In my understanding, unconditional election is so called because God elects individuals with absolutely no reliance upon their decisions. The reason this is theologically necessary to believe is that if a person’s decisions contributed in any way to their salvation, they would to that degree be earning their salvation.
Is that accurate in all the essential points?
If that is the case, is it also true that God elects individuals to salvation without any reliance upon the free decisions of others? Can my free-will decisions affect God’s decision to elect someone else to salvation? If so, doesn’t that make election, in that restricted sense, conditional? And if not, how do things like evangelism and sexual reproduction function in God’s economy?
In my understanding, the answer to those questions is that, no, God’s decision to elect is not influenced by any creature’s actions, and that evangelism and sexual reproduction function like everything else: they are action taken on freely, and then “ordered” by God to bring about the results God desires. In this way, God exercises meticulous control over creation, but without crushing freedom and without authoring sin.
I am fairly confident that I have all of this correct, though I am happy to receive instruction from my Reformed friends. I am far from expert on this branch of theology.
But my real question follows from all of this. My real question is how precisely this ordering of free acts functions. Specifically, is there an identifiable chronological order to (1) election, (2) free-will acts and (3) God’s ordering? I ask because these things all interrelate in a complex way that seems to defy any such chronological ordering, and which seems to make election necessarily rather more conditional than not.
Example: Let us say that Samuel Jenkins (1902-1914) is a young man who lived his tragically short life in New Orleans. His father grew up in New York but after some mismanagement drove his company went into the ground and moved to New Orleans, where he met the woman who became Samuel’s mother. Before Samuel’s death he heard a traveling evangelist preach, and he became a Christian. Now, did God elect that Samuel would become a Christian before God ordered the freely chosen acts of his father, including his poor business decisions and his decision to move to New Orleans? If so, did God foresee that Samuel’s father would make such decisions, resulting in Samuel’s birth in the first place? If so, what did God order or determine to come about?
Or, on the other hand, did God determine that someone called Samuel Jenkins would be born in the first place, and order the events of his father and mother’s lives to that end, so that God could elect Samuel to salvation? If this is the case, again, God does not author sin or calamity, but orders it. So God uses Samuel’s father’s mismanagement of his company to drive him to New Orleans. But Samuel’s father was always going to mismanage the company, right? God simply uses that toward the goal of producing and thus electing Samuel Jenkins. Doesn’t that make Samuel’s election conditional upon his father’s mistakes and decisions? Otherwise, don’t we have to say that God’s ordering is chronologically prior to Samuel’s father’s actions? But how can that be, without making God not only order, but author sin, which is certainly not the Reformed position.
Perhaps I am deeply misunderstanding the Reformed view of how God interacts with the world. I hope one of my philosophically inclined Reformed friends can put me on the right track.