Divine election is a Christian doctrine which explains that God has chosen certain individuals out of the world to save. God from eternity past has chosen a family to save through Jesus Christ, to forgive them of their sins, adopt them as his own children, and to spend eternity with him in perfect fellowship, love, and blessedness. Given that Christ in Matthew 7:13-14 said that most are not and will not be saved, this means that, by contrast, God has created specific individuals for the purpose of destruction, in order to glorify himself in the display of his just wrath against their sin. These that are not chosen for salvation, but for punishment, are called the reprobate, vessels of wrath (Romans 9:22-23), those ordained to condemnation (Jude 4), and irrational animals born to be caught and destroyed (2 Peter 2:12). In this post I want to answer the common knee-jerk objections against these Biblical doctrines made by professing Christians and unbelievers.
After sifting through people’s various emotional responses to the doctrines of predestination, election, and reprobation, one of the first intellectual objections to this scheme is that it makes God arbitrary. “Why did he choose some and not others?” is a common response. The answer to this question is that it was God’s will. Inevitably most people are dissatisfied with this answer and reassert that God’s decree of election is arbitrary unless an external justification can be given. God’s decision must be based upon his passive foreknowledge of people’s wickedness, or something. This mindset is terribly misguided.
If God’s election is based upon something external to himself, or something outside of his control, this means that God’s decisions are controlled, or at least constrained, by something else. This would mean that there is a higher power which is strong enough to dictate God’s actions. This phenomenon, which is external to God, would be the ultimate cause of all things, even causing God to engage in actions which he would not engage in otherwise. In summation, to posit that God acts and makes decisions based upon something exterior to him is to make God not God, and to make this external phenomenon God. Therefore, to suggest that God’s decisions and actions are contingent upon anything other than his own will, inherently denies the very deity of God, blaspheming his character.
Here are some texts that teaches the sovereign purpose of God:
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
The existence of all things, and by implication the occurrence of all things, is according to God’s will. God decreed election and reprobation for the same reason he decided to create; because he wanted to. Since nothing but God existed before creation, to suggest that God decided to create or elect individuals based upon things that did not yet exist is absurd.
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16)
This verse is in reference to Jesus Christ, and it teaches the same thing as the verse from Revelation. The very act of creation was for him. All things are made by and for God. God does all things for himself in order to ultimately glorify himself. The reason anything exists or happens is because God intended it.
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11)
Perhaps this verse is best for explaining this. In its context, the verse is expounding upon the nature of the redemption of the elect. Paul briefly leaves his discussion of the inheritance of the saints to explain the relation between the will of God and all events that occur in time. Not only is the predestination of the saints to salvation based upon God’s will alone, but God also “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” This means that God does not take counsel outside of himself. God does not consult anyone else’s opinion. God does not look into the future to see what happens in order to decide what actions he should take, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34). God’s purposes originate from himself, apart from exterior influences. He is the one who creates and sustains what is exterior to himself in the first place.
Another common objection to divine election is that it makes God unjust. This objection was perfectly summarized by Paul’s rhetorical question:
“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?'” (Romans 9:18-19)
Since God controls all things, and is the determiner of salvation, since God hardens hearts and chooses to have mercy on those whom he has mercy, how can I be held accountable for my actions? Isn’t it unjust for God to punish individuals who merely do what God purposes them to do? Isn’t it unjust for God to condemn someone who could not have otherwise avoided it? No. Here is why.
A. Free Will and Accountability
There are some incorrect assumptions with this objection, and one of these assumptions is the idea that people must possess free will in order to be accountable to God. The Bible nowhere teaches or implies that free will is a necessary prerequisite for moral culpability; in fact, the Bible teaches that free will does not exist. The reason that we are accountable to God for our actions is because he is God and we are his creatures. We are accountable by merit of our relation to him. Since God is the standard of righteousness, what God chooses to do is just by definition, and therefore God is just to punish individuals whom he predestines to sin (like Pharaoh in Exodus 4:21, 14:17).
To assert that this is unjust is begging the question, since this would merely be a rejection of Biblical teaching in favor of a different standard of justice. The one who objects does not succeed in showing why election would be unjust, but only succeeds in demonstrating that they have contrary opinions to the Bible. Once we realize that free will is an unnecessary false assumption, the objection that God would be unjust to elect some, and not others, vanishes into irrelevancy. In order to even make this objection, one must begin with the assumption that God is not God, and that God is not the one who defines justice and righteousness. There is no inherent contradiction or problem in the Biblical presentation; the problem only arises when people attack the Biblical position while presupposing unbiblical ideas. Such an objection is obviously fallacious.
