COLUMN: An Old Absolute Newly Discovered – (A continuing series) Part 6 – HELL, DAMNATION AND THE DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION. While pursuing my theological studies at a Protestant seminary, I came to see how rationalistic many reputable Christian theological thinkers have been in the past. In this respect, and not taking their religious faith into account, these people have been, to a significant extent, like rationalist atheists in that they also have approached the interpretation of reality strictly within the bounds of what sounds (or appears) rational, logical and reasonable.
In the case of Christian rationalists, the “reality” these have sought to understand is the Bible as their primary source for theological interpretation and analysis. These Christians have believed that anything in the Bible that does not make rational sense, eventually will be rationally explained and understood, even if one has to wait until the afterlife to receive such explanations.
Like blinders on horses prevent horses from seeing what is happening on their sides and can therefore only see what is in front of them, so all rationalists insist that only that which is rational must be true. They expect that in any search for explanation or understanding of anything unknown that is under investigation, if you keep “turning enough rocks,” you will eventually find reason or a rational explanation looking at you in the face. For rationalists, it is as if this nebulous thing they fancy and call “reason” is something essentially inherent in all of reality. As a result, such a mindset acts like horse blinders keeping these individuals focused only on what is rational. The non-rational is viewed simply as a transitory challenge to be rationally resolved in due time. By way of concrete example, I cite the following human event to prevent ambiguity, so that readers may understand exactly what I am referring to:
When confronted with certain findings in the science of Quantum Mechanics (a branch of Physics) that were rationally baffling, Albert Einstein, an extremely rationalist scientist, vigorously resisted the idea that such findings were the final answer. Consistent with the classic, rationalistic world of Newtonian science, of which Einstein was a strong advocate and defender, Einstein was convinced that nothing in reality could be inherently, permanently or persistently non-rational; if it appeared to be so, it was only because scientific research and analysis had yet to exhaust its nature and make rational sense of it.
As a result of this rationalist mindset, Einstein believed that more scientific research and insightful analysis would unravel the non-rational findings at issue and a rational explanation would emerge; thus reason would have overcome the non-rational, for to rationally explain something that was previously not understood is to overcome it in some sense (for example, overcoming its mystery).
However, after a century of repeated efforts by the most insightful of scientific thinkers, including Einstein himself, to overcome the mysterious non-rational in quantum mechanics, the prospect
of success is now seen as so hopeless, quantum scientists have overwhelmingly resigned themselves to the belief that the mysterious findings at issue simply cannot be rationally explained or understood and must be accepted as such, a non-rationality that reason cannot unravel, change or overcome. These non-rational elements in quantum mechanics will be documented and discussed in more detail as I address the topic of empirical science in a future part of this series.
Thus, historically, and as shown by way of example to have been the case with Einstein, such is the nature of rationalists, atheists or not, that they cannot bring themselves to accept even the possibility that something permanent or unchangeably non-rational can be just as much, if not greater, a part of reality as the rational. As a general rule, when rationalists are confronted with anything in reality that appears non-rational, rationalists of all types will transcend (or rise above) this with a faith that expects (at least theoretically) that all which appears non-rational can in sufficient time be explained in rational terms: Anything beyond the ability of humans to know is theoretically presumed amenable to reason if only a way could be found to know it sufficiently through scientific investigation; anything knowable, but not immediately so, will eventually also be shown to be amenable to reason, simply more time, more thinking, more scientific research and insightful analysis is needed to see that this is so.
So rationalist atheists will hang on to their belief in a mythical, all powerful “reason” as that which alone can be relied on to determine what is real and true. A well-informed Christian, on the other hand, will certainly rely on reason but will not stop there; he or she will go beyond this and rely as well on God’s revelation in the Bible. In all this, I am here reminded of a Dr. Gordon McCabe, a self-defined “rational” atheist who writes a blog in the internet and who said, “Rational atheism values the truths of science and the power of reason.” Yes indeed Dr. McCabe, you hit a bulls eye, both reason and science form the “dynamic duo” that rationalist atheism relies on as the key to true knowledge. But given what I have shown in previous parts of this series about reason and what I know is yet to be revealed here about science, Dr. McCabe’s summation of atheism’s dynamic duo sounds rather hollow to me.
In previous parts of this series, I have shown that because of the nature of human subjectivity in the perception of reality and because of the pervasiveness of non-rationality in life, neither a pure, objective “reason” that is universally acceptable, nor an interpretation of reality as a whole that is rational, reasonable, or true, and that is universally acceptable, is attainable. At least in this sense, I do believe Friedrich Nietzsche was correct in the saying attributed to him, “There are no [universally agreed on] facts, only [individual, subjective and relative] interpretations.” In fact, this is precisely why a revelation from God is so imperative.
