Numbers

Let me ask a question that is mostly unspoken among Christians today: Is God troubled by the broad lack of response to him that we see throughout history? Or, more to the point, does the Bible ever address the question?

Here are some of my preliminary thoughts. Your own thoughts and comments are invited as well.

First, we find that Bible writers regularly presume sin to have been an unwanted intrusion on the creation. Some theologians—“supralapsarians”—will debate this claim but the Bible just isn’t on their side. Throughout scriptures we find that God didn’t make humans in order to destroy us, but is willing to give us over to our sin and to death forever.

A classic expression of this is found in Genesis 6:6—“And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” The context for this was human sin, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” It was only by the faithfulness of one man who continued to walk with God, Noah, that the end of humanity was sidestepped. A very close call!

Another place is 2 Peter 3:9—“The Lord . . . is not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Efforts to moderate or mitigate this text aren’t convincing: God meant for humans to have eternal life but things went desperately wrong starting with Adam.

Yet another text, Acts 13:46, also includes a call for repentance and presumes God’s desire for all to be saved, “Since you [Jews in Pisidian Antioch] thrust [the gospel] aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we are turning to the Gentiles.” In other words our picture of predestination must be shaped by a reality that God desired for more to be saved than actually are. And the fault rests with the unrepentant and exists only because God won’t force his love on us.

God’s willingness to receive repentant sinners isn’t in question, then, but human interest in turning to God certainly is! The supreme text here is Paul’s use of twin Psalms (14 & 53) in Romans 3:10-11 to assert the depth of human sin as complete and inclusive: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” In other words, all of humanity is dead towards God.

This fits what Jesus taught Nicodemus about the need for all to be born again/from above by the Spirit whom Adam had dismissed in Eden and, with that dismissal, embraced his living death. And it also fits Paul’s premise in Ephesians 2:1-3 that we were “all” once dead in our sins so that only those predestined to salvation are saved.

Here’s a key point: we aren’t disabled by sin and spiritual death; instead we are disengaged. The problem is that our hearts are dead (or “hardened”) and the heart is the single motive center of the soul. The heart is our processing center where we were once connected to God as we responded to his loving initiatives. The Spirit had once poured God’s love out in Adam’s heart but his sin grieved, quenched, and drove the Spirit away.

Thankfully the story doesn’t end there. Ever since Adam’s fall God continues to woo us, prod us, and call us—loving us even to the point of sending his Son to die for the world. But humanity loves darkness and evil rather than God’s light and love.

So the problem of sin as human disaffection towards God is rooted in self-love; and our apparent “freedom” is affective—a freedom to not love God. Authentic love, we know, can never be forced on an unwilling participant. And only the most overt wooing of Jesus—as illustrated in Paul’s conversion and the conversion of the Samaritan woman at the well—converts us to a new affection for God. Yet for all who suppress that wooing and prodding God’s stern judgment stands: “God gave them up to dishonorable passion” and to “a debased mind” (Romans 1:26&28).

Let us return now to our starting question: what about the numbers of those who respond to the good God (very few) and those who spurn his love (very many)? Is God troubled by it? Yes and no. He is grieved by our love of the creation rather than for him, our Creator; but he is satisfied with the relational inheritance he draws out from among those enslaved to self-love. He draws them by his even greater love and he then washes and cleanses his bridal Body to become the Son’s eternal spouse. The beauty of authentic love eclipses the loss of all that Adam’s spiritual disaffection spoiled.

Here’s the point: God’s relational ambition is for quality, not quantity. One bride for one bridegroom for all of eternity. That’s God’s plan, the Son’s delight, and the Spirit’s ministry. One is enough.

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1 Comment

  1. Gretchen

    When we see God’s love in terms of the marital picture that is so pervasive in Scripture, it is absolutely heart-transforming. I love the way you describe how God woos and draws us to Himself, even to the point of sending Christ to die for us. The love and intimacy that we share with Christ as His Bride truly does eclipse anything we can experience when we are enslaved in love of self. Thanks, Ron.

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