Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dishonorable vessels

After many, many months, the predestination issue resurfaces here on HoldFast. This post comes about because one of the favorite topics of discussion up here is the topic of predestination/election, especially between the Lutherans and the Calvinists. After one such discussion, I read Romans 9 in my quiet time and was struck down, because this passage answers the single most difficult question the Calvinists have to answer: Why would God create people just to damn them? This question was posed by Claire back in my post The Line Cannot Comprehend the Cube, and had been posed since I've been here. This passage literally had me jumping up and down in my seat because it was so amazing, so I'm going to quote it at length here. If you're interested in this topic, you don't want to miss this:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 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.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 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?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

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, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:6-24)

Whoa! I read that again and I'm floored again! Let's walk through his argument here step-by-step: Paul states that the entire nation of Israel will not be saved, i.e. just being an Israelite is not enough to save you. Those who are saved are children of the promise, not the flesh. As an example, he relates the story of Jacob and Esau, a set of twins, who are about as close to natural equals as you can possibly get. Yet before they were even born, before they could do anything to make up his mind, God chose Jacob to love and bless and Esau to hate and curse. It was a free choice, and had nothing to do with what they did or were going to do.

He continues by refuting the idea that this is unjust. He exercises his divine Creator's prerogative by showing mercy and compassion to those whom he chooses. Paul gives the example of Pharaoh, who was raised up by God entirely so that he could be brought down again. He never had a choice (in the free will-position's sense of the word), but was "forced" to harden his heart, and was then damned for it.

Then comes the question of the hour: Why does he blame us for this? If he forces/predestines us to sin, why are we then damned for that same sin? He responds as God responds to Job: Who are you to question the decisions of God? Does the creature have any right to demand reasons of the Creator? The Creator has the right to do whatever he wishes with his creation. He creates vessels for honorable use (those who will be saved) and some for dishonorable use (those who will be damned).

Then comes the answer to the question posed at the beginning: Why would God create men to damn them? The answer is this: by making known his wrath and his power against those vessels "prepared for destruction", he glorifies himself by saving others whom he has predestined for heaven. He makes known the riches of his glory by showing mercy to some and and not others.

This is a big deal! Paul is stating that God damns people to hell for sins that they are predestined to commit. How does that fit in with the idea that men have a free choice, uninfluenced by God, whether or not to accept salvation? It really doesn't.

Edit: I should point out that I have not addressed at all the way free will fits into the Calvinist paradigm. I'm only looking at one side of the issue in this post, and the issue is more complicated, because although God predestines us to sin, we are still responsible for it. This does not remove responsibility from us in the slightest. How do those two views synthesize? I'm honestly not sure. Ultimately, I think it's just one of those mysteries we'll have to wait for heaven to answer. I just think it's a mistake to give humans too much credit, as I think the free will position does. End Edit.

I know that I will now begin hearing arguments based on verses such as 1 Timothy 2:4, "[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." I would just like to point out the distinction between God's secret (or decreed) will and God's revealed will. God's revealed will is, according to Wayne Grudem, "God's declared will concerning what we should do or what God commands us to do." God's secret will, on the other hand, is "his hidden decrees by which he governs the universe and determines everything that will happen." Grudem gives a detailed exegesis of these concepts and the differences between them on pages 213-216 of his outstanding Systematic Theology (the new 2007 edition, I'm not sure about the old one), and I can relate some of his arguments for that, but suffice it to say that passages like 1 Timothy are statements of revealed will, not decreed will: we are to evangelise everyone because we don't know who is predestined to be saved.

I'm sure that this post will stir up much controversy, so let the argumentation begin. But let's keep it civil, folks.


Andrew said...

Clear and well-written post, Sam. Hopefully it makes people think biblically about this, if they haven't paid it much mind until now. Its such a foundational doctrine! I've been studying biblical theology in Genesis recently, and even from the very beginning there is a marked distinction between the "seed of the woman," the "Sethites," and the "seed of Satan," the "Cainites." One line is condemned from the beginning to fall into total depravity, yet from their own free will, while the other line is preserved by God's grace.