B. God Causing Evil
The previous section dealt with the issue of our accountability to God, and how God is not unjust to punish individuals for their sin, even though he controls and purposes their actions. This section takes a further step back, evaluating how God is justified for causing evil in the first place, whereas the last section discusses how God is justified to punish the individuals whose actions he causes.
The common objection to God causing evil is that this would make God himself evil. God causing sin or hardening people’s hearts so that they do not believe (John 12:39-40) would itself be sin, and therefore it is obviously unjust. Since God accomplishes the election of his people and the reprobation of the wicked through controlling and causing all things, including righteous and wicked actions, election would be unjust, since it posits that God controls and causes evil, which would make himself evil. Let me make this into a syllogism in order to better analyze the issue:
Premise One: God does not sin.
Premise Two: Causing evil is itself evil.
Conclusion: Therefore, God does not cause evil, since this would make him sinful and unjust, which God is not.
The syllogism is valid, but only through a faulty premise. Premise two is asserted, but unproven. In fact, premise two is begging the question, concluding with that which is in dispute. Christians (i.e. Calvinists) assert along with the Bible that God accomplishes election and reprobation partially through causing evil acts. By merit of our position, we reject that God causing evil makes him evil. Causing evil is sinful for us, but not for God. Those who assert the opposite merely succeed in rejecting our position, but they do not demonstrate that our position is inherently problematic or contradictory. Just as is the case with the issue of free will and accountability, the problem does not arise as a result of the doctrine of election itself, but the problem arises from judging this doctrine using an erroneous criterion. One must begin with an unbiblical assumption or definition, and then superimpose this definition onto God or the Bible for their to be any “injustice” or problem.
Just as in the previous examples, one must assume that God is not God in order to argue against election. Just as in the free will-accountability issue where our opponents begin with an alien view of justice, that we must possess free will in order to be morally culpable, our opponents in this context likewise assert an alien definition of justice. The Bible teaches that concepts like righteousness and justice are defined by God himself. There is no standard of justice external to God that he is accountable to or beneath. By definition God is not accountable because he is the higher power, the highest power. Therefore, for people to appeal to an abstract notion of justice that is distinct from God is to assume that God is not the definition and standard of justice, which is to simultaneously assert that God is not God. When people begin upon such a foundation, those of us who believe in election do not have to respond to these objections directly, but merely indicate that our beliefs differ.
This was explained by Vincent Cheung. There are those who claim that the existence of evil is contradictory to the existence of an all powerful, loving God. If God is all powerful and loving then evil would not exist; since evil exists, God does not exist. Here is what Cheung has to say on the matter:
“The non-Christian points to the biblical teaching about God’s love, then smuggles in a non-biblical definition of love that requires God to destroy evil, and after that stupidly boasts in the ‘contradiction’ that he has produced” (65-66).
Likewise, those that object that election is unjust point to the Biblical teaching that God is just, and then smuggle in a non-biblical definition of justice that necessitates the denial of election and reprobation, and then stupidly conclude that election and reprobation is unjust. This is a classic fallacy of equivocation and begging the question.
In reality, the Bible teaches God’s absolute right to do what he wants with his own creation, and that God is just by definition:
“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?” (Romans 9:21)
“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things…Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’” (Isaiah 45:5, 9-10)
“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?…” (Matthew 20:15)
In summation, to claim that election and reprobation is unjust assumes and superimposes definitions against the Bible that are not found in the Bible, assumes that God has no right over his creation, and assumes that God is not God. With unwarranted and unbelieving assumptions such as these, all they prove is that one group disagrees with the other.
Further resources for this topic can be found in Vincent Cheung’s PDF cited previously, as well as Gordon Clark’s chapter called God and Evil: The Problem Solved. If you do not want to read, here is a video. God is just, we are accountable to him, and he has predestined his people from eternity past for glory. His acceptance or rejection of individuals is based upon his will. For all who object to God’s right to do what he wills with his own creation, this is how God responds, not with an explanation external to himself, and not on our level:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?….Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?” (Job 38:2, 4-5, 40:8-9)
“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?” (Romans 9:20)
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’” (Romans 11:33-34)
And in closing:
“to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.” (Jude 25)