Posted by: The Simple Guy | December 31, 2010

It’s all about perspective

How many times have we heard someone say this before they make some sort of mushy minded mealy-mouthed explanation that establishes nothing and makes no real stand.

I hate it when people do that, I will make every effort to avoid that here in this post.

The topic on my mind is a mystery that I have never been able to resolve.  Every time I think I have it figured out and understand it, it slips through my fingers like sand.  Substance there as a whole, but parts I can’t keep together in place.

What is this mystery?  Well, the classic argument between Calvinism and Arminianism about free will vs. predestination.  Some call it sovereignty and free will.

Probably safe to say that I will not make either  side happy with my thoughts here, but that’s not the goal.  I want to know the truth.  Hope you don’t feel like I make a straw man of your position.  The bright side, is that I am an equal opportunity offender here, I don’t fully agree with either side.

The argument is hard to frame simply, but let me try to capture the dilemma I have.

Calvinists speak of limited atonement and effectual calling.  My simple understanding of these terms would be that Jesus only died for some, and all He died for end up saved.   My problem with this is the times where scripture says He died for all, or for the world.  Or even specifically says he died for those who are destined for hell and will not be saved.  Like 2 Peter 2:1 where it says that the false prophets deny the Lord who bought them.  If atonement is limited to those who receive, how can we say the Lord bought them?  Or 2 Cor 5 that clearly says He died for all, and that God reconciled the world to Himself, and then that He pleads to all men through us “be reconciled to God!!”

The Arminian perspective on the other hand seems to say that while God knows in advance who will be saved, He didn’t choose who would and would not.  Almost like he is a victim of circumstance.  I feel this isn’t intellectually honest.  If God allowed choice, and He doesn’t sit up there saying “I wonder what that guy is going to do” or even worse, Wow!  Sure didn’t see that one coming!!”; then He selected who would accept and deny simply by not intervening.

Besides, too many passages speak of being chosen before we choose.  So in an effort to be intellectually honest, I must say both perspectives leave me feeling that we must be missing something.

Lately, I have come to think that both perspectives miss it because they are looking in the wrong place.  I have come to believe that any time we attempt to measure God by what he does to man, we are attempting to verify our tape measure by measuring a board.  This is backwards.  If the two don’t agree, the board is wrong, not the tape measure.  We cannot measure, or even understand God’s justice by looking at how He treats man.  He is by definition just.  What He does is right because He did it.  He is the standard.  I think any time we look at man to understand the answer to this debate, we are looking in the wrong place.

We need to start at the beginning.

Why did God create?  I think He created to reveal Who He is.  Did He need to reveal Himself?  No, God needs nothing.  But the triune God determined to reveal to one another Who they are, and to share outside of Themselves this truth because God is generous.

Why did God create Earth?  You might say that Earth was created to be a place for us to live.  Oops, we are getting man centered again.  What did He create Earth for?

I think this purpose is stated here:

Rev 21:3 ESV
(3) And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

It was to be (and will be) the place where He would dwell with us and rule the universe.

Why with us?

There is something He wanted to reveal in us about Himself.

What is that?

Well, what has been revealed about God through mankind?

Could it be Philippians 2?  He is other-centered.  He is generous, gracious, merciful, patient, and able to save.  He is the Redeemer.

How can this be revealed if there is not a victim who needs saved?

How can we say anyone was really saved, if none are lost?  Wouldn’t it be easy to say the whole thing was a charade if everyone was ‘in peril” but everyone got rescued?

Let me state it this way, rather than continue with a long string of questions:

I think God in His absolute sovereignty decided to create a race of people (Adam’s race) who would bear His image and have an honored place in all of His creation.  This Honored race would absolutely reject Him and defile His image.  They would deserve immediate destruction.  All of creation would cry out for it and marvel at His longsuffering and mercy.

But rather than destroy this image bearer who has supremely insulted Him, He would rescue them.  But to show that this wasn’t a farce, He would have to let some continue to their own doom by their own choice.  I think this is the point of Romans 9:18-23

I think in Heaven we will not ask why this or that person went to Hell.  We will marvel that any of us didn’t.  This will absolutely floor us day after day.  The deeper we understand it, the more we will be astounded by it.

