Blog 157: 3.23.1 - 3.23.5

Sean Lucas

The other side of divine election for Calvin is divine reprobation, which is necessary if the case of election is to stand. Reprobation means "those whom God passes over, he condemns; and this he does for no other reason than that he wills to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines for his own children" (3.23.1).  And it is this dark side of so-called "double predestination" that has caused such much trouble for Christians and non-Christians alike.

In order to defend this teaching, Calvin deals with a number of objections. The first: "by what right [does] the Lord become angry at his creatures who have not provoked him by any previous offense?" (3.23.2).

Calvin's answers are bracing. The Lord's will is the cause of all things that are; further, the Lord's will is highest rule of righteousness. As a result, "when one asks why God has so done, we must reply: because he has willed it" (3.23.2). Because God is God, he is not liable to human beings' judgment. Even further, all human beings descended from Adam participated in his fall and experienced sin and misery. "If all are drawn from a corrupt mass, no wonder they are subject to condemnation!" (3.23.3). And so, this first objection fails to recognize that God has the right as God to judge human beings who deserve judgment.

Calvin briefly deals with an extension of this objection: didn't Adam's fall as a representative head fall under God's predestinating purposes? To judge someone for a fall that was predetermined to happen seems unjust. In reply, Calvin returns to "the sole decision of God's will, the cause of which is hidden in him" (3.23.4). Why God did this is beyond human capacity for understanding--these are "the depths" into which human reason cannot go: "Thou seekest reason? I tremble at the depth. Reason, thou; I will marvel. Dispute, thou; I will believe. I see the depth; I do not reach the bottom" (3.23.5).