by Gregory Anderson Love
My daughter, Claire, was born almost twelve years ago.
For the next several days as I went back and forth between the hospital and my home, the hospital and school, I had a bracelet the hospital had strapped around my wrist. “Claire Love,” it said, with Claire’s hospital number. This allowed me to come into the newborn ward and see my daughter.
I was driving one day from the hospital to teach my Introduction to Theology class, and I realized the true meaning of that bracelet. It is true that now someone belonged to me…this new life, this small person. She was mine.
But even more so, I realized that I belonged to someone. It was not my name around her wrist. It was her name around my wrist. I was claimed by her. I belonged to her. It was not so much she attached to me, as I was attached to her.
And I thought of God with a bracelet around God’s wrist, with my name on it. “Gregory Love,” God wore through God’s days, and in God’s nighttime moments.
My students, and the adults in the Presbyterian churches where I teach on Sundays, invariably hate the doctrine of divine election. They loathe it. To them, it makes God seem capricious, cruel, tyrannical. As if God were choosing individuals for heaven, and choosing others for hell.
But I have always understood why it comes first. Election is not about God choosing the fate of individuals. It is about God choosing something about God’s self. In a free act of God’s love, God chooses to bind God’s own life to ours. To yours. To mine. God puts our name around God’s wrist. As God goes about God’s day, God knows that God belongs to us.
It is the first, and central, and last thing to be said. Not simply the truth that every Reformed Christian hopefully knows: “In life and in death we belong to God.” But its corollary: “God belongs to us.” God belongs to me. God is mine.
Our name is always on God’s lips.
Where we go, God chooses to go.
And where that leads, well…if it goes badly, God goes with us there. God descends. And descends and descends. [Philippians 2:5-11]
In order to find us, and lift us up.
Gregory Anderson Love is a Presbyterian minister who teaches systematic theology at San Francisco Theological Seminary. His most recent book, on the meaning of Jesus’s death, is Love, Violence, and the Cross: How the Nonviolent God Saves Us through the Cross of Christ.