Playing Favorites

Does God Have Favorites?

Most Christians would emphatically deny the very thought. We’re brought up to believe that playing favorites is bad. God is good. Ergo, God can’t have favorites.

There are plenty of verses to support this point. Here is a small selection:

  • “Then Peter started speaking: “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him.” Acts 10:34-35
  • “For there is no partiality with God.” Romans 2:11
  • “But from those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me; God shows no favoritism between people)—those influential leaders added nothing to my message.” Galatians 2:6
  • “Masters, treat your slaves the same way, giving up the use of threats, because you know that both you and they have the same master in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” Ephesians 6:9

No controversy here, right? We are not to show favoritism because God does not show favoritism.

But wait—what do we do with verses such as Romans 9:10-13? Paul writes:

Not only that, but when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our ancestor Isaac— even before they were born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose in election would stand, not by works but by his calling)—it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger,” just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Wait, that doesn’t sound fair! How can God love one and hate the other? When used this way, the word “hate” just means “not chosen.” Just as God chose Isaiah and not Ishmael, God chose the descendants of Jacob as the people who would continue His covenant with Abraham. (The curse that later came on Esau’s descendants—the nation of Edom—was due to their own disobedience.)

And how about the concept of a chosen people? God clearly favors the Jews, giving them preferential treatment. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. He has chosen you to be his people, prized above all others on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7:6 and again in verse 14:2, italics mine.)

Then there is Moses—“The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, the way a person speaks to a friend.” There’s David, described as “a man after God’s own heart. ” Gabriel greeted Mary with, “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you!” and “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God!” (Luke 1:28, 31). And of course there is Jesus, the chosen son in whom God is well pleased.

Do, does God have favorites, or doesn’t He?

I think we’re confused because God’s favoritism is different from ours. When we think of playing favorites, we think of one person being loved more than the other. But God loves all His children. We are all made in His image, and He died for each and every one of us.

Psalm 5:12 says, “For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” And this gives us a clue as to how we can influence God’s favor: “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2)

We might think being a favorite means we get all the breaks while others get dumped on. I’m a pampered stepsister while you are Cinderella, scrubbing the floors. But being God’s “favorite” isn’t like that. Yes, Solomon got the goodies, but Paul was martyred, and Jesus got the cross. Being God’s favorite gave Moses overwhelming responsibilities. David was persecuted by Saul for years before becoming king. Mary had to deal with an unwed pregnancy, then alter witnessed the excruciating death of her firstborn. When God chooses someone to be “favored” that often means they have special gifting and a special assignment. Often, they experience special trials and suffering, too.

So much depends on what “favorite” means. Does God treat us all the same? No. If you grew up in a family with more than one child, you know how futile that is. We disciplined both our daughters, but one hated to be alone (so placing her in time out worked well), and the other enjoyed solitude (so we had to come up with alternative strategies). We all have different needs and abilities, strengths and struggles.

Is God just? Yes. We can trust his love. In that sense, we’re all his favorites!

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