Did God predestine people to go to Hell?
Let me begin with an overview of predestination as envisioned by John Calvin. Calvinism teaches, in essence, that God chooses beforehand (predestines) who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. Arminianism is the antithesis of Calvinism. Arminianism teaches that “whosoever will may come”—anyone can be saved by simple faith in Christ!
PH, I have written a rather long and detailed answer to your question. I needed to because your questions has implications far beyond whether or not God predestines people to Hell. I hope my answer is helpful.
However, let me say to you or to anyone else reading my answer, if this is more answer than you want to read, then at least read Charles Spurgeon’s practical insight in the last paragraph. I think that what he has to say sums up everything!
John Calvin initiated the Calvinism vs. Armenianism debate that has brought much discord among Christians for the last five centuries. John Calvin, along with Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, were the fathers of the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation was a rejection of the Roman Catholic Church practice of selling indulgences (forgiveness of sins). Since the Roman Church had a corner on the religious market, there were no other options for the penitent desiring to obtain personal forgiveness except to pay a “bribe” to the priest—and thus gain a place in Heaven.
The Protestant Reformers reacted violently to this practice and strongly emphasized that forgiveness of sin comes only through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Their teaching was based on the Biblical teaching that “the just shall live by faint.”
John Calvin was a prolific writer who composed the first set of New Testament Bible commentaries. Calvin looked at Biblical terms like “predestination”, “election”, and “foreknew” and interpreted these verses to mean that somewhere in eternity past God elected, or predestined, some people to go to Heaven and some to go to Hell. Individuals had no say-so in the matter of their eternal destiny.
Calvinism has five main points. The five points were put in logical order by the early followers of Calvinism. Over the years they have been reordered to correspond to the acronym “T.U.L.I.P” for easier memory. The five points deal with total depravity (original sin), unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace (effectual calling), and the perseverance of the saints.
Total depravity means that everyone born is infected with the disease of sin. The term “total” means that every part of a person’s life is totally affected by sin. No one naturally turns to God, everyone turns, “to their own way” (Isaiah 53).
Unconditional election means that God’s choice is not based on any goodness, merit, or right behaviors by those who are elected. God’s choice is based totally on His over abounding grace.
Limited atonement acknowledges that Jesus’ death on the cross was definitely and totally effective in paying the price for mankind’s original sin. However, since God knew precisely who would be chosen, the atonement is effective only for those whom God has predestined for eternal life. God could have elected everyone and used Christ’s sacrifice to atone for all. But, He didn’t.
Irresistible grace means that God will eventually overcome any resistance by those He has elected. When God sovereignly decides to save someone, that individual will eventually be saved. He or she is unable to resist God’s grace and calling.
The perseverance of the saints declares that since God is sovereign, and that His will can never be stymied or frustrated, those whom He has elected will continue in faith until the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with or will return.
The Biblical foundation for Calvinism basically rests on five New Testament terms: “elect”, “predestined”, “foreknew” “chosen”, and “called.”
The term “elect” occurs nine times in the New Testament. For example, Paul wrote in Titus 1:1 “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness …”
The term “predestined” is used four times in the New Testament. For example, Paul wrote in Romans 8:28-29: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son …”
The term “foreknew” is used only once—in Romans 8:28 above.
The term “chosen” is used nine times to refer to God’s people. For example, Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:11: “In him, we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will …”
The term, “called”, is used scores of times in the New Testament. I would suggest that about fifteen times “chosen” is used to refer to those individuals who are called into the realm of the elect in eternity past. For example, Paul wrote in Romans 1:6: “And you also are among those who are called to belong to Christ.”
Now, PH, let’s look at Arminianism. Arminianism is the name given to the Biblical-theological construct which stands in direct contrast to Calvinism. Arminianism may be summarized in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” In other words, anyone can come to Christ for salvation at any age, at any time or in any place.
Many Christians can quote John 3:16. On the other hand, most have no clue what Jesus said two verses earlier in John 3:14-15: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”
Jesus refered here to an incident recorded in Numbers 21 when the Israelites were complaining to both God and Moses about the poor diet God was providing for them in the wilderness. They hated the food, didn’t have enough water, and were disgusted with God’s care. They wanted to return to Egypt. In response to their murmurings God sent venomous snakes which bit many Israelites and many died. The people quickly repented and begged Moses to ask God to remove the snakes. In response God instructed Moses to fashion a large bronze snake and lift it high on a pole. God then told Moses, “Anyone who is bitten can look at the snake and live.” Moses then wrote an editorial comment in verse nine: “Then anyone who was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, then he lived.” Notice all were free to look, and it took only one look to receive healing.
