The Purpose of Divine Election
We must keep in mind a second aspect of divine election in Scripture in order to see that it does not stand in tension with God’s love. God sets his love upon a particular people so that they might be the agents whereby God swallows up even more people into his love.
Divine election is actually an extension of God’s love for the world. This becomes clear when we consider the Scriptural narrative.
The mission of God to reclaim creation begins with God’s call of Abram in Genesis 12. God promised to make Abram (later called Abraham) into a great nation so that he would be a blessing to “all the families of the earth” (vv. 2-3). From the beginning, God’s election had a universal thrust.
After Israel grows into a great nation in the womb of Egyptian slavery, God delivers them and gives them their commission. Israel is God’s chosen people for the purpose of being a “light to the nations,” a “kingdom of priests” (Exod. 19:6).
Israel was supposed to cultivate a national life of justice and care for the poor, the orphan, and the widow. And, as a kingdom of priests, they were to initiate a mission to bring the nations to God and the one true God to the nations.
God’s election of Israel was not at the expense of the nations, but for the purpose of God’s redemption of the nations. God chose Israel to receive his love and to radiate his redemptive love beyond themselves to the nations.
Israel failed to fulfill this commission.
They perverted their election, regarding themselves as God’s favorites. God had chosen them and not any other nation. That must have meant that God loved them rather than the nations. Israel eventually came to despise their neighbors, longing for their destruction.
We see this posture toward the nations embodied in the prophet Jonah. God called him to announce judgment to Ninevah, but Jonah refused. He knew that God longed to redeem, and that if there was even the slightest hint of repentance, even on the part of a blood-thirsty nation well-entrenched in its paganism, God would pour out mercy. Jonah’s expression of agony at God’s redemption is shocking:
But Jonah thought this was utterly wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “Come on, LORD! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. At this point, LORD, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:1-3, CEB).
Israel, like Jonah, longed for the destruction of the nations, perverting the purpose of their election.
Because of this enduring posture toward the nations, God sent them into exile, eventually calling them, “not my people.”
God has set himself on a mission to redeem creation and so chooses a particular people as agents of his saving love. If they become a people who do not purposefully extend God’s love beyond themselves, they cannot be called the people of God.
Divine election always has this outward thrust. God chooses a particular people from eternity past to save them so that they will be agents of his redeeming love for the world.
From the perspective of divine election, then, there are (1) the people upon whom God has set his love, and (2) those whom God is pursuing in love through his elect.
Regarding the two groups from the standpoint of election differently is quite perilous, for we risk taking our place alongside those whom God called “not my people.”