#234

October 10, 2011

Sovereignty and Salvation

"Would Dr Craig have been a Nazi had God created him in different circumstances?"

Dear Dr Craig,

Thank you so very kindly for the wonderful work. It has been truly inspiring to me. My question concerns middle knowledge and whether it truly avoids predestination.

In your debate with Bradley on Hell, you allude to the possiblilty of individual 'S' being saved in one feasible world, but not another-- even that you yourself might not have been saved had God placed you in Nazi Germany or some other set of circumstances. Ultimately, given middle knowledge, it seems to become somewhat arbitrary (or predetermined) that God afforded me the appropriate circumstances to come under saving grace, but not my friend 'S' while knowing all along that 'S' would have been saved had he been born elsewhere or at a different time in history while I, or you, would not have been saved had God varied the circumstances in any number of ways.

Note, despite the notion of compossibility where the variable influence of rearranging individuals in feasible worlds changes things to some degree, we are left with nothing more than God deciding on some so-called optimal feasible world with the best balance of saved and damned. Of course, that is merely a numbers game. There is still the possibility of the feasible 10 person world where all might be saved, but so few overall, or a world with just a few more saved than the actual world, even if just that many more damned? God had to make a cut at some level of relatively more good and evil, saved and damned.

I've always felt God yearned equally for all individuals, the notion of leaving even the 99 for the one. Middle knowledge solved the problem of someone receiving less than their fair share of info assuming God knew they would not have responded had they heard it. But, if I would have been damned in feasible world #2 for God (which he did not create and which had 10 more folks than the actual), but my friend 'S' would have, then there is nothing unique about me that affords the true libertarian freedom to enjoy saving grace.

That brings me to the final question. What then is different or unique about each soul placed into a body, time, and set of circumstances? Are all souls equivalent and then the circumstances take over or does God create (you favor soul creation ex nihilo, as do I, not Oregon-ism or Traducianism) souls with unique properties, intrinsic or otherwise? It amounts to God's putting in certain soul qualities plus or minus coupled to a certain body, time, and set of circumstances, all of which equal whether in that situation any given individual would be saved. Had I been born better looking or more athletic, given the same intrinsic soul, perhaps I would have gone astray. Basically, I feel lucky, and as we often say in surgery, "better lucky than good", though I've always disliked that statement. Any thoughts on how to reconcile these things would be appreciated.

Sincerely,

Kevin

United States

The question you’re raising, Kevin, concerns God’s sovereignty with respect to election of the saved. Molinism, like Calvinism, has a very strong doctrine of divine sovereignty but differs in that it also affirms libertarian freedom. The Calvinist thinks that God unilaterally elects and causally determines who will be saved. The Molinist also affirms God’s sovereign election of the saved but denies that people are causally determined by God to respond to His grace. Rather God’s saving grace is extended to every human being with the desire that he respond freely to it and be saved but with the knowledge that certain persons will freely reject God’s grace and so damn themselves, contrary to God’s perfect will. People in any possible world freely determine their own destiny by how they respond to God’s saving grace, but it is God who decides which possible world to actualize. He doesn’t simply “roll the dice” to see which world comes up (a gamble which might prove disastrous). Rather He sovereignly chooses a world. As one French Molinist nicely put it, “It is up to God whether I find myself in a world in which I am predestined; but it is up to me whether I am predestined in the world in which I find myself.”

It’s sobering to think that had God chosen some other world, I might have been born in Nazi Germany and become a member of the Hitler Youth Corps or been born in Afghanistan and joined the Taliban. Not that I would have been determined to do those things; but I would have perhaps freely chosen to do those things under those circumstances. Whether you’re a theist or an atheist, we all face the realization that had circumstances been different, we might have been guilty of all sorts of horrors. Philosophers sometimes refer to this as “moral luck.” Calvinists and Molinists attribute moral luck ultimately to God’s free and sovereign choice. Lucky for you, God chose a world in which you were born in the USA; Heinrich was not so lucky.

The great thing is that on Molinism, God loves Heinrich just as much as He loves you and so accords him sufficient grace for salvation and seeks to draw him to Himself. Indeed, God may have known that through the guilt and shame of what Heinrich did under the Third Reich, he would eventually come to repent and find salvation and eternal life. Paradoxically, being a Nazi may have been the best thing that happened to Heinrich, since it led to his salvation. Of course, one may wonder about those poor people who suffered in the death camps because of Heinrich. But God has a plan for their lives, too, that includes their salvation and He accords them, like Heinrich, sufficient grace for salvation. Moreover, He knows what impact these events will have upon their children’s lives and their children’s children’s lives and the lives of those with whom they come into contact. You can see that in no time we spiral into a complexity which only an infinite mind could encompass.

I’ve suggested, based on my reading of the New Testament, that God would choose a world having an overall optimal balance between saved and lost. This is far from just a numbers game. God wants as many people as possible to be freely saved and as few as possible to be freely damned. It’s possible that the actual world is such a world. God wills the salvation of every person He creates and accords to each one sufficient grace for salvation. Whether they are saved or damned is up to them.

Of course, there is the sobering thought once more that had I been created under different circumstances then perhaps I would have freely rejected God’s grace and been damned. But I see no problem in saying that had God actualized a different world, then I or any other saved person would have freely rejected His grace and been damned. For since God has chosen to actualize this world, in which we are freely saved, that counterfactual truth is of no consequence. The more difficult question is whether there are persons who freely reject God’s grace and are damned but who would have freely been saved had God chosen to actualize some other world. On the one hand, that may just seem to be inevitable moral luck; the point remains that God strives to save them, and they freely spurn Him. They and they alone are responsible for their damnation.

But I have suggested that there is another possibility. Maybe God has so providentially ordered the world that all those who freely reject His grace and are lost are persons who would have freely rejected His grace under any circumstances and so been lost in any world feasible for God. We could say that such persons are transworldly damned. These would be incredibly reprobate people. If they do not appear so bad in this world, that may be because the actual world is one of the worlds in which they come closest to salvation, though in the end they freely thrust it from them. Thus, it’s possible that there just are no such people as “S,” as you’ve envisioned.

I don’t understand, Kevin, why you think such a view denies your uniqueness or your libertarian freedom. Quite the contrary, the view wouldn’t make sense without those elements. The idea is that God has selected a world containing just those persons in just those circumstances so as to maximize the number of those who would freely respond to His grace and be saved, while minimizing the number of those who would freely reject His grace and damn themselves and that, moreover, He has ensured that anyone in the world who would under any circumstances be freely saved is freely saved. You can’t do any better than that!