While surfing on Facebook the other day, I came across a photograph. Unfortunately the complicated maze of legal restrictions regarding photos and copyright create hesitation on my part to post it, even if it was an internet meme. But the picture seemed to be implying that God is responsible for whatever horrible things have happened to us in the past. It seemed it was concocted by atheists, and was jeering at a Christian attitude of somehow relating awful childhood experiences to God’s plan for an individual’s life.
It is unfortunate that such attitudes actually exist within Christianity. Much of it springs from a system of beliefs known as “Theological Determinism”, which is the child of Calvinism. For those that do not understand these terms, theological determinism is the teaching that all choices, from the minute decisions as to whether or not you will eat an apple versus an orange to the horrifically evil choices a person makes such as rape are foreordained by God. The concept is even stretched to include coincidences and random events which occur in space, so that if a man falls from a building and breaks his legs this was something God meant for.
Calvinism on the other hand is the belief system which adheres to a view of salvation known as “TULIP”, which was originally founded by John Calvin [1509-1564], who was a french pastor and theologian in Geneva that lived during the Protestant Reformation. The acronym ‘TULIP’ stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Calvinists today can sometimes vary in their beliefs regarding TULIP, and perhaps even how far they carry the issues relating to determinism, but either way Calvinism is largely responsible for such beliefs as those mentioned above, that being whether or not God has foreordained the painful experiences of your life.
TULIP itself will be covered in other articles. This question however of ‘Theological Determinism” as it relates to the charges set forth in the previously mentioned internet meme is the primary point of interest in this post. The question boils right on down to whether or not God designs your pain. Regardless of what has happened to you, the first thing you need to come to an understanding of is that God is not responsible for it. He is not in the background micromanaging every little thing that happens on this earth, to the point where he has planned for some one to fall off a building to become a paraplegic. These ideas are doctrines of devils, and are used by the adversary of souls for a similar purpose as the doctrine of eternal conscious torment.
One of the most obvious passages of Scripture which these ideas contradict is actually one of the most famous passages of the Bible. Most believers could probably quote it blindfolded, and if they can’t they’ve probably heard it mentioned before because of its fame. The passage itself reads “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16.
Such monstrous teachings that God designs or schemes for horrid things to happen to people runs contrary to his character of love. For instance, love is an attribute which leads people to reach a state in which they would never do anything to hurt the person whom they love. Otherwise it becomes clear that they do not actually love the person as they claim to. No one in the right mind would interpret a man hiring an assassin to kill his wife as an act of love. In fact, people usually look at such conspiracies to commit murder as a heinous crime, and tend to hold those who sought to orchestrate such things accountable for their actions.
In the above mentioned passage, you might observe that the first words of the text read “For God so loved the world.” According to this text from the book of John, God’s love covers the entire world. Every man, woman, and child on this planet is loved by God. Those who have lived in the past, and those who have lived in the future are also loved by the Lord. From the worst criminal and the basest of sinners to the most righteous of saints, all are loved by God regardless of their actions. The words “the world” are statements which are blind to class, race, and actions.
That love for us all is manifested in the sacrifice which is mentioned in the text “That he gave his only begotten son.” Diligent Bible students recognize this to be a reference to Jesus Christ, and especially part one of ‘How To Study The Bible’ gave a partial explanation of such a position. God’s love for the entire world resulted in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, indicating clearly that it was meant for all, and according to the rest of the passage it opened the door so that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This is the only limitation or condition rather for the benefits of the death of Christ, that a person accepts and follows Jesus.
Since God loves everyone, and love excludes the deliberate orchestration of some one’s suffering, it is therefore impossible that God foreordains anyone’s pain. Whatever horrible things have happened to you personally, I can tell you with a certainty that to suggest that God was orchestrating them is to contradict the Bible. Yet John 3:16 isn’t even the tip of the iceberg of truth which is about to sink the ship of theological determinism.
1 John 4:16 declares, “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Love is so strong an attribute of God’s character that he is literally defined as ‘love’, indicating that it has a huge connection to his nature. Thus it is literally against God’s very nature to foreordain the suffering of all mankind. As if this were not enough, you have to ask yourself about other descriptions regarding God’s character found in the pages of holy writ.
These concepts must be questioned in the light of Biblical requirements. For instance, there are many statements across the Scriptures which encourage us to trust in God. Several of them can be found in Psalm 34:8, Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 30:5, Psalm 91:2, and Psalm 62:8. But the question boils down to, “how can you trust the theological determinist’s picture of God?” A God who foreordains evil in this world and for people to fall off of buildings to become paraplegics [or even die] is not worthy of trust.
