After taking a break in the last two posts looking at the topic of suffering, ’tis time to continue the series on the topic of predestination. The first post gives a quick survey on biblical witness for this doctrine. In the second post, I tried to dispel the objection that predestination will produce Christians who take salvation for granted. The third post talks about whether predestination and evangelism are compatible. In this post, we are going to look at one more objection. And this one is arguably the must difficult to address mainly because this can become very very personal.
The objection is this: If God chose some to be saved, it means God chose others to be condemned, doesn’t it? If it does, that means God is not fair. Why would a loving God choose only some to be saved, while leaving others to be condemned? If God is love, why would He not save everyone? If predestination is true, then God is not fair, is He?
This objection is difficult because at times those who ask this questions have in their mind their loved ones who are not yet Christians. I know a friend who cannot accept this almost to the point of anger because their loved ones have passed away without giving their lives to Christ. If salvation depends on God alone, why would God not save them?
I will try to be as compassionate as I can while at the same time I will try to be as truthful as I can. Everyone who tries to give explanation of this nature is bound to either err at least very slightly to one side or the other. I must admit that I will be too. So, I do hope that you give me a lot of benefit of the doubt. It is not my intention to drive anyone further into their misery. I do hope that this post will give you encouragement and hope to keep trusting in our loving God.
Firstly, God does not choose people to be condemned.
We must realise that we are condemned NOT because God chose us to be condemned. Everyone who is born of Adam is born in sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), everyone stands condemned already. As cute and innocent-looking as a baby is, he or she is a sinner (see Psalms 51:5). They might not have acted out their sinful nature yet when they were born. However, give them some time, they automatically will. Why? Because we all inherit the sinful nature of Adam.
Jesus said in John 3:17-18, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” So, if anyone is condemned to eternal judgment, it is because of our rebellion against God. From the time sin enters the world, human beings are corrupted. Could God destroy everyone and start brand new? I believe He could. But He didn’t. Instead, God, in His sovereign mercy, chose to save many, who would otherwise spend eternity in hell, to dwell with Him forever.
Secondly, God is not a fair God. He is a just and merciful God.
This objection would be impossible to address if fairness is the uttermost virtue of God. However, ‘fairness’ as human beings understand it is never attributed to our God. He is Holy. He is just. He is merciful. He is love. He is forgiving. He is righteous. Yes. But is He fair? No. Not in the way we think of anyway.
I have four children, so I have my fair share of my children complaining to me, “It’s not fair.” “Why don’t we get to watch MasterChef until late? Why don’t we get to play at so and so’s house? Why don’t we get to buy that toy?” Of course, I try to give explanations, and explain to them what ‘fair’ is.
At times, in the name of ‘fairness’, we expect to receive whatever other people receive too, simply because we are breathing. When we don’t get what we want, we say, “It’s not fair.” In the name of ‘fairness’, we are quick to expect our ‘right’ (although at times, it is not even our right), but far too slow to fulfil our responsibilities. We avoid any consequence of our laziness, our wickedness, or our failure, but we demand the reward anyway, which I think is not fair.
You and I should thank God because He is not fair. If we really want God to be fair, then everyone will be condemned – fair and square – just as he did with the fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4). That is because God is a just God. He cannot leave sin and wickedness unpunished. If we expect God to not condemn anyone, then God will be an unjust God. Thank God, however, that He is not just ‘just’, He is also merciful. He does not leave everyone dead in their sins. Rather, He mercifully extends grace to His elects. The fact that He does save some at all is a demonstration of grace that goes far beyond the what’s fair and what’s just.
In Romans 8, after explaining God’s election, Paul anticipated their question. He said this in verses 14 to 16:
What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.
