A Working Model
Other Popular Calvinist
The Attributes of Deity
A working model
At this point in the discussion it's time to present an alternative model to Calvinism that works, and outlines how a righteous God interacts with His creation.
In a nutshell, God has given man a free will with which to
choose, and man will be held accountable for the
choices he makes. In doing so, God has chosen to limit His knowledge
of what man will do. This is not to say that God is incapable of
making an educated guess based on past performance as to what a person will do in a
given situation. But this is not the same as knowing. Now God does have
the power and right to override man's will when He deems it necessary, and so cause
him to do something that he would not otherwise have done. He has in fact done
so on occasion.
But this is the exception to the rule and far from His standard method of
operation because it defeats the very purpose for giving man a free will. In these rare
instances, God does not, indeed He cannot, justifiably hold a person accountable
for the things he does, simply because it was not the person doing it. This goes for doing what is right as well as doing
what appears to be in disobedience to Him. In such cases, righteousness
demands that there be no reward for doing
right, and no condemnation for doing wrong. Examples of this are very clear in Scripture.
Two instances where God has caused someone to do good apart from
their own will are John the Baptist, and Cyrus king of Persia.
John the Baptist
Of John the Baptist, Yeshua said;
"Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. " Matthew 11:11
How can one so great also be the least? The only way this works is if we understand that John the Baptist, the person, had little to nothing to say about his ministry. In verse 14 of the same chapter Yeshua said that John was Elijah who was to come. John was one of the exceptions who was destined, as it were, to fulfill prophecy and there was nothing he could do of his own will about it one way or the other. The Holy Spirit so filled John that John the person was eclipsed by the Spirit. Even in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, his mission was under the influence of the Spirit.
And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. ....For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy." Luke 1:41,42,44
When John was in his ministry, there was no question in his mind what his mission was, or who Yeshua was. He said;
"There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Mark 1:7,8
...John saw Yeshua coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for he was before me." John 1:29,30
Yet near the end of John's life after his mission had been completed, the Holy Spirit was letting him go and we begin to see John the man all by himself. While in Herod's prison, shortly before he was murdered, we hear these words;
When John had heard in prison about the works of the Messiah, he sent two of his disciples and said to him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" Matthew 11:2,3
All of a sudden, for the first time since his
conception, John isn't sure who Yeshua is anymore! Thus, it should be evident
that John the man had no say in the matter of his great ministry. It was prophesied
by God that Elijah would come to prepare the way for the Messiah and
this prophecy was going to be fulfilled whether John liked it or not. This then
is why Yeshua said he was both the greatest and the least. John the Baptist was
a rare exception of a man who had no free will. There was little reward
for the man himself because he had no say or choice in the matter. God, by His
Spirit, did the job in John.
There is also the prophecy of how God would use King Cyrus to let His people Israel go from Babylonian captivity. This prophecy came long before Cyrus was even born and it even called him by name. In Isaiah, God speaks of how He has destined Cyrus for this specific job. Here are some highlights.
"Thus says the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held to subdue nations before him..." "I will go before you and make the crooked places straight...." "That you may know that I, the Lord Who called you by your name, Am the God of Israel. For Jacob My servant's sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name, I have named you , though you have not known Me..." "I have raised him (Cyrus) up in righteousness and I will direct all his ways; He shall build My city and let My exiles go free, not for price nor reward." Says the Lord of hosts. Isaiah 45:1,3-4,13
Notice how someone who has no will of their own
or any say in the matter, but is destined by God to do good things, ends
up having "no reward" for the good that they do? Conversely, a person who is controlled by
God to act against Him can not be righteously held accountable for that which was not their
will either. God hardening Pharaoh's heart to not let His people go from Egypt is a classic example of this. To the
degree that Pharaoh hardened his own heart without any help from God will be the
degree to which he will be held accountable for his actions. But God hardening Pharaoh's
heart is the exception to His standard method of operation. It cannot be
stressed enough that God overriding a man's will is the exception to the rule. One does not want to be destined by God
to do good works because there is no reward in it! Man instinctively knows this
is righteousness. But his instincts also know the flip side is true as well. When it comes to dealing with guilt,
people instinctively know that if a person has
no real say in doing what is evil, they are not truly guilty! This is the
subliminal attraction that guilty men have to the concept of predestination.