For all you know, such a God is scheming for you personally to experience some rather terrible tragedies. The only reasoning behind any of it that you would be given by a supporter of this thinking is that some unknown good may come of it, since it is apart of God’s plan, in addition to a vague reference to God’s sovereignty. Essentially the explanation boils down to, “God is doing it because he can.” Since the theological determinist’s version of God is essentially out to get you because he can be, which is evident from him hurling people off of buildings through foreordination to turn them into paraplegics, any and all trust in him is virtually destroyed. It is smashed to pieces underneath the boot of Calvinism’s evil ideas. Therefore it is impossible to follow the Biblical commands to put trust in God.
Further evidence against this type of thinking may be derived from the book of Psalms. Around chapter 145 there are descriptions of God’s goodness. In particular, it seems to be distributed universally. The text reads, “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.” – Psalm 145:9. Is foreordaining for some one to raped ‘good’? No one in the right mind would answer ‘yes’ to that question. This is because most human beings are keenly aware of the fact that sexual assault is known to be devastating.
By default, acting good toward some one implies that you are not seeking to harm them. Where as causing some one harm is automatically associated with the opposite by most thinking people. Therefore it is illogical to suggest that God is scheming for people to be raped, fall off of buildings, or get murdered, or have any number of other horrible experiences occur in their life. This is especially the case in view of the fact that the Scriptures teach that God is good to all, and the orchestration of such events would be the opposite of good.
Such things are also the opposite of ‘righteous’. By default, rape and murder are things which mankind knows intuitively to be evil. Evil, sometimes referred to as wickedness, is the opposite of righteousness. It is often characterized by acts that are selfish and that cause a great deal of harm to others, such as those originally listed. Again back to the man who hires an assassin to kill his wife. As stated, we generally view such an act as a heinous crime. People tend to look at both the man who hired the assassin as well as the assassin as being guilty of the crime, and thus it is generally prosecuted as such, where both are held accountable for their actions by the law. This is because orchestrating for something evil to happen is equally as evil as partaking in the act in and of itself.
As another illustration, take a novel written by an author which includes questionable content. It is of an extreme violent nature, even reaching to the point where you wonder whether or not there is something wrong with the author. This is due to the extreme scenes described, which fill you with revulsion and cause you to want to stop reading the story. In like manner, supposing God were the full-blown author of ‘the story’ taking place on earth, micromanaging every event the way a story-teller controls things, then wouldn’t you start to ask some questions about God?
All you have to do is look around you to see how messed up that story actually is. Rape, murder, genocide, torture, and warfare fill our planet. Some of the evil on this planet is even of an extreme nature, such as human trafficking. How can God be good and be micromanaging these events at the same time? There is an obvious contradiction between the fact that God is righteous and the idea that he has foreordained evil. If a person orchestrates evil, this implies that they are evil. If a person writes a fictional story with extreme content which is questionable, we see something as being wrong with them. If a person orchestrates the assassination of their wife, we see it as a crime.
As shown below, the Scriptures declare that God is good, that he is righteous, and that he is holy. How can God be foreordaining evil and any of this be true? In all reality, such a teaching is against the plain testimony of the Scriptures, which tell us that God would never foreordain evil. He would never have planned for it to have happened. This is against his very nature, which is love!
“The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” – Psalm 145:17.
“The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof. Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” – Psalm 97:1-2
“Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” – Psalm 45:6-7
You might even observe that Psalm 45 especially destroys this thinking. It says of God that he “lovest rightouesness, and hatest wickedness.” If he hates wickedness, why on earth would he foreordain it? Why would he foreordain for something to occur which he absolutely hates and has no pleasure in? Instead, why not foreordain for the entire planet to be righteous and holy and for this mess on earth to have never started? Are we really expected to believe that God is micromanaging, controlling, and planning for events which he absolutely hates? If he hates it so much, why not foreordain things in the opposite direction? This is especially a paradox in view of the fact that Calvinists have a tendency to claim that evil has been foreordained for the glory of the Lord, but if that is the case how can this be made to harmonize with his obvious hatred of evil found in the Scriptures?
God is not the author of evil, neither is he the author of your pain. Such teachings run contrary to plain Scriptural declarations regarding the character of God, not to mention the concept of free choice. Neither does the claim that God supposedly foreordains even the random coincidences where a person falls from a building and breaks their legs hold any water in Scripture. I know of not a single passage from Genesis to Revelation which even remotely implies this. No doubt, this is a false conclusion drawn from misinterpreted passages in the new testament which use the word “predestinate.” This however will be addressed in other posts.
