I recently received an e-mail from a young man who attends a “Christian” high school. He said that in his tenth grade Bible class they taught students about the doctrine of predestination. They taught students God always gets what He wants and if a person dies without being saved it’s because God hates that person, has always hated that person, and will always hate that person. Sadly, this kind of teaching is not rare. There is a growing movement of “Reformed” theology and it should trouble us all. Here are a few of my thoughts on this issue.
How do they come up with this stuff?
Obviously this sounds awful, “There are some people God just hates. He hated them before they were born and they were born just so He could eventually send them to hell.” Even those who believe such a thing (and there are many) cringe at those words. But is there any support for this doctrine in Scripture?
Calvinists (or Reformed theologians) love the book of Romans. They believe Romans teaches clearly the various tenets of Calvinistic theology. And I will admit, if you pull various passages out of context and read them through the lens of Calvinism, they do seem to teach a disturbing doctrine.
Consider Romans 9:11-18:
…though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
They believe passages like this are solid proof of their doctrine. And they believe it in spite of how repugnant they themselves might find the suggestion that God hates some people and has predestined people to an eternity in hell.
But what do these passages mean?
Calvinists fail to realize they are pulling these passages out of context and entirely missing the point the apostle Paul was making.
In order to understand the book of Romans – and really the entire Bible – you need to understand that in the Old Testament Israel was God’s “chosen” or “elect” people. But that fact had NOTHING to do with the eternal salvation of Old Testament Israelites. When we read those terms we automatically think God chose them to be saved eternally, but that’s not true. God chose them in order to bless them, to reveal Himself to them, and to show the world who He was by using them as an example.
Their individual salvation was always based upon their own free will, their own decision whether or not to believe and obey God. God made them His chosen people, but even His chosen people still had to “choose” for themselves whom they would serve (Joshua 24:15).
Why did God “hate” Esau?
Romans 9:13 says God loved Jacob and hated Esau. This is a quotation from Malachi 1:3, in which God was describing to His people that He chose them over their relatives – the descendants of Esau – to bless them, provide for them, and protect them. The people of Malachi’s day were feeling like God had abandoned them and didn’t love them. But God was saying to them, “I have always loved you. I chose you to be my special people. It’s YOU who have turned your back on ME.”
Once again, neither the context of Romans 9 nor the original context of Malachi 1 teaches that God predestines anyone to hell. It is simply reminding people that God chose Israel to be His special people. God gave them huge advantages. He revealed Himself to them and gave them His Law.
So why did Paul write what he did to the Romans?
The big questions of Paul’s day were along the lines of, “Has God abandoned His people? Did God turn His back on Israel? Is God being unfair? Why is God blessing Gentiles and condemning Jews?”
The answer is, God has a right to make whatever people He wants to be “His people.” He had a right to make the Jews “His people.” And now He has a right to make those who have faith in Jesus “His people.”
This is why God chose the people of Israel in the first place. This was always His plan. He chose them so that through Israel He might bring Christ into the world; and through Christ, “all the nations of the earth” would be blessed (Genesis 22:18).
This is Paul’s entire point in the book of Romans. Paul was saying, God is not unfair. He is giving the whole world the same opportunity He gave to you Jews in the first place. He’s giving everyone the opportunity to be His “chosen people.”
Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). And in Romans 2:9-11, “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.”
Paul’s whole discussion revolved around Jews and Greeks and whether or not it was fair for Him to save the Greeks.
Is God sovereign? Does He get what He wants?
This whole discussion is about whether or not God is sovereign. And the answer of course is, YES! God can decide whatever He wants to decide. He can choose to make Jews AND Gentiles part of His chosen people. In fact, God had always planned to do so. It doesn’t matter how scandalous that seemed to the Jews of Paul’s day, God is in charge!
But does God predestine individuals to hell? Of course not! Nothing like that is even suggested in Scripture. In fact, that’s quite the opposite of Paul’s whole point! Paul said his whole mission was to “bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5).
And how in the world can anyone say God hates some people and desires that they burn in hell, when Paul wrote, that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4)?
God is not the God of Calvinism!
It is so sad to see Scripture misunderstood. But saddest of all is that Calvinistic (Reformed) theology makes God out to be someone He is not. The true God of the Bible is “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (1 Peter 3:9).
I love you and God loves you,