Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Line Cannot Comprehend the Cube, Part 2

So my post on election stirred up some controversy, albeit a little belated. I thought this would be as good a time as any to examine the biblical evidence for predestination. One of the things that Karyn and Claire keep saying is stuff along the lines of "It just doesn't make sense that God would..." or "it doesn't seem in accordance with God's character that he would..." What I think is that we need to leave that kind of conjecture behind and examine what the Bible says on the topic (many thanks to Joe for his help in compiling these).

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.


Anonymous said...

Hey Sam,

I can certainly get back to you with Scipture passages, but you still haven't answered my points. I understand you are coming from a different theological tradition, approach, or whatever you'd like to call it, but in the interests of clarity and good form, I think it's appropriate for you to respond to my previous comment point by point. If you would take the time to do that, I would truly appreciate it, because it's the only way a real dialogue can take place.

Like I said, I too can quote the Bible, but so far I am drawing only on a belief that I think we have in common - that God is infinitely perfect. God is love - that's certainly Scriptural and I'm assuming you believe it. That's my fundamental premise. You still really haven't answered my question - why would God make man to damn them? So far we agree on the ends for which God created men. So let me ask you - if drawing sinners to himself gives him glory, why doesn't God draw all sinners to himself?

"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?"

God can control whatever he wants to. But instead he gives us a choice - just like Adam and Eve had a choice. But God CHOSE to give us free will. Do you deny that you yourself don't chose your actions? Is creation a puppet-show where God has labelled some of us "damned" and some of us "saved"? Ultimately, yes, some of us will be saved and some damned, but did God determine which is which and then plan our actions out ahead of time so we fit our label? That's the mockery of a loving God. And it's a mockery of an all-powerful God. If God is sovereign, but you can't label him passive because he has CHOSEN to give us free will. He was exercising his sovereignity when he gave us free will. Only our creator could do that.


Sam B. said...

I'm working on a more detailed answer to your question, Claire, but while I didn't answer your question fully, neither did you answer mine. If man has the kind of unlimited free will that both you and Karyn are claiming, how is he sovereign in any way? I'm saying that even if God did CHOOSE to give us free will, he then abdicates any ability to work things out for good, which as I've shown in un-Scriptural. We can both work on answering each other's questions, and hopefully clear some stuff up that way.

Anonymous said...

I realize that, and I hope I didn't cause any offense. As for God's sovereignity - I still believe in the concept of divine providence, by which God does guide events and circumstances. I'm not saying it just sits there and watches everything happen, but I do believe he respects our free will, that we are responsible for our actions. Also, though I think Karyn made some good points, I can't say I agree with her everywhere - we're just closer to agreement than the two of us. :) However, I think when you get to responding to my other comments and questions, I'll have a better idea of where I need to clarify that idea for you.


pedro del piero said...

Granted Sam has left some points unanswered thus far. But Claire, you have left scripture unanswered. Sam has brought up many scriptures that support his arguments and you have made your own arguments without any scriptures of your own and without explaining why Sam's use of scripture is incorrect.

The fact is that scripture speaks of the redemptive pattern of salvation begins with God involuntarily calling his people to himself. It's all over the new testament. It cannot be ignored. Although your reasoning is thought out, you have not answered the points made strongly and repeatedly by scripture a source which I count much higher than that of any human.

Rom 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!
Rom 9:15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."
Rom 9:16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Rom 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."
Rom 9:18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
Rom 9:19 You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?"
Rom 9:20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?"
Rom 9:21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?
Rom 9:22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
Rom 9:23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory--

I will let the readers interpret everything I intend to say with that scripture. I have nothing to add to it.

Just so you know, I count this as one of scripture's great mysteries. I don't know how it works. All I know is what I learned from scripture which clearly states that God predestines sinners to be saved and that somehow man must accept their salvation through free will. Just be very careful to be fearful of God when you think about this. It is a tricky subject that could distort God's character in our eyes.

Anonymous said...


One reason I haven't brought Scripture passages into this so far is actually in the interests of clarity. Because Sam hasn't yet responded to my questions (they're under his previous post), I'm not quite sure at which point the two lines of reasoning diverge. If my comments (whose foundation is our shared belief in an infinite all-perfect God) are too philisophical for your taste, I really have nothing to say to you. We obviously differ on our interpretation of those verses (which you quoted out of context). What about 2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."

I too believe that man exercises free will to cooperate with God's grace. But I believe that human beings (as we are obviously imperfect) can also choose to reject salvation. It is by our sins, chosen through our free will, that we are condemned to hell - not because God chooses to send us there.

"The fact is that scripture speaks of the redemptive pattern of salvation begins with God involuntarily calling his people to himself." I'm at a complete loss at to what you might mean by this statement. As I've repeated, I believe that God is all-powerful. He can't involuntarily do anything; his will and consent are always perfect. If you think God can do anything he does not will, we have radically different understandings of the nature of God and will probably never get anywhere in this discussion.

I don't wish to give offense, but I also don't think it's appropriate for you to remind me "to be careful to be fearful of God." While this may be good advice, I think charity, as well as transparency and honesty in conversation, are even more important than fulfilling one's quota of Bible verses.

