Q&A: Why Not Choose Everybody?

Why Not Choose Everybody?

Question

Why didn't a loving God choose everybody?

How do you harmonize with the scriptures that God's sovereign election is done apart from works of the individual, either good or bad (Rom 9:11-13) and yet He punishes those who are left in there sin and at enmity with Him. For instance I heard an Arminian once say that Calvinist are always saying that "it's not about why God didn't choose everyone, it's why did God choose anyone" (Since we all sin). Since God's election is done apart from works good or bad, is this a poor statement?

Answer

Well, the statement "It's not about why God didn't choose everyone; it's why did God choose anyone" makes the point that none of us deserved to be elected, which is true. But the question "Why didn't God choose everyone?" is still legitimate. In one place, Paul answers the question by saying that God wanted to create some people for glory and others for destruction (Rom. 9:21-24). For reasons God does not fully explain to us, it pleases and glorifies him to have some people who are saved and some who are not.

The typical Arminian explanation for why some people are elect and some are not is that God looked down the corridor of time and foresaw faith or merit in some, but not in others. Those in whom he foresaw faith or merit he elected, the others he did not. This is what we might call "conditional election" because individuals must satisfy a condition in order to qualify for election. Paul's whole argument in Romans 9, however, refutes this conjecture rather directly.

The other issue you raise has to do with punishment. More specifically, if the reprobate are punished for their sins but the elect are not, and there is no substantive difference between the reprobate and the elect, how is that fair? The answer is that, in some sense, it is not "fair," if by "fair" we mean "equal treatment." But that does not make it untrue. Equal treatment would be for everyone to perish without mercy, or for mercy to be shown to all. But the Bible never teaches that God treats everyone equally in every instance. In fact, it demonstrates time and again that God favors some people above others, and that he does so for no apparent reason. The demand for equal treatment may seem reasonable to some modern humans, but it is not a biblical concept.

In place of equal treatment, the Bible insists that God treats everyone justly. For some, he expresses justice by punishing them for their sins. For others, he expresses justice by allowing Christ to be their substitute and punishing Christ for their sins. Justice is never compromised. But in some cases, justice is coupled with mercy, whereas in other cases it is not.

It cannot rightly be said, however, that it is unjust to show mercy to some but not all. It may seem arbitrary, but God has the right to act in manners that seem, and in fact may be, arbitrary by human standards. The more important issue is not whether or not our theology implies that God acts arbitrarily, but whether or not the Bible teaches our theology. There is no reasonable basis to reject out of hand all theological formulations that imply that God acts arbitrarily.

In any event, the Reformed formulation is not that God acts arbitrarily, as some Arminians seem to think we believe, but that he acts according to his good pleasure. For some reason that is inscrutable but not arbitrary, God was pleased to create and choose some for glory and others for destruction. The Bible does not tell us what specifically pleased God as he elected, which makes his decision inscrutable. But it does tell us that the basis was God's good pleasure, commonly described in terms of his glory (cf. Eph. 1:12) and purpose (cf. Rom. 9:11), so that we at least know that his choice was not arbitrary.

In short, we harmonize these ideas not by knowing specifically how all the pieces work together, but rather by knowing that there is nothing inherently contradictory in the ideas despite not knowing all the details.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.