Election and the Fatherhood of God


The theme that resonated with me in this week’s reading was that of God’s election as an act of fatherhood.  It appears that there are certain truths within the Christian faith that are the source of perennial intramural debate; God’s free sovereignty in election as well as the biblical language for God as “Father” seem to be two of the most hotly-contested items on display.  Thus, it appeared to me beneficial to consider the assertion that “election is the pivot on which the question of God’s ‘fatherhood’ turns.”[1]


Although the ideas of God’s fatherhood and his election of a particular people in Israel are not confined to Seitz’s chapter,[2] it is nevertheless therein that the topics are explored most comprehensively.  Expanding his meaning of election as the pivot upon which the fatherhood of God turns, Seitz argues, “To raise for serious discussion whether God is ‘Father’ before we have asked whether God is for us or against us, whether God can be known and by whom, whether we can have any meaningful life with God at all, is to threaten offense against the One who purports to be under discussion and assessment.”[3]  This long quotation signals for us how important Seitz thinks the issue really is.  That is, we cannot (indeed, should not) wrestle with ideas of gender language surrounding God before we have established the ultimate foundation: whether God has graciously elected us to know him.  It is this action of free election that establishes the fatherhood of God.  Seitz concludes, “Our use of this language preserves that particular story and the God who brought it and us into being, making us his people and allowing us to be faithful witnesses who call upon his name, for our own sakes and for the sake of his creation.”[4]  Thus, by virtue of God’s gracious election, he has fashioned for himself a people who rightly refer to him as Father.


One of the most significant applications for our evangelism and witness to the unbelieving world is that the fatherhood of God does not extend to all people.  Sonship does not necessarily follow by virtue of being created by God.  Thus, all people everywhere have God as Creator, but only his elect people have him as Father.  Moreover, having “a personal relationship” with God (or Jesus) seems to be a rather popular moniker in Christian circles.  Without focusing too critically on semantics at the expense of missing the point trying to be made, it must be noted that everyone has a personal relationship with God.  That is, everyone stands in some way related to God because he has created us all.  This does not imply, however, that God is everyone’s Father.  Jesus says to unbelieving Jews in John 8:42 “If God were your Father, you would love me,” and in verse 47 “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”  The rather obvious point Jesus is making is that these unbelieving Jews do not believe primarily because God is not their Father.

This means that we must engage the unbelieving world with the brutally honest truth that they are not in fact children of God.  Calling non-Christians to repent of their sin and to believe in Jesus Christ is an act of love on our part; conversely, it would be unloving to not call unbelievers to repentance and faith.  Using language from Ephesians 2, all people are born “dead in trespasses and sins” (verse 1), yet God has elected that a people who were once “alienated…strangers…having no hope and without God” (verse 12) should be “brought near by the blood of Christ” (verse 13).  This gracious promise of sovereign election, purchased by the blood of the Son, is the means by which any people can approach God and refer to him as Father.  Apart from God’s election, sinful humanity is resigned to having God as Creator, but not Father.

[1] Christopher R. Seitz, “The Divine Name in Christian Scripture,” in This Is My Name Forever: The Trinity and Gender Language for God, ed. Alvin F. Kimel Jr. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001) 23.

[2] In his chapter entitled “The Gender of Israel’s God” in ibid., Paul Mankowski claims, “The Bible insists God is merciful, tender, compassionate, and so forth, and yet these attributes do not threaten his sovereign masculinity, precisely because that masculinity utterly and finally transcends maleness in the image of elective fatherhood.” 58.

[3] Ibid., 24.

[4] Ibid., 34.

Thanks for reading.  Have a comment or question?  Leave it below.

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