"For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved*. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them."My friend said that the thought of the end being near makes him "sad almost depressed." "I would think," he continued, "I should be joyful." I wrote back:
"It is sad to think of the end if you or I are doing more-or-less okay. Life on this broken planet is good for those of us who are loved and active and healthy. But when we consider how the majority of people in the world are suffering terribly: desperately impoverished, addicted or abused or whose bodies or minds aren't functioning well... that puts another light on it. Perhaps the "elect" are not those who are doing well now..."I've been thinking about this all day since I wrote that.
(1) Who are these "elect" for whom God has "shortened the days?" Jesus' famous sermon in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6 certainly make it seem that God has a bigger love for "those who aren't doing well." But does that mean I should seek suffering in order to get into God's good graces? I don't think so. We know God wants abundant life for us, not unrelenting pain.(See John 10:10.)
(2) Does the idea of God "electing" some mean God loves some people more than he loves others? That can't be!** In Luke 6:34 the Bible says "God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked." In Romans 5:8*** we hear that God puts infinite value on lost sinners. And in Second Corinthians 5:19 we read: "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us."
So who are the "elect" and how can I get into that group? As I have studied this in the light of the Cross of Jesus, it has come clear that the "elect" are the ones who have come to faith in Jesus Christ. It's when we come into a trusting relationship with God that we find ourselves to be among God's chosen. When we claim and trust the promises of God we are lifted up and over the pain to a new life, a life that begins in now and is "brought to perfection" in the future fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.
That trusting, chosen, "elected" relationship with God is not limited by God. It's as if God is a marriage partner who offers faithful love to all who would receive it. God's love is not different for one than for another. Sadly, however, some of us don't receive it. Some of us are getting along so well that we don't think we need it. Others are so beaten down that we don't think we could ever deserve it. Our job, as a church, is to do all we can to show one another how much we need God's love and, by his Word, to proclaim his love for each and every lost sinner.
This Sunday morning at 11:00 worship a couple from our church will celebrate a renewal of marriage vows.**** Can this be a time when you and I accept the wonderful love of God and obtain the advantage of faith? A faith relationship with our Heavenly Father is such a precious gift that he will "shorten the days" of our suffering so we will not lose it. All it takes is a willingness to take God at his Word.
* For some reason the NRSV uses the word "would survive" for the original Greek ἐσώθη. Most times this word would be translated "be saved."
** This is one of the examples where Christians must read all scripture through the lens of Jesus' love. When, for example, Romans 9:13 (following Malachi 1:2f) says that God "hated" someone we need to view that while at the same time knowing that Jesus PROVED God's love for all on the cross. The "hatred" of God is against sin, not the sinner--though on a feeling level sinners are going to feel hated until they know Jesus' unconditional love. As Martin Luther said: Anyone who regards [God] as angry is not seeing Him correctly, but has pulled down a curtain and cover, more, a dark cloud over His face. But in Scriptural language “to see [God's] face” means to recognize Him correctly as a gracious and faithful Father, on whom you can depend for every good thing. This happens only through faith in Christ. (click here for the reference and a video clip).
*** Romans 5:8 reads: "...God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us."
**** There are many places in scripture where our relationship with God is compared to a marriage. For example see Isa. 54:5; 62:4-5; Jer. 3:14; 31:32; Hos. 1:2; 2:19, 20; Eph. 5:30–32; Rev. 19:7–9, also parables in Matt. 22:2; 25:1–10.