A note on the I Tim passage: I often struggled with the meaning of this text. As you say, it cannot be God's decree, because we do know that even in the Bible all will not come to repentence. So how can we use this passage? How do we pray for God's will to be done in this way?
Then one of my profs, who I greatly respect, suggested something very interesting. The word "all" can mean "each and every person," but sometimes it is used in the sense of "from many classes; all kind of" ... in the immediate context, with Paul speaking of praying for those in "high places," it makes sense - God desires that people from every social class, from every nation, men, and women, slave and free, etc, come to repentence.
This may or may not be the correct interpretation of the word, but it seems to make sense with the rest of the Bible's testimony.

Peter Wilson said...

I knew I could count on your inner blogger to come back as soon as you had some homework to procrastinate from. ;)

Good post. Excellent use of scripture to support your position.

Peter said...

btw I am waiting for your next odds and ends post.

Karyn said...

yay! midterms are over and i'll actually have time to respond to your post. sorry it has taken so rediculously long! I'm going to post a real response either tomorrow or Sunday when I am slightly more coherent, but in the meantime, didn't want you to think I had forgotten about it. :)

praying things are gong well for you!

Phoenix said...

Hey Sam,

So yes…this is extremely late. My utmost in apologies. I could try to say something like…it took me this long because I was working on something really, really good to say. But I’m really not sure how good this will be. So here are my thoughts on your very thought-provoking post.

My first thought is what exactly is Paul talking about regarding election in this passage? What are the people of Israel being (or not being) elected too? Previously Paul is lamenting the unbelief of the Hebrew people - how they refuse to believe in Christ and the heartbreak that it causes Paul. Then he says, “it is not as though the word of God has failed”. This I believe is setting up the passage to explain why the Hebrew people are not being saved even though they are among the chosen people of God and how can the promise extend to those not previously ‘elected’.

Then, what is the election that Paul is referring to? I don’t know that it necessarily is talking about salvation, especially because of the story that he uses to illustrate his point. It seems that Paul is referring to the election as God’s giving of the blessing to be the chosen people. God loved Jacob and chose his family; he hated Esau and did not choose his line to become His chosen people. It was not because of either of their works “but because of Him who calls”. This same idea can be related to Abraham and Isaac, why did God choose them above the other people in the Earth? God made a choice, and they were obedient. This also relates to the beginning of the passage as well, where Paul is talking about the children of the promise coming from Israel. Not all the children of the flesh are children of the promise…and yet that did not exclude them from joining Israel and becoming part of the salvation. And looking even farther back in the passage, it also relates to Paul’s struggle with God’s sense of mercy…why is he now choosing the Gentiles to be grafted into the chosen people when so many of the Hebrews are choosing to fall away? What has happened to the promise? God is simply expanding the promise “it is not as if the word of God has failed.”

So what I would suggest is that this part of the passage is really dealing more with the promise of God’s blessing the chosen people as opposed to his choosing some for salvation and some for damnation.

I will say the second part of this passage poses some questions that I do not have answers to. Why would God make a vessel for destruction? Did he truly harden Pharaoh’s heart or did he just make worse a decision that Pharaoh had already set his heart on making? I really don’t know. The best theory I can put forward is that God makes people’s bad decisions all the more firm, so He can show his glory at an even greater level. I don’t know how well that holds up, I’d love to discuss this with you further and see what you think.

My question for your edit is this: do you really think the answer to this question is hidden from us? Would God hide something this vital from our understanding? I don’t think He would. I just don’t think that we have reached the answer yet. Also, what do you mean be saying it’s a mistake “to give humans too much credit, as I think the free will position does”? I think it’s an interesting point and I’d like to know better what you mean.

My last comment on your post is the distinction between revealed and decreed will. Where in the Bible does it talk about this? It seems strange that God would have a double standard by which he rules the universe. Why would God set up rules that we are supposed to follow and then not tell them to us? How, knowing that, are we supposed to trust Him? Honestly, that view seems frightening. The thought that God has a separate will and regulation that He won’t tell us about but will govern us by undermines the trust that He has been building with us for thousands of years. Why would God make such an effort to reveal himself only to turn around and tell us that what he commands us to do and what he actually judges us by are totally different? It makes God seem untrustworthy, and that is not His character.

Another question, if people are predestined to be saved why would you have to evangelize them? They are going to be saved no matter what, right? I have heard the idea put forth that the point of evangelism is to confirm hearts to what God has already predestined them. But still, if God’s will cannot be changed, how can anything we do keep a person from being saved?