What about prophecy?
Whenever I start talking about God not knowing
the future and what man will do, the question of prophecy comes up. How can God
prophesy that something
will occur in the future? The fact that God tells of many things that will happen in the future appears to prove that He does
know the future. When God says something is going to happen,
it does not mean that He has foreseen it from the perspective of being outside of time, nor does it mean that
everything that transpires on earth was foreordained in exhaustive detail from before
creation. When God says that something is going to happen He is telling man
what He will do in the future. It is His will, and what He
will do. It is more like His plan or blueprint for the future.
God generally chooses to first work with those who are willing
to go along with His plan, and if no one can be found, He will then make an exception
and cause someone to
carry out His plan.
This is a simple concept that an innocent child can grasp. The problem is that adults
generally have motive for making it more difficult than it really
There is a passage in Isaiah that is commonly quoted as proof that God knows everything from start to finish. "I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning." But, if one looks at the context in which this passage is found, a very different picture emerges. In its context, it is easy to see that prophecy is God's plan that He will bring about... one way or another.
"Remember this and show yourselves men; Recall to mind, O you transgressors. Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,; Calling a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it." Isaiah 46:8-11
Notice that God does not speak using time-less terminology, but
speaks as though He is going through time as well when He says things like, "not yet done",
"shall stand", "I will do", "I will bring it to
pass", and so on. It should be apparent that what God has
"purposed" should be considered a plan that He will by whatever
means necessary, bring it to pass. Notice also how He prefers to use a man
who willfully executes His counsel. Nowhere in this passage is
there the idea that God has foreseen future events.
He exerts Himself in time as the Most High... to bring to pass what He has purposed.
What about prophesied evil?
First, a distinction must be made between two types of prophesied evil. There are prophecies of God's judgment that are often referred to as "evil" that I will address later. But there are a number of times where God speaks of evil that men will do in the future. Just one example is the following:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? And a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed. Revelation 6:9-11
This sounds like there is a known
specific number of people who will be murdered for being faithful to God. It is
true that there is a predetermined number, and murdering innocent people is an evil thing that men will do.
So the question is, if this is part of God's plan and He must forcefully
bring it to pass, doesn't that make Him the author of evil? The answer would be yes if the presupposition that He must forcefully bring evil
to pass were true. But it isn't. We need to understand that God knows man's propensity for evil, and that given the
chance, man will quickly work the will of his father the devil. We also need
to understand that the majority of God's controlling influence in the world is
mercifully directed at restraining evil. This is accomplished largely through
the deployment of His angels. For examples, see Psalm 91:9-13 Revelation
7:1-3. For evil to occur, all God has to do is remove His forces for good
and allow man
to become as evil as his father the devil. God's restraining
influence in the world keeps evil from happening any
sooner than it should. He does not have to cause it to happen. In the case of the
above prophecy, God will eventually allow evil men to have their way in the
world. And when the number of martyrs reaches a certain point at which God has
determined His patience will come to an end, judgment (another form of evil)
will fall from God on evil men to repay them for their deeds.
Other popular Calvinist passages
First, a clarification
There are many passages that could be quoted in support of the fact that God is indeed sovereign. In spite of the fact that there is no single Hebrew word that has the equivalent meaning of the English word "sovereign", Scripture clearly teaches that God is sovereign in that He answers to no other being. This picture is not in any way a problem with the working model before us. In the minds of some of my opponents, sovereign is sovereign. What I am coming against is the ultra-sovereign, or total-hands-on micromanaging picture of God... one where He controls even the wills and destinies of men. Contrary to man's philosophical ideas of what is required of God if He wants to be considered "God" by such men, God is not any less sovereign by limiting His knowledge of, and personal involvement in, His creation. He still answers to no other being... not even man's definition of Him!