I do not think that God’s sovereignty is in any way compromised by the fact that He designed us with the ability to choose, and then didn’t tamper with the choice.  But I also do not believe for a second that God has or will ever fail in any endeavor that He undertakes.  So when He chooses to save someone, they will be saved, and they will choose Him.

I think this all makes sense as long as we keep it about Him displaying for all of creation Who He is and what He is like.  As soon as we start trying to judge between this person or that person as though it is about something in or about them, we are looking in the wrong place.  Our focus is wrong, so we cannot come to a correct conclusion.

It is like trying to balance your check book with multiplication.  It’s the wrong procedure, so it won’t work.  At all. Ever.

He is preeminent, and always will be.  It is about Him, and always was. He has purchased all of creation, and He will not be thwarted in the restoration He has begun. (see Colossians 1)   But one of the ways He displays who He is, is that he did not make robots.  He really did allow us to make choices, and we really are accountable for them.

One of the objections I anticipate in this is the statement that unregenerate man is dead, so he can’t choose this or that.  I think this is based on a wrong understanding of death.  The corpse can’t do anything, that’ s true.  But a corpse is only half of the story of death.

We look at a dead body that is powerless to do anything, and say that this is a picture of unregenerate man.  The problem with this understanding is that it ignores half of the picture.  Death is separation of soul and body.  Our death is that we have been cut off from the power source of good.   Only God is good.   But the statement God literally made to Adam was that in the moment he ate, dying he would die.  We still bear God’s image.  Even Hitler was made in the image of God.  In life, Hitler still benefited from the goodness of God.  Even in himself.  But those benefits are now lost to him forever.  In this life we still have access to the goodness of God.  It is good to walk a little old lady across the street.  Even when an unregenerate man does it.  But when that unregenerate man takes the credit for it, rather than recognize that he is not the source of good, that becomes a curse rather than a blessing.

This goodness of God that we still have access to is what will finally be removed in Hell.  We can choose God, because He has allowed us to.  In the same way that we can hear preaching because God sends preachers.  there won’t be any Gospel in Hell.  The influence of God’s goodness in this world is still here.  Not because we didn’t fall completely, but because He has not entirely removed Himself.  But one day He will send all away who have rejected Him.

I think of it like a flower in a vase.  It has been cut off from the root and is dead.  But the evidence of the life that was once there is still visible.  It will eventually wilt and decay and lose all of its beauty.  It is dead.  The beauty that remains isn’t due to anything in the flower.  It is simply a remnant of what once was.

God has allowed His light that was first in Paradise to remain until we physically die.  We are so far fallen from what Adam and Eve were in Paradise.  But the glory of God is still seen in the creation that He, in His forbearance, has chosen to allow to continue.  This is not at all from us.  It is just a remnant of what He originally breathed into Adam’s nostrils.  But one day it will be removed from all who have not receive Him.  But as many as receive Him, he makes anew, and will resurrect into the resurrected earth.   The earth that will fulfill His original purpose.  When this happens, all of creation will see and marvel at the attributes of God that were always there, but had not been seen.  Displaying these attributes was the whole point.

Got really long-winded here for two reasons.  First, I am excited by what I see.  Second, I am having a hard time explaining it.

But I really think the key to understanding this topic accurately is to start and finish with Christ.  It’s all about perspective.

I welcome your thoughts.




  1. Just a quick jotting here, as we are traveling today. The Bible speaks of God’s foreknowledge. God never wrings His hands and wonders what will happen — if so-and-so will choose him. I think foreknowledge is the answer to a lot of these questions about predestination (and all the Bible says about predestination is that we (Christians whom He foreknew — and the word foreknowledge implies “foreknowledge with favor” — are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ — not to heaven or hell). I believe man has a sinful nature, not in total depravity, since we are created in God’s image, and God is not totally depraved. I’ll read more when I get back. Good discussion anyway.

