Left to ourselves, we are stuck in the mud of our total depravity — the centripetal wrapping of our affections around ourselves. We turn away from God for our joy, and choke ourselves with the slavery of self-glory. Like hot ocean water spinning off hurricanes of hostility into the world, our depravity spawns lies against one another, bitter envy, heated relational breakdowns, wicked acts of terror, and world wars.
The big question is whether God will simply stand back and let all this depravity devolve into deeper and deeper chaos? Will he simply wash creation with a flood and flush man down a cosmic sewer and be done with it all? Or will he break in to fix the mess? He has the power to intervene, but does he want to? Will he inconvenience himself to step in and stop the downfall of this self-twisted mankind bent on self-destruction?
To answer these questions, we hit pause on the human drama unfolding on earth to look up into heaven and back into eternity past. The depravity in man’s heart did not catch God by surprise. Before giving Adam the command not to eat from the one tree, God knew what would transpire. It was tragic and terrible, and yet it was not outside of his plan.
With this backdrop in place, we now consider the grace of God in his cosmic strategy. God reaches into the drama we call human history to choose for himself a people who will not be left to their own self-chosen self-destruction. And he uses one common human metaphor to help us understand his heart and his work.
Hosea is a stunning book, filled to the brim with all the depravities churning in the soul of even the most religious — lust, rebellion, idolatry, it’s all there. And yet this tiny Old Testament book is not merely a tool for diagnosing the heart, and not only a tragic story about the insufficiency of claiming membership in the right religious group, but it’s also a relational story about a husband (Hosea) and his marriage to a sexually promiscuous wife (Gomer) and their wayward children.
The book of Hosea will snap your heart like a pencil. The promiscuous wife, who you hope will become a reputable wife, instead returns to her adulteries and lewd indulgences. What could hurt worse? This is not prime-time television drama, but a metaphor of what Israel has done with their loving God. This is a parable, acted out in the flesh. God’s relationship with Israel is seen in Hosea’s dysfunctional marriage to Gomer, and intensifies the picture of how deep Israel’s sins have cut down into the heart of God.
Anguish and despair cry out from the pages, but as in many other blood stories, it’s ultimately a story of redemption, idiomatic of how we understand God’s sovereignty and election, so essential to the apostles, there’s little hope of understanding the language of divine sovereignty or so-called “Calvinism” without understanding the heartbreak of Hosea.
This sovereign desire of God, in eternity past, to gather a people for himself, is what Calvinists have called “unconditional election,” the U in TULIP. Out of all the God-ignoring sinners, God chose a people for himself. He is their father, and they are the object of his eternal love and affection and delight. These sinful elect did nothing to earn God’s action. The sinful elect are not “more worthy” of this grace. That’s why it’s calledunconditional. There is no favoritism.
Election takes a slightly different form in the Old Testament (where God elects for himself a physical nation), compared to the New Testament (where God elects for himself individuals, a spiritual people). But as we will see, the two are deeply connected.
Ultimately, God desires to elect for himself a chosen people, not merely the nation of Israel, but also individuals from among the Gentile pagan nations (Hosea 1:1–[2:23]). To prove this point, the apostle Paul will cite Hosea (Romans [9:22]–26).
The language holds true across the Bible. God can make this promise to sinners: “I will heal their apostasy. I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them” (Hosea 14:4). This is the heart behind God’s electing love. To paraphrase Puritan Thomas Boston, God’s sovereign love will make a net to infallibly catch souls. God will tenderly allure his chosen by his unrelenting sovereign grace (Hosea [2:14]–23).
Delighting to Love
To a reader of the Old Testament, the theme of God’s electing love in Hosea finds its way into the storyline of the Old Testament in other beautiful places, like this one:
Behold, to the Lᴏʀᴅ your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lᴏʀᴅ set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. (Deuteronomy [10:14]–15)
God’s election in Scripture is predicated on this foundational phrase: he “set his heart in love” on his chosen people (Deuteronomy 7:7; [10:15]). It’s the same language used in Scripture to describe a man’s pursuit of a woman to be his wife. When it comes to election, God’s language is vivid and strong, writes John Piper, who amplifies the translation of Deuteronomy [10:15] to its fuller meaning: “The Lᴏʀᴅ delighted in your fathers to love them.” To be elected is to be deeply loved by God (Colossians [3:12]; 1 Thessalonians 1:4–5).
God delights to love. His electing love is deeply personal — with the intensity that most of us can only perceive in the picture of romantic attraction that fans into the flame of marriage. But this love is not to be confused with the royal wedding of the solemn-faced who seem irritated to have had their day disrupted by stiff and stifling pageantry. Quite the contrary.
The Old Testament teaches us a lot about God’s love. God’s love is selective — his electing love is not general love, but exclusive. God’s love is voluntary — God is not bound to love anyone or everyone in a territory like the pagan gods of the day. God’s love hunts — it seeks out for those to enter into a relationship of mutual delight. And God’s love is spontaneous — “it is not caused by any worth or attractiveness in its object, but rather creates worth in its object.”
In other words, God does not choose every sinner to be his elect. Why? That is a question we cannot get answered beyond Paul’s rhetorical question inRomans [9:22]–23. God’s choice is his indisputable prerogative. But what we do know is that unconditional election is deeply personal. God sets his unstoppable love on certain sinners. This was his plan from eternity past: Depraved souls stuck in the unceasing cycle of sin and death will be the object of his love (Ephesians 1:3–23). It speaks not to merit in the sinner, but to the magnificence of his love.
Pure Act of Pleasure (for Glory)
But is this merely an act of a pardoning judge who is disconnected, distant, and reluctant? Or has he really drawn this close to us? Does God really delight to elect?
A passage that communicates the essence of God’s heart in election is found in the New Covenant prophecy of Jeremiah [32:41]: “I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.”
Written by Tony Reinke
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