Election, Judgment, and Reluctant Prophets

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

No two doctrines of the church are further from the hearts of Americans than the doctrines of election and judgment, as Richard Niebuhr (1937, 137) characterized liberal Protestant theology: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministration of a Christ without a cross.” Without judgment there can be no election because the two doctrines are mirror images of one another. Still, election is misunderstood as a kind of holy huddle, when it is at the heart of salvation and the antithesis to judgment.

Blessed to be a Blessing

McDonald (2010, 190-191) observes that the holy huddle is a modern myth writing:  “…election is the expression of—and the chosen means to further—the triune God’s purpose of blessing.” The interpretative verse arises in the covenant of God with Abraham:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3)

Notice how this covenant begins with a stipulation: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house.” In modern parlance, Abraham, grow up and stand on your own feet. If Abraham is willing to take the risk of becoming an independent adult by leaving his father’s protection, connections, and wealth, then God says he will bless him to become a blessing to others. Even before the establishment of the Nation of Israel, God has laid out his plan to evangelize the world, anticipating the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20) . 

It is interesting that the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-15) depicts the son that “took a journey into a far country” as the son who eventually comes to love and appreciate his father. Thus, the inward looking church—the “holy huddle”—appears more like the spiteful, older son who stayed home and, in terms of the covenant, refused to be a blessing to others.

Sodom and Gomorrah

It is interesting that in our generation, the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is interpreted primarily in terms of the judgment of God on these two cities for their sexual sin, including homosexual sin. Yet, the context of the story is a dialogue between God and Abraham that begins with: 

“The LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” (Gen 18:17-18)

While the judgment of the cities is certainly topical, the focus of the story is on Abraham’s handling of God’s disclosure. What does Abraham do? Abraham immediately begins to intercede for Sodom and Gomorrah knowing that his self-absorbed nephew, Lot, lives near Sodom. 

The key phrase in Abraham’s intercession is: “Will you [God] indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen 18:23) God does not spare the cities, but he does send his angel to rescue Lot and his family.

What is interesting about this passage is that God reveals his judgment to Abraham, a stand in for the rest of us, to see how Abraham will react. In this example, Abraham passes the test when he exhibits compassion for the cities and engages God in intercessory prayer. 

The Reluctant Prophet

How many of us would pass Abraham’s test? In scripture the counter-example to Abraham arises in the story of the Prophet Jonah. In this short story, we read:

“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)

God’s disclosure to Jonah is similar to that of Abraham. Nineveh is another evil city that God that God has basically hinted to Jonah will soon be destroyed. But unlike Sodom and Gomorrah, God offers the city an alternative by means of Jonah who is sent to “call out against it.” 

Knowing that Nineveh was the hometown of Sennacherib king of Assyria who had seized all of Judea, except for Jerusalem (Isa,. 36:1), Jonah hated the Ninevites and, instead of going to preach God’s mercy to them, he got on a ship to escape from God and his mission. Then, as every Sunday school kid knows, a storm came up, the sailors tossed Jonah overboard, and he is swallowed by a whale who, after three days, spits him up on a beach. God then repeats his request for Jonah to go to Nineveh. Listen to why Jonah refused to go:

“And he prayed to the LORD and said, O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (Jon 4:2)

In this response, Jonah recites Exodus 34:6, which recounts God’s character traits. Knowing God is merciful, Jonah refused to preach repentance to the Ninevites, but later does so reluctantly and they do repent, averting God’s wrath, much to Jonah’s consternation.

Judgment and End Times

Knowing that we are blessed to be a blessing and that God shares his plans for judgment with us through scripture and revelation, our attitude about those under judgment has to change. Judgment of those outside the community faith comes as a test of the hearts for those inside the community. Think about John’s prophecy about the end times:

“The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” (Rev 11:18)

Do we cheer on the destruction of sinners, like Jonah, or intercede in prayer, like Abraham? Scripture is clear that God’s heart runs to mercy quicker than ours.

References

McDonald, Suzanne. 2010. Re-Imaging Election: Divine Election as Representing God to Others & Others to God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1937. The Kingdom of God in America. New York: Harper Torchbooks. 

Election, Judgment, and Reluctant Prophets

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019

Continue Reading

Praying for Justice

Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty and Merciful Father,

All praise and honor be to you,

for you alone are justice and

plead the case for the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan

when our voices are silent.

We confess that too frequently look the other way,

preferring to tolerate murder and abuse

when our livelihood or pride is threatened or

we simply do not want to be bothered.

Forgive our hardened hearts,

but do not leave us in our state of sin.

Teach us to love the unloveable

reflecting your image and example.

We give thanks for your mercy and boundless generosity.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

heal our cold hearts and

grant us the strength to walk in your ways.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Praying for Justice

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Character

Continue Reading

Prayer for Traveling Mercies

Arizona SnowBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful Father,

All praise and honor be yours,

for you are a God of the journey–

one that walks with us on life’s long march.

You never tire of the pace or complain of the company,

yet we do constantly–forgive our impatience,

our boredom when the slope is steep and

the weather most challenging.

