It is apparent in Scriptures that God desires all the world to repent and be saved. And yet the calvinist doctrine of reprobation contradicts God’s desire for all mankind to be saved – for if before the foundation of the world, God has decreed eternally that some would definitively perish, how can God then desire these very perishing people to be saved?
The calvinist response is typified in this excerpt by John Piper titled “Are there two wills in God?”. Again to be noted, I am immensely enriched by many of Piper’s works and this post is meant to be more a shared study of truth than to discredit his important and necessary work in his article. For his intent is clearly laid out –
…I will try to make a credible case that while the Arminian pillar texts may indeed be pillars for universal love, nevertheless they are not weapons against unconditional election…In fact I think Arminians have erred in trying to take pillars of universal love and make them into weapons against electing grace.
This is the crux of the problem between Calvinism and Arminianism – the pillar of God’s Sovereignty seemingly at odds with the pillar of God’s universal Love. And if our theologians are striving to reconcile both, that is indeed a worthy effort. Just as Piper has rightly noted that the arminians have erred in setting one pillar of truth against the other, arminianism likewise views the calvinists as guilty of committing the same error. Of course, if Piper is successful in ably defending the doctrine of reprobation by reconciling it simultaneously with God’s universal love, then all is well. However, if it is found to fall short of the logical consistencies that we know God perfectly holds, then it is necessary we re-examine our belief system.
As the argument goes – in many parts of Scripture, God wills one thing by commanding it, and simultaneously He wills a contradictory thing by decreeing this opposite other thing – thereby proving that God can have two wills of which He decrees the will that would lead to greater manifestation of His glory to play out in reality. For instance, God commands Pharaoh to let His people go, therein reflecting His will in that – and yet He also decrees that Pharaoh’s heart be hardened not to let His people go, which reflects a simultaneous contradictory will of God. And hence, the argument can be made that God could command the non-elect to repent and believe, willing them to be saved – and yet simultaneously decree that they be hardened against obedience to the Gospel and be reprobate unto the greater manifestation of His glory.
Firstly, though conceptually correct, we could do better on the ‘two will’ language – it is technically inconceivable that God can have multiple contradictory wills, as if He can have any variance in Him. The English translations of Scriptures does not convey with consistency the original words – the greek words thelēma (desire) and boulē (counsel) are both translated as “will”, leading to the confusion. Let us hold both words distinct always.
In a perfect world, God would counsel to work out His desire without any internal conflict – and therefore what He has desired and what He has counselled would be one and the same. But factoring in fallen self-deterministic man, there are now two desires – God’s desire and man’s desire – at play. God, who is sovereign, must counsel which of the two desires He will decree to be worked out. Again, this would be determined by a preceding higher desire of God, which would be the basis on which God counsels now. And the preceding higher desire of God could go back tracing all the way to His first desire ie purpose which would be the greatest manifestation of His glory.
So if we were to replace the “two will” language with the “desire and counsel” language, we’d be saying that God desires Pharaoh to let go of His people, and Pharaoh desires not to let go of them, and God’s preceding higher desire to make His power known to all nations was the basis of God counselling to decree Pharaoh’s disobedience to come to pass. Similarly, God desires the Jews to be saved, but the Jews desire to remain in unbelief, and God’s preceding higher desire to bring the fullness of the gentiles in through the jews’ disobedience and to set these gentiles as the means to later bring mercy upon the jews, is the basis on which God counsels to decree the unbelief of the jews for this time.
Extending this, God desires all mankind to repent and believe and be saved, but no man desires to obey the Gospel. God’s preceding greater desire to show forth His glory to the elect vessels of mercy aforeprepared unto glory, is the basis on which God counsels to decree the reprobation of the non-elect vessels of wrath which are completed for destruction because of their unbelief. Note, every counsel of God that runs contrary to His desire must necessarily involve the fallen creature’s desire of disobedience, which would eventually amount to the fulfillment of God’s preceding greater desire. There is no scenario where God’s counsel runs contrary to His own desires in the absence of factoring in the fallen creature’s desires – ie God’s desires are not self-contradictory. God’s one desire is never to the exclusion of any of His earlier desires, as if there is any need for God to have a rethink.
Therefore, comparing God’s eternal decree of reprobation, as the calvinists put it, with God’s two wills concerning Pharaoh is flawed. God’s desire for Pharaoh to let His people go does not run contrary to any other of God’s desires. But if God has already desired to eternally decree the reprobation of the non-elect before the foundation of the world, it is impossible for God to then desire their salvation in any sense contrary to His earlier desire.
Consequently, if one wishes to faithfully hold on to the pillar of God’s universal love as seen in Scriptures, they must denounce the doctrine of unconditional reprobation or God’s eternal decree of reprobation before the foundation of the world. While reprobation is true, God decrees it conditionally upon the disobedience of the non-elect and not prior to that. If God desires the non-elect to be saved through the Gospel of Christ, He does not reprobate them prior to their unbelief.
Hence, Single Predestination is the only consistent belief system that holds the above conditional reprobation of the non-elect as well as upholding God’s sovereign election and predestination of the elect unto salvation that is completely unconditional.