I have argued the the implications of the Calvinist view of election is that God’s choice of those who are elect is arbitrary. But what do I mean by “arbitrary”? I mean this:
Arbitrary decision: any decision between two or more options where one option is chosen but another option was equally feasible. For example, it is a choice between a and b where one chooses a but could just as well have chosen b.
There are two kinds of acceptable arbitrary decisions, unforced trivial and forced weighty.
Unforced trivial arbitrary decision: “Should I choose cheesecake or chocolate cake for desert? I guess I’ll have cheesecake.”
Forced weighty arbitrary decision: “The tornado is about to hit my house. Before I go to the storm cellar should I grab my infant who is upstairs or my two year old who is on the front lawn?”
Our lives are filled with unforced trivial arbitrary decisions and so is God’s providential governance of creation. For example, he could have made the world such that Mount Everest would be two feet higher or two feet lower, but he didn’t. He made it the way it is, and so far as we can see (and have reason to believe) that is an unforced arbitrary decision.
We also occasionally face forced weighty arbitrary decisions. The man who saves his two year old from the tornado because he didn’t have time to save both his children makes an arbitrary choice but it is an acceptable one since it was forced on him.
Does God make forced weighty arbitrary decisions? The Arminian thinks so. Because on the Arminian view God is constrained by the choices of libertarian free creatures he must choose which possible world to create. Shall he create the one where the infant is saved from the tornado or the one where the two year old is saved? Shall he create the one where Randal is elect and Marilyn Manson is reprobate or the one where Randal is reprobate and Marilyn (aka Brian Warner) is elect? Forced, weighty arbitrary decisions.
With that in mind we come to Paul Manata’s recent response to me regarding God’s electing decisions from a Reformed perspective:
“[S]urely you’re not objecting that because I don’t know the exact reasons that there are none? It’s enough for me to know that there are reasons, even if I don’t know them. For, (a) God might have chosen not to reveal them, (b) I may not be able to understand them in my fallen state even if he were to reveal it, and (c) they may employ metaphysical distinctions so fine that a finite creature could never in principle understand them, even if revealed.”
I agree that on the Reformed perspective God has decisions for electing those he elects and reprobating those he reprobates. I also recognize that some Calvinists view the identity of those God elects and reprobates to be a forced weighty arbitrary decision. On their view God has to damn some, and so he does so. However, I’d want to know more about why, on their Reformed view, the decision is a forced one and thus why God can’t save everyone.
But if a Reformed person claims that God could have saved everyone in the divine sovereign freedom but chose not to, then it seems we are left with a decision which is unforced and arbitrary but which is definitely not trivial since it involves eternal damnation. Do these folk accept election as an unforced weighty arbitrary decision? If so, do they care to mount a defense of the view that such decisions are acceptable? We cringe in horror at the man who could have saved his two year old and his infant but opted only to save one: unforced, weighty and arbitrary. So unless the Calvinist believes God’s electing decision is in fact forced it would seem they have a similar dilemma.