Opponents in any argument can always seek to discredit one another by saying, “Well, what you’re asserting is merely your own interpretation of the facts. My interpretation is different.” But the Word of God cuts though all of this relative, individual subjectivity with God simply expressing his will through the voice of his prophets who assert and declare with definitive authority, “Thus says the Lord!” More on this theme will be said in the concluding part of this series.
Given the feeble and uncertain nature of subjective human reason, rationalist atheists, such as Dr. McCabe, are therefore pursuing wishful thinking and a dream. They do this when in seeking a reliable authority to determine what is right and wrong, true or false, they assert a concrete, objective, universally-accepted “reason” (as if such a thing existed) as being the reliable authority which the world needs as its key to determining the knowledge of the true, the real and the reasonable. According to these atheists, faith in this mythical “reason” is supposed to be an improvement on faith in God. What a joke! And to think these people actually believe they’re the smartest ones on this planet. It’s enough to make you wanna roll over the floor with a hard-to-stop, belly-busting and rollicking LOL.
Incidentally, some have complained that I have resorted to “name-calling” when referring to atheists as “simpletons” and “know-it-alls.” I consider this a legitimate issue that merits a response, at least out of a common courtesy that is due to fellow humans, regardless of who they are or what they believe in. I admit that I have referred to atheists as “simpletons” and “know-it-alls.” But the Bible calls them “fools”: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God'” (Psalm 14:1). Hence, I am not the one who first set the precedent of name-calling when it comes to atheists. So I must humbly disclaim such an honor that rightly belongs to God’s Word alone. In any case, I simply have not seen that there’s much difference, if any, between a simpleton know-it-all and a fool when it comes to atheists.
However, one thing I have not done and will not do is to use obscene or profane words about atheists and I do not consider the biblical word “fool” or my words “simpleton know-it-alls” to fall in that category. I believe instead that these words are simply commonly used vernacular words of widely accepted everyday language of ordinary people. I further believe that this is the reason why even the Bible uses the word it does.
Thus, in my opinion, it is just as much in the ordinary vernacular to counsel someone by saying, “Don’t be such a simpleton know-it-all” as to say, “Don’t be such a fool.” Furthermore, I have gone beyond a mere calling of names; in this series I am seeking to explain why the Bible established the precedent it did by calling atheists “fools” and why I have used similar words; rationalist atheism’s intellectual arrogance and foolish and simplistic reliance on reason partly explains this.
As for empirical science, it is ironic that this highly rationalistic enterprise leads us finally to an anti-rationalistic conclusion regarding the nature of physical, empirical reality. While at a superficial or “macro” level, empirical science achieves marvels in revealing the true nature of certain aspects of reality and explaining such aspects in rational terms, when it comes to the material foundation which underlies all of empirical reality (i.e., the “micro” world), rationalist science is of no help to give comfort to an atheist’s faith in a mythical “reason.” This is true because in the micro world of quantum mechanics, we discover that here, at the bedrock level of all science and physical reality, we find not reason nor scientific objectivity, but counter-reason, counter-objectivity and counter-intuitiveness.
The quantum world is a world where the presumed objective observer actually influences or “creates” the “reality” observed. Hence, here at the bedrock of science, which by the way determines the underlying nature of all scientific knowledge of physical reality, objectivity ceases and what quantum researchers refer to as “observer-created” reality emerges. So much for the dynamic duo of science and reason “crutch” that rationalist atheism leans on to feel secure in its childish, foolish and hopeless views; it is superficially deceptive and as solid as thin air and can only cause you to fall on your face.
But to return again to our thoughts on the relic (or fossil) of rationalism, in the case of rationalist theology and of God perceived as “good,” the emergence of moral evil in his creation gives rise to a problem for rationalist theologians; it creates, in other words, a non-rationality. Let me explain what this involves. Rationally, it has been thought that if God is “good,” then he would have nothing at all to do with any evil that might come to exist in his creation. To confirm that this is so, rationalist theology in the past has sought to explain the presence of evil in God’s creation in such a way that “shields” or defends God (as if God needed defending) from any connection with such evil.
The rationalist explanation begins by making the biblical observation that God, first of all, created all things good. But after this, evil arose. According to this view, evil did not come from God; it arose instead as a result of the devil going about seeking to undo God’s perfect creation by tempting and persuading humans freely, willfully and deliberately to commit evil of all kinds. This, as the view goes, rationally explains how moral evil, as well as the calamities that such evil brings, arose and continues to occur in God’s creation. The conclusion is that God is therefore not responsible for evil, at least not directly, since he did not directly cause it; it was caused instead by the “free will” actions of his creatures.
