People often say that they would like to meet God, because they would have a few choice words for him. They would quiz him. They would pose a few questions to him to see how he would explain himself to them. This strikes me as being something like saying, “If I fell on the face of the sun, I would spit on it!” Yet this is the sort of objection upon which people base their beliefs. What I mean is that they hold God accountable. They suggest that if God were to act in some way, he would have a lot of explaining to do. But what do we mean by God? When we say God, we mean one who is perfect in righteousness, justice, love, and truth. If that being were to act in a certain way… he would have a lot of explaining to do? To whom would he explain himself? To you? Yet this is the central objection to the doctrines of grace, what is known as Calvinism. But certain books of the Bible that emphasize God’s providence, righteousness, and the fact that he does not have to explain himself to mortals seem to acquit Calvinism of all charges. So, in this article, I will explain how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism.
For those who do not know, Calvinism is the view that salvation is solely a work of God. Man can contribute nothing to his salvation except for the sin that made it necessary. Man is totally depraved, dead in his sin, a slave of sin (John 8:34) and therefore does not have the capacity to turn to God in righteousness (Romans 3:10). Man will not freely choose God. He hates God. The natural man does not desire God (1 Corinthians 2:14). A person is born again only after God changes his will and inclines him to himself. First, God changes man. Then, man can freely choose God (1 John 5:1). But then, the question arises: why would God choose only some, and not others? Why would God condemn people when he determined what they would do anyway? Questions that begin with “Why would God…?” are of the breed that the book of Job addressed. Yet these are the sorts of questions that our non-Calvinist friends will pose. Throughout this article, I will use Job’s theodicy to vindicate Calvinism, explaining how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism. As I do this, I will take you on a tour of Evan Minton of Cerebral Faith’s argumentation so that you might be able to see the best and most emotionally loaded arguments that people will use to condemn God.
What does Job say? Those who have not read the book of Job should. Books of the Bible are often not recognized as works of literary mastery that they deserve. But this book is a poetic and precisely and stringently constructed depiction of a man named Job. It is also the Bible’s longest polemic against the problem of evil and suffering in the world. If God is good, why is there evil? Why do good people suffer? Job is the book to which we should always turn to answer this question. For Job is an upright and holy man. He is blameless in the sight of the Lord. He has wealth, health and prosperity. But God recognizes that Job is in love with his blessings such that if he loses them, he will spurn the Almighty. So God allows Satan to rob Job of his blessings. His home, his servants, his children, his wealth and health are all reduced to nothing.
Throughout the narrative, Job’s friends are giving him terrible advice. They tell him that he has suffered such because of some sin of which he has failed to repent. He has neglected the orphans and the widows. He has been greedy. Job continues to declare his own righteousness and ponder why God has allowed turmoil to befall him. He says of God in 10:4, “Have you eyes of flesh? Or do you see as a man sees? Are you days as the days of a mortal?” He continues to declare his righteousness and to plead to with God, asking him why he must endure such calamity. He suggests, “Behold, here is my signature. Let the Almighty answer me and the indictment which my adversary has written. Surely I would carry it on my shoulder. I would bind it to myself like a crown I would declare to him the number of my steps. Like a prince I would approach him” (Job 31:35-37).
When all of the elders failed to give Job sound advice, a young man approached him and said that he has sinned against God. While the calamity was not a response to his sin, his sin came after the calamity. His sin was that he had multiplied words against God (Job 34:37). Then, out of a whirlwind, God had answered. Job said that he would approach him like a prince, and God offered the opportunity. “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” bellows God. He darkens counsel by words without knowledge. This means that Job is raising these questions and indictments against God despite that he does not know why they happened. God proceeds to ask dozens of rhetorical questions, demanding that Job instruct him. Surely, Job will know and surely Job can instruct him. The message of Job is obvious. He is insignificant. He is merely a man. In the presence of God, the one who had the confidence of a prince shrunk and said, “Behold, I am insignificant, what can I reply to you? I lay my hand on my mouth” (Job 40:3).
So what is the objection, and how does Job answer it? Recall that the objection to Calvinism is that God is treating people with injustice. He is behaving nefariously. Evan emoted this point in his article, “Why No One Should Worship God If Calvinism Is True. He writes, “God decided before the universe was even created that certain humans would inevitably sin and burn. His desire for many people was for them to end up in Hell. God has made a list of people whom He wants to save, and those whom He wants to burn. Why in the world should we worship such a beast? Why would a loving God, a God who’s very essence is love (1 John 4:8) desire such a thing for such a large number of people?” Since I believe that Calvinism is true, I also recognize that Evan is referring to God as a beast. This is deeply offensive to anyone who has even an inkling of piety.