We give thanks for your cheerful companionship and

constant encouragement,

especially when we are undeserving and bad company.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

remember those afflicted by hurricanes and fires and poor health and

offer us traveling mercies that we might enjoy a restful journey and

return home safely.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Traveling Mercies

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

Continue Reading

Lenten Prayer 2018

Paining of the crucifixion
The Crucifixion

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful Father,

Have mercy on me, oh Lord, while I observe Lent,

the forty days of preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, open my eyes as I pray; unstop my ears; may my heart and mind reflect on your infinite mercy.

For mercy, defines who you are and enlivens your other attributes–

“merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exod. 34:6 ESV)

Because your are merciful, you offer us grace.

Because you are merciful, you are slow to anger.

Because you are merciful, you abound in steadfast love.

Because your are merciful, you display your faithfulness.

We especially see your mercy in the death and resurrection of your son and our savior, Jesus Christ.

Bless us now with the strength to abstain from sin and to reflect on Easter.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

 

Lenten Prayer 2018

Also see:

Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Lent-2018

Continue Reading

Prayer for Protection

Sovereign Lord:

I praise you for raising me up from the deeps that I had fallen

and have not let my detractors have their day.

You remembered me in my hour of affliction and healed my soul and body and mind.

I need not fear the grave or the hell that others have fallen into.

Praise the Lord, Christians, give thanks and bless his name.

His wrath passes quickly, but his love is forever; our weeping is a night’s misery, but

our weeping is a night’s misery, but our joy comes with the new day.

As for me, because of my many blessings, I will remain strong in the Lord.

You have strengthened my footsteps, but when clouds cover your face, I am distressed.

To you alone do I cry for mercy; if I die, will my bones praise you and tell of your faithfulness?

Hear my prayer; come to me quickly!

For in you mourning becomes dancing; black funeral suits are quickly removed and your joy clothes me daily.

I will sing to you and not stay silent; I will rejoice in your name forever! (Psalm 30)

In the power of your Holy Spirit cover me in my weakness.

Shelter me in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Continue Reading

Love Prayer

IrisBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly father,

We praise you for the mercy that you showed us in sending Jesus Christ to die on a cross for us and our salvation.

For in your mercy, we have seen your love—

sacrificial love that carried a price; covenantal love that kept a promise;

divine love that bridged the gaps between the eternal and mortal and between the holy and the unclean.

Have pity on us, a pitiable people—

people who wink at eternity for a night on the town;

people who spurn holiness for a penny’s entertainment.

Thank you for the love of Christ.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

help us to grow into it and share it with those around us.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Love Prayer

Continue Reading

27. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webHoly and Eternal Father,
We praise you for your mercy and grace through Jesus Christ who died for our sins before we were even born. We confess that you and you alone are holy. From our mother’s womb we have tried your patience and even now come to you with blood stained hands. Forgive us in our rebellion against your covenant and against your son. In the power of your Holy Spirit, cleanse our hearts and minds that we might become fit stewards of your mercy and grace to those among us who have not heard the good news or have rejected it on account of our sin and folly. Draw us to yourself today across the gaps that separate us that we might have new life in you, this day, and forever more. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Continue Reading

25. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webMerciful Father, Beloved Son, Ever-present Spirit,
We praise you, Lord, for your mercy, grace, patience, love, and faithfulness, for healing us of our afflictions, forgiving our sin, and your presence in our life, for in you is faith, hope, and love that we find nowhere else. We confess that you and you alone are God, yet we have made idols of machines, institutions, and our own pet theories. We have not followed the example of your son, Jesus Christ,
and have set our own desires above our families, friends, and even your church. Forgive our sin; overlook our transgressions; and heal us of our iniquity—that we might be whole again and restored to your presence. We give thanks for the many blessings that you have freely given us: our families, our health, our work, and even life itself. We ask you now to bless us that we might bless others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Continue Reading

24. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webMerciful God,
I praise you for the gift of your law and your provision of grace through Jesus Christ that we might approach you in prayer through the Holy Spirit and know who you are through the revelation of scripture and the life of Jesus Christ. You are the God of mercy and grace, who is slow to anger, abounding in love, and faithful. There is none like you; may I ever model myself on your immutable character remembering your law, ever-mindful of your grace, and with the support of your church. May I be quick to share your mercy, grace, and love with those around me in thought, word, and deed through the power of your Holy Spirit, and in Jesus’s name, Amen.

Continue Reading

23. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webGod of All Compassion and Mercy,
Forgive me, Lord, for the sins of my youth where I fell short of the plans you had for me. When in your great compassion you were kind to me and patient,teaching me your law and demonstrating your grace. Forgive me, Lord, for the transgressions of my youth when I disobeyed your law when in your mercy you looked the other way and disregarded my attitude, teaching me forbearance and gentle persuasion.
Forgive me, Lord, for the iniquity of my youth when I failed to help those around me. When in your everlasting love you sent your son to die to me, atoning for my sin, my transgressions, and my iniquity so that I might grow to be a man mindful of compassion, mercy, and love that were modeled for me all the days of my life through the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Continue Reading