To answer this question we must determine the nature of our freedom—is it of the Libertarian or Soft Determinist variety? We must also answer a second question: are we predestined unconditionally (by God’s unconditional election) or conditionally (based on God’s knowledge of our choice to trust Christ)?
Last week I suggested that Scripture seems to indicate an answer to the first question: we have Libertarian Free Will. This poses an internal conceptual problem for the Calvinist understanding of our choice as determined and tips the scales in favor of the Arminian understanding of our salvation.
A second internal conceptual problem arises for Calvinism as we consider the second question. I believe this gives us further reason to embrace the Arminian understanding of our salvation.
The Goodness of God and the Reality of Hell
Scripture teaches God is Good and Just
The general theme of Scripture is that God is Good and Just. In fact, this is necessarily true of Him—it is part of his very nature. Therefore, He is the ultimate definition and standard of all else that is Good and Just. For instance:
The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth. (Exodus 34:6)
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. (1 Chronicles 16:34)
And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” (Ezra 3:11)
Good and upright is the Lord. (Psalm 25:8)
The Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. (Psalm 92:15)
I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works. Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts, and I will declare Your greatness. They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness, and shall sing of Your righteousness. (Psalm 145:5-7)
The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. (Psalm 145:9)
He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. (Psalm 33:5)
No one is good but One, that is, God. (Mark 10:18)
God Calls Us Also to Know and Do What is Good and Just
The fact that God is necessarily and ultimately good and just gives Him the ability to demand the same thing of us as His representatives on earth, created in His image. Therefore, we are regularly commanded to model His goodness and justice:
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17)
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always. (Hosea 12:6)
Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. (Psalm 37:27-8)
Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right. (Psalm 106:3)
Scripture Speaks of Hell as a Reality
Yet it is also true that God condemns some to an eternity away from Him. This is an endless future separated from the presence of God, and thus all which flows from him–all that is good, loving, just, peaceful, merciful, and gracious (as I discussed here). Jesus was quite concerned about this reality–he often spoke of the reality of Hell, even more than he spoke of Heaven (for instance, see Matthew 10:28, 13:42, 25:30, Mark 9:43, 9:48, and Luke 16:19-31).
A Problem for Calvinism But Not Arminianism
So God is good and just (not only in his actions but in his very nature). But Hell is also a reality. These two biblical truths (“internal concepts”) seem to be at odds with the Calvinist view that God unconditionally elects who will be saved and who will be damned. It does not seem good or just for God to condemn some to Hell by divine decree.
Arminians, on the other hand, do not face this internal conceptual problem. If salvation is based on our Libertarian Free Choice, and our election is based upon the choice we make, God’s goodness and justice are consistent with the reality of Hell. (I’ll say more about this next week.)
God is good, desiring all to enjoy an intimate relationship with Him. Yet being good also means not forcing His will on us. He pursues us, inviting us into a restored relationship. Yet our response is ultimately our (Libertarian) free choice. We can choose to respond or reject His overtures.
This entails that, If we choose to say, “I want nothing to do with you!”, He respects our wishes and allows us to live out our eternity apart from Him (and thus all that is good). As C.S. Lewis summarized in The Problem of Pain, “The doors of Hell are locked from the inside.” This verdict is therefore Just, for it is based on the will, and thus the choice of each individual.
Therefore these three truths–God’s goodness, God’s justice, and the reality of Hell–only lead to an internal conceptual problem for the Calvinist view of unconditional election. This seems to tip the scales further in favor of the Arminian view of our salvation.
The goodness of God and the reality of Hell may only seem to be a second internal conceptual problem for Calvinism. Calvinists may rightly raise two objections to this conclusion. I’ll discuss these objections next week.
Until then, grace and peace.