nothing. The idea that God's choosing of life, of love, of forgiveness as the final judgment upon our willful insistence to turn away from the constant Divine entreaty should fill our hearts with joy, rather than indignation. Rather than sulk because the decision has been taken out of our hands, we should celebrate the only real freedom that matters - the freedom from the fear of separation from God precisely because God doesn't will or want that separation. Either we take the cross and Easter seriously, or we should just write Jesus off as another failed revolutionary, a faux-messiah as deluded as all the rest.
The Christian life lived in the acknowledgement of God's eternal decision for us is an expression of Divine Favor, of Divine wrath given over to joy and dancing. We no longer need to worry about whether or not this or that act, this or that life-choice, this or that thought, is a barrier to God, because God has removed all the barriers between us and communion with God. Not for our sakes, to be sure. God does this, and we acknowledge it as being so, because God desires to be with us, to be in relationship with us. We are free from worrying about how we stand before God, because we cannot stand before God. Yet, God calls to us and offers us the help we need, a proffered hand pierced with nails we hammered.
Christian freedom is the freedom from the fear that we can either earn God's favor, or separate ourselves from God's love. We no longer need to tally up our daily round of rights and wrongs, and living in the fullness of the grace bestowed through the Spirit, in Christ, for the Father, just live. Thankfully. Joyfully. Always with a penitent heart, but a joyous penitent heart.
The teaching that God has chosen us, even before we were born, because God had chosen before the foundations of the world were laid that the Son would come to heal the rift between creation and Creator, is the fullest expression of Divine Love and favor I can imagine. It doesn't bind us, or hinder us. On the contrary, I am grateful beyond measure for God's overflowing love for all creation that is summed up by God's gracious choice to be for us.