1. First of all, my reaction to this view is to say, “No. I DO NOT DISAGREE with this view. At least up to this point, I am in total agreement.” However, I would go beyond this and raise the following questions: Does the fact that sin and evil of all kind disrupts, opposes, ruins or frustrates the good work and intentions of God in creation, does the fact that this happens so much of the time, in so widespread a manner, does all this mean that evil is really in substantial control of our world? Or equally, does it mean that God in not in control? Did God have control in the beginning and then lost it when his good creation became overwhelmed with all kinds of evil? My answer to each of these questions is no and I explain my reasons in the section below on God and Evil.
2. Secondly, I am aware that some will say and have said, “If God is both good and Almighty and if he is not pleased with sin or anything that is evil, then he could have found a way to have banished sin and evil altogether and never have allowed these to come into existence in the first place.” If you happen to be a rational and logical person, this is undoubtedly what you would say as well because it all makes logical sense. But as a theologian with a different point of view, I differ from this rationalist position. Yet I still draw my conclusions from the Bible.
As I have studied and examined the Bible, and as I have said in the past, I do not see that the biblical God reveals himself as being totally rational (“rational” that is, as measured from the standpoint of human rationality as the standard). As I see it, God is rational only to a point. So my view of the biblical God is that of a God who is both rational and non-rational. In his rationality, God can relate well with his rational human creatures. But in his non-rationality, there is a real sense in which his ways, his works, his decrees and his thoughts are beyond what humans can rationally comprehend or, in some cases, even agree with.
Referring to God’s non-rationality, we find the Bible expressing this as follows: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NRSV). Now we will see how this plays out as we consider the topic of God and evil.
GOD AND EVIL
I recently began to hear rumors of a new trend in Christian theological thinking. It has to do with what I said above about God and evil. Rumor has it that a number of Christian theologians are finally seeing that there is some sense in which God planned the emergence of evil in his creation. In other words, the emergence of sin and evil in his creation did not surprise God, for God planned and foreordained that this should happen. From God’s point of view, it was therefore inevitable for evil to arise so that he could use it to achieve certain plans he had for creating all that he did. Jesus himself virtually confirmed this when he said, “Occasions for stumbling [or things that cause sin or evil] are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!” (Luke 17:1 NRSV].
This casts a new shade (or nuance) on the traditional concept of the biblical God. To say that God deliberately planned and uses evil to accomplish his purposes is now no longer to see the biblical God as he was understood in the past, that is, that he had nothing to do with the emergence of evil or that evil arises and comes to exist outside of his control. I have, as a matter of fact, become aware of one theologian who seems to describe God in this new way, his name is Wayne Gruden. Gruden is a Christian theologian who has served as professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.
While studying Gruden’s main literary work, “Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine,” I have found that, with respect to the topic here at issue, his views coincide with what has been my thinking for over ten years. The examples drawn from the Bible which Gruden points to for confirming the new understanding of who the biblical God is are too numerous to give here in their entirety. So I can only refer the reader to pages 322-327 of Gruden’s work on Systematic Theology where he deals with the topic in detail.
Here, however, I do refer to some of the examples given by Gruden (see further below). But of all these examples, in this article I give primary attention to what the Bible reveals concerning predestination, salvation, hell and damnation. Here, I will attempt to express concisely what this involves by showing from the Bible how God deliberately determines, though not DIRECTLY, the rise of evil, hardened atheism and other ungodliness and how he uses this for the purpose of glorifying himself as he takes all hardened atheists and other ungodly people and casts them into the damnation of hell at the final judgment.
For God created hell to be inhabited and, in addition to the devil and his demons, he saw fit that hardened atheists and other ungodly should arise to join these as inhabitants in the “community of hell.” We see how God conducts his process of raising inhabitants for hell when we read the following in the Bible, “God shall send them strong delusion [like rationalism, Darwinianism and other such nonsense], that they [hardened atheists for example] should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:11-12 KJ).
Of all people, hardened atheists are the most well-suited to inhabit hell, along with the devil and his demons, in view of the fact that they above all have deliberately, with a most free will, recklessly pushed aside all the stops and all sense of caution, embracing instead strong delusions and comforting lies as they foolishly defy the Almighty. So, yes, it was inevitable in the plan of God that hardened atheists should arise so God could have enemies to throw in hell and thereby glorify himself as a God of unspeakable, righteous wrath (more biblical proof to substantiate this view is given below in Sections IV and V). Of hardened atheists, just as well as of others hostile to him, Jesus could have said what he did when he said, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt. 21 :31 NASB).
At least prostitutes are primarily known for other things than defying God; hence, prostitutes are more likely than hardened atheists to repent of their dissolute life, trust the Lord and find in him compassion, forgiveness, mercy and redemption. Atheists who have not yet hardened themselves can do this also and receive the same benefits that repentant hookers do. But the “hardened” variety of atheists have already passed the point of no return and have thus already brought damnation on themselves.
