Duty and Justice

Yet another Old Testament passage which presents difficulties for the Protestant view of sola fide (for Reformed Protestants, at any rate) comes up at the end of Ecclesiastes:

To sum up the whole matter: fear God and keep his commandments, for that is the duty of everyone. For God will call all our deeds to judgement, all that is hidden, be it good or bad. [12:13-14; NJB]

The obvious problem is that our passage informs us that God will judge all our deeds. This is not consistent with the Protestant’s sola fide. That may not be a problem for those Protestants who believe that Israel was saved by a different means or covenant than Christians, but it absolutely is a problem for the Reformed, for they say that Israel was saved in the same way that we are. Thus we must infer that on the Reformed view Israel was saved by faith alone just as Christians are. And therein lays the problem.

The idea that God judges us according to our works is inconsistent with sola fide. It is not at all clear that this inconsistency can be overcome in a coherent way; at any rate, I know of no way to do so. If God judges our deeds, then it seems clear that our eternal destiny is contingent in some manner upon what we have done and not solely on whether we have faith. The Reformed are clearly mistaken.

This becomes even more clear when we contemplate the fact that the passage says fearing God and keeping His commandments is our duty. Let us consider a thought experiment. Suppose I am in the army and my CO orders me to fly to the moon by flapping my arms, and to do so immediately. I of course am unable to comply, and so my CO has me arrested and court martialed. For purposes of this illustration let us suppose that my CO isn’t disciplined for this himself but rather that his charges are taken seriously by the military court.

The question is: would it in any way be just for me to be convicted for insubordination (or whatever the appropriate military offense for disobeying a superior officer is called)? The answer is and must be and can only be a resounding NO. Why? Because my CO has ordered me to do something that is obviously impossible. There would be no justice in my conviction on such charges; there could only be injustice (we shall likewise assume that I respond to my CO in a lawful and respectful way with respect to his impossible orders).

What is the point of this digression? The author of Ecclesiastes (presumably Solomon) declares that our duty is to fear God and keep His commandments. If God commanded something that was impossible for us to do, would He be just in condemning us for failure? No, He would not. There is no justice in condemning people for failing to do what they are incapable of doing. So the point of this little digression is that Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 exposes the error of the Reformed doctrine of “total depravity.” According to the Reformed (as we have previously seen), we are incapable of doing good. Therefore if God condemns us for our failure to do what we cannot do, He would be unjust. The Reformed view is fundamentally broken because it requires God to be unjust, which is impossible.

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Posted in Apologetics, Calvinism, Obedience, Protestantism, Sin, Sola Fide

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