Sunday, June 19, 2011

If You’re Going to Believe in Predestination…

Back when I was first converted to belief in Calvinism, I didn’t have anyone good enough in my life to lock me up during my cage-stage (by “cage-stage” I mean the period of time when new Calvinists ought to be locked in a cage because they go nuts =)). It was a topsy-turvy time for me because of how drastic Calvinism was beginning to change my life. I needed to find a more theo-centric (God-centered) church, figure out how to preach the gospel Biblically, and how to worship God in a way that was honoring to Him.
One of my dear friends, who was along for the ride but still on the fence wanted to know why I thought Calvinism was important. I reiterated some of the points above, but also added that I knew if I was going to believe in predestination I was going to believe in it completely. What I meant by that was that I’m not like those who give God the ultimate credit for good in the world but don’t also attribute to Him as the ultimate reason for the existence of evil.

As an Arminian I grew accustomed to hearing (and wound up believing) arguments that God was involved in the world but that He created human beings in such a way that He allows us to have “free will.” Now, whatever was meant by “free will” was never made clear to me, but was clear is that our decisions were free in the sense that God was not forcing us to make them. This to me was the end-all-be-all argument against Calvinism because I reasoned to myself: how can a decision be free if you are predestined to do it? And therefore God cannot ultimately be responsible for our decisions, or the existence of evil.

Why the Arminian version of me didn’t likewise conclude that God was not then responsible for good things in the world due to free will, I can only attribute to my being terribly inconsistent. But the beautiful and utterly opposite quality of Calvinism is that it is so wonderfully consistent with itself and with the Bible.
What do the Scriptures teach with regard to man’s will in relation to God’s sovereignty? For starters, man does have a real will and he makes real decisions and choices. However, man’s decisions are not autonomously made outside of the will of God, but are instead subject to His sovereign decree. Naturally this brings us to a discussion of primary and secondary causes. The Arminian says of election, for example, that God chose us by looking down through the corridors of time, and based on foreseeing who would choose Him then reacts by electing them unto salvation. For the Arminian, the first cause and ultimate reason people are elected unto salvation must be as a direct result of man’s will. The Calvinist recognizes that God alone is the Creator, and when He created time itself this includes all the actions that occur in time. Therefore the reason God has knowledge of future events is not because He is passively receiving information, but because of His eternal decree of future events. For the Calvinist the first cause and ultimate reason people are elected must be attributed to God’s will and sovereign decree.

Fundamentally, Arminianism is lacking a Biblical understanding of precisely how sin has affected mankind. Since the Fall of Adam, the whole of a man is affected by sin, most notably the will of man. The Bible describes our will as being dead, and corpses … well, they don’t decide much of anything. This is why if God left the end result up to us we would all end up apart from Him because we are unable to make positive advancements in the gospel.

Since man’s will is not autonomous, it must be subject to God’s will. One or the other must be the case. A helpful example in the Scriptures is Acts 4:27-28: 27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” (NASB). Here we see the choices of many people having been predestined by God. God’s decree is the first cause; man’s choices are the secondary cause that actualizes the events. Let me ask you: according to the text what is the ultimate cause of Jesus dying on the cross? Well, God’s predestined purpose. Here’s another question for you: were Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles and Jews all responsible for their involvement? Well, yes absolutely.

This is referred to as Compatibilist Freedom. God’s decree is the ultimate cause of everything with our choices being a part of that decree. God’s will predestined man’s decisions.

The Arminian might object: well doesn’t this mean our decisions aren’t real decisions since they’ve been predetermined? Only if for a decision to be considered a “real decision” it must be completely autonomous apart from God’s sovereignty – which is clearly not what the Bible teaches.

Doesn’t this make God the author of evil? Well, man is the one who authors, or actualizes, sin. Man is the secondary cause of human decisions. God’s decree for what would happen is the first cause.
My favorite part about this Biblical truth is that when evil things happen in the world, we know that they have meaning. We know this because God predestined them to occur, just like the death of His Son – which is the worst thing that has happened since the Creation of the world. Sometimes, God predestines things that He hates, but it is always for a purpose. While we don’t always know the full extent of why God predestines something, we know that it is for the good of those who love Him: 28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (NASB).

And that is a comforting thought.

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