However, it does have the ring of some of the lamentations that Job rendered. Job accused God of having eyes of flesh and being a mortal. He said that he would approach God as a prince does. He did not understand why God would do something and so emoted his moral judgments over the Almighty. But what was the divine response? “Who is it that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Evan is relying on his own moral intuitions to make judgments over God. It is something like if I told you vague details of a scenario. “A man is holding another in a cage and refuses to let him out.” You might be appalled and say of the man that he was evil. Then I inform you that the man is a prison guard and the man in the cage is a convict. That is something like what Evan is doing in his moral judgments over God. He is assuming that God could have no good reasons for doing some action. But recall who God is. God is perfect in righteousness, love, trust, and justice. Is it not a better option to just assume that we do not know the answer, and that we will lean not on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5)? This insight is brought out in Job and that is how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism.
Does God owe us salvation? Undergirding these objections seems to be the assumption that God owes salvation to mankind. By virtue of being human, God is our debtor and must at least give us a fair shake, an attempt to choose to be saved. But what good reasons are there to think that? As a Christian, I believe that salvation is a free gift (Romans 6:23) and is not something God owes us. He did not have to give us salvation. He could have created mankind and doomed everyone to Hell if he chose to do so. He could have created sinners just to express his justice, offering them no hope of salvation, no chance of redemption, no free choice, and he would still be just and still be loving. You are not saved because God owes you salvation. You are saved because he offered salvation as a free gift despite that he did not owe you anything good. But when we begin to say that God would be unjust if he does not attempt to save certain people, then we begin to darken counsel by words without knowledge. That is how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism. For the central objection is undergirded by the assumption that God owes something to us.
Evan claims to agree with this in the same article that I referenced above. But in an act of duplicity, he goes on to say, “So, not only does God choose not to save some people, but He is the reason that they’re sinners to begin with (according to Calvinists who believe in Divine Determinism)! How in the world could God possibly hold anyone accountable for sins that they commit if it’s His fault that they committed the sin to begin with?” This charge amounts to saying that God owes us a chance to do something different. God owes his creatures the ability to choose righteousness. Evan also wrote in the very same paragraph, “I would agree that if God decided to never send Jesus to die on the cross to atone for our sins, and if He sent every human He ever created into the fiery pits of Hell that He would be perfectly good and just to do so. God is under no obligation whatsoever to provide a way for us to be saved.” Now, if God had never sent Jesus to die on the cross, nobody would be saved or have the opportunity to be saved. There would be no grace. There would just be totally depraved people who could only choose to sin, could never choose to be saved, and would inevitably result in their eternal destruction. And, writes Evan, God would still be good and still be just. Yet I have trouble seeing how this is significantly different from the model to which Evan objects.
Is it wrong to say, ‘Who are you, O man, who answers back to God’? Something that you may have noticed about God’s claim that Job is darkening counsel by words without knowledge is that it is very similar to what God said in Romans 9:20, where Paul the apostle asked, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” When Job questioned God and when he indicted God with unrighteousness, God’s presence, might, and wisdom made Job realize how insignificant he was. That is how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism. For Paul said just the same thing. When Paul engaged in proleptic thought, he expected people to object precisely as Evan does. He expected people to say, “Why does he find fault? For who can resist his will?” (Romans 9:19). That sounds a lot like what Evan said, does it not? Paul’s response: “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (Romans 9:20). Evan hates Paul’s response to this question. He writes in his article, Things Calvinists Really Need To Stop Saying that we really need to stop reciting Romans 9:20.
He writes in the article, “Calvinists need to do better than simply point out that we’re in no position to judge God. They need to show how their theology doesn’t paint God as something He’s not.” But why is that? It is because unless we can expound upon the counsel of God, unless we know the motivation behind the divine will, Evan will continue to refer to God as demonic, a beast, and every manner of nasty name that he can conjure up. The question is not how God can explain himself to us. The question is whether we are going to assume that we know more than he does. Are we going to darken his counsel by words without knowledge or are we going to trust in the one who has wisdom and knowledge? By demanding that God explain himself, to account for his actions, so that Evan may assess them and sit in judgment of them, Evan reminds me of Job’s claim that he is going to approach God like a prince.
