Yesterday in our mini-series on the Calvinist version of predestination we tackled the question – “According to John Calvin what is predestination?” Today we take a look at the question…
Is Predestination Unjust?
In Book Three chapter 23 Calvin responds to four objections regarding the injustice of the doctrine of predestination. Let us look at these four objections and his responses. By doing this we will see a common thread between each of these responses.
Calvinism twists the character of God.
The first objection to the doctrine of predestination, specifically reprobation, is that it twists the character of God. This objection is articulated in two ways the first which is found in 3.23.2 says that a God that “is offended by his creatures who have not provoked him without any previous offense… resembles more the caprice of a tyrant than the sentence of a judge” (232) The second articulation of this offense is found in 3.23.4, which says that by creating humans that are predestined condemnation God is unjust in “cruelly mocking his creatures.” (234) Both of these objections make the case that reprobation is cruel and unjust because the reprobate did not choose their fate. Calvin responds to this objection by saying that “the will of God is the supreme rule of righteousness so that everything which he wills must be held to be righteous by the mere fact of willing it” (232). To say that there is some law above God to which He must comply is impious. By leveling this objection against predestination, the objector is setting up a standard for justice above God. Calvin responds by saying that God is not lawless, rather God is a law to himself, thus he is not bound to give an account for why this is just. This type of response resembles Ockham’s voluntarism which says that God does not will something because it is good or just but that something is good or just because God wills it.
Calvinism violates the principle of alternate possibilities.
The second objection is that it is unjust for God to “blame individuals for things the necessity of which he has imposed by his own predestination” (236). This seems like an appeal to something like the principle of alternate possibilities. These people believe that humans should be judged solely according to the actions of their free will. However Calvin believes that this diminishes the omnipotence of God over all (238). He counters their argument by saying that the cause of their perdition is in God’s predestination but is also in themselves. Why God predestined it cannot be known, however what can be know is that it was just because it displays his glory (240). Thus Calvin’s response to this objection is that it in fact is “consistent with equity, an equity, indeed unknown to us, but most certain” (241).
Calvinism bears false witness against God.
The third objection says that the doctrine implies false things about God. The doctrine falsely implies, against the witness of scripture, that is God “an acceptor of persons” (241) because He does not do justice equally. If it is true, as Calvin argues that merit is not involved in election, then there must be some other cause for which humans are predestined. Calvin’s objectors argue that if God does not elect based off of merit he must elect based upon some other characteristic of the person, for instance wealth, power, rank, beauty, etc. If God were to do this He would be “an acceptor of persons,” this however is unscriptural. So according to Calvin’s opponents, predestination makes God an acceptor of persons, scripture says that God is not an acceptor of persons, thus predestination must be false. Calvin says that this is not so. God inflicts “due punishment on those whom he reprobates, and bestows unmerited favor on those whom he calls” (243). Election is unmerited, so God is not an “acceptor of persons.” In predestining humans, God would be just in punishing all, and he is merciful in choosing to show favor to some. To choose to show grace to some is not unjust, it is merciful.
Calvinism discourages holy living.
The final objection is that the doctrine of predestination encourages license and discourages zeal for holiness. Calvin says that this is not so because the mysterious doctrine humbles us and causes us to be in awe of God’s mercy and justice (244). Because we are humbled at God’s justice and mercy we are stimulated to aspire to the end for which we are elected, namely holiness in life (244). Thus the doctrine does not encourage license and sloth, rather it encourages a zeal for God’s holiness.
Having seen how he responds to these four objections it is clear that Calvin believes that the doctrine is not unjust. It is not unjust because God wills it. God’s will is the rule of righteousness, so whatever he wills is just. To say that predestination, a doctrine clearly taught in scripture, is unjust is to say that there is a rule of righteousness above God. To say that humans know that rule of righteousness which is above God better than God himself knows it is impious. Although according to human standards it might seem unjust, Calvin clearly believes that it is not. For “divine justice is too high to be scanned by human measure or comprehended by the feebleness of human intellect” (235). Thus predestination is not unjust because God willed it, any objection to its justice is an act of pride ignoring the mystery and inscrutableness of God’s will.
(Note: All quotes come from the anthology, The Protestant Reformation edited by Hans Hildebrand.)