As for me, I was an agnostic from my teens up to my early twenties. Then, after much searching in different areas of academic studies and reflecting on all I was learning, I, like the former British atheist, Anthony Flew, finally arrived at the pure intellectual conclusion that there had to be a God, though one who was not only rational but non-rational as well. Unfortunately for Flew, he looked for a god who was thoroughly rational, a god after his own rationalist image; but there is no such thing. So Flew settled for what he saw as the next best thing: the man-made rationalist god of Deism.
Given the above on hardened atheists, we should now understand that hardened atheists are a necessary evil that is ordained of God so that he can have rabid and ardent adversaries he can throw into his “burning” hell (figuratively speaking). Like Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin and others of the same ilk, God brings hardened atheists into our midst in the land of the living. But after a while, he takes them away as they disappear in the dust of the ground.
In the land of the living, and thoughtlessly forgetting that they could not live on the earth forever, these atheists all made a loud noise while they were with us. They did this, just like other atheists do, to keep their bare bones atheistic hope alive and pumped up for the purpose of obtaining a comforting reassurance they desperately need to remain convinced in their sort of “religious faith” that God does not exist. But in the end, they all pass on to the land of silence, six feet underground, and to their appointed place of waiting to be thrown in hell at the final judgment, of which the following is the biblical vision:
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the [resurrected] dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20: 11-15).
ON THE NATURE OF HELL
There are many people who invariably think of the biblical words, “lake of fire” or “eternal fire,” referring to the fire of hell, in very literal terms. This issue has arisen in the minds of outstanding conservative theologians in the past and their conclusions have been that the words used in the Bible which refer to hell, such as “lake of fire, “eternal fire,” “fire and brimstone,” “furnace of fire,” and so on, represent figurative language (not literal) designed to convey a dreadful state of conscious existence as the final abode of those who are cast away from God’s presence at the final judgment.
The major factors that appear to have determined these conclusions in the minds of reputable, conservative theologians include at least the following:
1. Words such as “fire,” “furnace” and “brimstone,” which is an archaic word for sulfur, are words referring to objects found in a material world. Heaven or hell, on the other hand, represent a spiritual world or dimension, not a material one. Hence, we should not expect to find in hell such things as fire, a furnace of fire, or sulfur, which are of a material nature.
2. By way of illustration of symbolic language in the Bible that is parallel to biblical references to the word “hell,” it is noted that in Romans 12:20-21, a reference to “burning coals” is made and such a reference is clearly not literal but figurative (or symbolic) in nature. This biblical passage at issue states as follows: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Obviously, doing good to anyone who does not deserve it does not actually result in literal “burning coals” landing on anyone’s head. So the speech is obviously figurative and symbolic of the emotional or psychological impact that good deeds have on the undeserving. The “burning coals,” in other words, figuratively (or symbolically) refer to a burning “psychological” impression that can result in the mind of a recipient of good deeds which can be so intense and searing, it carries with it a vital potential to change a person’s evil behavior.
3. Furthermore, the word “hell” in our English Bible, such as we find it in Matthew 5:22, 29, is an English translation of the original Greek word “gehenna.” Gehenna was a word that originated before the time of Christ. It was derived from a valley or ravine south of Jerusalem that was called the “Valley of Hinnom” (in Hebrew, the name is “ge hinnom”). In Old Testament Jewish times, this valley had first gained a notoriety for being the place where human sacrifice was offered in fire to the pagan god Molech.
Eventually, the valley became a “city dump” where fire burned perpetually to incinerate all the waste that was thrown there. At the same time, the whole scene of trash being thrown into this perpetually burning gehenna fire (or “hell fire”) became a materialistic, figurative symbol of the real “hell” that was to come in the spiritual afterlife as an eternal punishment for the wicked, to be issued at the final judgment.
In other words, the word “hell” (or gehenna) is in itself literally not a direct or literal reference to the hell in the spiritual afterlife, which is not to be conceived as a literal fire. It is instead a material, symbolic reference which uses a material place of perpetual burning for the purpose of figuratively conveying the spiritual, dreadful and never-ending nature of the punishment awaiting all who, like hardened atheists, in total abandon, willfully, knowingly and deliberately defy the Almighty.
Among the theologians I have in mind who have addressed the issue of figurative language used in reference to hell, the conservative Baptist theologian A. H. Strong, who lived between 1836 and 1921, is one example. Strong was a graduate of Yale University in 1857 and thereafter became a student at Rochester Theological Seminary. After graduating from this seminary, he held positions as church pastor. Eventually, he became President and professor of biblical theology at the same seminary from which he graduated. While he was there, he wrote his classic work, “Systematic Theology,” which became the most influential and widely used text for conservative theological education in the first half of the twentieth century.
