First we need to figure out what is man's state before God.
- Romans 3:10-12 says “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside."
- Isaiah 64:7 says “There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you."
There are many more verses throughout Scripture, but I think we can safely concede that the biblical view is that man is inherently evil and has no ability to save himself or even make a choice to save himself.Second, we need to figure out what God says he does when he saves us. Here the evidence is also very clear. I've already addressed one verse on this topic, but I'll quote it again here because it is so vital to our understanding.
- Ephesians 1:3-5 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will."
- John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you."
- Ezekiel 36:26 "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."
I could go on, but the overwhelming biblical pattern is one in which God chooses us. You'll notice that none of these verses say anything about God merely knowing what we would choose, but he takes an active role in choosing us before time. God is not passive, he is active.
Finally, I want to clarify what man's purpose here on earth is. If you look in the Westminster Catechism, which accurately sums up Scripture on this topic, it says this: "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever." This carries the implicit assumption, which is further borne out it Scripture, that God's chief purpose in everything he does is to bring himself glory. He loves people, he redeems people, but ultimately he does it to bring glory to himself since he is infinitely worthy of glory.
This, I believe, goes a long way in answering Claire's main question, which I'll restate here: Why would God create man to damn him? It really comes down to this: God created man and predestined him to sin because it would bring him greater glory to redeem them. In the gospel, he shows his wondrous love, his wrath, his mercy, his justice, and his holiness in one action. To draw sinners to himself brings him glory.
Here's my question for Claire and Karyn: if God allows humans to make independent choices that he has no control over, how is he sovereign over anything? How can he control anything that happens anywhere? If we're the ones making all the decisions, and God has nothing to do with it, then God has no ability to "work all things together for good." He is merely a passive bystander, watching and occasionally sticking his hand in when things get too out of control. One thing you said, Karyn, really scared me: "God did know that would happen, but he didn't want it to." So you're saying that something can happen contrary to the will of God? That would seem to completely deny his sovereignty.
Speaking of sticking his hand in, you did acknowledge that God does interfere sometimes. So are you saying that it is loving for him to interfere with someone's free will occasionally (as he did with Pharaoh), just not all the time? I don't quite understand that argument.
I'm also not saying that God wants men to go to hell. As you said, he loves all men and wishes for all men to be saved. However, here's the deal (and something I haven't been emphasizing like I should): although God predestines all things to happen, he also holds men accountable for their actions done by their free will (see my definition of free will back in my original post). Man chose sin, and here's the difference in the picture of salvation as seen by Calvinists and Arminians:
God stands at the door of Heaven with His arms outstretched, inviting all to come. Yet all men without exception are running in the opposite direction towards Hell as hard as they can go. So God, in election, graciously reaches out and stops this one, and that one, and this one over here, and that one over there, and effectually draws them to Himself by changing their hearts, making them willing to come. Election keeps no one out of Heaven who would otherwise have been there, but it keeps a whole multitude of folks out of Hell who would otherwise have been there! Were it not for election, Heaven would be an empty place, and Hell would be bursting at the seams!" That does put a different complexion on the thing, doesn't it? -Mark Webb
God does not save all, and he does not want any to go to Hell. But it brings him the most glory to save some instead of all. How is that? I don't know, it's one of those things I don't quite understand, but I believe it because Scripture says it's so.
Finally, I just want to address Claire's interpretation of Ephesians 1:3-5. It says nor implies nowhere in the passage that God predestines ALL of us as you said. If he did, that would mean that we have the ability to do something completely contrary to his will. We are able to contradict God. No, in the passage it gives the very clear idea that those God predestined to be adopted, he also adopted. There are no lost causes in those whom God chooses.
In your responses to this, make sure you bring it back to Scripture. Ultimately, everything that does not come back to Scripture is conjecture that means very little without solid backing. Bring me Scripture that demonstrates the fact that we all have free will of the kind you describe.