The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Is Calvinistic Universalism the Best of All Possible Worlds?

By: Thomas F. Booher

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I had a wonderful discussion with a Christian who I would best describe (based just on one extended conversation) as an Anglo-Catholic in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), and a big fan of C.S. Lewis. He is a philosophy professor, and with him I probably had the most stimulating conversation about God and Christianity that I've ever had with a non-Calvinist. 

In fact, he said the one thing he was pretty sure that he wasn't, was a Calvinist. A lot of other things were still on the table for him, but Calvinism probably wasn't (but we'll see). Yet in a real sense, this didn't bother me too much. It is akin to our admiration as Reformed believers for C.S. Lewis (who was also very much like an Anglo-Catholic) or G.K. Chesterton, both of whom explicitly rejected Calvinism as making God into something evil, not unlike my philosophy friend. 

I'd like in a separate post to talk about justification by faith alone, and what we should and should not mean and claim (as Reformed folk) when holding to this doctrine, especially when it comes to bear on those who reject justification by faith alone on paper but in practice and in their hearts seem to hold to the same overarching goal as we do, which is giving God alone the glory for salvation (and all things). Alas, that post will have to wait for another day. 

Anyway, we talked for several hours, and probably agreed with each other on theological matters half of the time, give or take. He did semi-jokingly say that about 60 percent of what is in the Westminster Confession of Faith is correct, so maybe we have more agreement than disagreement! But one thing that we batted around was Christian Universalism, or what my friend called hopeful universalism. Not to say this was his firm position, but he was willing to speculate that perhaps there will be postmortem repentance and salvation, and that given enough time, everyone would come to know God's love through Christ. Of course, I kept operating from my Calvinistic/God is sovereign over everything mindset, so I momentarily forgot that my friend, who does not believe in predestination, election, providence, etc. in a Calvinistic sense, couldn't have a guarantee that everyone would trust in Christ, even millions of years after they died, though it was hopeful that they would come to Christ eventually, given enough time. 

I teased that he should at least become a Calvinistic Universalist, and that that would be an upgrade in my book from a non-Calvinist hopeful Universalist. That wasn't enticing to him because of his concerns about Calvinism. And the weight of his arguments, like most who oppose Calvinism, is that it seems to make God a moral monster, predestining some to hell from all eternity, never having a saving love for them, so that though men make choices according to their natures, and in that sense have wills, these choices are predetermined choices, choices that are guaranteed to occur, somehow due to the fore-ordination of God. He had other arguments of course but this was a big sticking point.

In many ways, I think the biggest hiccup for non-Calvinist Christians is the concept of purposed evil: fore-ordained damnation/reprobation, for the glory of God, by God. My friend seemed to start with and see the most basic principle of the Triune God to be love, sacrificial love, and that a truly loving God could not and would not purpose evil and fore-ordain reprobation. In short, a loving God who purposes evil and eternal human suffering due to His wrath is simply a contradiction. God is either loving and does not purpose evil (or at least doesn't fore-ordain it), or He purposes evil and is not loving, and in fact is evil Himself. 

Of course, that was my hurdle as well, before I was a Calvinist. I knew that what my Christian school was teaching me concerning salvation contained a lot of rubbish. Salvation was usually stripped down to saying a prayer for salvation, and as long as you said it and "meant" it, you could be sure you were saved. There was no concept of being set free from slavery to sin, of the need of being born again/regeneration, and the necessity of good works (non-meritorious of course) in order to ultimately enter into the kingdom of heaven on the last day. 

So I explained to him that I think the only way one can embrace Calvinism is to be persuaded that it is precisely what Scripture teaches. That is how it went for me at least. I could not escape John 6, Ephesians 1-2, Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, and especially Romans 9. Of course these passages (and others) don't merely give you the theology; it is interwoven with reasons for the theology, why God is like this, why we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1), and so on and so forth. So, I was learning not only that Calvinism is biblical, but at the same time why Calvinism was good, although admittedly in my puny mind I basically had to take it one bite at a time. I had to digest that Calvinism is before I could fully embrace and consider how Calvinism is good and glorious

And as I said, my friend was a very stimulating conversation partner. He brought up some things countering my arguments for Calvinism that I hadn't heard before, or at least they were presented with a slightly different angle that I had not been challenged with before. 

