Wrestling with God, Worth, and Unconditional Election

The first part of this title is an homage to a sermon my friend, Wayne Bowerman preached recently. And of course it is a reference to where we find the story of Jacob, the patriarch of Israel wrestling with God in Genesis 32. It seems as though I always write out of my own struggles and what God shows me through them, and I worry about giving off the impression that I live an entirely “woe is me” life. I don’t. I am incredibly blessed by what God has given me. I am happy, I enjoy life, and I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s–even with all the bumps in the road.

But I cannot deny that this seems to be particular period of my life where God is bound and determined to expose the parts of my life I would rather keep hidden, ignoring them until they pop up like one of those whack-a-mole games you play at Chuck E. Cheese’s. And when that part of me pops her head up often enough, she won’t be ignored. She’s quite annoying that way. Hmm, you think God intended that?

So as I’ve dealt with various issues over the last several weeks, the one thing that I kept butting up against was the question of “What am I worth? Because I don’t feel like I’m worth anything.” (Which led to a whole host of other issues that I had to work through.) I sat in my psychologist’s chair and said, “I understand that I’m worth something. I know I am because Scripture lays it out for me over and over again, and I believe that God’s Word is truth. But I want to know that I’m worth something because I know it’s  [my  worth] true, not because the Bible says it’s true. I want to know it’s true because I know it’s true.” And I struggle to get there. I don’t want to be pompous, or stuck up, or annoying, but I do want to know my own value and appreciate it.

I thought, prayed, and meditated on this issue, and somewhere along the way, God and I had this conversation:

“But why do you love me? I understand that you do, but why? I’ve done nothing to deserve it.” {My throw to God} 
 
To which God replies. “Um, yeah. That’s kind of the point. You know that.” {He throws the ball to me, and rolls his eyes, just a little}.
 
“I know I know that. But I want to know why.” {I throw the ball to him, frustrated blow through my lips.}
 
“Because I do. There is no ‘why’. It just IS.” {He throws the ball to me, and I’m left holding it, not entirely satisfied, but beginning to understand.}
Okay, so maybe it’s more like playing racquetball or catch with God instead of wrestling, and maybe God even sounds a little bit like Yoda, but work with me.
At its core, what I found myself struggling with was what TULIP–an acrostic for understanding the main tenants of Reformed theology– calls Unconditional Election. I’m not really all that fond of TULIP, but it is easy to remember. Anyway, in Reform speak, unconditional election is the idea that God calls–elects, chooses–people into relationship with him, regardless of the fact that they’re far from perfect. I do see one caveat though. I would amend the U of TULIP to say that God loves everyone unconditionally, not just those who follow Jesus and have a relationship with him. The election part can get far too exclusive. Election is a topic for another day. But it is true that “there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there’s nothing you can do to make God love you less.”
This is what God was trying to tell me, and it seemed like such a non-answer. I want something conclusive. I want something I can track, measure. I want scientific. Science works on the idea of cause and effect. If the effect is God loving me, then what was the cause? What was the antecedent that spurred God to love me in the first place? Because I sure couldn’t see anything. If I couldn’t see anything, then how could God–who sees everything–see something? Surely, I am even worse than I am aware!
Unconditional love is the answer, the balance, to total depravity. Yes, we are all completely broken, even in ways we are not aware. But we are also completely loved. Unconditionally. Even by the God who sees everything.
It also turned out that I’m not the first person to get a non-answer from God. My conversation with God reminded me of a conversation God had with Moses.
When Moses asked God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God replied, “I am who I am.” 

 
I imagine God thinking, “You do not need to know my name in order to have power [or to have peace, or to believe you have value, etc.]. It is simply enough for you to know that I am. I exist. I am present. This is all you need for the task at hand.” {Lather, rinse, repeat}.
There exists a God who loves me unconditionally, but yet is not willing to sit idly by while I am less than the woman God has called me to be.  God will force me to remove the roadblocks that are stopping me, especially when that roadblock is one that influences a WHOLE bunch of other stuff. Each one of us has value because God has given us value. It’s one of the many things we received when we were made in God’s image.
No, I still don’t quite understand it. I still don’t even fully believe it–though I’m starting to. I’m sure there will be more wrestling or catch in the days to come, and more conversations with God. But that’s okay. I’m worth it. And so are you.
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5 thoughts on “Wrestling with God, Worth, and Unconditional Election

  1. So true…I believe many from the Reformed tradition, if they’re honest, struggle with self-worth. We seem to understand total depravity well, but receiving unconditional love, at least for me, is much more difficult. Maybe the disconnect exists because our worth is infintely more potent than our depravity.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head, Brett. I always said–no so tongue-in-cheek–“We Reformers believe in Guilt,Grace, and Gratitude. We do Guilt really well, Grace not so much, and Gratitude out of Guilt.”

      I love too what you said about our worth being more than our depravity. I had to stop and think about it though. I do think you’re right. Because if our worth weren’t greater than our depravity, then really, what’s the point of worth in the first place?

  2. Very inspiring post. I think for those of us who struggle with worth having encouragers around is perhaps one of the most important parts of the faith. We can assent to truths on paper but when they don’t seem present it is easy to stop believing them.

    Your post also reminded me of this anti bullying video that has been making the rounds. My little brother’s a teacher and he showed it to me and it really hit home.

    • Thanks intercision. I love that video, but it had been a while since I’d watched it, and I didn’t believe it at the time. I hope you can learn to say, “They were wrong.” One of the things I’ve learned recently is that yes, that was reality. It was my reality. It really happened. But it was also a reality that was so rife with lies that I couldn’t tell the difference between the lies and the truth. I can tell the difference now. I pray you can too.

      • Pretending I have worth when I am at a level in society where those around me do not impose this reality on your senses is a mind game. Unfortunately I am not good at playing mind games.

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