Does God have to explain himself to Evan, Job, or unbelievers? Recall what I said in the opening paragraph. People often think that when they encounter God, they will have a few choice words for him and God will sit and listen to them. God will try really hard to justify himself before the almighty man. In his article that might have a little overlap with blasphemy, titled An Unbeliever Meets The God of Determinism (satire) Evan manufactures such a meeting. In this scenario, the unbeliever has died and now he is standing before God who is judging him. Evan creates this dialogue, wherein the unbeliever has a few questions for God. Here is the abridged dialogue:
Sam: “Before you do, I just have a few questions for you. … Every transgression I committed against you while I was alive was ultimately caused by you, you made it happen, and if that’s the case, how can you be justified in condemning me?”
God: “Who are you O Man to question me!?”
God: “I said ‘who are you O man to question me!?’ I am perfect in everything I do. If I casually determine sin, it’s for a good reason. If I punish causally determined creatures for the sins I determined them do, it’s for a good reason. I am perfect. I am holy.”
Sam: “That doesn’t really answer my question.”
As you can see, in this dialogue, the unbeliever has the upperhand, and all God has to say is, “Don’t question me.” God’s response is clearly supposed to be taken as inadequate, for he needs to be able to explain himself to this unbeliever. Well, let’s suppose for a moment that God did explain himself. God answered all of the unbelievers questions, emitting wisdom that we just do not understand. If that were to come to pass, that would entail that we should have just trusted in him during this life. We should have believed that there was a divine plan, and that there were mysteries which we just did not understand. That is precisely how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism. For in Job, we have somebody who really does encounter God, and God really does reply in the way that Evan finds so objectionable.
Do we have to stop asking questions? God’s response to Job seems to be a burden to Evan. He dislikes it because he thinks it prevents people from asking questions. He writes in the article mentioned above titled Things Calvinists Really Need To Stop Saying, “If merely saying “Who are you O man to question God?” was enough to resolve such difficulties, why did Paul Copan write an entire book called “Is God A Moral Monster”, answering criticisms to God’s moral character from atheists? Why couldn’t this over-used Calvinist slogan be enough? When atheists say that God is morally flawed by unleashing His judgments in the Old Testament narratives, why couldn’t every single page of Copan’s book say in big bold letters “Who are you O man to question God!?” Why couldn’t that be enough? Maybe because it isn’t enough. The critically thinking mind wants answers, not slogans.” Several times, he accuses Calvinists of not permitting questions. In response to my article Is God Evil If Calvinism Were True? he objected that Calvinists often disallow question. Mimicking the Calvinist response, he wrote, “We don’t know! We don’t know! Stop asking so many questions and accept Calvinism like a good little boy.” Questions are clearly depicted as bad.
However, as I pointed out there, his reasoning is identical to what we find in Bart Ehrman’s book on this topic. On Page 173 of God’s Problem: How The Bible Fails To Answer Life’s Most Important Question – Why We Suffer, Bart Ehrman offers pretty much an identical response to what Evan said. Ehrman writes, “God appears at the end of the poetic exchanges, and refuses to give an answer.” He goes on to complain on page 188, “God does not explain why Job suffers. He simply asserts that he is the Almighty, and as such, cannot be questioned… God is not to be questioned, and reasons are not to be sought… Doesn’t this mean that God can maim, torment, and murder at will and not be held accountable?” Ehrman applies this reasoning precisely because he denies biblical authority. He denies who God is. Yet it is remarkably similar to what Evan said. The reason that we do not suggest that God is evil is because we trust in him and believe that no matter what happens and no matter what he does, he is God; he is holy and righteous and loving even when we do not understand.
Further, we are not saying that one cannot ask questions. We may pursue the question of why God did or allowed something. That is permissible so long as God’s character is not being impugned. If you are pursuing an answer, and saying that if God’s accounting of that event is unacceptable, that you will stand in judgment over him, that is what we would regard as impiety. But, if you pursue an answer just to learn more and help people who are weaker in the faith, then that is permissible. I do think that there are good reasons for why God chose to create a world in which some go to Hell when he could have sent them to Heaven. I think that God does that because he wants humanity to see the full range of his attributes expressed. He wants us to see both his wrath and his mercy. That is one possible answer, and it may be wrong, and there may be others. But the fact that we do not know the answer to a particular question should not cause us to shake our fists at God, to say that God is evil, et cetera. When we do not know the answers, we should be willing to accept God’s response to Job. Who is it that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
What about the uneducated person who has no access to answers? Sometimes it seems like everything is wrapped up neatly in a theological box. All of the canned answers are prepared. “Why does God only save save?” “Free will” comes the reply. But for people in other parts of the world, those answers are not there. There are people throughout history who have had no access to libraries, informed clergymen, the internet or the CerebralFaith blog. So from where did they get their answers? Suppose some tragedy were to befall them. They would not necessarily know that we live in a fallen world. They would not know about freedom of the will. They would only know what is in front of them and that God is supposed to be good and powerful. So, for them, the only response available is to just put their trust in God.