Before getting to the things that were taught by
Paul, I'd first like to address the Scriptures that Calvinists commonly quote in
support of their doctrine. Again, because it is the path that I took on my
journey toward the truth.
One of the most common passages you will hear a Calvinist quote is part of Psalm 139. When a Calvinist uses this passage as a proof text for the concept of an ultra-sovereign God, he will almost always use the NIV translation. When the NIV translation first came out years ago, it didn't take much reading for me to quickly come to the conclusion it had a very profound pro-Calvinism spin to it. In spite of the fact that there is no Hebrew, or even Greek word for the English word "sovereign", nor is the word "sovereign" used even once in the KJV or NKJV translations, the NIV translators saw fit to use it 303 times! In almost all of the cases, the Hebrew word translated "sovereign" was "adoni" which means "my Lord". "My Lord" is a title, but the word "sovereign" in the NIV is used as an adjective with the intent to portray a characteristic! This is way out of legitimate lines. Come to find out more recently that the executive secretary of the NIV translation was none other than Edwin H. Palmer... Calvinist extraordinaire, author of other pro-Calvinist books like, The Five Points of Calvinism ! Surprise surprise.
The NIV quote that one will hear from Psalm 139 is:
"All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Psalm 139:16
There's the proof in all its hideous glory! How can anyone argue with this? David clearly said that every day of his life on earth was written out in a book before it ever started! Or was it? The context in which this passage is found is of David describing the wonderful design of his body when it was formed in his mother's womb. Let's look at the context of this statement in the NKJV version.
"For You have formed my inward parts; You have covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You When I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed." Psalm 139:13-16a
The very next sentence is the one quoted above concerning the days ordained for David. That same sentence in the KJV reads like this;
"And in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them." vs. 16b
The NIV translation wants us to believe David was talking about the days of his life being written out in advance. In the KJV version, David is clearly speaking of his body parts being written in a book before they were formed. Which is it? They both can't be right. The context in which this sentence is found is of the wonder and beauty of God's design and engineering when David's body was being formed in his mother's womb. Therefore the context demands that we understand David was referring to his body parts and not his future. Nowhere in this entire Psalm is there any mention of the future.
The sad thing about the NIV version is, not only is it misleading us toward a pro-Calvinist picture, but it is also blinding us to the incredible beauty of the truth that David speaks of. So how can all David's body parts be written out in a book before any of them came into existence? In the DNA of his genetic code! At the moment of conception, when the recombination process of all genetic information is completed, every detail of a person's body is written out and established long before any of the body parts actually begin to form. This is what David was speaking about. Read it again if necessary. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, David spoke of this incredibly fascinating feat of God's engineering over four thousand years ago! Science hasn't even known about it for 100 years!
In this Psalm there is not even a hint of the concept of destiny or of God knowing everything about David and his future. In fact, quite the contrary is true. The last two verses of the same Psalm clearly indicate that David desires for God to gain new information from him!
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24
Another popular passage used as a proof text for the ultra-sovereign picture of God, who has even created evil, comes from Isaiah.
"...I have created the destroyer to destroy." Isaiah 54:16
Again, one will generally only hear this short snippet of Scripture quoted by itself. When read in its context, a very different picture emerges again.
"All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established; You shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. Indeed they shall surely assemble, but not because of Me. Whoever assembles against you shall fall for your sake. Behold, I have created the blacksmith who blows the coals in the fire, who brings forth a weapon for his work; and I have created the destroyer (who is ready) to destroy. No weapon formed against you shall prosper... " Isaiah 54:13-17
Again, as always, context is the most important
factor to consider when interpreting this
passage. There is this issue of the little word "to" as in, "to
destroy". On the surface, it sounds like God is saying that He created the destroyer for
the very purpose of destroying. The word "to" is translated from the
single Hebrew letter, Lamed, which is prefixed to the word translated destroy.
