“All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” Daniel 4:35
It is one of my theological convictions that whatever someone ends up doing to humanity qua humanity one ends up doing to God. If you think of humanity in a certain way eventually, if you are consistent this view will in some way end up applying to God. This is true for a simple reason, namely that humanity is made in God’s image. I want to try to float an objection to Calvinism so I am depending on my Calvinist friends to give me their thoughts on the matter. This does not mean that non-Calvinists should not join in.
The general line of thought among Calvinists today concerning human freedom seems to go something like the following. The nature of an agent determines their desires which in turn determine their actions. The reason why sinful individuals cannot do anything to please God or anything genuinely good, is because they have sinful natures which determine sinful desires which in turn determine sinful acts. So, sinful agents lack libertarian free will because their natures determine their actions.
Any Arminian worth his salt in defense of libertarian free will, will cite various scriptural passages to show that humans have free will. These passages say that humans can choose between alternatives or that they are given a choice in serious matters. To these the Calvinist will reply that these in no way imply that such agents are free with libertarian freedom. These agents choose between alternatives according to their desires which are in turn determined by their nature. Since their nature is sinful, their choices will always be sinful and determined. The scriptural passages then only show that humans do whatever pleases them or whatever they desire-they do not show that they possess libertarian freedom. These human agents can said to be genuinely free, the Calvinist argues, because they are not compelled and they do what they desire to do-they do what pleases them.
Now I take it as an uncontroversial point between all Christian traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, Lutheran and Anabaptist) that God has libertarian freedom with respect to things like creation and redemption. I think this is easily supportable by numerous texts from the Patristic treatises and sermons to the Scholastic Summas and Commentaries to Protestant Institutes of theology and Systematic theologies to various liturgical texts. So it is a common, and I would argue a necessary Christian doctrine that logically God could have chosen to create but also could have chosen not to create. Likewise, God could have chosen to redeem or he could have chosen not to redeem. This incidentally grounds the idea that salvation is gratuitous because it is free and not necessary. If it is necessary for God to redeem then salvation is no longer a matter of grace but a matter of nature and here Pelagianism will result. Moreover, this grounds the idea that creation itself is gratuitous.
But when I search for reasons why a Calvinist would think that God is free with libertarian freedom with respect to creation and redemption, I am flooded by Calvinists with verses like Daniel 4:35. Such verses speak of God’s power and His might. They speak of Him doing whatever pleases Him, whatever He desires and so forth. While those things are certainly true of God, forgive me, but I do not see how such passages show that God is free with respect to creation and redemption and here is why.
Like the case of human agents, if an agent’s nature determines their actions, why doesn’t this hold true with God also? All of the passages that are brought forward to show that humans had libertarian free will only show, according to the Calvinist, that these agents do what they desire or what pleases them, not that what their desires are an option of choice for them. Likewise, Daniel 4:35 and other such passages do not prove that God has libertarian free will with respect to creation and redemption. These passages only prove that God does what pleases Him and an agent doing what pleases himself is perfectly compatible, on Calvinist lights, with the agent being determined. So why would a Calvinist think that God is free with libertarian freedom with respect to creation and redemption? I can’t think of a reason. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t one but only that I can at present not bring one to mind.
So why is it that an agent’s nature determines their actions with respect to angels and humans but not God? Isn’t this the reason given by Calvinists as to why God cannot sin, namely because his nature determines His actions? If so, I cannot see how a Calvinist can stave off the conclusion that creation and redemption are necessary on this schema. If an agent’s nature determines their actions, then creation and redemption are necessary and sola gratia goes out the window. That is to argue, if the thesis that an agent’s nature determines their actions is true, then creation and redemption are necessary and inevitable since God’s nature determine His actions. Creation becomes an emanation of sorts as does redemption with the final result being a kind of pantheism. Here will ends up being identified with nature in God so that it is now impossible to distinguish acts of eternal generation from acts of volition. Consequently there is no difference between the generation of the divine persons of the Trinity (acts of generation) and the creation of the world (acts of will). To maintain then that an agent’s nature determines their actions appears antithetical to the core teachings of Christianity.
What the Calvinist has done to the image of God has worked back to apply to God too so that now God is every much a determined agent as a human agent. Given that God’s libertarian freedom with regards to creation and redemption is a core Christian teaching, Calvinism’s desire to supports its soteriological claims commit it to a non-Christian view of God.
It seems to me that one can only maintain a Calvinist view of anthropology and soteriology on pain of denying a Christian view of God. Such a result seems to me as about as good of a knock down argument against a theological position as one could ever want. If one’s views in any other area commits one to a denial of a core Christian teaching, then it is the former views which are false and to be rejected. The only way out that I can see for Calvinism is to maintain that those passages brought forward to show that humans have libertarian free will really do show that humans have it so that likewise the passages like Daniel 4:35 that speak of God doing what pleases Him show that God has libertarian freedom as well. If this move is made, Calvinism’s entire soteriology and anthropology has to be re-thought because now it will be true that an agent’s nature does not determine his actions. Consequently teachings like total depravity have to be re-thought to include libertarian free will and one wonders then what is left of traditional Calvinism.