I think in this way, the book of Job may have been written for such people. God could have provided a thorough theodicy, justifying every action he ever took. But he did something that is simpler. Rather than explaining himself, he communicated to us that we need to recognize his character and recognize who he is. He is God. The people with no access to answers and complex theodicies will have to accept that and learn to be at peace with that. That is how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism. God provides one answer and we need to accept it and be at peace with it just as the person who would have no access to answers.
In other contexts, Evan uses the same reasoning. The objection that Evan spends so much time railing against is applied in other contexts. We all recognize the message of Job. We all recognize that there are times wherein we need to just trust in God’s righteousness even if we do not know the answers. In his article, One Possible Reason For Animal Death, Evan writes, “I had a terrible time finding any good answers to this objection I had back as an On-the-fence Creationist. It frustrated and bothered me to no end. I pushed OECs back into corners often times not because I wanted to refute them, but because I wanted answers and I wasn’t getting any that satisfied me. God helped me get over the trouble of this through the power of His Holy Spirit. I thought of Proverbs 3:5 where The Bible says to “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding”. I just through up my hands and said “I don’t know why You let all that suffering and disease happen before the fall, but all the evidence points toward Day-Age Old Earth Creationism and I can’t go against this stream of powerful, scientific and scriptural evidence, so I’ll just trust that You had good reasons for permitting suffering pre-fall just like You have good reasons to allowing to happen to human beings AFTER the fall.” Evan believed in day-age creationism despite having no answers to the moral objection raised by young earth creationists concerning animal death before the fall. How did he respond? Much like Calvinists respond. We trust in God’s righteousness even if we do not know the answer.
Again in his article The Problem of Evil And Suffering he does something very similar. He writes, “Life is sometimes like a puzzle and God is putting it all together. We can only see the pieces of the puzzle, but once God is done putting it together, we can see the entire picture. A beautiful masterpiece.” Why is it okay for Evan, but it is not okay for Calvinists? Now, he does go on to provide a deeper theodicy, but he does seem to think that it is a worthy point that sometimes we need to remember that it is possible for God to have good reasons for allowing evil and suffering. That is precisely what Calvinists are saying. It is possible for God to have good reasons. We can only see part of the picture and we only know some of the reasons. Maybe someday, he will explain it to us. But until then, we ought not darken counsel by words without knowledge. That is how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism. He reminds us that we need to remember that God has morally sufficient reasons.
Why this is more than a theological debate about Calvinism. We can debate about Romans 9, John 6, Ephesians 1 and various other seminal texts of Calvinism. But this debate is something wholly other. Evan is not raising a logical objection. That is not to say that he is being illogical. It is to say that his objection is in a different category. It is an emotional and moral objection. Just read what he said in his article that I linked to above titled Why Nobody Should Worship God If Calvinism Is True: “I feel that, if Calvinism were true, I’d rather be in Hell, separated from such a cruel icy hearted puppet master of a God. The hatred I feel for the God of Calvinism is immense. I believe Calvinism is false, so I don’t believe in this God I hate so much. But I do hate him. He is not the God I fell in love with when I became a Christian. He is not the God I worship. I’ve come to understand how atheists can hate a being they don’t believe exists for this is exactly how I feel about the Calvinist version of God. I don’t believe he exists, and yet I loathe him with the fire of a thousand suns. He is so revolting, the mere thought of him churns my stomach. … Such a God, in my opinion, deserves to go to Hell to burn there himself.”
I believe that Calvinism is true. The God who he describes is the very God that I believe in, pray to, and believe is worthy of all worship and glory and honor. He came upon patriarchs such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, inspired prophets, such as Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah… he is the one who decisively revealed himself in Jesus Christ. When Jesus said, “Once you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9), he claiming to be God, to be identical to the Father and to portray all of the characteristics of the Father. He was saying that if you want to know who God is, you look to him. I believe that he was identifying himself with the very God who Evan is condemning. When I read what he wrote, what I see is, “I’d rather be in Hell, separated from Jesus Christ… the hatred I feel for Jesus Christ is immense. I hate him. Jesus Christ is revolting… I hate him with the fire of a thousand suns. Jesus Christ deserve to go to Hell.” Just think about it for a moment. If Calvinism really is true, that is precisely what Evan is saying. This is not merely a theological debate. It is something that is heart-wrenching to hear a professing Christian say about Christ.
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