This letter as a prefix has a very broad range of possible meanings. The
context of its usage is the best indicator of its intended meaning. One meaning
is; "to be ready or disposed for doing anything." (Gesenius'
Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon. Lamed, def. B2) In Isaiah
38:20 the very same is translated "ready to...". From
the context of this passage, it is evident that God is telling His people not to
fear the destroyer because He has made all people, including the people who make and use weapons of destruction. Therefore He has the power to stop both
them and their weapons. To say that God has created the destroyer for the
purpose of destroying, based on this short phrase, is an interpretation that just
does not work in the context in which it is found. Why would God create someone to serve a purpose,
purpose to stop him from doing what He purposed? Sounds like a major conflict of interest. It is
man who has purposed to destroy, and God comforts His people by telling them He
can easily stop those who would try to destroy them.
Another classic that Calvinists like to quote as proof that God has created evil also comes from Isaiah.
"I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things." Isaiah 45:7
These words certainly seem to paint a gut-wrenching picture of God actually admitting to being responsible for creating evil. No thought could be further from the truth or more blasphemous. What God is speaking of is obviously the opposite of "peace", in the same way He contrasted "light" and "darkness". This peace means tranquility of life, and the word translated "evil" more literally means "calamity". Some translations, including the NKJV, actually use the word "calamity" in this verse instead of "evil". This calamity is the picture of God's judgment on man for his sinful deeds. Many examples of this type of picture could be cited. The great flood was a major calamity and judgment on man. There was judgment in the form of calamity on Sodom and Gomorrah, Pharaoh in Egypt, Israel in the wilderness, and so on. Many times this judgment is called "evil". Here are a couple of examples where the same Hebrew word is used.
And the Lord repented of the evil ("harm" NKJV) which he thought to do unto his people. Exodus 32:14 KJV
"Thus says the Lord: 'Stand in the court of the Lord's house, and speak to all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord's house, all the words that I command you to speak to them. Do not diminish a word. Perhaps (What? God didn't know for sure?!) everyone will listen and turn from his evil way, that I may relent concerning the evil ("calamity" NKJV) which I purpose to bring on them because of the evil of their doings." Jeremiah 26:2-3
Note: By using the word "perhaps", it should be apparent that God wasn't even sure if the people would repent! So much for Calvinism's concept of an all-knowing God.
Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel: 'Behold, I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the evil ("doom" NKJV) that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken to them but they have not heard, and I have called to them but they have not answered.'" Jeremiah 35:17
These are examples of the same "evil" God was
speaking of in Isaiah 45:7. God most certainly did not bring evil into existence as
though it would
not exist had He not created it.
The song of Moses
In Deuteronomy God speaks to Moses and tells him that in the future Israel will turn from Him.
And the Lord said to Moses: "Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, 'Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?'" Deuteronomy 31:16-17
God goes on to command Moses to write a song about this prediction and teach it to the people so they would remember it. Calvinists like to point to this passage and say, "See! God does know the future." But let's look at it closer and in view of the rest of the context. In verse 21 God tells Moses how He knows the people will turn from Him.
"...For I know the inclination of their behavior today, even before I have brought them to the land of which I swore to give them."
Nowhere does God say anything close to the idea that He just knows because He is God. No, He predicts Israel will turn from Him because of His experience with them. He knew what their tendencies were. Moses told Israel earlier that God kept them in the wilderness for the very purpose of finding out what they were made of.
"And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not." Deuteronomy 8:2
Apparently He didn't know for sure at first! But obviously by the time God told Moses to write the song, He had come to clearly understand the inclination of Israel's heart. No doubt, God's disappointment started with the golden calf incident. It should also be apparent that the purpose God had in mind for making the children of Israel memorize the song was in the hope they would remember it and not turn from Him, or at least put it off for as many generations as possible.
Also in the song that God gave Moses are these interesting words.
"For they are a nation void of counsel, nor is there any understanding in them. Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!" Deuteronomy 32:28-29
If God is in total control and just knows everything that will happen, why is His heart yearning for something different to happen?
There is one other interesting fact about God's prediction concerning Israel turning from Him. God predicts the extent to which Israel will break His covenant. He says they will turn and worship other gods and serve them. It is a broad prediction that doesn't go any farther. But many generations down the road when they do turn from Him, God says these interesting words.
