I really don't mind if it is one way or the other: whether we choose God or He chooses us. A part of me still thinks it is both . . . at the same time . . . via some great transcendental mystery we cannot really comprehend in our human minds . . . which is fine with me as well. If I have a slight preference, it would be that the "Arminian"--Wesleyan free will option is true, because then it is very clear that there is nothing else to do in this life but spend every possible moment trying reach people with the Gospel and get them saved. The impetus is stark and profound and compelling . . . if, in fact, everyone is a possible candidate for salvation and everyone has the complete free will choice to enter the Kingdom, or not . . . .
However, as I mentioned, it has not been my own experience that this is so, nor what I have observed in others, and though both sides can be well argued from various select verses--I am more impressed by those portraying a reality of "election" . . . "pre-destination" and of God's absolute sovereignty over ALL matters--and while we have a measure of free will, which is very real and meaningful, it can only be directed to and for God, as He provides it to be so.
I need not recite a litany of the many verses showing our inability to come to Christ unless God makes us able . . . . but Ephesians well summarizes the broad picture of it to my mind:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. --Eph. 2:1-10
As far as personal experience, I can say this. I remember from a very young age . . . simply having a surety . . . an innate conviction . . . a deep and foundational KNOWING . . . that God was real--that HE IS . . . and that I was His . . . and somehow, some day, some way . . . one way or another . . . I would eventually be brought to Him . . . . No matter how lost I got at times (which was QUITE--on a few occasions!) or in times of hard spiritual frustration and despondency . . . I never lost the sense that He was still "there" . . . and that . . . at the end of it all . . . I was His and would make it to Heaven. Even when I questioned myself and considered seriously the possibility that I was merely deluded, or worse yet, sinfully presumptuous . . . BENEATH that, located at some baseline existential part of my being, I must admit to always taking it for granted . . . that sooner or later . . . God would find me, rescue me, resuscitate and regenerate me . . . and take me into His Kingdom.
If "election" is true . . . then I suppose that all of His Children . . . regardless of how far off the path they may sometimes wander--even in times of outright rebellion--nevertheless also have this same kind of basic, fundamental conviction and lurking faith.
Unbelievers . . . and I think even some "Arminian" proponents assume that Calvinist-election types . . . are acting from a desire to be "special"--who exult at being one of the "elect" . . . the "chosen."
I have not found this to be the case. Not in myself or in others who believe in pre-destination. For me, the feeling and innate sense of somehow already belonging to God, to Jesus . . . has NOT been accompanied by that kind of crass form of egotism or conception of superiority. It's just not there. On the contrary, I find just the opposite: A truly humbled . . . awestruck . . . grateful . . . broken . . . submissive reaction . . . and more able to feel compassion and tolerance for the lost and those who may be lost forever . . . . Discussing this with my wife, she added that, rather than any inclination to feeling superior, there is more something almost like guilt and a burden--"why me?"
It could be turned around the other way in fact. One could say to the "unimpaired-free-will" proponent . . . that THEY are susceptible to a similar egotism. If one believes that it is UP TO US and our ability and power to CHOOSE God . . . then might not one begin to think oneself somewhat superior for having done so?
My experience leaves me with the understanding that there is NOTHING I have done . . . or could do . . . to deserve salvation. Regardless of that faint speck of knowing I somehow belonged to God . . . I was dead in my sin, blind, lost . . . and it was only because HE came in to me and showed me His truth and opened my eyes and heart . . . that I was able to see and know fully.
"I'm so glad that God chose me before the foundation of the world, because he never would have chosen me after I was born!" --Charles Spurgeon
Because we mortals do not know who is a child of the Father, or who is a child of the father of lies, the devil (as Jesus described some in John 8:44) . . . then we are led and commanded to preach to all.
. . . . I might mention here . . . pondering this a few weeks ago, if "election" is true--God chose/pre-destined some but not all . . . I wondered about the "why" of such an arrangement: WHY . . . would God have it . . . so that we here on earth . . . are tasked with evangelism and preaching and teaching, proselytizing--missionary outreach . . . when it has already been decided by Him . . . who . . . will be saved?
