About a month ago, when I posted about why I don’t consider Christianity a religion, @theliz13 tweeted to me and mentioned her problem with religion. I found what she said so interesting that I decided to write this three-part series in order to address her comments. This is (part one of) the result. The foundation of Christianity, which underlies all this, can be found here.
What she had to say echoed what I’ve heard from so many people, both Christians and not, so closely that I knew it was time to talk about one of the most difficult issues people have with Christianity.
Here is my understanding of what she was saying (@theliz13, please correct me if I’m wrong, so that I can address what you’re really saying, because me addressing anything other than that would be lame):
1) Organized religions include an idea of the “chosen people”.
2) “Chosen people” = those that God considers more holy, pure, whatever than anyone else.
3) Also, “Chosen people” = the only people who God will let into heaven.
4) Both 2) and 3) are appalling.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m much less informed about worldviews other than Christianity than I am about Christianity, so I can’t address these points in relation to them. What I can do, though, is look at Christianity and see how it holds up when compared to the point that underlies all of these:
A god who picks and chooses who goes to heaven and who goes to hell is one that is not worth following.
This is a problem that lots of people I know have with Christianity but, first, let’s talk about these “chosen people” that she mentions, because that will lead naturally into a more direct examination of the idea that God plays favourites with those he claims to love perfectly.
According to the Bible, is there such thing as a “Chosen People”?
In the Old Testament (the first two-thirds of the Bible, which was written before Jesus lived and talks about people like Adam and Eve, Moses, and Kind David), the Israelites are referred to as God’s chosen people.
Along with that, there are references in the New Testament (the last third of the Bible, which was written after Jesus died and includes accounts of his life and letters written by early Christians) to those God has chosen to be with him in heaven, or called to follow him. There are several verses that indicate that this isn’t a chosen people group, like the Israelites, but that these chosen come from a variety of backgrounds, times, and places.
So, yes. The Bible says that there are those who are chosen. But, as I said to @theliz13, though, a God who plays favourites isn’t one I’m interested in following, and I feel very strongly about that.
If I follow God, and I would only follow him if he doesn’t play favourites, then that can only mean that I am convinced that he doesn’t, in fact, do this.
Why were the Israelites called the chosen people?
Since God’s plan to save humanity involved Jesus becoming human, that meant that Jesus couldn’t be everywhere at once while on this planet. Because he was human, he had to be in one place, at one point in history, and grow up in one culture with one set of parents.
It’s like giving a child up for adoption. They can only end up with one family.
The difference between giving a child up for adoption and what God did was that he chose where, when, and with who his son would grow up. So, he went in ahead of time, preparing a place for Jesus so that he would be able to grow up in an environment where he could learn about who he really was.
The Israelites weren’t chosen people in the sense of being better than everyone else.
Neither were they chosen because God only wanted one people group to know his truth.
They were chosen because God wanted to give Jesus the best childhood possible, so that he could then remove all the barriers between himself and humanity, so that we could be again who we were meant to be.
They were chosen because they had ancestors like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who trusted God and were willing to follow him. Because they had ancestors like Moses, Joshua, and David, who were willing to trust God’s promises. Because they had ancestors like Esther, who risked death at the hand of her husband, King Xerxes of Medo-Persia, to save them from genocide.
Because when a young, unmarried girl in a culture where adultery was dealt with by stoning to death was told by an angel that she would give birth to the promised saviour, she said “May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38b, NLT)
If you had to choose another family for your child to grow up in, wouldn’t you pick one made up of people who shared your values the most closely? I know I would.
What does it mean to be “chosen” now that Jesus has come?
1) God is in complete control of absolutely everything all the time and so, when a person dies, he decides if they go to heaven or hell. (Aka, the assertion that @theliz13 and I both object to, and the idea that God chooses a select few)
2) There is no hell and everyone goes to heaven. (Aka, God chooses everyone to be with him for eternity)
From my study of the Bible, I cannot in good conscience follow a God who does either of these things. Since these two views are so prevalent, though, I want to deal with them properly.
And, as I’m doing this, I’ll explain what it is that I have come to understand about this dilemma, and why my conclusion results in a God that I am willing to follow with my whole heart.