“The providential ellipticality of election’s course vastly widens its embrace”

Throughout the book of Genesis, the pattern of God’s election is persistently, even perversely antinomian: Ever and again the elder to whom the birthright properly belongs is supplanted by the younger, whom God has chosen in defiance of all natural “justice.” This is practically the running motif uniting the whole text, from Cain and Abel to Manasseh and Ephraim. But—this is crucial—it is a pattern not of exclusion and inclusion, but of a delay and divagation that immensely widens the scope of election, taking in the brother “justly” left out in such a way as to redound to the good of the brother “unjustly” pretermitted. This is clearest in the stories of Jacob and of Joseph, and it is why Esau and Jacob provide so apt a typology for Paul’s argument. For Esau is not finally rejected; the brothers are reconciled, to the increase of both precisely because of their temporary estrangement. And Jacob says to Esau (not the reverse), “Seeing your face is like seeing God’s.”

And so Paul proceeds. In the case of Israel and the Church, election has become even more literally “antinomian”: Christ is the end of the law so that all may attain righteousness, leaving no difference between Jew and Gentile; thus God blesses everyone (10:11–12). As for the believing “remnant” of Israel (11:5), they are elected not as the number of the “saved,” but as the earnest through which all of Israel will be saved (11:26), the part that makes the totality holy (11:16). And, again, the providential ellipticality of election’s course vastly widens its embrace: For now, part of Israel is hardened, but only until the “full entirety” (pleroma) of the Gentiles enter in; they have not been allowed to stumble only to fall, however, and if their failure now enriches the world, how much more so will their own “full entirety” (pleroma); temporarily rejected for “the world’s reconciliation,” they will undergo a restoration that will be a “resurrection from the dead” (11:11–12, 15).

This, then, is the radiant answer dispelling the shadows of Paul’s grim “what if,” the clarion negative: There is no final “illustrative” division between vessels of wrath and of mercy; God has bound everyone in disobedience so as to show mercy to everyone (11:32); all are vessels of wrath so that all may be made vessels of mercy.

David B. Hart

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1 Response to “The providential ellipticality of election’s course vastly widens its embrace”

  1. Mina says:

    I wish I read Hart in high school. It could have vastly improved my verbal scores. 😛

    Two things that have nothing to do with each other:
    1. This was one of the most intriguing Pauline passages, and it sounded somewhat like a universalist hope
    2. I always wondered if we can view the science of evolution in similar ways, as God’s providential election


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