One of them that I wanted to write about here was the idea that God doesn't really redeem all things if God doesn't redeem every single person. In short, if there are evil men (and demons and Satan himself I suppose) doing evil things into the eschaton, for all eternity, then God doesn't totally win. He doesn't have complete victory. God's goodness, love, grace, mercy, and kindness has in some measure failed. Evil is not totally vanquished, and the last enemy, death, has not totally been defeated after all (1 Cor. 15:25-26), for there is a continual death in the lake of fire forever. I think my friend might argue that for death to truly be defeated, it has to be no more. It has to cease to exist. And for evil to be no more, it has to cease to exist. If men are suffering eternal death, torment in hell forever, and God is pouring out His wrath forever because His wrath is not satisfied eternally, then the wages of sin are forever being poured out by God, and this is an incomplete state, a state that cannot be the final, eternal telos of all creation. So God is not fully satisfied, and evil, sinful, demonic men and actual demons are continuing to sin and spew forth evil from the pits of hell, blaspheming God and presumably harming and defiling one another, forever! 

Can we as Calvinists (or anyone who believes in an eternal hell inhabited by sinful creatures) really claim that this is good? Can we actually say that this is the best of all possible worlds, where evil exists forever, where God's wrath and justice are actively being exercised forever because of rebellion, rather than wrath and justice being put to rest because death and evil are no more? 

In short, is this really an eternal state in which God is most glorified and God's people are most satisfied and amazed at His glory, or does it imply that God hasn't really tied up all the loose ends, God hasn't really eradicated and vanquished evil altogether after all, and when you add the Calvinistic/predestining component to it, those who are suffering in hell forever are doing so according to God's eternal plan?! 

Given all that, I ask this to my Calvinist compatriots: isn't a better alternative Universalism, and a Calvinistic Universalism at that? Is that not both the best of all possible worlds, and sort of having your cake and eating it too? We can have all the "positive" things of Calvinism, like being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, we can consistently and rightly give God all the credit and glory for our salvation, we can maintain most everything that we already maintain about the elect and God's love for us, and also not have to gulp at the flip side, the "underbelly" as some might call it, of Calvinism; namely, reprobation, the eternal damnation of individuals predestined/foreordained by God to destruction? 

Leaving aside the idea of Annihilationism (because I think that would be another option here that would have to be weighed when considering the best of all possible worlds) for today, should we as Calvinists admit that, at least to our finite, human minds, Calvinistic Universalism seems to us to be a more glorious and better alternative than double predestination, and that we must simply accept double predestination by faith in God and Scripture, trusting that somehow, someway in heaven we will understand that double predestination is better than single predestination to life, and an ultimate Universalism? Must we as Calvinists say that, from this side of heaven, we can never expect to understand the good of reprobation and hell, and must simply accept on (blind) faith that God's ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isa 55:8-9)? 

Well, no. While I grant that Isaiah 55:8-9 and similar passages do give us Calvinists an "out" to some extent, thanks be to God I don't think we are left in this unenviable position of having to argue, "Well the Bible says it, I don't see how it could possibly be as good as Universalism (or even a hell that was not fore-ordained by God), in fact it does look rather wicked and malicious to me in some ways, but I believe it because God says it in His Word, and His thoughts are higher than mine, and after all the secret things belong to the Lord (Jer. 29:29)". 

First of all, if you read all of Jeremiah 29:29, and then all of Jeremiah 29, you see that the covenant is being renewed, and you see God explaining why He has judged His people and poured out His wrath upon them. These are parts of the things that are "revealed" and belong to us and our children "forever" according to Jeremiah 29:29. In fact, they have been revealed to us so that we may "do all the words of this law". So far am I from arguing that we cannot know why evil exists and why God judges it and pours out His wrath that I would instead argue that Scripture is plainly teaching us this: if we do not know why God does these things (judge, condemn, damn, predestine to hell even), then we cannot fully know how to please God, we cannot fully know how to obey Him and take delight in obeying Him, and we cannot fully know the love of God and privileges that we have in Christ. And all that is because we don't really understand Him, don't really know Him for as He is, and thus fail to see just how glorious He is. 

