Friday, March 6, 2009

Does God elect some to damnation?

Pastor David Sqyres brought up a couple important points in response to Wednesday's post on the fairness of God's election.

First, David noted, "I'm not sure if the issue is that of it being 'fair' or 'unfair' but of it being Biblical. If it's Biblical, we accept that God is just and fair beyond our understanding."

Excellent point. It is true that God determines what is fair. He is the very basis and absolute standard of what is fair, just, and right in this world. Thus Paul warns in Romans 9:20 "Who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it?" We should be content to trust in the divine will regarding election because this is what the Bible teaches. Yet, it does put our hearts to rest to see that God is in fact fair (even from a human perspective), and that He is consistent in all His nature and dealings as both a loving and holy God on the matter of election. So, although we need to be extremely humble and careful in questioning God's fairness over the matter of election, I believe the question does help us better understand how all His attributes work together in harmony to accomplish our redemption.

David brought up another point: "I might note, if I may... that all of the verses cited refer to God's choosing for salvation. It does not speak of a negative election; ie: Predestine for hell." This raises a great question. Does God elect some to salvation and elect others to damnation?

In short, I believe God sovereignly and graciously chooses some to be saved, while passing over others to suffer the just wages of their sin. It is not as though humans were neutral creatures, and that God arbitrarily elected some to suffer in hell and in the same way elected others to enjoy eternal bliss in heaven. Rather, the Bible says we were all deserving of hell because of our sin, but that God graciously chose to snatch some out of the pit and save us by the atoning work of His Son on the cross.

Theopedia, quoting from R. C. Sproul, says,

The term double predestination has been used to refer to the dual concepts of election and reprobation in Reformed theology. This is largely a pejorative term which leads to misconceptions of the Calvinist (or Reformed) doctrine. It has been used as a synonym for a "symmetrical" view of predestination which sees election and reprobation being worked out in an equally parallel mode of divine operation.

The distortion of double predestination suggests a parallelism of foreordination and predestination by means of a positive symmetry, which may be called a positive-positive view of predestination. This is, God positively and actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to bring them to salvation; and in the same way God positively and actively intervenes in the life of the reprobate to bring him to sin.

This distortion makes God the author of sin who punishes a person for doing what God monergistically and irresistibly moves man to do. This is not the Reformed view of predestination, but a gross and inexcusable caricature of the doctrine. Such a view may be identified with what is often loosely described as Hyper-Calvinism and involves a radical form of supralapsarianism. Such a view of predestination has been virtually universally and monolithically rejected by Reformed thinkers.

The classic position of Reformed theology views predestination as double in that it involves both election and reprobation but not symmetrical with respect to the mode of divine activity. A strict parallelism of operation is denied. Rather predestination is viewed in terms of a positive-negative relationship.

In the Reformed view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by a monergistic work of grace. To the non-elect God withholds this monergistic work of grace, passing them by and leaving them to themselves. He does not monergistically work sin or unbelief in their lives. Thus, the mode of operation in the lives of the elect is not parallel with that operation in the lives of the reprobate. God works regeneration monergistically but never sin.
Wayne Grudem says it this way:
When we understand election as God’s sovereign choice of some persons to be saved, then there is necessarily another aspect of that choice, namely, God’s sovereign decision to pass over others and not to save them. This decision of God in eternity past is called reprobation. Reprobation is the sovereign decision of God before creation to pass over some persons, in sorrow deciding not to save them, and to punish them for their sins, and thereby to manifest his justice...reprobation is viewed as something that brings God sorrow, not delight (see Ezek. 33:11), and the blame for the condemnation of sinners is always put on the people or angels who rebel, never on God himself (see John 3:18–19; 5:40). So in the presentation of Scripture the cause of election lies in God, and the cause of reprobation lies in the sinner. Another important difference is that the ground of election is God’s grace, whereas the ground of reprobation is God’s justice. Therefore “double predestination” is not a helpful or accurate phrase, because it neglects these differences between election and reprobation. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 686f)
After quoting Romans 9:18, Baptist theologian James Dagg explains,
The natural tendency of human depravity is such, that the heart grows harder under the general mercies which God bestows, unless he superadds to all the other benefits which he confers, the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit, by which the heart is changed. This renewing grace he gives or withholds at his sovereign pleasure.
And Calvin himself writes,
Since God inflicts due punishment on those whom he reprobates, and bestows unmerited favor on those whom he calls, he is free from every accusation; just as it belongs to the creditor to forgive the debt to one, and exact it of another. The Lord therefore may show favor to whom he will, because he is merciful; not show it to all, because he is a just judge. In giving to some what they do not merit, he shows his free favor; in not giving to all, he declares what all deserve. (Institutes, III, xxiii)
So the answer to our original question is "yes." God does elect some to damnation. But not in the same way He elects some to eternal life. Election and salvation is a free and unmerited gift, an act of grace contrary to what we deserve. Reprobation, on the other hand, is the rightful payment for what we already deserve. It is God sovereignly (and in some sense even reluctantly) bypassing or witholding His mercy and grace in order to manifest His glory and justice.

Election and reprobation are difficult topics for our hearts and minds to bear, but they should drive us to worship God in His sovereign grace and to evangelize the lost with greater urgency and compassion.

1 comment:

  1. Stephen,

    Very interesting. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

    I place double predestination under the "I don't know" catagory. Perhaps I'm afraid I do know. . .

    Anyway, a verse I fight conflicting with double predestination is Matthew 25:41.

    "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Matt. 25:41

    He is speaking directly to the lost. So the lost condition is the context. But he says that hell was "prepared for the devil adn his angels." So, pressing the text, wouldn't that mean that hell was NOT prepared for men, but it became their destiny only after sin. In other words, they were not damned from the creaion of the world ?

    I aprpeciate your heart and willingness to deal gently/honestly with a tough subject.

    Blessings.

    ReplyDelete