Another outstanding and influential conservative theologian I have in mind is the Presbyterian A. A. Hodge, who lived between 1823 and 1886. His theological training was at Princeton College and Princeton Theological Seminary while these institutions were bastions of scholarly, conservative education.
In the case of A. H. Strong, following is what he had to say in his Systematic Theology about the biblical references to hell:
“The figurative language of Scripture is a miniature representation of what cannot be fully described in words [in other words, the hell of the afterlife is a place that has no words in human language to appropriately describe it, thus the Bible has to rely on figurative language taken from the material world that we know]. The symbol is a symbol; yet it is less, not greater, than the thing symbolized. It is sometimes fancied that Jonathan Edwards [the great Yale-educated New England theologian and preacher of American Colonial times], when, in his sermon on “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” he represented the sinner as a worm shriveling in the eternal fire, supposed that hell consists mainly of such physical torments. But this is a misinterpretation of Edwards. As he did not fancy heaven essentially to consist in [literal] streets of gold or pearly gates, but rather in holiness and communion with Christ, of which these [material things] are the symbols, so he did not regard hell as consisting in fire and brimstone, but rather in the unholiness and separation from God of a guilty and accusing conscience, of which the fire and brimstone are symbols. He used the material imagery, because he thought that this best answered to the methods of Scripture” (pg. 1035).
In the case of A. A. Hodge, following is what he said in a way that is very brief compared to Strong:
“[With regard to the sufferings of hell] the terms used in Scripture to describe these sufferings are evidently figurative.” (From A. A. Hodge, “Outlines of Theology,” pgs. 580).
As for the eternal duration of life in hell, I have in the past thought of this and compared it with what I have learned about the life of certain species of fish that live in never-ending or perpetual total darkness without ever seeing the light. This has been shown by film documentaries of ocean scientists who went down in small submarines at the deepest parts of the ocean to explore the bottom. The depths at this level are of such magnitude that the light of the sun never reaches there. With submarine lights shining all around, these explorers observed very strange looking fish-like creatures that are not seen at ocean levels of sunlight. These creatures live in never-ending darkness all their life. So it will be for those who end up in hell’s never ending spiritual misery; as ocean bottom fish survive and endure their perpetual darkness, so will these “felons of hell” survive their never-ending misery in the intimate company of the devil and his demons.
There are those who would say that God is good and, as such, he would not throw anyone into such a hell. Oh yes he will! According to the Bible, God is not just “good”; he is both good AND SEVERE. Hence we see this dual principle in God expressed in Romans 11:22: “Behold then the goodness [or kindness] and the severity of God; to those who fell [into disbelief], severity, but to you [who believe], goodness.”
Another parallel comparison that can be made of the eternal duration of life in hell is the duration of life continually shut off from outside freedom that is endured by those who have received a judgment of life imprisonment without a possibility of parole. Once these people are thrown in prison, there they spend the rest of whatever time is left of their life; death is their only way out, when their remains are finally buried in a hole on the ground where for all practical effects, they virtually remain, as it were, forever.
So even if “the flames of hell” is symbolic language and not literal flames, hell is still “a hell of a place” at which to end up. Furthermore, if all this sounds harsh, non-utopian or non-rational, this should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following this series on atheism. I have been pointing out all along that the God of the Bible is overall non-rational. To a point, there is rationality in God. But such rationality exists as kind of a sub-set to his greater, more dominant, non-rational whole (for a more detailed account on this theme, see: https://enewschannels.com/2007/12/04/enc2336_023354.php ).
PREDESTINATION AND THE WILL TO DISBELIEF
In the earthly lifetime of Jesus Christ, he had a tremendous revolutionary effect on religious Jewish life. His whole manner of life, which included not only the message he gave to the multitudes who heard him but also the compelling manner in which he gave the message, along with the miracles he performed and the exemplary moral life he led, all these had the effect of producing a great following of believers. So much so was this the case, that at one point, his adversaries were led to say, “Look, the world has gone [or is following] after him” (Jn. 12:19).
We now know of course that what we read in Jn. 12:19 is a hyperbole (that is, a deliberate and obvious exaggeration used for effect). Literally speaking, while Jesus gathered to himself a significant following, the world as a whole did not go after Him. If it had, there would of course never have been a crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Given this, I am aware of some pertinent questions that some have entertained in this regard: If Jesus was God incarnate, why was his preaching success limited? As God, couldn’t he accomplish anything he wanted? Why was it then that only some believed his message while others could only be indifferent at best or, at worst, were bent on killing him and finally succeeding?