How much more is this true in the New Testament, now that we are the temples of God and the Spirit has come in full measure to indwell us, renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2; note the renewing of the mind is so that we may discern what the will of God is, and what is good, acceptable, and perfect) to such an extent that Paul can truly say that we now have the hidden wisdom of God and can understand the "deep things of God" because we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:9-16). Note also that 1 Corinthians 2 pertains to the deep things of Christ, of His being crucified, and thus the nature of redemption and the atonement. So this all very much touches on questions like Calvinism (predestination and reprobation), especially when we note that 1 Cor. 2:7 says that Paul is discussing/revealing "the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory". 

So, knowing these things is critical because it is to know the wisdom and glory of God that He ordained about Christ and Him crucified from eternity past, for the glory and good of His people (and ultimately for God Himself). We are not restricted to having to say that the person and work of Christ is (totally) mysterious, at the very least in the sense of being unable to see the goodness and wisdom of it. We can see its wisdom, goodness, and glory, and as Calvinists, we can see the glory and goodness of all our theology, because God has revealed it to us in His word, and given us the minds of Christ by the power of His Spirit to understand it, see it, and love it more than any other alternative, including Universalism. 

So then, Calvinistic Universalism is not, and should not appear to be, superior to us than our traditional Calvinism. Traditional Calvinism is not only more biblical but more glorious (whatever is biblical is necessarily most glorious for it is God's self-disclosure), double predestination is more glorious than single predestination, reprobation is a more glorious, righteous, true, and beautiful reality than a teaching which says that in the end, everyone will come to faith in Christ, where death and evil will exist no more. And now, to demonstrate this claim...

...and to give myself some protection. I wish to demonstrate this claim, admitting this is the first time I have attempted to demonstrate my above claim (in precisely this fashion at least), and adding that I wish to be able to pad my defense at a future time, as surely some counters will be given to this, and surely I will develop my thoughts on this further and come up with more arguments to supplement what I will write here....

Okay, so first I want us to turn to 1 Corinthians 15:20-28:

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God[c] has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Now obviously I cannot defend every tenet of Calvinism all at once, and this is already an exceedingly long post. But for now, to put forward a very incomplete defense against a Universalistic interpretation of this text, I'd simply point out that v. 23 notes that it is "those who belong to Christ" that are the "all" who shall be made alive. I think any true Christian agrees that you have to be in Christ, have to have faith in Christ, to be made alive. Christian Universalism would say as much. 

And I cannot avoid briefly discussing Romans 5, which has very similar language to 1 Corinthians 15. Of particular importance is the comparison between Adam and Christ, and how they are similar and how they are different. Romans 5 says plainly that Adam is a type of Christ, but a type/shadow is not identical to the antitype/substance, and so you also see that there are differences between the two (emphasis is mine): 

16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.

We see in v. 16 the covenantal headship of Adam, that his one trespass brought "condemnation [for all]" but the free gift of salvation in and through Christ covers "many trespasses" and brings justification. Now we should all be able to agree that Scripture teaches that one must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven (Jesus to Nicodemus) and that you must repent and believe the gospel in order to be justified (Rom. 3:21-26). So you cannot get into resurrection life and in the good graces of God apart from Christ. So in Romans 5:18, we cannot say that Paul is contradicting what he just said two chapters earlier; we cannot say that when Paul says that Christ's one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men, that that means all men without exception. The all men here would refer to all who repent and believe in Christ. 

