According to Calvin: Why is Predestination not Unjust

Definitions of Justice and Predestination

The idea of predestination being just has to include a discussion around what exactly Calvin thinks justice and predestination are. Justice can often be relegated in the human category to the idea of fairness. One might argue that what Calvin seems to be saying about God is unfair. But notice the sympathetic way that Calvin moves around a doctrine he feels must be discussed. One gets a sense, that he feels compelled to communicate this doctrine because the whole council of Scripture includes a large portion of it.[1] He will say that although God has the authority of a tyrant he has not the capriciousness of one.[2] He goes to show that God could essentially decree anything he wants with us but our perception is that we should view anything that God does as righteous.[3] Thus what God does should be perceived as justice for the human creature. And human creature is to be a passive recipient of what is given and not to demand more in the name of fairness or justice.[4] Predestination is not foreknowledge. It is not a passive awareness of God knowing who will do what. Predestination is an act of destination more than anything else, and since is it prior to the fall or even prior to existence cannot be linked or confused with foreknowledge.[5] A greater discussion of predestination follows in the defense of Calvin’s doctrine below.

Thesis and Paper Outline

Calvin’s doctrine of predestination can be defended as a just doctrine on the basis of a four different fronts. First the idea of predestination prior to the fall reasserts the Protestant affirmation that salvation is by grace alone contra an election based on individual merit. The second reason related to the first is that predestination (supralapsarianism) is just because it shows that God is not partial in his choosing of the elect because his choice is based on mercy. Third, for reasons Calvin makes clear, predestination as a biblical doctrine places God’s sovereign choice over the prerogative of the creature’s ability to choose either its origins or its destination. (Animals do not contend their creation.) Fourth, predestination as a doctrine imputes glory to God because it shows that God willed the fall of humanity so as to show the meting out of his justice on both the elect and reprobate. Moreover, it imputes glory because it shows God’s wisdom in knowing that the reprobate will not accept divine grace and those elect who will.

Predestination Shows the Sufficiency of Grace Alone

For Calvin the very idea of sola gratia constitutes a choosing by God. The idea of predestination is that God chooses some on the basis of his mercy prior to the fall. God shows the sufficiency of his grace and mercy in the elect person, who although depraved as all humans are, puts their faith of Christ on God’s predetermination.[6] The strength of the doctrine’s argument of grace can be defended on the basis of simply practical reality of global population and evangelization. Yet when Calvin talks of “experience” he is not simply referring in human experience but more focused on that this is the experience the Bible is testifying toward. In the first sentence Calvin points out that the gospel is not preached equal among humanity.[7] Here is an example of something quantifiably evident that builds his view, it is simply impossible for every individual in the world to hear the gospel. What should this cause is not a sense of disdain toward God but rather a deep sense of humility. The fact that all humanity is depraved means that in a sense God’s choosing is super-just‒it’s more than a just transaction since all deserve damnation. Calvin is going to point out that those who wish to avoid looking at the doctrine of election will find that they have no humility.[8] Those who understand that they have been chosen by God not based on any meritorious act have great humility. The danger of course in dismissing a doctrine of predestination is being unthankful because the course of salvation is driven by merit. Furthermore, those who have been elected are entrusted to God and have security which allows them to go beyond fear into freedom. Predetermined salvation supercedes what is considered a just act because it overcomes the scales of justice with God heaping grace to tip the scales in favor of a depraved humanity.

Defense of Mercy and Compassion

The mercy of God’s impartial choice comes through in the doctrine of predestination. The idea that God predestined some to death who do not yet exist seems merciless.[9] But as was stated in the first section, it is not as though some were deserving of mercy, none were. Therefore any act of mercy is more than a just act and proves that God does not keep a record but simply chooses to be merciful out of his own compassion.

This mercifulness of God toward humanity is contrasted with those who God hardens lash out at God in their reprobation because they seek out the source of their condemnation. The idea that God is the author of the created reprobate means that they ultimately do receive the justice for which they were created. Here Calvin logically returns to God’s will, which is not subject to reproach by his creation.

At this point the “mystery” of the doctrine begins. One wonders if Calvin is content with the discussion up to this point. He has succeeded in providing an extremely logical and reasonable argument to follow as is his style. The mystery of God must be maintained, God has decided to reveal the mystery of his predestination in so far as it concerns us and reassures our foundation of security.[10] To go beyond is dangerous because it leads to a speculative inquiry that God wills to him of himself. Thus it seems to Calvin that the logical outplay is that objectifying God in theological speculation of his choosing may incur his wrath, which he would say the reprobate have done..

The Priority of God’s Will over Creature’s Will

Predestination places God’s sovereign choice over the prerogative of the creature’s ability to choice either its origins or its ends. Calvin will walk the logic of those who oppose Calvinism backward. First he mentions that oxen do not complain that they are not human.[11] Then he challenges them to answer why God chose them to be human rather than animals and points out that God simply chose to make them in his image rather than dogs although he had the power to do so.[12] His intention is that unlike doctrines which deceptively make creatures believe that with free will they have a say in their own destination, predestination correctly puts the emphasis on God’s ability to work out his own will within creation. This seems to fit within the greater attestation of Scripture as well as the reality that no creature chooses its own creation or its own destination. In this sense Calvin’s doctrine reemphasizes the omnipotence of God as creator who is in control of his humanity. Again the validity of predestination because like Scripture it has a highly active God involved in the process of his creation’s origin and destination. It certainly does not seem unjust then for a creator to have infinite say in his creation, after all it is his.

Predestination shows Greater Glory to God

Finally predestination is not unjust for Calvin because it shows a greater glory to God. To get this idea of glory one might think about the implication of not having the doctrine of predestination. What one gets without the doctrine is a salvific process via perfection by human will. Glory is imputed to God through predestination because it shows the meting out of God’s justice on both the elect and reprobate, even in God willing the fall of humanity to transpire. It is essentially the setting of the stage for God to redeem creatures of his will. For Calvin when God’s glory is mentioned one should also think of God’s justice.[13] The meting out of God’s justice then is an act of glorification because it shows God’s ability as a just judge to set aside things for destruction as well as election.

[1] “The decree is dreadful indeed, I confess.” Hillerbrand, 207.

[2] Ibid, 202.

[3] “For God’s will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever He wills, by the very fact that He wills it, must be considered righteous.” –Ibid, 202.

[4] Essentially, when the Lord speaks of elections we should listen and when he stops we stop, thus we avoid attempting to be wise in ourselves. –Ibid, 184.

[5] “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which He determined with Himself what he willed to become of each man.” –Ibid, 184.

[6] “But if we are elected in him, we cannot find the certainty of our election in ourselves and not even in God the Father, if we look at him apart from the Son. Christ, then, is the mirror in which we ought, and in which, without deception, we may contemplate our election.” –Beveridge 3.24.5.

[7] Ibid, 179.

[8] Ibid, 181.

[9] Ibid, 203.

[10] Ibid, 181.

[11] Ibid, 190.

[12] Ibid, 190.

[13] Ibid, 209.