Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Calvinist’s dilemma

I was reading Psalm 127 last night, and it occurred to me how perfectly that illustrates the Calvinist position. The Calvinist position is sort of strange in this way. We hold that God is omnipotent and that he absolutely controls everything that comes to pass. We also hold that man is indeed responsible for his sin against God; Adam was not some cosmic robot on whom God was playing a sick joke, and neither are we. Humans are moral creatures created in the image of God, and they have real responsibility to obey his commandments.

That being said, I entitled my post "The Calvinist’s dilemma" for a reason. defines a dilemma as "A situation that requires a choice between options that are or seem equally unfavorable or mutually exclusive." This is usually how those of a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian position attack the Calvinist doctrine of Predestination. They would suggest that God lets man have the final say in his own salvation; this implies of course that God does not. They say that if God has the final say in the salvation of individuals, then we are mere robots on Earth. We have no real freedom, and we are just puppets. However good this sounds from a purely logical point of view, the scriptures do not present it that way. On the contrary, the scriptures take Calvinist position on the matter. It is not my goal here to present a total defense for the doctrines of grace. For this, I recommend Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion especially Book 3 or (if you don’t have that much time) Luther’s Bondage of the Will. There are many other good summaries as well, those are just the older works of note.

So, we have this dilemma it seems; man is free and responsible and God is totally in control. Consider Psalm 127:1-2
Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the LORD guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.(NKJV)

Could it really be said any better? Unless the Lord actually does the building, unless he raises up the house, the men who are building it will not succeed. It isn’t that they are robots doing the work--they are really doing the work; they are really responsible to do the work, and yet the Lord still absolutely controls the building. The second part of verse one reiterates the same point with a different example.

Verse two takes the idea in verse one and applies it. The people that realize that God is in control don’t have to worry--He gives His beloved sleep! Once you realize that God works all in all, you can stop your constant worrying. This doesn’t imply of course you can stop working. That isn’t the point at all, but that you don’t have to worry about whether or not your work will succeed. That is in God’s hands. The watchmen can watch and the builder construct, but they need not worry constantly about their job. The Lord watches the city and builds the house!

I would like to point another place where this same idea is presented. Consider 2 Kings 19:25-26:
Did you not hear long ago
How I made it,
From ancient times that I formed it?
Now I have brought it to pass,
That you should be
For crushing fortified cities into heaps of ruins.
Therefore their inhabitants had little power;
They were dismayed and confounded;
They were as the grass of the field
And the green herb,
As the grass on the housetops
And grain blighted before it is grown.(NKJV)

A little bit of context might be good. The king of Assyria, Sennacherib, had sent a messenger to Hezekiah, King of Judah. Basically the messenger told Hezekiah to surrender Jerusalem because there was no way the city would be able to stand against the might of Sennacherib. Hezekiah, though, took the message into the temple and prayed to the Lord. 2 Kings 19:25-26 is part of the Lord’s answer to Sennacherib’s threats through the prophet Isaiah.

Sennacherib had actually done these things. He had also assumed that his power and his ability to destroy nations was because of his own greatness. His own choices had brought him here, he thought. Sennacherib was only partly right. His choices had brought him there, but God had ordained that it should be that way. God had it planned from the ancient times--from eternity, and now He had brought it to pass. Is it not arrogant of us to assume that even our salvation was simply and ultimately because of our own choice? I submit to you that it is. God alone sits on the throne.

In closing, Isaiah 45:5-13 should also be considered, but I won’t comment on it.
5I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:
6That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.
7I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
8Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it.
9Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?
10Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth?
11Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.
12I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.
13I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the LORD of hosts. (KJV)


Post a Comment

<< Home