Note also in v. 19 the language switches from "all" to "many" concerning who was made a sinner and who will be made righteous. Obviously this is not saying that there are some natural born children of Adam who in fact were not represented by Adam and are actually somehow unfallen and not sinners. The Greek word here for "many" is polus, which can mean great in magnitude or quantity, or the many, or the masses, as it would mean here and in Romans 5:15. All of that to say, it is not denying that all mankind has fallen in Adam, nor is it denying that all who are in Christ will be made alive. "The many" or "the mass" that is in Christ, which of course I would understand as the elect from all the rest of Scripture, will certainly be made righteous, will be justified, will enter heaven. But the important question is this: How do you get into Adam, and how do you get into Christ? To be in Adam all you have to do is exist, to be born. But to be in Christ, fully and ultimately, you have to be born again, you have to be bought with the blood of Christ, you have to be united to Him through faith. 

Well, the Christian Universalist might still argue that, eventually, given enough time, everyone will repent and believe, and thus be ushered into heaven, and that is when death is truly defeated and 1 Cor. 15:22, 24, and 26 is fulfilled. Only when everyone repents and is in heaven is death defeated and Christ has subjected and put everything under His feet. Only then will Christ be subjected again to the Father, turning the kingdom over to Him, so that Christ and God may be all in all (v. 24, 28). The problem with that interpretation is that 1 Cor. 15:23-24 says that the Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection life, and then "at his coming those who belong to Christ" will be raised to be with Him. But note this occurs at His 2nd coming, thus just prior to the final judgment, and in v. 24 we read that "then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power". That's a very important verse. It seems the end comes when Christ returns, and the word in Greek for end there is telos. So the fulfillment of all things, the end goal, the telos of creation, occurs at Christ's second coming, and it is at that point in time that the kingdom is delivered by Jesus to the Father, and every rule, authority, and power is destroyed. 

This does not leave room for postmortem repentance, or at the very least, it demonstrates that you can have unrepentant people who are in hell, not united to Christ and therefore not saved and with God in heaven (therefore still in a state of death/sin/separation from God) and yet the kingdom of God is complete and death can be considered defeated, and every enemy has been made a footstool for His feet, and the end/telos can come. Universalism is not required for the telos, in fact the text would imply that the eternal subjection of the enemies of God and the elect are part of the good of God's kingdom, and a good eternal state to be in. 

And I think the footstool language is very important. Part of the eternal kingdom of God, part of God's reign, is putting his enemies under his feet. That is a far cry from redeeming them with the blood of Christ and ushering them into His kingdom, whether it be before or after they die! 

The Universalist may object and say that there must be an unspoken, intervening gap of time, a lot of time apparently, between 1 Cor. 15:23-24, that "then comes the end" must really be a pretty long time after the 2nd coming of Christ. All I can say is that the text pushes in the opposite direction of this interpretation, and I would say that is an example of eisegesis, of reading into the text what you want/expect to be there, or what is required to be there for your system of theology (in this case Universalism) to work. No doubt some would charge me of the same thing, but again, the theology we are bringing to bear on any given text has to be determined/established by other Scriptures, and I don't have the time to try to demonstrate all of Calvinism/the Calvinistic understanding of the elect at this moment. 

Moving down to 1 Cor. 15:54ff. we read that death is swallowed up in victory when the perishable puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on immortality. It is not required that every single person who has ever lived put on the imperishable, for the victory is "through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:57). In other words, for all of God's people, all the elect, and for Christ and for God Himself, once all His chosen people for whom He died are clothed with immortality, then death is defeated and victory over the grave is won. 

And here is where 2 Thessalonians 1 is incredibly important. Scripture echoes this in many places, but this is a quite prominent example of the goodness of the eternal destruction of the wicked for the sake of God Himself and His elect/beloved (emphasis mine): 

5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[b] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 

R.C. Sproul was fond of saying that Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else in Scripture because if He didn't do so we wouldn't believe in hell at all. Jesus says in Matt. 25:45-46 that those who do not love God and love others and serve them will "go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." 

