Calvinism and the Problem of Damnation and Hell

Calvinism’s exclusive doctrines position it in an untenable place when it comes to people spending eternity in hell. They offer various responses to allay the indefensible entailments of Calvinism that consign people to hell (the reprobate non-elect class). Here are a few: first, some say they deserve to be there. While that is true, it does not tell us why they are there since the people in heaven equally deserve to be in hell. Second, some say it is so God can show his full glory in both love and wrath. But damning people to hell is unnecessary for God to show his wrath or holiness since no one needed to suffer God’s wrath to demonstrate his holiness because Christ suffering his wrath for our sin is the quintessential display of God’s wrath.[1]

Third, some say people in hell chose to reject God. But people are not in hell simply because they chose to reject God, for the very people in heaven rejected God before he overpowered them with efficacious grace. If God had overpowered the ones in hell, they would have accepted him; hence the missing element is God’s overpowering grace. We also know people are not in hell to highlight God’s compassion, love, and grace by pedestaling his contrasting wrath and holiness; the death of Christ sufficiently displayed that. We also know they are not in hell because God was unwilling to do what was necessary for them to not be in hell. Because the death of Christ sufficiently took away the sin of the world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2).

Once we dismiss the pleasantries of Calvinism, the only reason some are in heaven and some are in hell is because it pleased God for them to be there. Notwithstanding the weak and misleading arguments to the contrary by many Calvinists, I maintain all consistent Calvinists inevitably believe in double predestination. They either believe God actively predestined some to hell, as Calvin does, or he did so by choosing not to offer what would have surely delivered them from hell to heaven, which is unconditional election and selective regeneration. Calvin refers to this cold, inescapable reality as the product of God’s wish, pleasure, and counsel.[2]

Commenting on what Paul says in Romans 9, John Calvin candidly explains, “He [Paul] concludes that God has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth (Rom 9:18). You see how he refers both to the mere pleasure of God. Therefore, if we cannot assign any reason for his bestowing mercy on his people, but just that it so pleases him, neither can we have any reason for his reprobating others but his will”[3] (italics added). Calvin further says the reprobate are doomed in God’s “hidden purpose” while simultaneously (and quite contradictorily) maintaining “so wonderful is his love towards mankind that he would have them all to be saved.”[4] Calvin classifies God’s good pleasure to doom this innumerable group of people, whom he created, to such a ghastly and unalterable fate, which he did not have to choose, as “incomprehensible judgment.”[5]

Similarly, the Canons of Dort assert, “Moreover, Holy Scripture . . . further bears witness that not all people have been chosen but that some have not been chosen or have been passed by in God’s eternal election–those, that is, concerning whom God, on the basis of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, made the following decision: to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves; not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion, but finally to condemn and eternally punish them”[6] (italics added).

Fast forward to eternity. Imagine all the redeemed, unconditionally elected according to Calvinism, are standing on the precipice of hell in which untold billions of people suffer unimaginable, unquenchable, and unparalleled agony and torment. While the elect gaze into the cauldron of hell, one of the unconditionally elect exclaims God is holy. And that proclamation is immediately and worshipfully met by thunderous amens and hallelujahs since, whether redeemed or judged, God’s perfect and unlimited righteousness and holiness are irrefutably evident to all.

Then another of the unconditionally elect, caught up in the moment, resoundingly declares that God is love. An eerie pause follows this declaration. A hollow cavern of silence. A silence not from or awakening calmness, but a silence invoked by an insurmountable contradiction. A silence wherein an attribute of God is suppressed by the conquest of evidence; a silence like never before. It is not one of awe and glorious wonder but one of confusion and demoralization of the elect.

While God clearly dealt with the elect and the damned in holiness, and the elect in love, it is impossible to truthfully say God dealt with the damned, the reprobate, in perfect love, salvific love. Seeking to explain how God is perfect love and yet withholds his salvific love from those he created and predetermined for eternal torment is like trying to explain God as perfect holiness if he did not deal with all people and sin in perfect holiness.

Moreover, seeking to dismiss this contradiction of God’s perfect love by appealing to such as how God’s withholding his power at times does not equal that he is not omnipotent is fallacious. The reason this argument is fallacious is because love is a moral attribute like holiness and power is not. Consequently, he may display or withhold exercising his omnipotence based on his moral attributes, but his moral nature of perfect holiness, righteousness, and love is always perfectly present. Calvinism calls this type of inescapable dilemma a “mystery.” Anywhere else, it is called what it is, a tragic contradiction in Calvinism, that depicts God unlike the God of Scripture.

[1] Even if people in hell were necessary, a point I do not concede, it seems probable that far fewer reprobates are necessary, and maybe only one would sufficiently display God’s wrath.
[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), vol. 2, bk. 3, chap. 21, sec. 7, pg. 210.
[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham: WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010).
[4] John Calvin, “Commentaries on the Second Epistle of Peter,” Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, edited by John Owen (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979), 419. Logos electronic edition.
[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), vol. 2, bk. 3, chap. 21, sec. 7, pg. 211.
[6] Canons of Dort, First Head of Doctrine, article 15.

Ronnie W. Rogers