Reflections on Calvin, part 7

Chapter 8: Of God’s Predestination and Providence
(with a few comments on Chapter 7: Of the Similarities and Differences between the Testaments)

A brief note should be made of chapter seven on the similarities between the Old and New Testaments since most of my reflection will be occupied with Calvin’s understanding of predestination and providence. As I read chapter seven, I began to wonder if Calvin (and the majority of Christendom) speaks so lowly of this world because they experienced so much suffering. Contemporary Western Christians have been dulled to some extent from the pain and horrors of life. Maybe Calvin’s insistence that Earth is not the final heaven is because for someone who suffered with such a terrible medical problem, this Earth stinks.

In regards to chapter eight, I wanted to focus on one thing. First, I do not have a problem with what Calvin said about providence for providence has always been used by Christian writers as a source of comfort in the Christians life. Instead, I am trying to understand if Calvin can consistently say that God everything that happens is God’s active will and that God is not responsible for sin. I know how the answer is expressed by contemporary Calvinists, and I saw it somewhat in Calvin. However, I also saw in Calvin a readiness to affirm that everything happens by God’s active will. Calvin says on page 426, “But since He does not foresee future things except because He has determined for them to happen, it is madness to quarrel and argue about what His foreknowledge does, when it is clear that everything happens by His ordinance and arrangement.” I understand the consequences of this to be as follows. God’s will and foreknowledge cannot be separated. God’s foreknowledge cannot precede his will for that would mean that He is knowing something that occurs outside of his will. This is absurd; therefore, God’s will takes precedence. What God foreknows is therefore what God wills. Therefore, everything that happens, if it happens, is known by God. If it is known by God is must have been actively willed by Him. This contradicts what is later said by Calvin about individual’s being his or her own cause of damnation (cf. 428). Yes, they did it and by God’s law they are condemned, but if any of their actions occurred at all, then it must have happened only because God willed it. Therefore, God sovereignty wills for people to sin even though he wills (generally) for them not to do so. I do not think Calvin, nor any sane Christian for that matter, would want to affirm such a proposition, but I cannot escape such a conclusion when I read Calvin. More so, even if this difficulty were removed, I do not think the contemporary defense of this type of predestination is any more consistent. For, when asserting that God elects some to salvation and others to damnation, the damnation is soften by saying that God is being just since everyone was already in a state of sinfulness. However, if one wishes to be a consistent Calvinist and a good biblical exegete, then the following must be affirmed. If the fates of Jacob and Esau were determined before they committed good or evil God elected one to salvation and the other to damnation, then Esau could not have been damned because he inherited a sinful nature from Adam. When Paul says that this election happened before they committed good or evil, it is meant to show the absolute freedom of God in choosing Jacob without reference to any inherent quality (whether good or bad) in the person. If this is the case, then it follows that one cannot say that the race of man is damned for some action either they performed or was imposed upon them by nature because of Adam. Instead, one must affirm that as the elect are chosen for eternal life regardless of any inherent quality, so the reprobate are elected for eternal damnation regardless of any inherent quality. Unless, that is, the election Paul spoke of was not in regards to eternal life but something else (inheritance of the land and promises?). Nevertheless, if that is affirmed, then the specific quality that makes Calvinism, Calvinism disappears.

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