Now I do not know why God would speak of an eternal punishment that one enters unless the punishment is truly unending, and when it is put in parallel with eternal life for the believer, the biblical evidence is overwhelming and undeniable that God punishes those who reject the gospel concerning Christ eternally, forever, and the implication is that there is no hope of repentance postmortem. Perhaps one might try to argue that the punishment would be eternal or is eternal until one repents postmortem, but that is not what the text says. All signs point to the reality of those suffering eternally in hell by the wrath and justice of God. The punishment in 2 Thess. 1 is eternal destruction, not destruction that will be eternal unless/until you repent. There is a real finality, a telos to this. This is a permanent state, and it is motivated by the justice of God for Himself and His people. 

So far I've largely just pointed out what the Bible says and have tried to argue that hell is, that eternal punishment and God's wrath is, and I've yet to really argue directly for the goodness of it (though at times I couldn't help myself). This is following the basic pattern of how I first came to accept Calvinism, by seeing that it is the inescapable teaching of God. Only then do I think I was really ready to accept that it could be (must be) good, and investigate how it is that it could be good. Likewise, in brief form I have tried to push upon everyone the weight of God's own mouth, the weight of what He Himself has revealed about Himself, about hell and judgment and wrath, and the eternal nature of it all, so that hopefully I have persuaded you or at least given you much reason to believe that God makes unavoidable the reality of eternal punishment and destruction into the eschaton, into the eternal state.

But now, if this is so, how is it good? How is it better than God redeeming everyone? Isn't grace and mercy greater than justice and wrath? Isn't the total swallowing up of death into life in Christ better than only some swallowing up of death into life in Christ? My argument is no, Universalism it is not better, and my primary reason (and I think there are many more but I am just going to focus on one or two that come to mind at the moment and that prompted me to write this mammoth post to begin with) is that if everyone is redeemed, we are swallowing up more than just death. We would in fact be swallowing up God's justice, and that would be a reprehensible thing to do. 

Let me explain my meaning if you haven't caught on to it already. If everyone gets grace, it not only "cheapens" it in the sense that now everyone is getting it and you are no more in a privileged position than anyone else (in other words, the elect/non-elect distinction is dissolved), but further and perhaps more importantly, there is no active and eternal display before all creation of the righteous justice and judgment and wrath of God. Not only is there no display of it, but at least on a Calvinistic system of Universalism, God's intention and design was to eternally not display His justice, judgment, and wrath. This can't be a better system than traditional Calvinism.

On a non-Calvinistic system, well, in my book you have a mountain more of problems, because God is at best reacting to what man does rather than being proactive and planning, and how it "shakes out" particularly in regards to salvation is not up to God but to man, so that God cannot even control the telos of His creation in the final analysis. He might be able to try to guide it or direct it, but unless you are willing to argue that He can/will savingly draw a person to Himself irresistibly then you cannot say that He is sovereign and in complete control of history and His creation (but if God is all about love and salvation, why reject irresistible grace? Why deny that God's love can be so strong and amazing that we can be willingly drawn into fellowship and communion with Him?).

Man was given dominion to fill the earth and subdue it in the Garden of Eden. The eternal plan of God was Creation, Fall, Redemption, and that ultimately Christ would, as the God-Man, exercise dominion, filling the earth and subduing it, perfectly and visibly displaying the invisible God to man and all creation through the flesh of man in the incarnation. 

Part of exercising dominion from the beginning was to guard and protect the Garden. Adam failed to do so, not protecting his wife from Satan, the wicked intruder, and instead becoming a child of the devil by eating the forbidden fruit and falling under Satan's power, rebelling against God. Christ comes to do what Adam fails to do, namely to crush the head of that serpent, of Satan, to put him and all His seed under His foot (Gen. 3:15). Romans 16:20 tells us that God will soon crush Satan under our/the church's feet! That is in the immediate context of dealing with false teachers, indicating that the enemies of the church/particularly the false teachers are under the sway of demonic influence, are children/offspring of the devil that are at enmity with the seed of the woman/the elect in Christ (1 Jn. 3:10; Gen. 3:15), and that the false teachers will be vanquished by Christ through His church (especially by exercising church discipline and silencing false teachers). 

