It is a remarkable thing that, outside of Reformed circles, it seems to be widely assumed that the attraction of the doctrine of predestination is that it is reasonable. This is nothing but an assumption. The Reformed churches do not confess the “free grace of election,” to use the language of the Synod of Dort (1618–19), because it makes sense to us or because it is what reason tells us but because it is what we understand Scripture to teach. In this we agree with Luther that it was Erasmus who was placing reason over Scripture. Luther wrote:

This, then, is the place and the time for us to adore, not those Corycian caverns of yours, but the true Majesty in his awful wonders and incomprehensible judgments, and to say: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Yet we are nowhere more irreverent and rash than in probing into and arguing about these very mysteries and unsearchable judgments, though all the while we put on an air of incredible reverence as regards searching the Holy Scriptures, which God has commanded us to search [John 5:39]. Here we do not search, but there, where he has forbidden us to search, we do nothing but search, with never-ending temerity, not to say blasphemy. Or is there no temerity in the searching that tries to make the entirely free foreknowledge of God harmonize with our freedom, so that we are prepared to detract from the foreknowledge of God unless it allows freedom to us, or else, if it imposes necessity on us, to say with the murmurers and blasphemers: “Why does He still find fault? Who can resist his will? This, then, is the place and the time for us to adore, not those Corycian caverns of yours, but the true Majesty in his awful wonders and incomprehensible judgments, and to say: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Yet we are nowhere more irreverent and rash than in probing into and arguing about these very mysteries and unsearchable judgments, though all the while we put on an air of incredible reverence as regards searching the Holy Scriptures, which God has commanded us to search [John 5:39]. Here we do not search, but there, where he has forbidden us to search, we do nothing but search, with never-ending temerity, not to say blasphemy. Or is there no temerity in the searching that tries to make the entirely free foreknowledge of God harmonize with our freedom, so that we are prepared to detract from the foreknowledge of God unless it allows freedom to us, or else, if it imposes necessity on us, to say with the murmurers and blasphemers: “Why does He still find fault? Who can resist his will? (Luther’s Works, 33.189)

This is not to say that Luther was opposed to giving to reason any role whatever in this discussion, since, in the very next sentence he argued “natural reason itself is forced to admit” that God imposes necessity upon us and that he is not (contra Open Theism) surprised by our choices (ibid).

He understood why Erasmus et al., were offended by the doctrine of predestination:

Admittedly, it gives the greatest possible offense to common sense or natural reason that God by his own sheer will should abandon, harden, and damn men as if he enjoyed the sins and the vast, eternal torments of his wretched creatures, when he is preached as a God of such great mercy and goodness, etc. It has been regarded as unjust, as cruel, as intolerable, to entertain such an idea about God, and this is what has offended so many great men during so many centuries. And who would not be offended? I myself was offended more than once, and brought to the very depth and abyss of despair, so that I wished I had never been created a man, before I realized how salutary that despair was, and how near to grace (ibid., 190).

Synod was facing a similar challenge from the Remonstrants. Like Erasmus a century earlier, they too thought it unreasonable to say that God elects unconditionally and, in his good pleasure, leaves some sinners in their fallen state.

Art. XVIII. To those who murmur at the free grace of election, and just severity of reprobation, we answer with the Apostle: ‘Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?’ (Rom. 9:20); and quote the language of our Saviour: ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?’ (Matt. 20:15). And therefore with holy adoration of these mysteries, we exclaim, in the words of the Apostle: ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counselor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.’ (Rom. 11:33–36.)

With Luther, we turn to the Word of God (sola scriptura), namely, to Romans 9:20, Matthew 20:15, and to Romans 11:33–36. The decrees of God are better adored than investigated. With Luther, we recognize that to contemplate the divine decree is to bring one to despair, which is salutary, because that drives to the grace of God in Christ.

Scripture gives three responses to what philosophers call “the problem of evil.” Of course, even putting the problem this way prejudices the question. As someone, somewhere said, the question is not why is there pain and suffering. The question is why, after the fall, there should be any good thing in the world? After all, it is not as if God did not make the world good and clean. It was we who defied God’s holy law and defiled his holy garden. Properly, by justice, he owed us nothing but wrath and judgment.

The biblical response to evil and suffering is to talk about law courts, our status as clay, and the cross. To ask, “who are you O man?” is to raise the question of standing, which is a legal question. As in Job 38, in Romans 9 God reminds us creatures that whatever difficulties we have with the problem of evil, we lack standing to bring charges against God. In order to bring a case, the complainant must have standing, the right to bring a complaint. We lack such standing because we are made of clay, because we are creatures. We are not competent to question God, who, being the Creator, can do what he will with his creatures. Finally, however great the problem of evil, God the Son became incarnate and entered into the world to meet evil face to face. WE cannot raise our fists to God without raising our fists to the sinless, righteous Son of God, who obeyed and suffered on behalf of sinners.

The doctrines of election and reprobation are not the product of natural reason. They are revealed truths. For us to speak of election is to speak of God’s undeserved favor to sinners, i.e., grace, which is not nature. The testimony of Scripture, as we have already seen in this series so far, is compelling. It was the Remonstrants who, in the judgment of the Reformed churches, placed reason over Scripture. We may be wrong—I do not think that we are—but the reader should know that we are driven to our conclusion that God elects unconditionally and passes over some sinners by the teaching of Scripture.

R. Scott Clark, Escondido.

Here are all the posts in this series.

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