    • Dad explains foreknowledge like this:
      ( I grew up on a farm)
      “When I go out and hay the cows, the dog comes with me. The dog is more than welcome to eat the hay, and I wouldn’t stop him if he did. But I know before I even go out there that he won’t eat the hay. He does’t want it. It isn’t in his nature.
      Same thing about table scraps. We could take them out to the cows, but they wouldn’t eat them. They have no desire to eat them, it isn’t in their nature. We know that in advance. God knows who will and will not choose Him.”

      My problem with this picture is that Dad didn’t make the dog or the cow. He is aware of what they will and will not eat, but is objective and not involved in that choice. Dad didn’t create the “nature” of the dog or the cow. But God created each person. We cannot believe that he is the Creator of our very dna, and then not attatch our destiny to His sovereign will. This is what I mean when I say that the Arminian perspective of foreknowledge isn’t intellectually honest. Not accusing anyone of lying, just dodging the hard question.

      God created the universe and all that is in it. He put the stars in place, and designed all of the wonders of creation. He has a master plan. There is no plan B. Somehow that master plan allowed, even planned for, mankind to fall, and some to fall without remedy. This was a choice He somehow made, and not without other options. We try to say that He didn’t chose. Problem is, He said He did in Romans 9. The question isn’t whether or not God chose in advance, He has already answered that fully. The difficult question no one wants to face is, “how can that be right?” But the answer to that question is simple. Who invented right?
      The problem is that we keep trying to measure God by what makes sense to us. He is right. Right comes from Him.
      The only answer to this problem is to throw oursleves at His mercy and recognize that we are broken. We can’t think right. But He is right.

      Make sense?


      • The difficult question no one wants to face is, “how can that be right?” But the answer to that question is simple. Who invented right?

        Paul answers the question

        What shall we say then? Is there not unrighteousness with God? Let it not be!
        For He said to Moses, “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 the one willing, nor of the one running, but of God, the One showing mercy.
        For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “Even for this same purpose I have raised you up, that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth.”
        Therefore He has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will, He hardens.
        You will then say to me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?
        No, but, O man, who are you who replies against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him who formed it, Why have you made me this way?
        Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel to honor and another to dishonor?
        What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction;
        and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He had before prepared to glory;
        whom He also called, not only us, of Jews, but also of the nations? Romans 9:14-24

        …which is why I’ve basically just had to adopt the position that God chooses first (is sovereign)…Man makes choices for which he is responsible before his Maker. Both are true and it is more important to accept it than to be able to exhaustively explain it.

  2. I really think the key to understanding this topic accurately is to start and finish with Christ. It’s all about perspective.

    You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life. And they are the ones witnessing of Me… 😉

    Who is “elect”?
    Behold My Servant, whom I uphold; My Elect, in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit on Him; He shall bring out judgment to the nations. Isaiah 42:1

    There are only two “sides”
    He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. Luke 11:23

    Those who are with Christ may be counted as “elect” with Him–because He is generous–, and there is a lot of scriptural evidence that we make the choice and are held responsible for the consequences of our decision.

    Good point concerning the thought that certain aspects of Who God is (patient, forgiving, kind, merciful, just, Redeemer etc) may be best seen in light of His interaction with us.

    From Paul’s Athenian speech in Acts 17 For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also certain of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring.
    Then being offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like gold or silver or stone, engraved by art and man’s imagination.

    I agree that man–even corrupt (depraved), sinful man bears the likeness of his Maker.
    But only Jesus is the perfect Image of God.

    …which sent my mind meandering into Revelation and the statements concerning the “mark of the beast”. In the broadest sense, receiving the “mark of the beast” is representative of what happens when man fully rejects God and willfully chooses to join the demonic rebellion. Worshiping the “image of the beast” is the opposite of worshiping the “Image of God (Christ)”. Would not that condition be man stubbornly resisting the indwelling of God’s life-giving Spirit and being handed over to a condition of “total depravity” to reap the harvest of destruction he has sown? Eh. That’s probably another discussion entirely.