The bronzed snake was a foreshadowing (or a “type”) of Christ. Jesus used this story as an illustration that anyone can look at the uplifted Christ on the cross and by faith receive full pardon for sin. Only one look of faith is needed to receive the spiritual antidote for the poisonous bite of the snake of sin.
The Bible is filled with pictures of an open-armed God the Father who is longing for the Lost to return to Him. All who come will receive full welcome and reprieve. Luke 15, for example, has three parables which picture God as searching for the Lost in order to bring them safely home: the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son.
Basically, Calvinism declares that the only ones who can be saved are the ones God has already chosen in eternity past. On the other hand, Arminianism puts no such restrictions on receiving God’s love, salvation and grace. The foundational teaching of Arminianism is: “Whosoever will may come.” Salvation is not the domain only of the Elect. Salvation is a free gift—offered now in the present—to all who believe in Christ by faith.
Now, PH, let me make several observations regarding the Calvinism-Arminianism debate.
Those who ascribe to Calvin’s teachings do so to different degrees. Hard-core followers imagine God’s election to be completely arbitrary. Others say that election is explained by the idea that God looked into the future and saw who would one day believe in Christ anyway. Many discussions ensue among Calvinists as they sort the many implications of their beliefs. Countless volumes are still being written to argue the issue.
For the sake of clarity, lat me reiterate that Calvinists define “elect” as a group composed of those whom God has chosen beforehand for salvation. Arminians identify the “elect” or “chosen” etc. as a group of all those who have freely received Christ as their Savior and Lord.
Finally, PH, allow me to make several personal observations.
First, you need to know that my bias is in favor of Arminianism.
Second, in interpreting Bible verses, I always look for the simple explanation first. Calvinism is a complex system; there is nothing simple about it. Simple is not always right; but when it takes a complex interpretation whose validity can be debated at every point, I tend to go with the simple every time. I thank God that He made the gospel so simple that even children can understand it.
Third, it seems to me that “whosoever will” is a better reflection the Biblical picture of God’s heart than the idea that He made arbitrary choices to determine the eternal state of certain individuals before the foundation of the earth.
Fourth, considering all the issues involved, I arrived at the following conclusion: “Before the foundation of the universe God predetermined that the “elect” would be a group, composed of all who freely received Jesus as their Lord and Savior, who were predestined to ‘be conformed to the image of Christ.’”
PH, notice that predestination is not an issue of Heaven or Hell. It is an issue of maturing to look like Jesus. The only question now is who makes up the “elect”. Personally, I like the “whosoever will may come” interpretation. Calvinists would take the “God chose some and not others” viewpoint as those who make up the “elect.”
Fifth, while Calvinism and Armenians stand at opposite ends of the spectrum. Many wonder whether it may be possible for both to be true simultaneously? The obvious answer is, “They can’t both be true. Pick one or the other.” But, what if they are both true? What if they are two sides of the same coin? In our limited world of time and space, we see three dimensions plus time. It is now becoming obvious that our universe actually exists in ten dimensions. This is spiritually exciting because, mathematically, when transitioning into the eleventh dimension, everything comes together in a single point. I often wonder if this is where God lives—in the eleventh dimension of our universe? This certainly explains how God could be omnipresent. Those things we see as polar opposites may come together quite nicely in God’s eleventh dimension. One day in Heaven, after hearing God’s simple explanation to our question, we will probably say something like, “Oh, that is so simple. That makes sense. Why didn’t we see that before!?
Sixth, I have spent quite a number of years struggling with the Calvinism-Arminianism issue. Not only is it intriguing, it has profound implications for the nature and character of God and for such theological issues as Evangelism, Christology, Soteriology and Eschatology. In fact, as I think about it, every theological discipline is impacted by how we interpret these two theological constructs. I feel like my time spent in study here is quite worth it.
Finally, Charles Spurgeon was one of the most influential preachers of all time. His sermons were read weekly all over the world and are still relevant today—some 150 years later. He leaned strongly toward a Calvinistic view of the Bible. Early in my ministry I read in one of his sermons how he dealt practically with the Calvinistic-Arminianism debate.
Spurgeon said, “I wish God had painted a red stripe down the back of the elect. I would spend my time lifting up shirt tails; but, since He hasn’t, I will preach the gospel to every creature.”
Well, PH, I hope my answer sheds some light on your question. Thanks for asking. Ask me another one.