Actually, before he was killed, Jesus himself provided the answer to these questions. Following is how he expressed it, as he directed his words to his adversaries who, like hardened atheists, were irredeemably and incorrigibly fixed in disbelief and hostility toward Jesus:
“So the [leaders of the] Jews gathered around him [that is, Jesus] and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you [already], and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, BECAUSE YOU DO NOT BELONG TO MY SHEEP. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (Jn. 10:24-28 NRSV).
In a previous occasion, Jesus had also said the following:
“No one can come to me UNLESS THE FATHER WHO SENT ME DRAWS HIM, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn. 6:44).
In essence, what Jesus was saying in these statements is that “the will to believe” and trust in God and Jesus is an ability and power given by God the Father only to those who have been predestined as the elect and chosen God to do so from eternity past. They and they only are the “sheep” of Jesus. They and they only come to faith in God and Christ and to dwell in the spiritual “fold” of Jesus. All others, who are the non-elect of God [or the “goats,” as Jesus called them], are left with an obstinate and incorrigible “will to disbelief” (as one finds in hardened and unrepentant atheists) and to perish in Satan’s hell for such disbelief. Together with the devil and his demons, they will become, as it were, members and co-inhabitants in the community of hell. Following is how the Bible describes this:
“When [Jesus returns] in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to [the sheep] at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…Then he will say to [the goats] at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:31-34, 41 NRSV). In the New Testament, the “goats” are also called “reprobates,” which refers to people who are totally depraved and damned (see Rom. 1:28 KJ; II Cor. 13:5 KJ).
PAUL’S VIEW OF PREDESTINATION
The Christian Apostle Paul, who was formerly a Jewish rabbi named “Saul,” also weighed in on the issue of God’s predestination as that which determines who will believe and be saved from hell and who will be left to perish in hardened unbelief:
“For [God said] to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’ So it [i.e., coming to belief and obtaining mercy] depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘I have raised you for the very purpose of showing my power in you [this is how God uses evil people to glorify himself], so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then [God] has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses [as we find in the heart of hardened atheists]” (Rom. 9:15-18 NRSV).
At this point, it is important to understand that the way God brings about the hardening of those he chooses to abandon to destruction is not by forcing hardened unbelief on them against their will and from outside of themselves. In other words, God does not violate anyone’s freedom of their will, including the free will of evil people, though he may give these latter ones enough “rope” (or cutting them enough slack) with which they can freely hang their own selves.
I am aware that there are and have been thinkers among psychologists, philosophers and theologians who have questioned the concept of human beings having a “free will.” But for the majority of reputable thinkers and Judeo-Christian theologians, as well as being the commonsense view of the ordinary person, the belief that human beings possess a free will and that this is the way God created humans is predominant, regardless of how some may feel it necessary to qualify the word “freedom” in reference to the human will.
In human affairs, it is quite obvious that affirming the freedom of the human will is essential in any consideration of moral responsibility and judgment. In legal matters, as a prime example of this, those who are guilty of legal offenses are brought to justice and judgment on the assumption that the offenses they committed were committed with free will deliberation and intentionality. This assumption is also essential in any theology that addresses the topics of sin and judgment. If there has been sin, and judgment is to follow the sin, then culpable free will must have been involved to merit the judgment. Otherwise, judgment is unjust. Thus, I see the reality of free will as being necessary and indisputable. Furthermore, this view is not only a majority, commonsense belief, but also the belief on which this article is based.
Keeping this affirmation of free will in mind, we return now and continue with the main topic at hand: Because God does not violate anyone’s freedom of their will, he does not DIRECTLY force a hardening of the will in those chosen to destruction. Nor, by the same principle, does he DIRECTLY make belief to rise against their will in the minds of those chosen to salvation. Instead, in the case of those chosen to salvation, God simply applies what may be called an “effective divine persuasion” so as to bring them in this INDIRECT way to a free will decision and belief. With regard to those chosen to destruction, God simply withholds from them this same effective persuasion. In this manner, God “allows” those chosen to destruction to harden themselves through repeated and ongoing free will rejection of belief.
The hardening process of unbelief takes place on the basis of that principle involving free will choices that is expressed in Scripture as follows: “One who is often reproved, yet remains stubborn, will suddenly be broken beyond healing” (Prov. 29:1). It is just the nature of the human will that if you keep saying NO to something with all the sincere passion you have against it, eventually you get to a point of total indifference to that which you reject.
It is also important to note that God did not choose or predestined anyone to destruction without regard as to whether they deserved it or not, or as to whether they were innocent or not. Instead, He so chose or predestined those abandoned to self-hardening only on the basis of foreseeing their self-hardening along the line of Prov. 29:1 cited above. Thus, the chosen to destruction were chosen according to God’s foreknowledge: That is, God foreknowing that, through repeated rejection of belief, these would finally pass a point of no return where they themselves, of their own free will, would have sealed their own fate.
