Calvinism, God’s Goodness, and Assurance

April 27, 2016

Dr. Vern Charette | Evangelist
Vern Charette Ministries

*This article was originally published HERE and is used by permission.

A chill went up my spine. I was sitting in a systematic theology course in 2003 listening to my professor teach theology from Grudem’s systematic textbook. Like most young seminary students, I was wrestling with the differing views of soteriology (how a person is saved). One of the things I liked about my professor was that he was not only consistent as a Calvinist, but he was also willing to “bite the bullet” and candidly state the ramifications of his position. This particular day, we were asking clarifying questions of our professor in response to his lecture. I asked, “So, you are telling me that I could think I am saved, die and stand before God, only to find out that I wasn’t really saved at all.” Without equivocating for one moment, his answer was, “yes.”

The context of the question is the key to understanding why his answer sent chills up my spine. I was in danger of finding out that in the end I was not saved, not due to my misunderstanding or misappropriation of the gospel, or even my very own self deception, but rather, it was God who was responsible for the whole thing. This is, by the way, a major tenant of Calvinism, namely, God causes, directly or indirectly everything that comes to pass, and in this case, even the false deception of one’s own salvation. Do you get it? Do you get why the breath got knocked out of me that day? In that sudden moment, I had my trust in the “goodness” of God completely rocked. “You mean to say, that the God I am trusting for my salvation could actually be deceiving me because I was not chosen before the foundation of the world?” Not only that, but “He is actually deceiving me into thinking I am saved only to reveal in the end that I was foreordained to spend an eternity suffering under His wrath—all so He could be glorified for being just?”

I wish my Calvinist brothers would really understand the crux of the matter and why people like me struggle with this kind of thinking. The problem has to do with the character of God and His “goodness.” There is no way a “good” God would do this, is there? And if God did operate this way, could we really call Him “good?” Now, lest you think that the idea of God’s deceiving some into thinking they are saved when they really are not is far fetched, John Calvin himself wrote about:

[The reprobate], who are impressed [by God] for a time with a fading faith . . . there is nothing to prevent [God from] an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate . . . the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance . . . Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them . . . Nor do I even deny that God illumines [the reprobates] minds to this extent that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy (Institutes: book III, chapter II, section 11).

So, God could be giving a person a “manifestation of his present mercy” only to reveal in the final judgment that He was actually preparing them for eternal damnation. Think about what this means for the security of the believer. Someone who believes this about God, if they think it through, cannot really have any true security. The very “goodness” of God has been so undermined that “goodness” has lost all meaning. It seems to me, nevertheless, okay to many of my Calvinist brothers, as long as this undermining is somehow for the “Glory of God.” You be the judge.