My point in all this is that the trajectory of Scripture, from the protoevangelium in Gen. 3:15 all the way through, is that there is a divide between Satan and his followers and those who are born again in Christ. Therefore, it is very much fitting for the glory of God and good of His people that the destruction of Satan and his seed be displayed for all eternity, as part of the "spoils of war" and as a continued sign of the true subjection of everything to Christ our conquering Warrior-King, that everything has been made a footstool for His feet, so that He really can be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). 

So for the Universalist, has justice been expressed by God, has evil been vanquished and destroyed, and is evil under the foot of God and His people? Do God's people reign victorious over sin, death, and the devil? Well, I think that's a hard question to answer for the Universalist, because justice, death, and sin has been so swallowed up that it ceases to exist. The short answer to me (and I think God's answer) would have to be no, for there is no eternal reign of God and His people over sin, death, and the devil, there is no eternal display of justice and righteous wrath over the defeated enemies of God, because there are no longer any enemies of God. Justice has been swallowed by grace, love, and mercy. God has swallowed up one aspect of Himself with another aspect of Himself. This means that God has undergone change/mutation, which means He either wasn't perfect initially (before justice was swallowed up by love, grace, and mercy) or He was perfect but has downgraded Himself such that justice is no more and there is only love and grace. Perhaps one would counter and say God does not have to demonstrate His justice and wrath eternally to be just and righteously wrathful, but to not display that which is glorious calls into question the wisdom of God, and whether or not justice and wrath really is glorious.

At bottom we either believe that we are sinners worthy of the just wrath of God, and thus we cling to Christ for salvation from the eternal punishment that we deserve, or we do not believe this. And if we do not believe this, then we don't think we need saving. And if we do not think we need saving, then we do not think we need Christ as Savior, and probably not as Lord either. If we have a problem with hell I would submit that we really have a problem with the character of God, especially with His justice and wrath. So many want a God devoid of justice and wrath, or else are disputing that anyone deserves to come under the condemnation of God's just wrath (for various reasons, but probably because they don't like the fact that God chose to represent us by Adam's headship; we kick back against the notion that we can inherit a sinful nature and be held accountable for it, liable to eternal destruction for a sinful nature we didn't ask for and something we didn't seek out ourselves). Establishing the fairness of God at this point would take another entire post, but the short answer is God is sovereign and can set up things how He pleases, and He doesn't impute things to us that are not really and truly ours.  

But let's now consider Romans 9:17-24. I choose this passage because it shows that God throughout Scripture, citing Pharaoh as exhibit A, has structured things such that His power and glory are shown by destroying evil people (like Pharaoh who fancied himself to be God, not unlike Satan and all his seed). The drowning of Pharaoh's army is something that would cause Moses and the Israelites to shout for joy and sing praises to God! Ex. 15 is no joke; the Lord is a man of war, and God is seen to be glorious and powerful as a man of war in drowning Pharaoh and his mighty army: 

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness, 

awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? 

12 You stretched out your right hand; 

the earth swallowed them. 

And again see the glory of God judging His people's enemies while He leads the people He has purchased (the elect, not all, not the enemies of God) to safety on His holy mountain (typifying the new heavens and new earth, ultimately) where the Lord will reign with His people and only His people forever and ever: 

Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;

trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;

all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.

16 Terror and dread fall upon them;

because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,

till your people, O Lord, pass by,

till the people pass by whom you have purchased.

17 You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,

the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode,

the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.

18 The Lord will reign forever and ever.”

Now with that background we can understand the context of Romans 9 where the matter of Pharaoh is concerned, which is in turn applied to all of us, not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles: 

17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 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?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Besides the matters of election and predestination in general, note specifically in v. 23 the purpose clause, "in order that", which indicates that the vessels of wrath that God prepared for destruction serve the purpose of making known to the vessels of mercy/the elect, the riches of God's glory. How? Well, we were just given the example of Pharaoh, and we saw the song of praise that Moses and the Israelites sang to God for His righteous wrath and judgment against the enemies of God, the Egyptians, who are just one example of the seed of Satan. 

