Theology 101: What is Double Predestination?

A Presbyterian theologian has the following conversation with his colleague:

“You believe in the absolute sovereignty of God, correct?”

“Of course”

“And you believe everything exists and happens for His glory, correct?”

“Yes, I’m a 5-point Calvinist.”

“Then would you be willing to be dammed to reprobation for His glory?”

“…hmm, no”

This absurd and funny conversation embodies some difficulties presented by the doctrine of double predestination. In perhaps the best description of Calvinistic essence, John Calvin defined double predestination in the following statement:

“God preordained, for his own glory and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.”

What this doctrine basically says is that before the foundations of the world were constructed, before time was created, in His eternal council, God decided that certain humans will be ordained for damnation due to sin while others will be ordained for salvation through grace despite their sin, and nothing will change this.

Everyone wants to know if this is really true. I honestly do not know. Theologians are split on whether God actually and actively predestines humans and angels for hell and each camp provides Scripture to support their position. Famous theologian JI Packer calls such difficult issues a “divine mystery” which may not be meant for us to figure out.

The problem is that extremely difficult questions rise connected to predestination when studying the Word of God in-depth. For example:

“If salvation is absolutely exclusive through faith in Jesus via hearing the Gospel, and it is, then is it possible for a person who lives and dies without access to the Gospel to be saved?”

“If no, and that appears to be the case, then was such a person destined for such an outcome?”

I will provide two passages from the book of Isaiah, the first makes Isaiah look like a double predestinarian, while the second appears to contradict this controversial doctrine. Both are in the context of Israel’s turning away from God:

63:17 “O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?

And God answers placing responsibility on Israel, highlighting His effort to save Israel, and lamenting over Israel:

65:1 “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here am I, here am I,”
to a nation that was not called by my name.

2 I spread out my hands all the day
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;

3 a people who provoke me
to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
and making offerings on bricks;”

On the other hand, in Romans 9 Paul alludes to the real possibility that certain people are created for damnation (keep in mind that he prefaces with a “what if”):

22 “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”

However, in perhaps the most powerful passage appearing to contradict predestination to damnation, Jesus laments over those perishing in Jerusalem due to unbelief.

Why would He lament over the outcome of His eternal council if He predestined them to damnation?

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

To attempt to understand this dichotomy would mean that we must understand the mind of God, and that is not possible. It is perfectly acceptable not to form a strong opinion or any opinion on the issue of double predestination.

Wherever one stands on this doctrine one must clearly understand that human responsibility is found on every page of the Bible regardless of predestination. Even if God predestines, man is 100% responsible.

I do not understand this antinomy so I resign to leave it in the realm of divine mystery.