Friday, February 12, 2010

Chosen Ones

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you... John 15:16

Rain had driven most of the customers from the Oak Street Bible Shop as I entered, except Glen, who was putting books into a cardboard box. This was his daily quota. Almost no one bought more books than Glen.

“I give them away”, he said. “Johnny Appleseed is my example, sow and increase.”

Joy was seated on a stool, which made her appear even taller. She smiled at his words. Glen could be so disruptive with his contrary thoughts, but he was a good customer, she realized.

“We had one returned, today”, said Joy, her eyes flashing.

“That lady was so mad at me! She came in yesterday asking if I had any books on tongues. I have a whole shelf of them, I told her. I've studied tongues for seven years. It's a subject I care a lot about.” The woman had selected one, trusting in Joy's testimony.

“Well, she called and said in an exasperated voice, ‘That book you sold me is against

Joy explained, “I never told her the book was in favor of them, just about them.”

I noticed a small woven basket on the glass topped counter. It contained about a dozen smooth stones. They were carefully painted with images of flowers and animals.

“I haven't seen these before, Joy,” I said, “What are they?”

“Oh, those are an idea of Dave's,” she said. Dave was her husband. “He calls them "casting stones". They are for people who are without sin, to cast at people they don't like. He said if he was sin free he would throw them at fat people, he hates fat people.”

Dave was very slim. “Here's something else Dave picked up, you might be interested in.” She slid off the stool and handed me a little pad of paper. The cover said "What You Have to Do to Go to Hell". The others were smiling. I knew I was being set up. I opened the little book and all the pages were blank!

By now Glen’s box was filled with books and he carried it to the counter. “We keep reading of people that God has chosen, and that is fine with everybody. But when I start talking about people he has not chosen, I can feel the anger and resentment. People get so upset you can't even talk to them.”

“After all,” Glen continued, “God chose eight people to live through the flood, but think of how many died.”

Gary, behind the counter, came to life. “Our church once did a study on the flood. I looked up "pre flood population" on the web. You can't be exact, but there is a population formula you can use with the data from the Bible. The lowest figure, as I remember it, was five billion. The highest was seventeen, and the average was ten billion.”

“That's a lot of people he did not choose,” said Joy, in a rather sarcastic manner. We all knew from experience that Joy preferred to think of people doing the choosing, not God.

Gary had a conflicted look on his face. Should he say this, he was wondering? “I saw a cartoon once,” he began. “There was Noah's ark with the loading ramp set up. A rooster was looking over a flock of about one hundred hens. He had one wing under his chin, like he was trying to make a decision, hmmm, which one?”

The mood of humor was soon altered by Sue.

“We choose”, she said, almost defiantly. “We don't love everybody, we don't even like everybody!”

Joy interjected, “That's because our love is not perfected, but God is love!” She emphasized "is".

“Can't God also hate?” asked Gary, in a rare show of disagreement with his boss lady. Sue, usually so prim and quiet, was not through. The subjects of choosing and loving had aroused something in her. She asked, “Haven't you ever read Emily Dickensen's poem, The Soul Selects Her Own Society? Holding onto a shelf with both hands, as if for support, she turned to recite:

The soul selects her own society
Then shuts the door
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more
Unmoved, she notes the chariot's pausing
At her low gate.
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.
I've known her from an ample nation
Choose one:
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.

We were quiet, impressed with Sue's solemn declaration. She had let us into her deepest feelings. Her voice ended with a huskiness so unlike her usual prim tones.

It was Glen's turn. “Jesus told the Jews that Elijah and Elisha had turned from them to two gentiles, and they tried to kill him . People don't want to hear about God's sovereign choice.” He opened a Bible on the counter and began to read:

“But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of
Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and
there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them
was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman
who was a widow.

And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet,
and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.
So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things,
were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and
they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that
they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way. Luke 4:25 29"

Glen added, “Because they couldn't refute what Jesus said, they turned on him. Just notice who gets mad when there is a Bible discussion.”

Gary made one more attempt to lighten things up: “Do you want to hear the definition of a liberal?” he asked smilingly.

Joy tensed, was he calling her a liberal?

“A liberal”, said Gary, “is someone who loves more people than God does.”

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