And this, for what it's worth, is the answer I got: The human creature--"mankind" . . . made in the image of God, a "little lower than the angels" . . . is made as a social creature. A yearning for fellowship, familial relations, comradery, interaction, community . . . is a major characteristic of our nature and type. We were made to share, to enjoy company . . . as "brothers and sisters" . . . in Christ. So, for OUR benefit, as a blessing and a gift to magnify this Godly designed trait in us, He has provided the scenario that here on this earth, in its fallen condition, we GET to participate in the great pleasure and joy of awakening the Children of God . . . to their sacred birthright . . . as disciples of Jesus, and citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom. God does not need us to preach and spread the Gospel and bring people to Christ. He allows us to, so that our social and brotherly/sisterly nature and design is given a stage and a purpose to be fulfilled through, for both our and His pleasure and joy . . . .
* * *
Meanwhile . . . . I referred earlier to this general topic relating to times of seeming "spiritual recession." Contemplating this while at work the other day, I made a quick note on some scrap paper, standing there on the ladder . . . . : "Re spirit recede--If Calv. true then it is a great help to weather through (spiritually 'dry' times) . . . . Arminian could say, yeah but lack of spirit motivates to try harder . . . for fear of losing salvation. But I say I never could . . . of my own . . . be more 'spiritual'. It was always false (ie., like how new agey types often goo with flowery 'love and light' talk while hiding anger, jealousies etc.) Instead, as one wholly dependent on HIM for my spiritual growth (and NOT own ability/free will) I throw myself back into FAITH, not works, to get the spirit back"
Extrapolating a bit, what I thought was this: If it is our free will that gets us to God, rather than ONLY HIS WILL, then . . . when the spirit seems to recede and we are in a dry walk . . . must it not be that it is likely our fault and responsibility to get the spirit back? And if we try harder . . . to "be more spiritual" . . . are we not in danger of deluding ourselves and merely acting more "spiritual" . . . . Whereas, if I consider myself wholly dependent on God's grace and the Holy Spirit's power to sanctify me and infuse my Walk . . . I must not turn so much to my own efforts to pull me out of the doldrums . . . but, rather . . . I must simply cling to FAITH--dive into a residing faith that . . . in His good will and time . . . HE will give me the more of the spirit I am craving and needing. It seems to me, one view (the free will view) will tend to turn to SELF for comfort and strategies, works, effort . . . while the other (reliance on grace alone) will tend to turn NOT to self, but to faith, trusting that the SPIRIT will eventually intervene and genuinely provide the desired growth and (spiritual) movement . . . .
Free will IS involved in either case. It's just the one version looks to one's own efforts and will, whereas the other looks to God's efforts and will . . . .
Hey, it was an anointed night last night I dare say. My wife, Isaac and me . . . went to an event that Shawn McCraney puts on each year called "Burning Heart". [Shawn hosts the t.v. show "Heart of the Matter" and is Pastor at C.A.M.P.U.S.--Christian Anarchists Meeting Prayerfully to Understand Scripture where we go for Bible study]
"Burning Heart" the event is a gathering of various local Christian folk . . . at the city park where there are some booths, a bounce house, face painting, music, a bit of preaching and water baptism afterwards. Wild, violent storms were whirling all around the valley and mountains the day before and yesterday . . . so there was some worry that it might be cancelled. We were eager to go, having never been to one before . . . and Isaac wanted to get baptized by Shawn . . . . Amazingly (well, not so much maybe, considering all the prayers that were likely going on) . . . the weather swirled all around that particular park . . . . Shawn's daughters sang verses from the Bible on stage--it was great . . . . My mom and my Mormon aunt surprisingly showed up . . . . And Al, our oldest and his wife and son showed up as well. Isaac got baptized, along with about 20 or so others .... very emotional, exciting for all ... lots of "amens" and crying and clapping and hooting for joy . . . . Then, spontaneously, the spirit moved and Al and his wife Tricia got in the water! God baptized also! The moment--literally THE MOMENT the last baptism was done, a crack of thunder pealed through the dark sky and it began to pour--everybody now "baptized" by the rain, running for their cars. Driving home, with soaking Isaac in the back seat . . . there was one of the most beautiful, dramatic skies we have ever seen. Dark, thick piled thunder clouds . . . lightning flashing here and there . . . some spots of the sky cracked open to deep blues . . . white clouds tinged with brilliant orange where the sunset was literally sending sun beams over the mountains . . . and then the mountain we live on, where we were driving . . . there was a rainbow, which we "drove under" . . . which ended up on Lone Peak in a fluff of deep orangeish-peach clouds and mist . . . with more fine, sharp slivers of lightning flashing here and there . . . . It was awesome :)
God bless you and then some!