So now for a big assertion. I believe Scripture is clear that God's justice and God's grace/mercy are equally ultimate. That shouldn't be hard to accept, particularly if you are a Calvinist. We cannot say that some aspects of God are more fundamental and important to Him than others without really saying that there is tension, change,  parts, contradiction even in God. God desires to show His wrath and power forever, and so He fashioned vessels of wrath for destruction, and He also desires to make His glorious grace and mercy known for those vessels of mercy prepared for glory, of both Jews and Gentiles according to v. 24. Now understand that God cannot fully make His glory known to the vessels of mercy without the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (by cannot I mean He has chosen to demonstrate things in this dependent fashion)! 

God desires not only to display His righteous wrath and judgment against those who have rebelled against Him willingly, but He also desires that His eternal display of judgment and justice would communicate the privileges of mercy and salvation, along with His power, to the elect/the vessels of mercy! So those in hell serve a good purpose, for they reveal God's glory to God's people. Far from those in hell being a sign of incompleteness of God's plan or a failure to redeem everything and bring everything into subjection, it is a sign of the perfect completeness, destruction, subjection, and end/telos of evil -- to exist forever in a position of subjection, to bear the marks of being defeated and demolished! 

I don't recall the exact location of the quote by C.S. Lewis, but I think it is helpful to note here. Looking it up online, I see it is from The Weight of Glory (emphasis mine)

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This is where I like to pretend that C.S. Lewis was a Calvinist. But in all seriousness, I think he is saying something very Calvinistic here, that for those in Christ, we will be like gods (Jn. 10:34ff) in glory, and we already bear the image of God after all. And for those outside of Christ, they will be seen as what can only be described as nightmarish creatures in hell, divorced from Christ and His redemption. The objects of wrath, those devoted to destruction to display God's glory forever, are nightmarish, wicked beings. That is what you and I are apart from Christ, and I believe that is why part of the glory of heaven is the elect being reminded of what they were, and what they deserved from the hand of God, forever by seeing those who are suffering under the righteous wrath of God in hell. Those in hell, like what we all once were, are truly unworthy of pity, unworthy of grace and mercy. That is precisely why we are saved by grace and mercy, because we were all utterly unworthy of it!

So the upshot is that in traditional Calvinism, evil is held in subjection and destruction in perpetuity, forever defeated. God's people don't have to wonder about it, for it is ever on display, and the smoke of the torment of those who are in league with Satan will go up forever and ever in the presence of the Lamb (Rev. 14:10-11). Those in hell are in a real sense in God's kingdom, but as enemies who are defeated. Those in hell will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and give God glory in doing so (Phil. 2:10-11), but this is not a confession of faith but more like something that they hate to admit but cannot deny. Satan will be cast into hell and tormented forever and ever (Rev. 20:10), Death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire/death forever (Rev. 20:14), and yes, all those not found in the book of life are likewise thrown into the second death, the lake of fire, along with the devil and death itself (Rev. 20:15). 

As the new heavens and new earth come in Revelation 21, Scripture makes clear that for those with God in glory/heaven death will be no more and they will have life (Rev. 21:4, 7) but that for the faithless and vile people, they will experience the second death in the lake of fire/hell (Rev. 21:8). In heaven are those who are washed white, pure and holy as the bride of Christ, but there are those on the outside who are immoral and unbelieving (Rev. 22:14-15).

So in the final analysis, the best of all possible worlds is a world where the elect reign with God and Christ in glory forever, partaking of the tree of life where sin, death, the devil and all his seed have been destroyed, and are forever on display as under the subjection of God and His people, suffering the just and righteous wrath of God eternally in hell. Like Moses and the Israelites in Exodus 15, we will praise God for all that He is, including His righteous judgment and destruction of the wicked; for it is glorious, and it is good, and but for the sovereign grace of God, we too would be suffering his just judgment rather than receiving His mercy and love through Christ! 

And to all this we say, glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost! Amen. 

1 comment:

  1. I wrote a response to Thomas Talbott's idea of Christ Victorious, and it touches on some of the things you mention here, especially 1 Cor 15 and the resurrection.