Institutes of the Christian Religion: Predestination

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation. …Not only in the case of single individuals, …but the future condition of each nation lives entirely at his disposal.
— John Calvin “Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.21”

Predestination is perhaps one of the least understood, and therefore most debated, Christian doctrines. Many, theologians and laymen alike, have objected to Calvin’s conception of predestination, arguing that it annuls man’s free will, or that it renders God arbitrary, if not unjust. I’ve written about the relation between grace and the free will in another post, and will focus on the other objections raised here.

Is Predestination Arbitrary?

To act arbitrarily is to act without forethought, purpose or law. But none of these can be attributed to God. He is omniscient and omnipotent, so what He does is always in accord with His wisdom, never without forethought or purpose; He is the Supreme Lawgiver and there is no Law above Him, so He always acts according to the Law in/of Himself, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. “Because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself”.

Is Predestination Just?

Justice, according to Plato, is “the having and doing what is a man’s own”. According to the Christian doctrine, the world and everything in it were created by God from nothing, which means all things are His, and He has the right to do what He wishes with His own.

The Creator predestines all things to have each its own nature and each its own glory, as St. Paul writes,

“All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.”

Does anyone have the right to say that the Creator is unjust because He made him a human being, not an amoeba or an angel?

Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonour? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory…?”

To Each According to His Deeds

The common objection against predestination is that, if predestination is true, then it makes no difference what a person does with his life. But a just judge should render to each man according to his deeds. This objection is based on the assumption that man can be good and do good apart from the grace of God. But, the Christian understanding is that, man would cease to exist apart from God, let alone have any power to do good. All the goodness that man might possess is from God, and all the good deeds that man might perform is encompassed by the predestination of God. In other words, absolutely no good deeds shall go unnoticed or unrewarded.

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