The foreordination of an individual’s suffering should also put questions into one’s mind as to whether or not God is abusing his children. Those familiar with Scriptural descriptions of his character might recognize that there are many passages which describe God as a Fatherly figure. Many times he is called “God the Father”, “heavenly Father”, or simply just “the Father.” [Jude 1:1, 2 John 1:3, 1 John 2:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, Luke 11:13, James 1:17.] Is God an abusive Father who beats his children simply because he can and he has the authority and power to do so, or is he a Father who is kind and loving?
This label of ‘Father’ in a general sense paints a picture of a tender family tie. I would suspect that it is intended to convey God’s love to human minds. Family ties are some of the closest that human beings can have on earth, and are even stronger than friendships. It should be clear that God is trying to tell us something about who he is and how much he loves us through his use of such relations as a comparison of who he is. But Calvinists and Theological determinists would have us believe that God is an abusive Father, one who strictly for his own glorification will foreordain some one to fall off of a building or scheme out terrible events in human history such as the Nazis’ rise to power and their use of concentration camps to murder millions.
How can some one love and serve a God like this? Disgusting pictures such as these can only elicit hatred and revulsion from thinking persons. Were I an Agnostic I would seriously question the logic of such a picture of God, and would more than likely leave Calvinists with this response: “If that is the kind of God you serve, than I don’t want anything to do with him.” In that case, my rejection of Christianity would’ve been complete. Since I am not an agnostic, and I do not hold to these beliefs, I can still say that a theological determinist’s position is contrary to the Character of God as revealed in Scripture and that those who hold to these ideas had better re-evaluate the foundation for their thinking.
So far as free choice is concerned, not one single reference to free will in Scripture ever suggests that a person’s choices are foreordained by God. For instance, in the book of Joshua there is a common reference to free will which directly uses the word “choose.” It states, “choose this day whom ye will serve” right before a contrast of options is given. The text contains not one single reference to the choice itself being per-determined or foreordained, and therefore you might logically conclude from such passages that free will is independent of foreordination. In other words, there is no evidence from the Scriptural references to free will that God micromanages every choice that you make.
Other passages which reference this concept include Revelation 22:17 which says “whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” and “therefore choose life” in Deuteronomy 30:19. Again these statements clearly mention free will apart from outside influence, and therefore it is incorrect to assert that God foreordains all choices that a person makes. By default, if God is not foreordaining every choice, than you cannot within reason claim that God meant for whatever painful event occurred in your past.
“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” – Joshua 24:15
“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” – Revelation 22:17
“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” – Deuteronomy 30:19
If evil was done to you, it was the product of a person’s free will to choose wrong. It came about because we’re all free moral agents, capable of choosing between good and evil. Therefore good and evil are mingled together in this world, which results in bad things happening all the time. Anything horrible that has happened to you personally which was done to you by another was not something God personally brought about, but was the sole actions of the person responsible alone.
Which brings up the point of personal responsibility. The Bible brings out this concept clearly in Ezekiel 18 and 33. This is through passages which clearly reference wicked men turning from their ways and living an upright life, and righteous men doing the reverse, with God rewarding each accordingly. There are similar statements in Ezekiel 33, in addition to some references to accountability regarding a refusal to give a warning message when one sees a spiritual ‘sword’ coming. In addition to these passages, one would only have to read every text across the Scriptures dealing with the fate of the wicked to learn that God clearly holds us accountable for our actions.
There is a problem not seen by those who advocate such ideas as Theological Determinism, and this boils right on down to the question of moral accountability. How can God hold you accountable for something which he himself foreordained you to do? Foreordination implies that a person is fixed on that path, and that they could not have gone in the opposite direction. A Calvinist I was conversing with even admitted that something which God has predestined cannot be resisted by the person who was foreordained to commit the act.
It is therefore unreasonable for God to hold you accountable for anything if everything you do is schemed out by God, since in this case God himself would be actually the one who originated the act. How can you be held accountable if you couldn’t walk contrary to the plan? According to Calvinistic thinking, you were destined to commit the wicked acts, and you couldn’t have acted differently. A person who holds to this thinking could almost blame God for every wrong act they commit.
In the larger scheme of things, these issues of accountability should put the question of whether or not God has foreordained your pain into proper perspective. Supposing something terrible was done to you by another individual, God holds that person accountable for their actions, as though they committed it out of their own free choice. Essentially the suggestion is that they did it according to Scripture, rather than God being the architect of the event. I would have to conclude in view of these facts that the meme that I had encountered was produced by false ideas regarding Christianity.