    Not being a card-carrying member of the TULIP perspective, I have no problem with the idea that people are not born “totally” depraved. One does not have to be “totally” depraved in order to fall short of God’s glory. It only takes one sinful thought to send anyone to hell according to Jesus.( Matthew 5:22)

    When that which has been revealed to us about God’s righteousness is not kept as a central focus, it is easy to start to weigh the behavior of one individual against that of another and call some “good” and others “evil” when Jesus plainly said that only God is “good”. If there is any good in me at all, it must be from Him. If I refuse to recognize it as God’s influence on my conscience, then I’m still His enemy, regardless of how many nice things I do.

  3. Brother’s and Sister’s, I won’t add much here, I feel like I have rambled enough various times before. I would only clarify the term “total depravity”. This description does not mean that man is “as bad a he can be”, but rather, that he is “as bad off as he can be”, that is, every part of his being (Totality) has been impacted and contaminated by sin. He is under the dominion of it, and he loves it so, he is now a “willing” vassal of Master Sin. This bondage can only be broken by the One who has the power over life and death and is the “strong man” that can spoil Satan and sin’s dominion. God must open blind eyes, open deaf ears, open closed hearts (Lydia), and raise dead men to life ( who are in fact alienated from the life of God, which would preclude their doing anything or making any decision to resurrect themselves) I do, and have always acknowledged that, from our finite perspective, we are unable to plum the depths of God’s eternal and secret council concerning His decrees, nevertheless, I do always have to return to the assessment of the statements of Paul that were alredy alluded to as well as Jesus’ words spoken during His earthly ministry in which He declared with great confidence that “all that the Father gave Him”, would indeed come to Him. He made such confident assertions after also stating that “no man CAN come, except it is given to him of the Father”. Therefore, though I confess the belief that men do indeed choose and are capable of “civic charity” and acts of familial duty, they are unable to perform the perfect, righteous, and unsullied choices and duties that God requires. They are in need of a Joshua, a deliverer, even though they think themselves perfectly capable of choosing God anytime that they are ready, (and there are gods many in men’s fallen minds that they consider to be the God of scripture) and see themselves as “free”, not realizing their desperate slavery to their own selfish passions, pride, and lusts. I confess that I am a beggar who would have never chosen Christ or accounted His person and work as something of supreme value unless He had first said unto me “arise” and live! As the Puritan hymn declares: ” I sought the Lord, but afterwards I knew, He moved my soul to seek Him seeking me.”
    (Well, I thought it was going to be short) 🙂

    • Tom,
      Thanks for dropping by. Hope you have a happy new year.
      The thing I have been pondering lately has to do with a couple of things Paul said in his address in Athens.
      He said that God is calling all men everywhere to repent. Does that mean He called everyone? It would seem that is what Paul said.
      He said that “in Him we live and move and have our being”
      Does this mean that even depraved man has some access to God’s goodness?
      It would seem that the answer must be a resounding “Yes!” This is what empowers anyone to make anything but the wrong choice.
      Not to say you are disagreeing with these thoughts, just wanted you to know the context of where they are coming from.
      He was speaking to unbelievers when he said that, and the “we” included them.
      So I have to say I believe that all men have a responsibility to choose, and that it is a real choice. All men, though totally depraved in themselves, are somehow operating within God’s grace and could therefore make the correct choice. Not because of their own goodness or life, there is none. Because “in Him they live and move and ahve their being”
      On the other hand, I do not believe that God is in any way surprised by anyone’s choice, and did not use his omipotence to change that for anyone.
      This is because:
      1) We were created to show Who He is.
      2) He is the Redeemer, that is what is uniquely shown through us
      3) Redeemed from certain doom is a farce if none are really doomed
      4) The reason some stay doomed and some do not was never about them, it was always about Him.

      A thought that messes with my head. . .


  4. I would only clarify the term “total depravity”. This description does not mean that man is “as bad a he can be”, but rather, that he is “as bad off as he can be”, that is, every part of his being (Totality) has been impacted and contaminated by sin. He is under the dominion of it, and he loves it so, he is now a “willing” vassal of Master Sin. This bondage can only be broken by the One who has the power over life and death and is the “strong man” that can spoil Satan and sin’s dominion.

