Thwarting God’s Will

Presbyterians and other Reformed folk like to use the acronym TULIP as a thumbnail for certain views they hold which are at least somewhat unique among Protestants (at least when held together). The I refers to their belief in Irresistible grace, according to which the Elect are inevitably compelled (not, perhaps, a word they would apply, but I think that it fits) to receive the grace of God and consequently are absolutely assured of salvation.

When we consider the pages of Scripture, however, the picture is considerably more blurry.

All the people who heard him, and the tax collectors too, acknowledged God’s saving justice by accepting baptism from John; but by refusing baptism from him the Pharisees and the lawyers thwarted God’s plan for them. (Luke 7:29-30, NJB; emphasis added)

How can God’s plan for their redemption be thwarted by them if the I in the TULIP is true? I submit that the Reformed schema is a poor explanation for passages like the one above, as well as this one:

today you must make up your minds whom you do mean to serve, whether the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now living. As regards my family and me, we shall serve Yahweh. (Joshua 24:15, NJB; emphasis added)

There are quite a few passages like the latter, and they are difficult enough, but Luke 7:29-30 presents quite a different problem, because there we see men who are said to thwart God’s plan. How can this be reconciled with the Reformed schema? I do not see how it can.

But it is not as though the Reformed are entirely wrong with respect to predestination, something that the Catholic Church likewise affirms. The Church also affirms human free will, however. It would, after all, be unjust to be condemned for actions over which one has no genuine control. How can these two be reconciled? In the end, we may simply have to say that it is a mystery which we receive by faith because God has revealed both to be true.

St. Thomas Aquinas offers one way of integrating the two, in the Summa Theologiae and the Summa contra Gentiles. He proposes that God’s providence is worked out in accordance with the natures of His creatures, not contrary to them. So rather than compelling us, Aquinas would say, God works out His purposes for men by means of their free wills. How exactly that can be remains a mystery still (at least to me), but it makes sense that God works with the natures of His creations, rather than working against them, to achieve His purposes.

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Posted in Apologetics, Calvinism, Free Will, Protestantism

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