Does Predestination Make God Arbitrary?

One of the reasons why many sincere and earnest Christians give for rejecting the doctrine of divine predestination is that they believe this view makes God to be arbitrary. They justify their rejection by insisting that God is not an arbitrary God.

Ironically, those who do believe the doctrine of God’s free grace being extended to His elect resulting in their salvation would agree that God is not arbitrary in His sovereign choice of who will be saved, especially when the word is properly defined.

According to Merriam-Webster, the term arbitrary means to make a decision “based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.”

Nothing in nature or Scripture indicates an arbitrary God who functions in a random manner. Even the ungodly are aware of this truth. Albert Einstein famously said, “God does not play dice with the universe.” The apostle James declared, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:17). Paul told the Christians in Rome, “there is no respect of persons with God. 12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (Rom. 2:11, 12).

Seeking to protect the character of God, a false accusation is often leveled against Christians who read and believe the simplicity of Scripture. The effort is made to make certain Christians appear to believe in a capricious God. It is not a fair or true accusation. What is true is this.

In His sovereignty, for His own wise and holy reason, God Himself has said, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So, then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16).

“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid” (Rom. 9:14).

To those who accuse others of believing in an arbitrary God, we say, “God forbid that such a charge ever be leveled against us, or leveled against God Himself.” God forbid that anyone should think of the Sovereign as being arbitrary, making a random choice of His elect on a personal whim, and without reason.” God forbid that such words ever be emotionally uttered.

A sober reflection on the doctrine of redemption notes the following, provided orthodox believers agree first, God is sovereign, and second, humanity is fallen.

With these two presuppositional thoughts in mind, Dr. R. C. Sproul noted, there are fundamentally four ways in which God can relate as a sovereign to a fallen world in the matter of salvation. Consider the initial options open to the Lord.

(1) God Could Save No One

First Option. Because there is none righteous, because every person is born physically alive but spiritually dead in the sight of God, the Lord is under no obligation to do anything for fallen man, other than to administered divine justice.

God could sovereignly decide that no one will ever have an opportunity for salvation. This was certainly a viable option.

If God took this course of action, He would be just, and justified in demanding the ultimate penalty from the transgressor. No defense attorney would ever stand up in a court of law and say, “Your honor, your decision is just, but I don’t like it.”

According to Biblical revelation, God has already taken this course of action in relation to the fallen angels. As far is can be discerned from Scripture, there is no provision for the salvation of the Devil and his entourage. The Bible does reveal that when Lucifer rebelled against the Lord, he was cast out of heaven, and a place called Hell was prepared for him and his angels (Isaiah 14:12-15; Matt. 25:41).

When Adam transgressed in the Garden of Eden, he plunged himself and all of his posterity into sin. God had warned him, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Divine justice was immediately administered when Adam sinned, along with Eve. Then, their eyes were opened and they both knew they had sinned (Gen. 3:7).

It is instructive to notice that God did not tell Adam and Eve prior to their transgression that if they rebelled against Him, as Lucifer had done, there would be a way for them to be forgiven and to be restored to fellowship. Why? Because God was under no obligation to Adam and Eve except to keep His word and administer justice, which He did.

Now answer this question: “If God decided not to save anyone, not Adam, not Eve, not you, not me, not even Augustine, or Billy Graham, would He be doing wrong?”

To ask the question is to answer it. “No, God does no wrong. He would be perfectly justified to send every unjust person in creation to a place of eternal death, darkness, and punishment.

Now, it is at this point that an assumption arises in the heart. The assumption is that if God is going to be a good God, He ought to be a merciful God.

The moment a person insists God must be merciful, or that God ought to be kind, the moment a person believes God is obligated to act in a certain way, then another sin has transpired for the creation dares to stand in judgment upon the Creator.

The truth is that the only thing God ought to do is to show holiness, righteous, and justice. These facets of His essence would be made manifest if God decided to provide no opportunity for salvation to anyone, angelic or human. Justice is obligatory, mercy is not.

(2) God Could Offer the Opportunity of Salvation

Second Option. It is possible that God could provide an opportunity for everyone to be saved, or at least for some to be saved.

This is the position of the Pelagian, the Sem-Pelagian, and those who are followers of Jacobus Arminius. Said Pelagius: “If God is just, righteous and holy, and God commands of the creature to do something, certainly that creature must have the power and the moral ability within himself to perform it.”

Certainly, this was true of the First Adam, who acted as a Federal Representative for his posterity. Adam freely chose to eat the forbidden fruit. He had the power and the moral ability to eat of the forbidden fruit, or not. Adam chose to rebel against God, and die the death of the wicked. However, because of the radical nature of the Fall, the descendants of Adam lost the power and the moral ability to perform good and to please God. The state of the Natural Man is set forth in Scripture. “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11).

It becomes an academic exercise to discuss what the Natural Man can or cannot do when the testimony of time and the revelation of Scripture is that those who are “in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).