"But they set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to defile it. And they built the high places of Baal which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin." Jeremiah 32:34-35
When God told Moses to write the
song, He predicted Israel would turn from Him. But after the fact, God admits
that He never even imagined they would become as evil as they did by sacrificing
their children to pagan gods. The picture of Israel sacrificing their
children to pagan gods can not be found in Moses song. God didn't see
that one coming and He said so! So it is clear that God did not predict Israel's
falling away because He simply knows everything that will happen. It was a calculated prediction based
on His experience with them.
Peter's denial of Yeshua.
Calvinists like to point to Yeshua's prediction that Peter would choose to deny knowing him as proof that God knows what a person will do.
Then he said, "I tell you Peter, the rooster will not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know me". Luke 22:34
The question again is, how did Yeshua know this? Was it really because the future was written in stone somewhere and he had seen the script? No. Yeshua's prediction was similar to God's prediction concerning Israel. It was based on His past experience with Peter. Yeshua knew what Peter was made of even better than Peter knew himself. Yeshua knew Peter was made of the stony soil that he mentioned in his parable in Mathew 13.
"But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself but endures only for a while. For when tribulation of persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles." Matthew 13:20-21
This could be the reason why Yeshua renamed Simon and called him Peter, which means stone. It was Peter's character and Yeshua knew it. There is also another story going on behind the scenes which no one seems to have put together. It's right there in the context again, but we have not understood what was really going on the night Peter denied Yeshua.
And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to me, strengthen your brethren." But he said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you, both to prison and to death." Then he said , "I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know me." Luke 22:31-34
Here is what was going on that night. Satan had asked for Peter to test him just as Yeshua said. Satan knew as well as Yeshua did that Peter was stony ground and would fail under pressure. After reading this passage, most people think that because Yeshua prayed for Peter, Satan could no longer get at him. But that is not what it says. Yeshua said he prayed that Peter's faith would not fail. And then he said, "when you have returned...". Question. Returned from what? Answer. Returned from being tested by Satan! Yeshua never said Satan wasn't going to sift Peter. He actually indicated the opposite when he said, "when you have returned (from being sifted), strengthen your brethren." Yeshua only indicated Peter's faith would not fail and thus lose it all. Yeshua knew Peter wasn't as strong as he thought he was, and that he would deny him under pressure... and he gave Satan permission to test him only so far that night for Peter's own good. Peter needed to see his own weaknesses so he could strengthen himself. Then Yeshua told him to strengthen his brethren with his new knowledge and strength afterwards. Yeshua knew the testing that was coming to Peter that night, and it was on this basis that he predicted Peter's denials.
So now the question is, did Peter still have the free will to make a false prophet out of Yeshua by choosing not to deny him? The answer is no. Peter still could have refused to deny Yeshua. Actually, he got off to a real good start in the garden of Gethsemane when he drew his sword and attacked those who came to arrest Yeshua! But when it comes to making a false prophet out of Yeshua, what people don't realize is that Yeshua left himself a way out in the extremely unlikely event Peter surprised him. Peter did not have the power to make a false prophet out of Yeshua, but he did have the power to make sure no rooster crowed that day! Go back and read the story again in all the gospels, and notice the timing of the rooster's crows! I picture an angel standing alongside the rooster... goosing him at just the right moment! Peter could have surprised Yeshua and refused to deny him, in which case I imagine angels everywhere keeping rooster's beaks shut the rest of that day. Yeshua would have been thrilled with Peter and rewarded him for it much the way God was thrilled with Abraham and rewarded him when he was tested. But Yeshua knew Peter's stony heart, and knew it was a pretty safe bet that he would deny him, thus it was not a prediction based on knowing the future.
If I had been Peter and was told I was going to do something where I didn't have any choice in the matter, I would have known better than to feel guilty about doing it! And if Yeshua had tried to make me feel guilty about it, I would have protested and said it wasn't right for him to hold me accountable for something in which I had no choice. Anyone with half a mind would! But it says that Peter went out and wept bitterly because of what he had done. He knew he had the choice and could have changed things, but didn't.
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