Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Divine Reprobation and Human Sin

According to Richard Muller, in Christ and the Decree, Calvin believed that divine reprobation occurred as part and parcel of God's elective decree outside the bounds of human history (and understanding).  He quotes him at length: 

"As Scripture, then, clearly shows, we say that God once established by his own eternal and unchangeable counsel those whom he had determined once for all to receive into salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, he would devote to destruction.  We assert that, with respect to the elect, this counsel was founded upon his freely given mercy, without regard to human worth [emphasis mine]; but by his just and irreprehensible but incomprehensible judgment [emphasis mine] he has barred the door of life to those whom he has given over to damnation" (22).

A little later Muller says this:

"...in view of Calvin's emphasis on the knowledge of God, reprobation does not appear the exact coordinate of election.  It occurs apart from Christ [emphasis mine] and therefore apart from any mediated knowledge of God.  If those men who remain in the mass of perdition inquire into themselves they can only know their own sin and infer its penalty of damnation.  They cannot know of the decree of reprobation as a cause of their condition" (25).


"Calvin could state categorically that God had not 'necessitated the sin of men'" (24).

I'm a bit puzzled by all of this.  When I've asked pastors and teachers how it is just for God to damn to conscious eternal torment those whom He had chosen, not by their own merits but by His secret will, to be so condemned, the answer has always been: they justly deserve it because of their sin, which was freely chosen.  While I think that this can be gotten from what Muller has said about Calvin, I don't think it is logically necessary.  Since God has determined the destiny of the individual, but does not necessitate their sin, it is at least possible that a sinless human being could be condemned to Hell.  More than this improbability, though, is the fact that their sin has nothing to do with their reprobation or punishment: they are elected for damnation for no reason ascertainable by man, including sins of omission or commission.  The role of the conscience, then, is to provide a legal fiction for the damned to accept their predetermined fate.  There is no real, and can be no real, connection between the two, unless we were to posit that God predestined the righteous and so foreknows them, but foreknows the wicked and therefore predestines them.  This would, however, both introduce partiality into God and bifurcate the image of God (the reprobate could not reasonably be said to bear God's Image, Christ, since their destiny was determined "apart from Christ").

So, how is it just for God to damn to conscious eternal torment those whom He had chosen, not by their own merits but by His secret will, to be so condemned?  The only answer possible in this scheme is: it just is.  'Justice', in this case though, has no relation to the concept as it is presented in Scripture: there is partiality, it is not based on what has been done or not done in history, and it involves a verdict and sentencing to take place with no advocate/defense counsel.  In other words, Calvin will need not only to split the will of God into the revealed and the hidden, but also divide God's justice/righteousness into the same categories.  The frightening thing is that these wills and attributes need have no actual relation: the God revealed in the Scriptures does not need to be the same as the God who predestines.  While Muller is careful to say that Calvin always asserted that there is no God behind the revealed God, it is hard to see how his theological system does not necessitate such a terror.

Muller goes on to mention that, for Calvin, the Person of Christ and His Essence/Nature as the Eternal Son have no real relation either: His Personhood comes from the Father, but His divinity comes from Himself (autotheos).  How this makes any sense, or has any claim to Christian orthodoxy, is beyond my admittedly limited ken.  What it does allow for, though, is the same bifurcation in Christ Himself that we see in God's will and justice.

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