Realizing the total inability of the Natural Man to do anything of his own power and moral ability to please God in the flesh, St. Augustine prayed, “O God, command what you wouldst, and grant what Thou doest command.” Augustine asked God to command man to repent, and then he asked God to grant the repentance and faith which He commanded. Peter understood this concept. Speaking in Jerusalem Peter said of those who “believed on the Lord Jesus Christ that it was God who granted repentance unto life (Acts 11:18).

It is conceded that God could give the world an opportunity for salvation and establish His plan of salvation in such a way that everybody, or at least some people would have a chance to be saved, without a guarantee that anybody would be saved.

Pelagius, Semi-Pelagians, and many Arminians sincerely believe this is exactly what God has done. God has provided an equal opportunity for every person to be saved.

(3) God Could Save Some

Third Option. Another option is that God could exercise His power and sovereignty to ensure the salvation of some.

(4) God could Save All

Fourth Option. God had the option of ensuring the salvation of all.

In considering the various options of God regarding salvation, from the vantage point of time and Divine revelation, two of the four options can be immediately eliminated, if pressed to answer the question, “What has God done in the matter of salvation?”

The Testimony of Time

First, it is the testimony of time, and Scripture, that God has made no provision for every person to be saved. Universalism is not what the Bible teaches, as attractive as the idea might be.

Second, it is not the testimony of time, or Scripture, that God has determined to save no one. There is agreement in orthodox Christianity that God did not decided to provide no salvation.

Third, it is the testimony of time, and Scripture, that God does save some. The angel said to Joseph that Mary was to bring forth a son, “and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The people of Jesus refer to all whom the Father has given to Him. They shall be saved. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). God does intervene in the life of certain people to ensure their salvation.

Saul of Tarsus was a mean and vicious man. He might have thought of himself as a nice guy, but his attitude and actions towards people of The Way was that of a monster. Saul was animated by evil. He was determined to hurt men, women, and children.

Then, one glorious day, while he was travelling to Damascus, the Lord of glory intervened in his life, touched his heart, and transformed him by the power of divine might. Saul fell to the earth, and heard the voice of Jesus saying unto him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutes thou me?”

The miracle of the new birth took place in that moment and he said, “Who art thou, Lord? The Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:5-6). Saul of Tarsus recognized the sovereignty of God in his salvation.

My Father is omnipotent, and that you can’t deny;
A God of might and miracles, ’tis written in the sky.
It took a miracle to put the stars in place;
It took a miracle to hang the world in space.
But when he saved my soul,
Cleansed and made me whole,
It took a miracle of love and grace.

Fourth, it is the testimony of time, and Scripture, that God has not provided an equal opportunity for everyone to be saved. God has not made it certain that everybody in the world will hear the gospel even once.

In Luke 10:13 we read something awful. “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.”

Matthew Henry comments on this verse. “There was reason to think, morally speaking, that, if Christ had gone to Tyre and Sidon, Gentile cities, and had preached the same doctrine to them and wrought the same miracles among them that he did in these cities of Israel, they would have repented long ago, so speedy would their repentance have been, and that in sackcloth and ashes, so deep would it have been. Now to understand the wisdom of God, in giving the means of grace to those who would not improve them, and denying them to those that would, we must wait for the great day of discovery.”

It is not revealed in the Bible why God has not provided an equal opportunity for everyone to be saved. What is know is that even when the gospel is graciously preached the question arises: “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1).

It is estimated there are two billion people in the world today who have never the message of salvation by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Each day, about 70,000 people die in the world. Many go into eternity without Christ, without hope, and without eternal life. The Joshua Project is trying to reach 2.82 billion people who live in the 10/40 Window.

The 10/40 Window is a rectangular shaped area on our globe extending from West Africa to East Asia, from 10 degrees to 40 degrees north of the equator.

Nearly 4 billion people live here, including more than 80 percent of the world’s poorest of the poor. Nearly 2 billion in the 10/40 Window have never had the chance to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ—not even once.

Why should anyone hear the gospel twice, when millions have not heard it once?

The 10/40 Window also encompasses the majority of the world’s Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and animists. (withinreachglobal.org)

Is God unfair, unjust, unloving, and unkind because He has not ensured the salvation of all, or even provided an opportunity for all to be saved? The answer is no. God is not unfair.

Since God, in His sovereignty, has determined to save some sinners and to show them mercy, is He wrong for doing this?  The answer is no, God is not wrong.

The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 states: “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of His glorious justice (1 Tim. 5:21; Matt. 25:34; Eph. 1:5,6; Rom. 9:22,23; Jude 4).

Those who oppose the doctrines of grace say that the Reformed (or Augustinian) view of salvation is not gracious enough. But in reality, it is more gracious than the Arminian position which leaves salvation as a hypothetical based on an alleged opportunity. A salvation that does not save all for whom it is intended is a non-salvation.

The Biblical doctrine of salvation is that God, for His own reason, has decreed to save some in the Fallen human race, to the praise of His glory, and the manifestation of His great mercy. Those who are the object of redeeming grace humbly say:

Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul.
Thank you, Lord, for making me whole.
Thank you, Lord, for giving to me
Thy great salvation so rich and free.

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