In Christ,

Paulucus said...

Well said everyone! I'm impressed with this conversation. Pedro, excellent use of scripture. Claire, I know Pedro pretty well, better than perhaps any human (he is my brother and best friend). I don't think he was condemning you at all when he said to be fearful of God. I think that was a general statement to everyone. He knows the importance of taking scripture and God's character seriously. I am happy to see everyone treating each other with such respect!

Anonymous said...

No offense taken, Paulucus, and thanks for your comment. On my side, I am just trying to take God's character and Word equally seriously.


pedro del piero said...

um wow. I never felt so misunderstood for quite some time (which I am sure is my fault).

By the word involuntary (which I believe I misused), I meant not at the request or direction of human beings.

And I do not believe that you understood my warning to fear God. This really did not have too much to do with making any point whatsoever. I was simply trying to say that as we grapple with understanding God's character that we should be careful that we do not make little of his character by the conclusion we come to. This advice is as much to myself as anyone else if not moreso.

I also think you misunderstood my whole argument about the scripture over personal reasoning. I believe you that you can bring up scriptures (I know of a few that would support your position myself). But what I want you to tell us is how our interpretation of our cited scriptures is incorrect.

I believe that we both agree that the bible is the inerrant word of God. So the scriptures that we brought up could not be plain lies. If you disagree with our arguments from those scriptures you must find fault with our interpretation of them. So please give us your own interpretation of those verses and show us how we are mistaken.

My personal position which reconciles free will with predestination is the acknowledgment of God’s mysterious nature. It is a mystery that I don’t know the answer to. But I know that God has predestined those whom he would save and I also know that there was a time in my life in which I chose to follow God.

I’m sure I had more to say but I can’t remember it.

I apologize for being less clear in my previous post. I hope this one made more sense.

Paulucus said...

Now I also want to make my own comment. This issue was very significant in my life because struggling through it is one of the main issues that God used to bring me closer to himself. When I was saved, I was very young and had never heard the gospel before. But I knew there was something wrong. "Daddy I'm bad" I would say. I will make a long story short by saying that I insisted that there was something morally wrong with me for about a week. My dad realized that I was being convicted of sin. He preached the gospel to me and I responded and became a Christian. Using my own testimony as an example, it is obvious that God initiated my salvation. He convicted me of sin. At this point I don't think anyone disagrees. Then I responded and became a Christian. Now it may not be clear, but because I know Peter and Sam, I highly doubt that they would deny that humans make their own decisions or that we are 100% responsible for our actions.

I don't really think this issue is quite as complicated as we treat it. The Bible teaches that we are responsible for all of our choices.
Rom 10:9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Rom 10:10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
This speaks of our actions and our choice to follow God.

Now at the same time, God has sovereignly chosen each and every one of us who are the "elect".
Eph 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
Eph 2:5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--
Eph 2:6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
Eph 2:7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

So what shall we say then? The Bible contradicts itself? No way! This is no contradiction! You see, God is not like us. To say he has 100% control over every decision that is made does not mean that we don't make our own decisions. It is a mystery, but it is no hard mystery to accept if we know that God is truly omnipotent. When God gives us gifts such as talent, money, or any other kind of blessing, he does not lose any of it himself. It is the same with choice. God has indeed given us choice, but he did not give up any of his own. In fact, he can't because he is unchangeable. Wow... that is what I love about this doctrine. Every single attribute of God applies to it in some way. Anyhow, God's word teaches both human choice and divine election. But the emphasis is undeniably on divine election. Here is a small list of references to make that point. mt 24:22, 24:24, 24:31, (paralel passage in mk 13 20-27) lk 18:7, Rm 8:33, Rm 11:7, 2Ti 2:10, Tit 1:1, 1Pt 1:1, 2Jn 1:1, 2Jn 1:13 These are just a few I liked because they all use the word "elect". The Bible is full of scriptures that show his sovereignty over every aspect of human life.

Paulucus said...
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Paulucus said...
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Andrew said...

Sam, excellent postings. I've attempted to chip in my two-cents at least five times, each time writing a mini-epic-comment, but each time I couldn't post them. Finally, I can comment, but others have said much more much better than I can, so let it simply be commended that both sides of this debate are approaching it with humility, charity, and respect. Right on! Hope to see more soon.

Sam B. said...

I apologize for my lack of involvement in this conversation, I have been incredibly busy with Godspell rehearsals and am now in Philly, so I may not be able to contribute any more to this conversation until Sunday night. Glad to see Pedro and Paul showed up, I knew it was only a matter of time. Thank you everyone for being polite and kind to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Can't wait to contribute my own thoughts!

By the way, Claire, for a relatively succinct summary of my position, I would highly suggest you read chapter 16 in Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology on God's Providence. It goes a long way towards clearing up any confusion I may have left with my comments, and I will also be drawing on much of what he says in the future.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sam, but unless it's available online, I don't think I'll have access to that book, since it's not at my local library. However, just to clarify - you are a strict Calvinist (TULIP, etc)? I look forward to your response when you get around to it, and good luck with your rehearsals!