Note: This was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
According to Catholicism, the “predestination” that Calvinists believe in is “predestinarianism” and they adhere to traditional doctrines of “predestination.”
Predestination means that God elects* who is destined to be saved through faith in Christ before the world was created.
Predestinarianism is the belief that God essentially elects/takes an active role in choosing who is to be damned. The doctrine of “equal ultimacy” goes as far as to say that God spurs on the non-elect (“reprobates”) to do evil so they will not be saved.
Predestinarianism is what many Calvinists call “double predestination.” John Piper makes Double Predestination a point in “seven point Calvinism,” which to me implies double predestination is not a necessary Calvinistic doctrine, in which there are traditionally only five points.
I want to approach this topic carefully, because historically the doctrine of double predestination has been condemned by the Second Council of Orange, which definitively denounced semi-pelagianism in the 500s. Also, I want it to be known that I do not have a formal stance on the subject and if anything, I would prefer to have a stance that is consistent with traditional predestination as affirmed by the Second Council of Orange and thinkers such as Prosper of Aquitaine.
We will begin by looking at the Scripture in Part 1. In part 2, we will look at church history.
“The Biblical view of predestination is that God simply chooses to leave the non-elect alone,” says Mark Kielar. “And He leaves them to themselves regarding salvation. He offers them a chance to obey, He offers them the Gospel, but He does not intervene in their hearts and souls in any supernatural way.”
By saying this, Kielar hopes to toe a middle line that protects God from charges of being the author of evil, but also maintains the clear reading of Romans 9:18, which states:
So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
Now, if God literally goes out of His way to have mercy on a sinner that by nature cannot choose faith on his own, what we have is non-controversial Calvinism. However, if God goes out of his way to harden a person’s heart, we have highly controversial “hyper-Calvinism.”
Is this warranted? We will have to see whether the Scripture states whether God takes an active role in saving but a passive role in hardening, or rather an active role in both.
To passively harden someone, according to Kielar, all God has to do is turn him over to the evil inclinations already in his own heart. In effect, God hardens by not hardening at all, but letting the person harden himself. He then posits that God restrains evil in the world and when God wants to judge the unrighteousness of men, he simply gives them “a longer leash” so that they essentially fall into the pit they dug for someone else to fall into (Prov 26:27, Prov 28:10).
This theology is to me clearly not supported in Scripture. First, it goes against the clear implication set forth in Romans 9 and several other passages. Let me briefly give an overview of the whole of Scripture. When God chose Nebuchadnezzar by name and “rose” him up to exercise judgment on Israel, this seems to me very intentional on God’s behalf. Further, the idea of raising the Assyrians, Neo-Babylonians, Persians, and a plethora of nomadic groups in the book of Judges does not seem very passive. It seems that the Bible is asserting God takes a very active role in history.
Further, Romans 9 states:
[T]here was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 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 then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
We walk away with two clear implications. God decides before we are born who He has compassion for and who He hates. I did not invent the idea of God hating anyone, that is what the Scripture says. So, if God hates someone, it isn’t so mind blowing if God takes an active role in hardening the man, it would seem. Further, the idea of God raising up Pharaoh and the that “He hardens whom He desires” seems to imply an activity, not a passive “by hardens, I mean, he leaves people to their own devices and then they harden themselves.” After all, the Scripture states the fact that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex 8:15, Ex 8:32) and that God did as well (Ex 4:21, Ex 7:3, Ex 9:12, etc.) There would be no need for the Scripture to have this differentiation if God was merely allowing Pharaoh to harden his own heart all along.
However, not everything is what it seems. So, “clear implications” are not convincing in their own right. Do we have evidence that God literally goes out of his way to cause evil to occur to someone in the active sense?
This may surprise some, but the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” Our example is 2 Samuel 24:1 where it says:
Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”
The parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 21:1 gives us even more insight:
Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.
We have two possible interpretations. The first is that God purposely unleashed Satan, who somehow tempted David to sin by conducting the census (“God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” James 1:13) This interpretation allows God to use Satan to tempt people to sin, but God does not directly do it Himself.
The other interpretation is that “the anger of the Lord” is a personification for Satan, so it should be translated “the Anger of the Lord.” I think this is incorrect, because the word “Lord” used in 1 Samuel is YHWH and it would be a title used for Satan that is found nowhere else in the Bible. In fact, whenever the term is used it refers to God Himself, not to a secondary agent. This interpretation, though strange, is theoretically possible.
However, we have two reasons to doubt the second interpretation aside from its strangeness. First, “the Tempter” is a name for Satan in Matt 4:3 and 1 Thes 3:5, which accords with the first interpretation that God does not directly tempt anyone, but Satan can tempt someone to sin from the desires in his own heart. We may conclude that though God tempts no one to sin, there is no contradiction when Satan does.
Second, in the book of Job Satan accuses God of putting a “hedge” (Job 1:10) around Job, in effect protecting Job from demonic assaults. God, to test Job’s resolve, purposely removes the hedge (Job 1:11, 12). God says specifically to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.”
God can literally constrain Satan and place certain measures of power in his hand. This obviously is not passive at all, and while it is not active in the sense that God causes people to do evil, the obvious answer is that God can allow Satan to tempt a man to do evil. Ultimately, the responsibility is with the man not to give into temptation to sin when tempted, like David did when conducting the census. For this reason, Christians pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Men need help from God to “resist the devil” so that “he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
Because the preceding is true, Kielar’s middle-road for double predestination fails. However, double predestination rings true that in an active sense, God has compassion on whom He wants and He hardens whom He wants. It just appears that He hardens through a secondary cause, so God is active in doing it, but not directly responsible. However, being that He dispatches the secondary cause, He is ultimately responsible and sovereign over all things.
There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. (1 Cor 12:6)
Indeed, all things as absolutely everything, somehow.
*Pet peeve: Why do people think that predestination means that God merely foreknows who will choose Christ apart from His grace? The word “elect” means “chosen” and if God chooses people, people’s salvation is predicated upon His choice, not their decision to choose God. Our president was elected by the voters, he did not elect himself by the voters foreknowing he would get more votes. The whole idea apart from a Calvinistic understanding of election is mind boggling to say the least.