Concerning the others, those predestined to salvation, God could have abandoned them as well to the same self-hardening process. But out of pure grace and mercy, not based at all on any merit they possessed and purely on the basis of his sovereign will, God chose to effectively persuade them to believe and to trust in him before they reached the hardening point of no return.
It is true that God does not desire that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). But it is also true that, while God can effectively persuade anyone or everyone to believe and “come to repentance” if he wants to, God is under no compulsion or obligation whatsoever to do so for anyone who out of a free will does not want to believe. It is important to elaborate on this because there are many who assume that if God does not want anyone to perish, then, being God, he simply MUST save all and not only some. No, he doesn’t! God will save only those whom he chooses and leave all the others alone in their free will disbelief and hardening. Jesus explained this principle with a parable he told concerning a dinner that was planned and those who were invited to come. The parable is found in Luke 14:16-24.
Briefly, in the parable of the dinner, Jesus described an important man who arranged a dinner to which he planned to invite many. At the proper time, he sent his servants to tell those invited that it was time to come. However, one by one, all those invited began to make excuses as to why they could not come. On hearing this, the man hosting the dinner became upset and commanded his servants to go and bring to the dinner the poor, the cripple, the blind and the lame. With this accomplished, there was still room for more. So the man told his servants to go “into the highways and along the hedges, and compel [the people there] to come in, so that my house may be filled.”
The gist of this parable, first of all, is that God’s sincerity, in his invitation and desire for all to come to him and receive benefits, cannot be faulted if people out of a free will lack of interest have no desire to do so. Secondly, while God can effectively persuade (or “compel”) all who are invited to actually come, he is not obligated to do this for anybody. But on the other hand, if he so chooses to effectively persuade anyone at all to come to him, he reserves the right to be selective if he so desires. He will do this by effectively persuading only those whom he chooses out of all who of their own free will express no interest to come to God for reconciliation.
This is precisely what God does. He sincerely invites all to come to him. However, because no one has an inherent desire to do so because of a fatal corruption that became innate to all humanity after its original falling away from God, God chooses to “compel,” as it were, only some through effective persuasion. Thus we read in Scripture where Jesus concluded with the following words, “For many are called, but [only] few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14).
While acknowledging that there is in this an apparent arbitrariness in choosing, Paul eventually justifies this on the basis of affirming the freedom, power and authority that God has as an Absolute and Sovereign ruler over all he created, to do with his creation as he pleases. Paul begins this line of revelation by declaring that being chosen for salvation does not depend “on human will or exertion [that is, anything humans can do, one way or another], but on [the sovereign] God who shows mercy [to whom he will through effective persuasion]” (Rom. 9:16 NRSV).
But Paul also tells us that the same principle applies to God’s choosing to withhold effective persuasion from those who in his sovereignty he chooses to abandon to the free will, self-hardening process of Prov. 29:1: “For the scripture says to Pharaoh [who hardened himself against God and God abandoned him to destruction], ‘I have raised you for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then [God] has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses [as happened to Pharaoh and as we find in the heart of hardened atheists].” Previously, Paul had also expressed the following: “For [God said] to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion'” (Rom. 9:15, 17-18 NRSV).
Thus we see that the classic saying attributed to the ancient Greek dramatist Euripides (484 BC – 406 BC), “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad” is in the Bible transformed to “Whom the biblical God would destroy, he first hardens in raving, mad unbelief against him [as we find in hardened, hopeless atheists].” So it’s just as well to ignore such atheists now that we know that a destiny in Satan’s hell awaits them with wide open jaws to swallow them in like a giant, hungry crocodile.
Given all this that the Scripture reveals, it is to be anticipated that invariably there will be those who will nevertheless protest that this is unjust and unfair. To this anticipated protest, Paul responds as follows, using the analogy of a potter and the absolute power that a potter holds over the clay that he or she molds, that is, the power to do with the clay whatsoever the potter chooses:
“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 [i.e., those predestined to salvation], which he has prepared beforehand for glory-including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Rom. 9:20-24 NRSV).
Now here, in very specific terms, we see how God allows evil to arise and then turns around and uses that very evil to glorify himself. Following is the way the process goes in the case of hardened unbelief (as in atheists) and predestination to salvation:
1. God creates human beings with a free will.
2. God then allows, through their own free will, for humans to fall away into all kinds of evil, sin, unbelief and debauchery. This fall is of such magnitude that the entire human race abandons their original close relationship with God and are now devoid and undeserving of any hope of eternal life in God’s Kingdom of peace. Also, a fatal corruption tending to unbelief and/or disobedience to God becomes innate within all humans.
