Note that the title of this post is not a question. It is just a disjunction, in which either alternative might be so, or both. In this case, it’s both.
This post is prompted by a long discussion in the comment thread of Alan Roebuck’s recent post, Defining Christianity: Why be a Christian? Part III. It is an attempt to lay to rest the question whether we are saved on account of our election by God, or on account of our faith. The answer, I would argue, is “yes.” I don’t mean this post to be dispositive; it is a record of something that surfaced in me on the train to work this morning, as I reflected on that discussion: a complex hunch that arrived in my awareness with a strong tincture of verisimilitude. I offer it mostly to find out if it satisfies the participants to the discussion.
There seem to be two alternatives. The first, Calvinist alternative is that we are saved by God’s election of us from before all time. In this case, the creature’s act of faith occurs on account of God’s election. This entails obvious problems for the notions of creaturely freedom, and so for creaturely responsibility. Under this alternative, God forces the creature’s hand, raising the question whether the creature has a hand in the first place. It would seem not, prima facie.
The second, Arminian/Catholic alternative is that we are saved by our act of faith. God’s justification is offered to all, and whether any given sinner enjoys it depends upon whether he wants to. The difficulty with this alternative is that it seems to force God’s hand, and make the efficacy for a given sinner of his saving act contingent on the sinner. But ex hypothesi, God is not a contingent being. His knowledge of who is saved cannot continge. Process theologians deal with this difficulty by considering that God might after all be somewise contingent, in the process sacrificing either Divine Simplicity, Omniscience, or Omnipotence, or some combination thereof. This seems hardly satisfactory.
In the first alternative, God decides who is elect; in the second, the creature decides. Either way, one of the parties to the transaction has his hand forced, and is not free.
But if both alternatives are true at the same time, this problem does not arise. How could both be true?
The trick to seeing how is to stop thinking temporally. Not easy! But, doable.
Our normal way of thinking about procedures – about orderly relations between events – is to think that first x does something, and then y happens as a result. So, it is natural for us to think of justification as, “God decides which sinners will be saved, and then as a result they are saved,” or vice versa.
But in eternity, there is no such thing as a causal result. In eternity – i.e., in the way things really are, the way they look from the perspective of omniscience – things don’t happen as a result of other things having already happened. There is in eternity no “already,” no sequence of causal operations, and so therefore there is no causal operation: no push or pull. Things rather just all happen, and are ordered to each other by their logic (of which causal logic is but one rather small and parochial department).
Thus in eternity the Divine election of the sinner and the sinner’s act of faith are just the same motion, considered from different points of view. By his very nature, God knows which of his creatures accept him as Lord; and that acceptance is the character that, in God’s knowledge, categorizes a sinner as among the elect. The justified sinner is what he is, and God knows him for what he is.
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
- John 10:14
In the light of these reflections, it is interesting to ponder the worries of the ostensibly faithful sinner over whether he has really been justified and is indeed safe among the elect. If God does not know the sinner really does have faith, and does not therefore understand the sinner as among the elect, then *there can be no way that the sinner might truly understand himself as having faith.* If God does not know the sinner as saved, the ontological possibility of faithfulness is utterly foreclosed to the sinner, and any impression he has of his own faithfulness is mistaken or delusional. If on the other hand a man knows without the slightest doubt that he is faithful, then he is indeed faithful, and God knows him as among the elect.
The question before the sinner, then, always is this: is my faith real, or am I just fooling myself? Have I really repented of my sins, or am I really just a liar? If the sinner is ever able to say to himself, with a whole heart and without any jot of equivocation or obscure inward reservation, that he completely and totally believes in God, then he may rely upon the fact of his justification. But this state of certainty about oneself is, obviously, extremely rare and difficult to obtain. Thus the earnest introspection of the believer at worship, plumbing the depth and deviousness of the devices and desires of his own heart, and bitterly regretting his own disgusting devilry; thus his firm resolve to leave behind the world, the flesh and the devil; thus his doubt that he really means to do what he says to himself that he means to do.
Lack of complete faith in the reality of God, then, is just doubt about the integrity of oneself, and vice versa. Knowing one is inherently sinful, how is one to complete the motion of faith with complete confidence? Only by deciding to rely upon God as the source of one’s confidence. The leap of faith, then, is a departure from reliance upon our own poor powers, to reliance upon God.