From a student (with permission), “I have a question. One of my friends, a Christian who I have always admired and looked up to, is questioning me about predetermination/John Calvin, and asking me why God would create people if he knows they won’t be saved, and whether or not he creates people to *not* be saved. I don’t believe this in my heart, but I don’t know what to say to her… if you could help me out, I’d really appreciate it.”
There are a lot of issues to deal with in that question (actually set of questions). Let me make a case for what I do believe regarding predestination (determinism or Calvinism).
First, I think it is clear from Scripture that God knows all things actual and possible, including things actual and possible in the future. In other words, he knows who will be saved. Clearly, at least biblically, not everyone will be saved, and God knows that. So God does create people whom he knows won’t be saved. I don’t know how to get around that unless you are willing to say God doesn’t know the future, and I’m not willing to say that (and don’t think anyone who takes the Bible seriously should either).
The next question, then, is ‘why?’. Why would God create people whom he knows will not respond to his grace and be saved? Ultimately, the answer is “for his glory”. Any question that begins with “why has/would/did God…” finds its final answer in the truth that all God does he does for his glory. Many associate that idea with Calvinism, but Wesley and other biblical Arminians believed in the “God centeredness of God” also. It’s just biblical: God created for his glory (Isaiah 43:7), chose and delivered a people for his glory (Isaiah 49:3, Ezekiel 20:5-9, Psalm 106:6-8), sent the people into exile as discipline for his glory and brought them out of exile for his glory (Ezekiel 36:22-23, 32), sent Jesus to redeem his people for his glory (John 12:27-28, Romans 3:25), leads us in paths of righteousness for his glory (Psalm 23:3), prepares good works for us to do for his glory (Ephesians 2:10, Matthew 5:16), etc…
But how does creating certain people whom God knows will not be saved glorify him (notice we’re still talking about creating people who God knows will not be saved and not yet about creating certain people not to be saved)? Put simply, how is God glorified in punishing sinners? Let me suggest a couple of ways. First, we see more brilliantly God’s holiness and hatred of sin. Would any of us know how much God hates sin apart from hell and the hell Jesus suffered on the cross. It is in the punishment of sin we see God’s holiness and wrath towards sin most clearly. Secondly, the vision of God’s holiness and wrath make us understand and appreciate his grace all the more. We see what we deserve, what God’s Son suffered for us (he suffered nothing less than God’s wrath), and what we have been saved from. So, in summary, God’s has created some people knowing they wouldn’t be saved so to glorify himself as the holy, wrathful and also merciful and gracious God.
The second set of questions is tougher – does God create people not to be saved? This is sometimes referred to as reprobation or double predestination. I think this doctrine is often misunderstood. Let me explain how I see it (and there are many good and godly men who agree with me and disagree with me). God’s choice of whom he will save requires his positive action. Humans are sinners; in fact, we are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-9) and slaves to sin (Titus 3:3). Saving us means coming and breathing spiritual life into us, freeing us from our bondage. This is a positive act on God’s part. Not saving people does not require the same kind of positive activity on God’s part. If he has decided not to save someone he doesn’t have to do anything. He simply passes them by. To be reprobate is to be left in sin, not pushed or forced to sin. There is a parallel in the story of Lazarus. Jesus raised him from the dead. Did Jesus raise all the dead? Obviously not – he may have passed by several tombs on the way to Lazarus’. Jesus didn’t kill the people in the tombs, but he left them dead. Similarly, God doesn’t need to do anything to those whom he has created ‘not to save’ other than not save them.
This might not seem fair, but remember, God does not owe grace or mercy to anyone. Those whom he passes by get what their sin deserves. They cannot complain that God is unjust. They sin and they reap the consequences of that sin. Granted, God does give some better than they deserve – he gives some grace and mercy. This mercy/grace is owed to know one, so no one can demand it of God. It’s a free gift, not something earned. We often make the mistake of thinking that if God’s grace is given to some than it must be given to all.
For a few examples of biblical language regarding reprobation, look at Exodus 9:16 (also Exodus 14) and Romans 9; also 1 Peter 2:7-8.
This is one of those questions where we are forced to acknowledge the sovereignty and goodness of God and also the incomprehensibility of his ways. Whenever I think a lot about it I’m let thinking about these words from Romans 11:33-36:
“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?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”