3. God endures this human evil with much pain, but he endures it because he sees in it an opportunity to get ultimate glory for himself. To do this, he first ordains the sin and evil-atoning death of Christ.
4. God then declares that only those who will change their way of thinking, which is the basic meaning of “repentance,” and turn to him for healing, will be saved from the hopelessness they face.
5. But seeing that because of the innate fatal corruption in humans and because of their corrupted free will, none will come to him unless he effectively persuades them to do so, he decides to persuade only some-the elect, predestined or chosen ones-while leaving the rest in their own self-inflicted hopelessness believing lies (as we find in incorrigible hardened atheists).
6. So Paul explains that the way God glorifies himself in this process is to show first of all to the hardened ones that they are not the ones in control simply because they think that through their free will disbelief they have “put one over on God.” Secondly, and with respect to the ones chosen to salvation, God glorifies himself in this process by effectively persuading these chosen ones to believe, “in order,” as Paul says, for God “to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy [i.e., those predestined to salvation], which he has prepared beforehand for glory-including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles.”
In its essence and taken at face value, Paul’s words make clearly evident that in this case of predestining some to salvation while leaving the rest to their own self-inflicted damnation, God can only be viewed correctly as a Sovereign Potter who has created all things, both living and non-living. As a potter creates vessels of clay according to the potter’s own desire and choosing, so God can dispose of the “clay” of humanity as he chooses. As the potter is free to do whatever he or she wants with the clay vessels created, so God is totally free to do as he chooses with those he created.
But it is important to keep in mind that the “clay” Paul refers to does not represent humanity before its falling out of relationship with God. The clay instead represents humanity already fallen and corrupted. It is only in this manner that God can exercise mercy over some (because they did not deserve what they received) and justly damn the others (because as corrupt already, they deserved it). So all the ungodly, the evil and the hardened atheists will be damned to hell and their damnation will glorify God while the salvation of others will also glorify God but in a different way.
Thus, whoever this Sovereign God chooses to bless to show how merciful he can be, he brings to belief through divine effective persuasion, and whoever he chooses to harden in unbelief to show his fearful wrath [as we find in Pharaoh and hardened atheists], he accomplishes this through abandoning the “objects of wrath that are made for destruction” to the free will principle of Prov. 29:1 cited above. Either way, God gets the glory he seeks, either as a God of great mercy or as a God of fearful wrath.
So how do we know who are the chosen and elect of God to salvation and who are the “objects of wrath that are made for destruction?” The answer to this is really quite simple: Those who come to believe are the elect of God to salvation. Thus, if you sense within yourself a will to believe, you are a “chosen one” because according to Jesus, you could not have that inclination within you unless God had given it to you. Those who remain hardened and unrepentant to the end [as are all hardened atheists who have passed away and never repented of their disbelief] are the reprobates to be spiritually destroyed in hell along with the devil and his demons. God simply abandoned these in their unbelief, leaving them to harden themselves through their consistent, ongoing free will disbelief and hostility toward God.
Other examples can be cited to show that God plans and even predestines the emergence of evil to accomplish his purposes in creation: For example, in the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 13, God warns the Jews of the possibility that he may use (or allow) a false or evil prophet to test them. Then God will order the destruction of the same evil prophet he used to accomplish his purpose:
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul…But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 13:1-3, 5 NASB).
Another example at this point is how God predestined the murder of Jesus Christ by first raising an evil hatred against him in the minds of those who became responsible for his death: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:22-23 NASB).
A final example is how God can use even arrogant world leaders to accomplish his will while at the same time hold them accountable for all the evil they plot and do. We see this for example in how God used Nebuchadnezzar, the ancient king of Babylon, to bring judgment on his Jewish people for their idolatry. Afterward, because of his own evil, Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment and doom is foretold:
“Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, Because you have not obeyed my words, I am going to send for all the tribes of the north, says the Lord, even for King Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant [God calls this evil king “my servant” because he, though being evil, will nonetheless serve God’s purpose of bringing judgment on God’s disobedient people of Judah], and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these nations around; I will utterly destroy them, and make them an object of horror and of hissing, and an everlasting disgrace…This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, says the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste” (Jeremiah 25:8-9, 11-12 NRSV).
In the next part, which is Part 7 of this series, I expect to begin a more detailed examination of the nature of empirical science, that on which rationalist atheists so foolishly rely on to provide them with a feeling of assurance, comfort, and a smug, arrogant complacency in their “religious” faith and trust in atheist disbelief.
[tags]author John Garrison, theological studies, Christian rationalists, theological interpretation and analysis, doctrine of predestination[/tags]