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I’m not asking you to not imagine anything, that is to stop imagining. That is hard enough. I want you to get busy and imagine nothing. Are your eyes closed as an aid to conjuring up the image? Is your mind large enough to grasp this tiny little thing?
Nothing is perhaps one of the three great brain teasers in our world. We usually find ourselves tied in knots or with a charley-horse between the ears when we think on infinity, eternity, or nothing. But while infinity and eternity are too big for our finite minds, nothing is too small.
We get in trouble with it as soon as we call it an it. There is an it to it, but it’s not a nothing, it’s a something. That is, we can talk about something that we call nothing. But it is something, a concept. The thing itself isn’t anything, it is nothing. But even though nothing is nothing, there is something we can glean from it—ex nihilo, nihil fit; from nothing nothing comes.
What does nothing have to do with unconditional election? Everything. There are any number of approaches to defending the Biblical doctrine of unconditional election. There are several strong proof texts we can use. There are implications, arguably necessary ones, we can draw from other texts. We can take the Edwardsian view of the will and work from there. Or we can start from the beginning, which is before the beginning.
Once there was God and nothing else. This, too, stretches the mind. We first try to imagine vast expanses of nothing, a sort of infinite sea of black. But there was no expanse and no black. Then we try, treading on dangerous ground, to envision the triune God, who is invisible. Nevertheless, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were, and nothing else was. There was no time when They were not, though there was a They when time was not. If we really understood this, there would be no doubters as to the sovereignty of God in His works of providence or of election. Because there was God and nothing else, there are no conditions of which He is not the ultimate cause. Because the Bible begins with “In the beginning God,” the Bible teaches unconditional election.
When we deny this truth, we deny one of the most fundamental of truths: the law of causality. This law recognizes that every effect must have a sufficient cause. If something happens, it happens because something causes it to happen. That’s a fancy way of saying that you get nothing from nothing. There never was nothing. We know this for two reasons. First, the Bible doesn’t begin with “In the beginning nothing,” but “In the beginning God …” Second, if there ever was nothing, there would be nothing now. You can’t get something from nothing. Even in metaphysics, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that the elect are in fact made such conditionally. The most common view is that God elected those whom He saw, down the corridor of time, would choose Him. But in this argument, anything could serve as God’s condition for election. He might have elected all those with odd-numbered shoe sizes. Both shoe size and the choice of God look like conditions. They serve as measurable ways of separating the elect and the reprobate. The trouble is that, in both of these instances, and indeed, with any such condition, part of the equation is hidden. If we push the cause for the condition back far enough, eventually we get to “In the beginning God.”
What, for instance, would God have foreseen if He had peered down the corridor of time? Only those things of which He was the ultimate cause. Thus, if He foresaw that I would choose Him, we are left asking why I would choose Him. Our Arminian friends try to squirm away from giving any kind of meritorious answer for that why, knowing that we’re not supposed to have reason to boast. But it doesn’t help. Whether I chose Him in this make-believe unplanned future because I was smarter or dumber, more or less pious, begs the same question again: How did I get that way? I can’t make myself smarter or more pious unless I am already smarter or more pious than the reprobate. Not even Cinderella’s stepsisters could choose, or change, their shoe sizes. The trail will lead back to God. If He foresaw that I would choose Him because of my piety, He was foreseeing the necessary fruit of the piety that He gave me in the first place.
Even assuming that the difference is not meritorious doesn’t help. Suppose God looked down the corridor of time and saw that I would choose Him. The reason, the thing that would separate me from the lost, would be the godliness of my parents, their faithful work to raise me in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I certainly didn’t choose my parents, and so cannot take any credit. But who did choose my parents? God did. And who gave them the godliness to raise me in such a way? God did. The final answer is always, “God did.”
In short, if there were conditions for election, then God determined who would meet those conditions. Asking how He made the choice as to who would be given the conditions simply moves the question back one step. He must have unconditionally elected those who would be elect. Naturally, causes are rarely if ever so individual. Effects usually come about because of the convergence of several causal factors. We can rarely, if ever, pinpoint those causes. But God can. If there were some sort of secret recipe of causes that would bring the faith that saves or the hypothetical faith that God foresees in election—even if it takes a combination of godly parents, personal piety, and hearing the ad for the Billy Graham crusade on the radio—God still makes the soup. He wrote the recipe and mixes the ingredients.
Unconditional election is simply another way of saying that God is the sovereign one, and that He alone is the ultimate cause of whatsoever comes to pass. To be sure, He uses secondary causes: the faithful proclamation of the Word, the heartfelt prayers of the saints, the work of apologists and preachers, ads on the radio, even the consciences of the yet-unregenerate elect. But it is He who uses these things to bring about what He purposed from before all time, when there was God and nothing else.