Are We God’s Pawns?
A pastor once told me that God’s people are simply pawns in his ultimate plan to glorify himself. Seriously. He said “pawns.”
That would be a great metaphor if chess players actually loved their pawns, but they don’t. The world’s greatest chess player never loved his pawns, much less died for them. So when I asked him about his semantic mishap, he said perhaps it’s better to say we’re “incidental” to God’s plan. I’ve heard other people (fellow Calvinists) say the same thing, maybe because they heard it from someone else, maybe because it sounds humble. “Incidental” isn’t as tacky as “pawn,” but for me, it’s still a big fat theological fail.
If we’re looking for biblical ways to explain God’s love, why not go straight to the source? What does God, the alleged chess player in the sky, say about it? We could quote Bible verses about his love being “great” (Ephesians 2:4), “steadfast” (Psalm 13:5) and “everlasting” (Jeremiah 31:3). But we also see God’s love in other, more surprising places. We’ve been studying John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life in Sunday school. (Those who know me will remember my infamous book review from Man vs. Book.) Following a section about God’s love being centered on the cross of Christ, the study guide instructs us to read John 17:24-26, part of Jesus’ high priestly prayer:
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.
Given the prayer’s focus on God’s glory, and given our tendency to feel most loved when people make much of us, the study guide asks whether this prayer is an expression of Jesus’ love, and if we feel loved when we read it. Here’s my (revised and expanded) answer: YES!!! Jesus wants me to experience the love and union he shared with the Father since before time began! I’m overwhelmed—overjoyed—that God, who was completely satisfied in himself, perfectly content in the mutual love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, would desire a relationship with created beings (especially someone as messed up as me). He didn’t need us. He wanted us. That’s a million times cooler!
I can hear the killjoys now: “Yes, but God doesn’t love us because we’re loveable.” I understand what they’re doing—defending the doctrine of God’s love from the man-centered mush it’s become, and reminding us we’re not intrinsically worthy of God’s love. Trust me, I get it. You don’t have to read the Bible all the way through to see that sinners aren’t very loveable, even after God gives them new hearts. But you also don’t have to dig too deep to see how much Jesus loves them anyway. Not out of obligation, as if “covenant love” means nothing more than contractual devotion, but out of genuine affection.
The “you’re not lovable” sentiment is the classic response to those who dare to feel loved by God. I don’t doubt that both the killjoys and the pawn people have good intentions, not wanting us to become puffed up. But downplaying God’s love for his people is not the best way to ensure believers have God-centered theology. Demoting people to chess pieces in the plan of salvation is far less biblical than simply acknowledging we don’t deserve God’s love, but that he loves us anyway. Instead, like Piper, we should remind ourselves that God’s love is rooted in the cross, “the blazing center of God’s glory,” and is secured by the precious blood of Christ. Once we understand that, we can actually rejoice in his love, as God rejoices in us (Zephaniah 3:17). Yes, us! That’s the kind of mutual love and fellowship Jesus prayed for in his high priestly prayer. We should desire it, too.
So go ahead, give David Crowder’s “How He Loves” another listen. Sing “Jesus Loves Me” without second-guessing its theology. He really loves us. We’re not pawns; we’re kings (Revelation 5:10). We’re a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). We’re children of God (1 John 3:1). And it’s because of his great love for us. Love that’s made possible, made evident, made real by the cross, yes, but love no less.
Now… who’s up for a game of chess?