Regarding human freedom, R.C. Sproul’s Calvinism once again sends him retreating to “it is a mystery.” He says, “Predestination seems to cast a shadow on the very heart of human freedom. If God has decided our destinies from all eternity (unconditionally), that strongly suggests that our free choices are but charades, empty exercises in predetermined placating. It is as though God wrote the script for us in concrete and we are merely carrying out his scenario.”[i] I must admit that, although I adamantly disagree with his Calvinism, I appreciate and admire such candor. He goes on to say, “It was certainly loving of God to predestine the salvation of His people, those the Bible calls the ‘elect or chosen ones.’ It is the non-elect that are the problem. If some people are not elected unto salvation then it would seem that God is not all that loving toward them. For them it seems that it would have been more loving of God not to have allowed them to be born. That may indeed be the case.”[ii] (italics added) This is what I mean when I argue elsewhere that God’s salvific love for the non-elect is virtually indistinguishable from indifference or hate. Various distinctions proffered by Calvinists that supposedly mitigate this reality are, eternally speaking, merely distinctions without a difference; how things play out eternally is what really matters.
Calvinists are very clear at times that sin entered into the world and that people spend eternity in hell because God made a voluntary decision for them to be there, which means that He could have chosen, if it pleased Him, for it to have been otherwise. Shedd says that permission to allow sin “is one that occurs by a voluntary decision of God, which he need not have made, had he so pleased. He might have decided not to permit sin; in which case it would not have entered the universe.”[iii] Augustine, speaking of such permission, said, “And of course his permission is not unwilling but willing.”[iv] Shedd then notes the similar remarks of Calvin who said, “God’s permission of sin is not involuntary, but voluntary.”[v]
Notice that they say nothing of God’s decision to disallow sin in the universe necessitating disallowing the existence of man or Lucifer, which understanding is harmonious with a compatible view of freedom. Consequently, according to a compatibilist perspective, God could have created Lucifer, Adam, and Eve with different natures, emanating different desires, and man could have and would have existed without sin. Once more, the ever-present calvinistically generated quandary that God in some measure must have desired man to sin, a disquieting reality. Again, Shedd seeks to exonerate God from sin by saying, “Nothing but the spontaneity of will can produce the sin; and God does not work in the will to cause evil spontaneity. The certainty of sin by a permissive decree, is an insoluble mystery for the finite mind.”[vi] (my emphasis on insoluble mystery).
With regard to Socrates’ reference to God and sin in the Republic, Shedd’s belief that God must have desired sin to enter the lives of His creation is even more apparent. He says, “While evil in his [Socrates] view does not originate in God, and is punished by God, it is not, as in Revelation, under the absolute control of God, in such sense that it could be prevented by him. The power to prevent sin is implied in its permission. No one can be said to permit what he cannot prevent. Sin is preventable, by the exercise of a greater degree of that same spiritual efficiency by which the will was inclined to holiness in creation. God did not please to exert this degree in the instance of the fallen angels and man, and thus sin was possible.”[vii] (italics added)
He does not require of God that angels and man would not have been created as moral beings in order to preclude sin, but only God choosing to grant “a greater degree of that same spiritual efficiency.” Therefore, once again, it seems unquestionable that according to Calvinism, God desired preventable sin. Even without such statements, this truth is entailed in a compatible view of moral freedom.
Shedd says, “The reason for the permission of sin was manifestation of certain divine attributes which could not have been manifested otherwise.”[viii] Then he lists things like mercy, compassion, the suffering of Christ, justice, and holiness, all to the glory of God. Therefore, the inescapable truth of Calvinism is that God could have prevented sin, and while He may not have been the efficient cause—direct cause—He inescapably desired it, and therefore, it is. Additionally, reliance upon secondary, tertiary, quaternary, quinary, etc., causes fails to palliate or remove the fact that God by free choice is ultimately responsible for man’s choice to sin, which could have been different had such pleased Him. Therefore, He desired all the horrors of sin, rebellion against Him, untold ghastly violence, dreadful death, and the drowning sea of tears deluging the lives and homes of His creation; such desire is not satisfactorily explained by resorting to His permissive will because the activities of His permissive will are as deterministic in Calvinism as any other aspect of His will, given decretal theology and compatibilism.
In my next article, I will explore Extensivism’s perspective regarding the origin of sin and salvation. Whereas, Extensivists (including all non-Calvinists in this term) say that God never desires sin but always and only desires righteousness; concomitantly, He desires all of those who are lost to be saved and has provisioned accordingly.
[i] R.C Sproul, Chosen by God, 51, as quoted in George L. Bryson, The Five Points of Calvinism: Weighed And Found Wanting, (Costa Mesa, CA.: The Word for Today, 2002), 35-44.
[ii] Sproul, Chosen by God, 51, as quoted in Bryson, The Five Points of Calvinism, 44.
[iii] Ibid., 94.
[v] Ibid., 95. Shedd sources this as Inst. 1:18:3. I cannot find it under that section in my copy of the Institutes.
[vi] Ibid., 420.
[vii] Ibid., 420–421.
[viii] Ibid., 421.