    Agreed. Thank you, Tom.

    This is also my understanding of what “total depravity” actually means–and Who is the only cure for it.

    My own hesitance to use the term stems precisely from the misunderstanding that you pointed out, though. It seems a lot of people imagine “total depravity” to be equivalent to a Stalin or Hitler personality and, obviously, not every person behaves in such a manner.

    The dictionary definition of “depraved” simply means “corrupted”. And so, to say that every facet of our being (body, mind, soul) has been corrupted/tainted/adversely affected by sin is in no way wrong.

  5. I’m sorry, please don’t take offense, but I cannot accept what you guys are saying at all. That God would plan for some to fall without remedy? No. That would make Him the author of evil, in my mind. Some would be created not in the image of God, irredeemable. The Bible says hell was created for the devil and his angels — angels are irredeemable. God does not create any humans that way — like angels, irredeemable. All men are created in the image of God, given a free will and the ability to do good or evil (but they don’t because of the inherited sinful nature), and all are redeemable by the Blood of Christ. God draws, we are given the ability to respond and must. I think Calvinists, in their zeal to show God as sovereign (and He is) have gone way overboard. I don’t believe any of the points of TULIP. Not even one. Oh, well, I don’t know what else to say.

  6. I can only speak for myself, but I’m not offended.

    Yes, man was created in the image of God and hell was created for the devil and his angels. We make choices and, it appears that no one is twisting anyone’s arm.

    I just don’t see any way to get around Romans 9 in order to say that man has a free will in the way many would like to believe we have.

  7. So did God know some would go to hell?
    Was there nothing He could have done to avoid it?

  8. The analogy almost seems like God made two races of people: the elect and the non-elect, but the Bible says we are of one blood, all children of Adam. He did not make two races of people — one to go to hell, which was created for the devil and his angels, and one to go to heaven, so I don’t think the analogy is satisfying to me.

    Vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, it seems obvious to me, are fitted for destruction from the point that God, who bore with them patiently (Cain, Pharaoah, Judas, probably others, those are the ones that come readily to mind, were all warned in one way or another before being given over to their sin), gave them over to their sin. At that point, they were fitted as vessels for destruction, their free will gone, unable to attain repentance, not from birth. But, with foreknowledge — the ability to see the future — God knows all about these people and what they will do. I never read Romans 9 and got from it the idea that God created people from conception to be vessels of wrath. That’s my take on it. Thank you for the discussion. It is a big subject.

    • Mary,

      Concerning Cain, Pharaoh and Judas–there is no record of them having been first born again before being handed over to their sin.

      And the Lord said to Moses, When you return into Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all those miracles and wonders which I have put in your hand; but I will make him stubborn and harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Exodus 4:21 (Amplified Version)

      This statement was made to Moses before God sent him back to Egypt. God didn’t say “because Pharaoh’s already kicking back against me, I will harden his heart…”. The decision was already made, but we are not told “how” this was determined.

      It is also of interest to me that Moses’ life contains Messianic references while the person of Pharaoh seems to represent Satan and his refusal to willingly give back to God what is rightfully His. In the warnings, plagues and eventual release of God’s chosen people from Pharaoh’s life of enforced slavery (of which they had no choice), there is the definite theme of spiritual redemption.

      After being freed, the Israelites did have the choice to obey or disobey the commands handed down by God through Moses and many of those who stubbornly rebelled did die. But before the Exodus, they were slaves to Pharaoh without any hope of being able to freely serve God. Even when the Israelites were not being obedient, God did still call them HIS people. I don’t know how that actually applies to the “Church age”, but it’s worth a look, I think.

      Romans 9:
      I believe the point Paul is making is not so much “some were chosen and some not”, but that we have no business questioning the wisdom of God in what He’s doing. Those of us who recognize our “saved” status have an obligation to both God and the people around us to represent Christ as accurately and thankfully as we can.

  9. No, I know those people were not saved, because they were O.T. people. Anyway, interesting discussion. And, yes, we need to be able to give an answer for the hope we have and present Christ as accurately as we can.

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