STQ: Chosen People

March 31, 2004 | 14 comments
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My Seminary students were never more united than this morning, when they all agreed that my “thought question” for today was not very interesting. Not one to be deterred by a little opposition, I decided to float the idea here.

As you certainly know by now (see here and here), we are going through Isaiah. In today’s lesson we read from Isaiah 43:3-4: “I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.” I understand this to be a reminder to the House of Israel of the human cost associated with the formation of the chosen people into a more-or-less unified body.

Why these non-Israelite people were used in this way is not clear to me. In reading the Old Testament, one certainly has the sense that the writers thought these other people were expendable pawns in a much greater scheme (a scheme, by the way, whose primary purpose was to exalt my people). As Isaiah often observes, however, the unified nation did not work out so well. They divided internally, then many of them were scattered, and ultimately all were conquered by one force or another. We have expanded the idea of a chosen people by adding the possibility of adoption, thus placing all humans on roughly equal footing (at least in regard to access to God’s favors).

But the rather depressing history of the House of Israel has caused me to ask this Seminary Thought Question: Why would God execute His plan by using a chosen people?

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14 Responses to STQ: Chosen People

  1. Adam Greenwood on March 31, 2004 at 2:52 pm

    I don’t know. Could it be that certain individuals distinguished themselves to God. In friendship God then made them the gift that salvation history would henceforth involve their seed.

  2. Gordon Smith on March 31, 2004 at 3:14 pm

    Adam, Abraham 3:22-23 might support this idea. Abraham was among the noble and great ones, and the formation of the chosen people began with the Abrahamic Covenant. It is rather puzzling, though, why others need to be treated so badly at the hands of Abraham’s children.

  3. Kevin on March 31, 2004 at 3:21 pm

    Interesting question. Egalitarianism seems to be a modern concept. I can’t think of any Old Testament scriptures that teach it. (Can anyone correct me on this?) The New Testament and Book of Mormon are mixed bags, with some talk of chosen races and lands, and other passages that refute or downplay such ideas.

    My own personal hope is that God opposes racism and nationalism, but is coaxing us out of it only as fast as we’re ready.

  4. Gary Cooper on March 31, 2004 at 3:27 pm

    Gordon,

    I think the reason God uses a “Chosen People”, or at least one reason, is related to the Pre-Mortal Existence. Now, what I’m about to say will seem a little strange, but here goes:

    God knows that most humans can and will be saved, because they are humble (think of all the little children who have and will die die before age eight; the mentally retarded; the vast majority of all those who died without even hearing about Christ, etc., and you end up with most of all the human beings who have ever lived). He also knows that those who are most valiant in the pre-mortal existence, the most talented, etc., will bring those characteristics with them into mortality, and so will rise above the rest of the world. These people are likely to become prideful, which will make it impossible to save them. So, God knows He can save the poor, the weak, the downtrodden, the uneducated, little children, etc. HOW TO SAVE THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE, THOUGH?

    (I suspect that the real reason Satan rebelled is because figured out very early that the Plan of Salvation meant that the people least likely to be saved would be beautiful, talented, smart, educated people like HIMSELF. No humility for him! Better to concoct a rival plan that saves everybody, using force, and puts HIM in charge!)

    In other words, I’ve always been captivated by the expression “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”. I think we members have a tendency to think, “we’re the Chosen people, so we’ve got to get on the ball or the world will be damned!”, but instead, we should be thinking, “All those suffering people out there will be rewarded eventually, but WE’LL be damned if we don’t get on the ball!”

    Think about it: If children are not accountable before age 8, and life begins at somepoint before actual birth, most of all the human beings who have ever lived will be exalted, based on historical infant and child mortality death rates alone. Throw in all the mentally retarded and the vast majority of all the people who have died without even hearing about Jesus (and the BoM is pretty explicit that those will be saved), and you can understand why Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. Mconkie thought most of the human race would be exalted (McConkie thought over 90% would make it). So, I get the impression that most of God’s children are simply here on earth to learn by the suffering inflicted on THEM, and will accept the Gospel in Paradise.

    And that gets us back to the “beautiful people”. These are the people who, again because of the great talents and skills they bring from pre-mortality, are bound to do better, to rise to leadership, to obtain wealth, to obtain education, etc.–to ESCAPE SO MUCH SUFFERING, AND HENCE FAIL TO SEE THE NEED TO RELY ON GOD. I really believe that one of the major reasons (not the only one, but a key one) why God has a coveneant lineage, a Chosen People, restrictions on priesthood, etc., is because that is the ONLY way He can save the “beautiful people”, by giving them the opportunity to see OTHER’S suffering, and thus to HUMBLE THEMSELVES by voluntarily giving of themselves, their talents, and abilities, to those suffering others. And, boy,, do we fall short! Ever noticed how the kind of people who end up in the terrestrial kindgom don’t seem very poor or downtrodden?

