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Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 9

Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.

I temporarily skipped questions #7 and #8 since they deal with unfamiliar territory. My familiar ground is philosophy, and those two questions deal with science. I will answer both tomorrow, to finish off this series. Which means that only question #11 will be dealt with today, and it’s a short one:

If God has mercy, doesn’t this render his justice arbitrary?

Mercy is selective by nature. When God has mercy, he is selecting certain people for salvation and passing over the rest for damnation. In DGS’s mind, selective automatically equals arbitrary. That’s a non sequitur.

If I wish to purchase a laptop, I need to think about a few things first. Primarily, my career field is going to be freelance writing, with emphasis on philosophy and Christian apologetics. According to freelance writing gurus like Bob Bly, the modern freelance writer needs reliable Internet access. Nearly all business for freelancers is conducted online these days.

Open source programs like OpenOffice.org for articles and short stories, Scribus for graphic designs and layouts, and CeltX for screenplays take care of most of my writing needs. Therefore, preinstalled software isn’t an important factor for me. I can customize my laptop with almost anything I need from the open source community.

The primary thing I’m looking at is WiFi access so I can work on the go, a big enough monitor that won’t cause eyestrain, and a comfortable keyboard since I’m prone to marathon-writing sessions. Carpal tunnel syndrome is not an option for me!

It looks like a laptop is going to be the way I’d go. Notebooks aren’t going to have a big enough keyboard or enough resolution for the monitor. I would like a physical keyboard, so most tablet PCs are also out. This is me being selective as to the sort of laptop that I’m going to eventually purchase.But, is that arbitrary?

The criteria I set forth are reasonable and help me discern what I’m going to invest time and money into. Though I’m being selective, none of these criteria are randomly chosen; I have a reason for each one. And this is how God works also: he had a reason for each elect soul he chose for the glory of heaven, predicated on his love and the good pleasure of his will.

Arbitrary would be if God were rolling dice as he made each soul, and only saving the souls on which he also rolled double sixes. But that’s not what happens; instead, God has a purpose for each soul made and a further reason for each soul he saves.

The rub is that we don’t know his criteria for who is saved and who is not. It’s not specifically revealed in Scripture. We know only that it has nothing to do with any perceived worth in the creature.

There is so much more. Election is a rich and dynamic doctrine, and I’ve already defended it extensively. More information is available here.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on January 16, 2011, in Apologetics, God, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. This wasn’t about salvation.

    It goes back to verification and the meaningless of words describing God.

    “Justice” is a basic concept—it means to follow a law. If the law says, “Pay a fine of $100 for spitting on the sidewalk” then when you spit on the sidewalk, justice requires a $100 fine. Not $99. Not a warning. Not life imprisonment.

    When discussing the Christian God, we often hear rationalization for uncomfortable actions under the guise, “God is Just.” As if this almighty concept renders the question moot. Few want to take it the next step—what does it mean, “God is just”? We do see this when it comes to salvation: “sorry, God is just.” Or Punishment, “sorry, God is just.” Or the genocides, “God is just.”

    All that means is God is following some law. Determining that law is already seen as impossible…but for a moment let’s assume there is some such law. God is forced to follow this law for some reason.

    But the Christian God is also described as merciful. “Mercy” is the deliberate withholding of Justice. It is the exact opposite. It is saying you absolutely owe $100 for spitting on the sidewalk, but the Judge will only assess $99.

    If there are some criteria for salvation (such as you described) then salvation has nothing to do with mercy. It is justice. If this Law God follows says, “If the human believes X…they will be saved” then saving a person upon believing X is merely following the law. Mercy would be saving a person who did NOT believe X.

    Now, you are correct one could set up criteria for mercy, say only assessing a $99 fine for every third person, but this only moves the question back one level—that method is arbitrary. Why that method?

    Once you have a God who is Just, but is also merciful—you have a God who can do anything.

    • You literally missed my entire point.

      Mercy and justice have everything to do with salvation. Let’s boil this down to the barest simplicity.

      All of mankind is sinful, both by our very nature and by our subsequent actions. We are in serious rebellion against God. This means that God’s justice demands that all of us go to hell–that Second Death–which is demanded for our transgressions. All of us begin life in this state, and unless something drastic happens we will continue in that trajectory until Judgment Day.

      Enter mercy. In his love, God has appointed some as vessels of mercy so that some will share in his glory in heaven. This mercy isn’t applied arbitrarily (as you suggest), but there is a reason God has for selecting each individual vessel. We only know that it is nothing within that specific vessel (such as a future choice or act of kindness) that prompts the selection.

      By his justice, which is perfect and holy, God is bound to judge all mankind guilty and send them to hell. But in mercy, God has chosen some upon which to pour grace and has thus applied his mercy. This isn’t rendering his justice arbitrary. Arbitrary would be randomly selecting people down the line. But God has a reason for selecting each one he mercies; that reason simply remains unrevealed.

      • That’s far from “the barest simplicity”. Your starting point is begging the entire question:

        All of mankind is sinful, both by our very nature and by our subsequent actions.

        According to whom? Don’t bring up any scripture; that’s only an authority if one already believes it to be true. Assume your audience does not consider scripture to be an authority on anything.

      • I say “All of mankind is sinful, both by our very nature and by our subsequent actions.” You naively ask:

        According to whom? Don’t bring up any scripture; that’s only an authority if one already believes it to be true. Assume your audience does not consider scripture to be an authority on anything.

        Okay, forget Scripture for a moment; I don’t need it to show the sin nature of humanity. Read any history book and see countless examples of man being evil and inhumane to fellow man–which is how a being with a sin nature would treat other people! The original colonists really honored every treaty with the Native Americans, didn’t they? Back up and look at how the Conquistadors treated the vast Aztec and Incan empires. Are those empires still around today, or were they obliterated with much blood spilled? Back up again and look at what happened when man tried to systematize Jesus’ teachings into a religion and impose it on infidels, resulting in the Crusades. Those were nonviolent, right? Move a step forward to look at how that same system of religion treated heretics and dissenting theologians in the Inquisitions. I’m even condemning my own faith here as an example of human depravity, even though none of what I mentioned is authentic Christianity (Mt 5:5, 7, 9; cf. Rom 12:14, 16, 18). Therefore, the atheist shouldn’t disown his own totalitarian states that oppressed and killed dissenters on the premise that it wasn’t “in the name of atheism.” Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot individually killed more than all of the Inquisitions combined! Add them together, and you have an extremely violent 20th century.

        And speaking of 20th century atrocities, there’s the Holocaust–though I’m not suggesting that was product of atheism; it was a political power play, pure and simple.

        War, brutal autocratic states, and genocides are with us throughout all of history and into the 21st century. For you to even suppose that humanity is anything but sinful in both nature and deed is completely ignorant.

  2. It is unconvincing to claim “it is not arbitrary” and then follow with “there is a reason, we just don’t know it.” If you don’t know, then it could equally be arbitrary.

    • It is unconvincing to claim “it is not arbitrary” and then follow with “there is a reason, we just don’t know it.” If you don’t know, then it could equally be arbitrary.

      My point is that it doesn’t automatically follow that God’s election is arbitrary because we don’t know the rhyme or reason.

      It would help here if you could demonstrate an action that God takes in the Bible that literally has no rational reason for him to take. Something in the Bible that God does just because he felt like doing it, and has no reason behind it, and it never contributes to his overall plan (even if it takes centuries to contribute to that plan).

  3. If God embodies concepts which we later attempt to attach definitions to, and we have “arbitrary”—where else could it come from (according to Christianity) but God? Is your God limited from being arbitrary?

    Then how did we get it?

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