This is the game where everyone sits in a circle and takes turns picking one person to play the part that everyone wants to play, namely “Run around the circle like a maniac and try to catch the person who picked you.” The suspense is horrible—“Duck… duck… duck…”—is it going to be you? Are they going to say “Goose?” Are you going to get to run? Thirty-five children screaming “Pick me, pick me!” But only the Goose gets to run.
Well, a pleasant enough way to burn energy for twenty minutes or so, I suppose. (My own preference in children’s game is “Everybody Just Go Ahead and Run Like a Maniac and Get It Over With,” which may be why they didn’t usually put me in charge of games.)
Afterward, we gathered the children together to move on to the next activity. One little girl, Jasmine, wouldn’t join the line. She stood off toward the corner, not saying a word. Jasmine was in my group, so I hung back to talk with her and make sure everything was OK.
At first she wouldn’t say anything. Finally she looked up at me, trying bravely to hold back the tears, and said three words. “Nobody picked me.”
My heart broke.
I knew what that was like, not being picked. There are memories I still can’t bear to remember. The lonely kid on the playground, the last one picked for the ball team, playing by himself because nobody else would—You’re me, Jasmine. That was me. Nobody picked me, either.
I said the only thing in the world I could think of to say, which I knew was hardly any comfort at all. “Well, the next time we play I’ll pick you, OK?”
She nodded. I hadn’t made it any better but I’d made it bearable.
We played a different game the next week and the week after that. A few weeks later it was time for “Duck, Duck, Goose” again. Thirty-five eager faces waiting to be picked. Duck, duck, duck.
Somehow it was my turn to pick. (Duck, duck, duck.)
This time there was no suspense at all. Just delight. Goose. I picked Jasmine.
I don’t remember whether I let her catch me. I remember her running, and I remember her smile. You couldn’t buy that smile with a million dollars. It was like Christmas morning. It was pure joy.
I know, I sound embarrassingly gallant, but really it was the only possible decent thing to have done. If you’d seen those big brown eyes looking up at you, you’d have done exactly the same. It comes so naturally. You want those eyes to smile. Only a wicked witch or the devil or an ogre or something like that could look at Jasmine trying not to cry and say “Nah, I don’t pick you. I pick someone else instead.”
This is how I believe in God. If my heart breaks and I can’t help but choose a little girl to run because she wants to, and if God is infinitely more loving than I am, then God is not a God of exclusion. He can’t be. It’s just impossible. God is love. God chooses. God picked you.
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you. (1 Thessalonians 1:4)
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4-6)
It’s unfortunate that some systems of theology take Scriptures like these and spin them into questions about predestination and determinism and free will and who gets into heaven and who gets left out. There’s room in Scripture to discuss those, of course, but not here. These verses were not written to speculate about eternal destiny but to encourage you. You’re loved. You’re chosen.
God’s “choice” is intertwined with His love. The answer to the question “Who does God choose?” in these verses is specifically “You.” God loves you, so God chose you. If you’ve always wanted to be chosen, there’s Somebody who always wants to choose you.
Our problem is that, as humans, we think of choice as exclusionary. “I pick A” means “I skip B.” I order chicken for dinner, so I won’t get steak. Even in “Duck, Duck, Goose” it’s the same. I picked Jasmine, so I had to let 34 children pass by and hope that they got picked later.
But God’s ways are not ours. As Henri Nouwen has said, when God chooses, He’s choosing to include, not to exclude. These verses say God chooses, not that He rejects. He loves, not that He overlooks. God would certainly choose Jasmine because He loves her and wants her to be happy—and God loves everyone. There’s nobody God wants to leave out. There’s nobody God doesn’t want to play.
Sure, maybe Jasmine could have chosen not to run even though I picked her. (Again with that predestination/free will tension.) And Scripture seems clear enough that not all people will be saved. But is that because God—“who desires all people to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4)—didn’t or wouldn’t choose them? Well, anyone who is lost goes away quite literally over God’s dead body, nailed to a board for the sins of the world. That’s one worth pondering.
In the end, all doctrinal speculations aside, we can say two things for sure. God loves you, and God does not reject you. Maybe everyone else will reject you. Maybe you’ll never get picked to play with the team. Even if you don’t have any friends, even if you’re rejected by your parents or your peers, even if you think nobody likes you, God loves you. God picks you. You’re chosen.
The picture to have in your mind when you think about God’s choice is not a big mass of people with some getting picked and some not. It’s that one little kid, hoping and hoping that maybe this time she’ll be picked to play, maybe this time she won’t have to be alone, maybe this time she won’t be a Duck, maybe somebody likes her after all.
And then she gets picked first.