So those are the thoughts and questions that I had. Hopefully this is not too long. My main hope in this discussion is that we would examine these passages about God and compare them to the clear-cut concepts about His character and make sure they line up. But most of all that we seek out the truth in all these discussions…I would be thrilled if we could be convinced that you are right and that it is Biblical truth, but I’m still not sure what the correct viewpoint is yet. Again, you put forward some compelling arguments that have been making me think a lot. Thanks for posting and I look forward to hearing your response.


Anonymous said...

You havent posted anything in awhile, where are you???? Whats new?? Just wondering......

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David AuCoin said...

It sounds even God doesn't have a good answer to the question why does God yet find fault? Neither God nor Paul realy give a good answer so God in another scripture invites men "come let us reason together and then tells men to shut up when they attempt to do so.

But I know that neither the free will advocates nor the Calvinist have an air tight case. So instead of the usual I will try a different trek. I have what I call the characete test. You can never believe God did anything that would require Him to act out side of His characeter.

God says of himself that He is a fair.loving and Just God. He is alleged also to be a God of love and is good.

So tell me if you can what is good about creating a dishonarable person and then punishing that person for acting the way he was created to act? What is loving about holding a person responsible for acting the way he was created to act?Where is the justice in saving people who don't deserve to be saved?Will mercy rob Justice/ Yes apparently if undeserving people the elect get what they don't deserve.

Since we are commaded to give God thanks for everything then a mother whose offspring as an adult dies before her upon meeting Jesus in Heaven and finding her child not there must say to Him Thank You Jesus for creating my offspring a fit vessel for destruction and even now as I enter into my eternal bliss with you I know my offspring is gnashing his teeth and screaming for all eternity in hell a [place where nothing good can take place for your good pleasure. Thank You Jesus.How in one place it says that God takes no pleasuer in them that are perrishing but He says in another he created some to hate because of his good pleasuer? Is this not contradiction?

So I choose not to believe the doctrine of sovereign Election because inorder to believe it requires God to act out side of His characeter.

Also the doctrine of sovereign election turns the gospel on its head. Jeus said "Not every one who says lord Lord shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven but those that do the will of God" If this be true than those created for destruction can say to God we by sinning were doing your will because it was your will that we should sin because only by sinning can we receive the wages of sin which is death. Therefor by your own words we did your will. Actualy fit vessels for destruction would be sinning by obeying Gods commandments for God does not want them to obey him. Thus sovereign election turns the gospel of salvation on its head.

David AuCoin said...

The following two quotes from an anonymous author expresses sediments that I share with him and should cause supporters of predestination and Calvinism to rethink their acceptance of the Calvinist position.

Quote #1

"How wonderful to behold the love of the dummy for the ventriloquist. It is even more amazing to see the love of puppet for the puppet master.But wait,the dummy has said something that is displeasing to the ventriloquist who promptly dumps him from his lap and stomps on him and then throws him on an burning trash heap. the puppet master is equally displeased by a misstep by the puppet who then receives the same treatment as the dummy.

Is it not true that words of the dummy and the misstep of the puppet were both caused by their creators? True, but they are still responsible for their actions. Does this seem like a ridiculous and even insane scenario? Please tell me how the actions of the ventriloquist and the puppet master differ from those of the god of Calvinism."

Quote #2
"How can I picture Calvinism?
A certain man has 200 dogs.198 of these he paces in a huge cage quite a distance away but he leaves 2 of the dogs outside the cage.On the two outside the cage he ties ropes which extend all the way to where the man is standing. Now he calls all of the dogs but the ones in the cage can not respond even if they would. The two out side do not respond because they are incapable of understanding the call.

Now the man pulls the ropes fastened to the dogs out side the cage thus forcing them to come willingly(their terminology not mine)Now in order to manifest his glory he soaks the 198 dogs with gas and set them on fire with unquenchable flame. To equate the man in this illustration with the God of the bible is insanity and so is Calvinism." How is the man in the above illustration unlike the God of Calvinism?

I await your thoughtful response.

Anonymous said...

Not to be short but we all sin. The honorable and dishonorable vessels. The elect were not chosen by their works so why should they be chosen by their sins?