Part I – Introducing the Problem
Calvinism typically maintains that God has decreed to reprobate a significant portion of the humankind and consign them to hell without giving them any real possibility of receiving forgiveness by accepting Christ’s sacrificial death. (After all, Christ did not die for them, according to this view.) While it is not uncommon for Calvinists to maintain that God’s reasons for that decree are completely beyond our grasp, others have proposed the following line of reasoning. God’s attributes include sovereignty, love, and wrath. By electing some for salvation and reprobating others in a sovereign manner, God brings it about that all of his attributes are demonstrated. For if no-one would be condemned to hell, there would be an aspect of God that would remain unfulfilled for all eternity (namely, his wrath). I will call this line of reasoning “the wrath-fulfillment thesis”. In this essay, I will argue that the wrath-fulfillment thesis is far from convincing, and thus it does not provide a good reason to embrace the Calvinist view.
Calvinism and Compatibilism
Before we assess the merits of the argument that was presented above, we need to make a preliminary point concerning the nature of freedom. A Calvinist cannot consistently adopt what is called a libertarian view of freedom – at least not in regard to the issue of salvation. The libertarian view states that an agent is free in a given situation if that agent could have chosen otherwise. By contrast, a compatibilist view of freedom posits that a choice of an agent is free if there are no external constraints that necessitate a choice, even if the agent’s own nature determines the choice in such a way that no other choice would be possible in the specific circumstances that the agent is in. According to the compatibilist, a choice is thus free if the agent acts according to his/her own nature, even if determinism is true, whereas the libertarian would see the absence of determinism as significant factor that distinguishes freedom from the lack thereof. For our purposes, the significant observation that needs to be made is that God could have chosen to create any number of personal agents that are free in the compatibilist sense but never do anything evil. Therefore, if one adopts the compatibilist view, the existence of sin and evil is not something that can be taken as a kind of by-product of the existence of human freedom. Consistency would seem to require that the proponent of the wrath-fulfillment thesis holds that God has in preferred a world in which there exists creaturely evil and some of the evildoers are reprobated over a world in which every created being acts freely without committing any sin at all – and that the deciding factor in favor of the former is the fulfillment of God’s wrath.