So, these days, if my children say, “It’s not fair,” I simply ask, “Are you really sure you want ‘fair’?” and they know already that their understanding of ‘fairness’ is flawed. Now, the two older ones don’t say that as much as they used to because they already understand that their complaint in itself is not fair. If they want something that they deserve, that’s fair. But seriously, if you think yourself as a child, what do you deserve in this world? Nothing. Everything that you receive from your parents is given you not because you deserve it. It’s because your parents love you. On the other hand, if they want something that they don’t deserve, they are not asking for fair treatment. They are asking for grace and mercy, which as parents, I do give at times. Why? Because I love them.
Complaining that God is not fair might mean that we think we have an unreasonably too high estimate of ourselves, which is both wrong and prideful. Thanking Him for His justice and mercy, on the other hand, is what we ought to be doing for it is both right and humbling.
Thirdly, God is concerned primarily with His glory, not ours.
Inevitably, some would ask, “If God only chose some, and not others, why would He still punish those whom He decided not to choose? Wouldn’t that be unfair?”
Paul explains this in Romans 8:19-24 this way:
You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
Paul simply says that we must not question His justice and impose on God our understanding of fairness. Whatever He does is for His glory, and whatever He does is for His elects to see the riches of His glory. The elects will understand the concept of mercy even more as they receive treatment that is beyond fair. Can God show His glory by being merciful and saving everyone? Perhaps He can. But the fact is that He didn’t. Why? Because by doing so, He will show the riches of His glory for the elects. Furthermore, if He did, then He would not uphold His justice, thereby diminishing the notion of a Holy God.
Apostle Paul pointed out in 1 Tim 2:4 that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” and Peter says in 2 Peter 3:9 that God is not “wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Then would Predestination contradict those statements? The Reformed perspective would distinguish between God’s revealed will (what we should do) and His hidden will (His eternal plans). Both Reformed and Arminian have to wrestle with the fact that not everyone is saved. Both have to realise that there is something higher that God wants to preserve here more than saving everyone. The Arminian claims that the reason why all are not saved is that God wills to preserve the free will of man more than He wills to save everyone, while the Reformed says that God deems His own glory more important than saving everyone. So, in Wayne Grudem’s word in His Systematic Theology, “in a Reformed system God’s highest value is his own glory, and in an Arminian system God’s highest value is the free will of man.”
Therefore, we must face the reality that God is concerned first and foremost with His glory and His glory alone. It might be difficult for us to accept that God is a God-centered God, as it might mean as if He is self-centered. However, if we think about it, if God is not God-centered, whom should He be centered around? Us? I hope not. I don’t think I want to live in a world where you and I are the center. Would you?
In order God to be truly God, He must be God-centered. So, we must be humble enough to realise that things do not revolve around us, and things might not go according to what we like it to be. We must be humble enough to realise that things will always go according to God’s Sovereign Will, and all are for His glory.
Of course, we can take this as a double-edged sword: as a threat or a comfort. It becomes a threat for us if we have been living or wants to live with us as the center. However, it becomes a comfort for us when we live our lives with God as our center. It becomes a comfort because God who is concerned with His glory has allowed us to participate in His plan and purpose, and in the end we get to share in His glory.
I must admit that this post is far from adequate in addressing this objection. We will never reach a satisfying conclusion with regards to this objection IF we use our standard of fairness. It is primarily because if we uphold our standard and if God has to comply to our standard, then He ceases to be God. God is above all a Holy God. He will uphold His justice, His love, His mercy, His goodness, and all who He is. He has revealed to us in the Scripture how He did it, how He does it, and how He will continue to do it, all for His own sake. In the end of the day, the only things about God that we can know is from what He has revealed in His Words. What He has revealed, we have to believe and embrace no matter how counter-intuitive to our wisdom … or I should say, our limited and sin-corrupted wisdom. If through the Scripture, God has revealed that He has ultimately decided to choose some to be saved and not others, then this was His sovereign choice, and we have no moral or scriptural basis on which we can insist that it was not fair. What He has not revealed are remain as mysteries which will take eternity for us to understand.
The next post would be the last on this topic, otherwise it is never ending. I will try to put everything together and discuss the implications to our lives and our faith.