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that those who don’t have the Gospel are therefore better off without it. And yes, I can see how this breaks down on a number of points. Still, when I think of those times that I’ve felt the most need to repent, it hasn’t been when things have gone wrong, but those times that I see myself continuing to receive God’s blessings, even when I know I’m not doing right. It’s as if the Lord is saying to the Church, “Yes, you’ve got blessings; you’re smarter than the world, and richer, and more talneted, yes, yes. BUT THE WORLD IS CLOSER TO ME THAN YOU REALIZE, AND IF YOU WANT TO HAVE THE SAME REWARD I HAVE IN STORE FOR THESE LITTLE ONES, YOU BETTER GET OFF YOUR HIGH HORSE AND SERVE THESE PEOPLE, MR. AND MRS. CHOSEN!”

  5. Clark Goble on March 31, 2004 at 5:53 pm

    I’m quite uncomfortable seeing the “chosen people” as the mighty and great of the Book of Abraham. First off the chosen people frequently (typically?) didn’t act like it. Further the scriptures about the mighty and great deal with God’s leaders, not necessarily the rank and file.

    As to why God needed some people, I can’t say. It is one of the great mysteries of the gospel as to why for most of the planet’s history he left most people in ignorance. Even today he hasn’t exactly made missionary work easy and even those who believe in God have only a limited understanding of him. Heavens, even within the church we have only a small portion of what we have been promised.

    I suspect there is some reason for all this, but heaven knows I can’t figure it out.

  6. Mark Butler on March 31, 2004 at 6:12 pm

    This is a complex issue. The basic answer is the patriarchal order. The Old Testament attitude towards children is that they are a crown of glory, descending throughout the generations, and that he or she who was most righteous would be granted stewardship over the greatest number of descendants, whom they would preside over as kings and queens to their posterity.

    Now of course, God is not a respecter of persons – such distinctive blessings must be earned. They are not granted like the noonday sun to both the wicked and the righteous.

    However, in order to fulfil his purposes, the Lord scattered Israel in consequence of their pride and disobedience, appointing them agents to carry the blessings of the gospel to those whose fathers had fallen away from the light and truth they once possessed. All ultimate blessings are conditioned on obedience.

    See Gen 22:16-18, Deut 32:8, Prov 17:6, D&C 132:5.

  7. Mark Butler on March 31, 2004 at 6:46 pm

    Nephi is on point: “And now, do ye suppose that the children of this land, who were in the land of promise, who were driven out by our fathers, do ye suppose that they were righteous? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. Do ye suppose that our fathers would have been more choice than they if they had been righteous? I say unto you, Nay.

    Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it.” (1 Ne 17:33-35)

    Compare Gen 15:16.

  8. Ivan Wolfe on March 31, 2004 at 10:39 pm

    C.S. Lewis had something brillant to say on this matter, and I for the life of me can’t find it.

    It had to do with setting up a light on a hill type thing, IIRC – but its been a long time since I read it.

    Anyone else recall this?

  9. greenfrog on March 31, 2004 at 11:11 pm

    Gordon,

    I’d have answered, “God didn’t. We decided to do so ourselves.”

    I recognize that there are passages of scripture that suggest that your question has a foundation. However, they are fundamentally incompatible with the concept that God is no respecter of persons. I prefer to believe in a God that is not, so I conclude that scriptures suggesting a “chosen people” are of no more moment than the references I’ve seen on occasion by General Authorities to a “believing blood” concept — they are evidences and artifacts of mankind’s kin preference.

    Am I obtuse? Is there really a reconciliation between chosen people concepts that still keeps God no respecter of persons?

  10. Jim F. on April 1, 2004 at 12:10 am

    Greenfrog: Sure. “Chosen” need not mean “special” or “better.” I can mean merely “the one chosen to do a particular work–someone must, so you have been chosen to do so.”

  11. Jim F. on April 1, 2004 at 12:11 am

    “It can mean merely . . .” not “I can mean merely . . . .”

  12. Clark Goble on April 1, 2004 at 3:16 am

    What exactly was the work they were chosen to do though. And, more particularly, did they do it?

    I can see this for leaders. But the nations – what did they do? What was their task?

  13. greenfrog on April 2, 2004 at 11:17 pm

    Jim F,

    Thanks.

  14. Mike Burris on April 4, 2004 at 12:55 pm

    My BIL and I had a discussion recently that ties into this. He maintains that Christ’s dealings in the OT and NT show evidence that Christ was learning and growing in his authority and exercise of power.

    I maintain that’s bull. In the OT, the harsh treatment is used almost exclusively on societies as a whole, while individuals receive the same compassionate yet just treatment that we find in the NT.

    In this context, it seems obvious to me that a “chosen people” refers to a society that needs to be established, whil individuals will still be judged on an individual basis, as always. The NT and current-dispensation revelation of the Gospel seems to focus primarily on matters that are internal to an individual, and ventures to inter-personal matters mostly as an outgrowth of actions taken by the individual. The “Chosen People” revelations to Moses and other OT prophets (and the few similar revelations in the current dispensation) refer to the mass of people as a whole, and provides guidance to everyone on how they need to relate to each other and those outside of the covenant. Oddly enough, Christ seems much more harsh when directing societies than when talking to individuals (there are some memorable exceptions in the D&C, though.)

    There you have it: my personal theories with no evidence, citations, or supporting reasoning. I suppose it says more about my own training as a psychologist than anything else, though. (As does the preceeding sentence, and this one!)