Today I’d like to once again crack open the Feedback Files, where I answer questions that have been sent to me by readers of this site. I decided to post this one because it challenged me to deal with some issues that I have often questioned but never pondered.
“Certain aspects of reformed theology make a lot of sense to me, but there’s one question no one has ever been able to answer for me: if thorough depravity is correct, and there’s no way any of us can come to Christ unless God chooses us…why doesn’t God just choose everybody?”
First, I’d like to say that I am not so sure that there is an answer to this question that will satisfy the natural man. That is to say, that without the Spirit’s help I don’t know that we can answer this question in a way that will make a sinful person, like you or me, feel satisfied with the answer. Thankfully, as will see, God has addressed this concern in the Bible.
In Romans 9 Paul discusses election at length, concluding in verse 18 “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” He then turns to this very objection. “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?'” In other words, if a person cannot become a believer because he is not among the elect, how can God find fault with him? How can God condemn a person who lacks the ability to be saved? Paul answers, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'” (Romans 9:18-19). Ultimately, Paul says, God is sovereign and is able to do what He wishes. As mere created beings we have no right to question His sovereign decrees.
But God is not unfair or unjust in His decision to save only some. Allow me to present an analogy, albiet a weak one. If I walk through the streets of Toronto and choose to treat one homeless person to a lunch buffet, does this mean I have been unfair to the other thousands of homeless people living on the streets of Toronto? No, of course not. Extending grace to one person does not mean I have wronged all others. I have no moral obligation to extend equal grace to each person. In the same way, God is free to extend grace to whomever He chooses. Despite this freedom of Divine choice, as humans we tend to recognize that it is unfair to treat equals in a different way. It would seem unfair of me to extend special love to only one of my children, especially a love that is greater than that I express towards my other child. Yet I have no right to impose my finite, human morality on God. As Wayne Grudem says in his Systematic Theology, “If God ultimately decided to create some creatures to be saved and others not to be saved, then that was his sovereign choice, and we have no moral or scriptural basis on which we can insist that it was not fair” (page 683).
When we study the Scripture we see that Jesus never excused unbelievers on the basis of God’s choice. In John 8:43-44 He says, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Jesus does not say, “You do not believe because you are not elect.” He tells these people that they are not saved because of their own decision – their willful rejection of God. A few chapters earlier Jesus says, “yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:40). Jesus is clear that the fault lies with the individual and not with God.
It has become something of a cliche, but it bears mentioning that God does not condemn anyone to hell. He does not need to. Humans condemn themselves to hell with their willful rejection of their Creator. Nobody forced Adam and Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit. As free moral agents they chose to reject God, knowing full well that they were disobeying Him. Since that time every other human being has deliberately chosen to disobey God. We each condemn ourselves to hell by this act of rejection. Yet God is gracious to extend grace to some, providing them the promise and assurance of a return to Paradise.
Before I close, I would like to point out that questions of this nature are not limited to the Reformed understanding of Christianity. Even Arminians must wrestle with this question: “Why would God create humans that He knew would reject Him and go to hell?” If God is truly sovereign and omniscient, knowing the end from the beginning as He claims in the Bible, He must know who will accept and reject Him. He must have known this from eternity past. Yet He still went ahead and created billions of men and women who would choose hell over heaven. So regardless of whether a Christian is Reformed or Arminian, He must deal with difficult questions pertaining to God’s foreknowledge. Of course Open Theists find a way around this by suggesting that God does not foreknow the decisions made by free moral agents and He continually hopes that some will choose Him, but this solution is both unsatisfying and patently unscriptural.
In the end, as with so many other doctrines, we must take our comfort not in fully understanding how or why God works, but in His Sovereignty. As humans we often allow our emotions to dictate our theology. We cannot conceive of a God so “unfair” the He would create people who would inevitably go to hell. Yet we must be certain always to base our theology on a proper understanding of God’s Word. When we do that, we will be able to take comfort in and feel emotion about what is true, rather than what we wish were true.