The very concept of divine sovereignty and predestination leaves many people staggering, for they do not believe that God predestines anything. They believe in free will, which is usually thought to be in opposition with God’s predestination. After all, if God predestines everything, how could he still hold us accountable? We are just doing what he predestined us to do. We are carrying out the action that he decided that we will carry out. How can he find us guilty, then? If God predestines everything, why does he punish us? This seems like a rather difficult philosophical quagmire, and one that even the apostle Paul seemed to wrestle with (Romans 9:19-20).
I would first indicate that I do not see a conflict with libertarian free will and divine predestination. For if God’s foreknowledge is based upon my free choice. If I choose to eat a sandwich, God will have foreknown my choice. But if I choose to eat pizza, God would have foreknown that instead. God’s knowledge would not causal, in this case. However, in the case of divine election, that is, who is saved, God does causally determine who will be saved. We are all slaves of sin and unable to turn to God (John 8:34), and only God’s saving grace can turn our hearts to him. Yet, he does not save everybody. Now, in my article, Is God Evil If Calvinism Is True? I defended the theodicy of Job, namely that God does not owe us an explanation. He is God, and we simply need to trust him.
At the same time, I think that there are answers to this question that are available to us. If God predestines everything, why does he still condemn us?
God wanted his righteousness to be on display. This question seems akin to asking why it is that God did not just create a world in which everybody would turn to him in salvation. The common wisdom of the day would allude to free will. However, I do not think that is correct. For in our free will, we would choose nothing but sin. So, God needs to turn our hearts to him. Why does he not turn everybody to him? Why are there some people who he leaves in a reprobate state? Well, I would like to suggest that it is possible that God wanted to demonstrate the full range of his attributes. He wanted us to know that not only is he merciful, but also, he is righteous.
The only way that we could know that he has righteous judgments is if he punishes sinful men. But the only way for him to punish sinful men is if there are sinful men available for him to punish. Hence, we can understand why God would create the category of sinful men. We can understand why it is that God would want to create a world in which everybody was not saved, but rather that there were some people who lived in open rebellion of him. He wanted to glorify himself by demonstrating his righteousness, by revealing his wrath against sin. As Romans 1:18 said, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” If God predestines everything, why does he punish us? If there was no ungodliness and unrighteousness, God would never be able to demonstrate the full range of his attributes.
But isn’t God just controlling them, and then punishing them for it? The illustration that people tend to use is that of a puppet and his puppet master. God is sort of like the puppeteer controlling his little humans and then punishing them. Well, I am inclined to reject that sort of illustration as comparable to the relationship between creature and the Creator. We do not know what sort of resources God has at his disposal to relate to his creatures in a way that would not be akin to puppeteering.
Further, it is not as though God is not giving these people what they want. It is not as though they desperately want to believe the gospel and just cannot bring themselves to. Rather, people who wallow in sin want to wallow in sin. They are in love with their sin. Like a slave who loves their chains, they cherish their sin and they do everything that they can to preserve their sin. They hate the light, and they cannot understand why anybody would desire to do righteousness. When somebody is living a life of righteousness, they can only perceive it as a life of legalistic measures that they are imposing upon themselves. The idea of laboring out of love for God is inconceivable to the lost man. They hate the light. They love their sin. So, God is giving them precisely what they want. They want an eternity without him, and that is what he gives them.
It is not as though God were predestining people to do something different than that which they would choose freely. Rather, God predestines people to do precisely what he knew they would freely choose, given freedom of the will. So there is just is no trouble in thinking that he would condemn a person for doing actions that he predestined them to do. For he could have predestined them to do exactly what they would have done on their own given the condition of libertarian freedom. If God predestines everything, why does he punish us? He punishes us because he predestined us to do exactly what we would have done given the condition of freedom of the will.
If you would like to get in on the discussion about this, join my Theology Discussion Group!