Determinism in the Hebrew Scriptures: Jeremiah

"I don't see how anyone could read the Old Testament and not conclude that Calvinism is right," was the conclusion of one Calvinist professor, admitted in front of his class. In context, by "Calvinism" he means the notion of God's exhaustive predetermination of all events by decree. This professor was merely being consistent and honest about his own beliefs. He had not committed an unethical infraction by making such a statement to his students. My only hope is that his students did not take the professor's word on the matter, but studied for themselves, consulting opposing exegesis, in order to examine Scripture to see if what the professor says is true (Acts 17:11). 

This professor was also defending a confession nearly four centuries old:
God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.1
Given the statement above, we then ask, "In what manner did God foreordain whatsoever comes to pass -- by foreknowledge of what free creatures would do?" The Confession answers: "Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions [by what knowledge does He know these things?], yet hath He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions."2 So, everything which comes to pass does so because God has preordained for such to come to pass, and He also brings such to pass.

Thus when creatures behave in a certain manner, they do so "freely," but by God's foreordained decree. God preordained what they should do; they do it "freely," allegedly, and they will be held accountable for what they "freely" do, even though it was God who preordained what they should "freely" do. Now this, according to the professor (and all Calvinists), is affirmed in the Hebrew scriptures, so much so that one wonders how anyone could read the scriptures and not conclude that Calvinism is right. 

If this is true, then there are certain ideas, certain conclusions and consistent affirmations, which should not appear in the pages of the Hebrew scriptures from the Hebrew prophets. We witnessed in the previous post that Isaiah was far from propounding Calvinistic ideology. We discover in this post that the prophet Jeremiah was every bit as consistent with the Arminian or libertarian theological worldview as that of Isaiah.

Recalling that, in Calvinism, all events are strictly foreordained by God's decree, not by foreknowledge of future freewill acts but by the exhaustive determinism of His plan, note the following statements littered throughout the proclamation of the prophet Jeremiah:
This is what the LORD says: "What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. They did not ask, 'Where is the LORD, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and rifts, a land where no one travels and no one lives?' I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable. The priests did not ask, 'Where is the LORD?' Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols. Therefore I bring charges against you again," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 2:5-9 NIV)
But if The LORD has "unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass," then why is He complaining about Israel's unfaithfulness? Did He not foreordain their unfaithfulness? Yes, He must have foreordained their unfaithfulness, if God "unchangeably ordains whatsoever comes to pass." Is the LORD not the Sovereign? Can any person or group of people do anything which the LORD has not foreordained for them to do, according to Calvinism? Hence if Israel is unfaithful, it is due to God's foreordination and explicit decree that Israel be unfaithful. Yet we find the LORD declaring the following (emphasis added):
My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth? Why then has he become plunder? Lions have roared; they have growled at him. They have laid waste his land; his towns are burned and deserted. Also, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes have shaved the crown of your head. Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the LORD your God when he led you in the way? (Jeremiah 2:13-17)
Even the LORD Himself confesses that the reason why He has acted thus toward Israel is due to her own stubbornness and unfaithfulness -- unless one is willing to admit that God foreordained her unfaithfulness so that He could punish her for the sins that He foreordained for her to commit. But yes, that is exactly what Calvinism implies! God did not merely foreknow or foresee, strictly taken, the willing unfaithfulness of Israel and thereby decree whatsoever should come to pass. No, in order to be considered sovereign, again, according to Calvinism, God must have foreordained all things by decree, not by foreknowledge; He decreed her apostasy, and then He punished her for apostatizing. This, they imagine, is justice.

A question needs to be asked: What exactly is rebellion? For if the Israelites are rebelling against the LORD, then that means that they are rebelling against a command which God has ordered to be kept. If God is sovereign, in the manner in which Calvinists define sovereignty, then no one can ever disobey God's foreordained plan, which by necessity must include rebellion. By their rebellion, they are actually, "freely," obeying God's strict, foreordained decree. John Calvin and Calvinists argue against this consistent argument. But, alas, the argument is valid.

Yet we find God Himself admitting that human beings have the ability to reject His authority. The LORD said, "Indeed, long ago you threw off my authority and refused to be subject to me. You said, 'I will not serve you.' Instead, you gave yourself to other gods on every high hill and under every green tree." (Jer. 2:20 NET, emphases added; cf. Jer. 2:29) But how can the Israelites reject God's sovereign authority? How can they refuse to be subject to Him, since He has strictly foreordained all that comes to pass? God, allegedly, foreordained their rebellion, which they, allegedly, "freely" committed, and then God punished them for it.

But even God's punishment for their sins did not result in their repentance: "In vain I punished your people; they did not respond to correction." (Jer. 2:30 NIV, emphasis added) Respond to correction? But Calvinism teaches that God sovereignly grants repentance to whomever He pleases. How can God complain about their lack of response to repentance when He does not grant them repentance (nor foreordain their repentance)?

What we discover is this: God made Himself vulnerable to Israel: "Indeed they have followed sinful ways; they have forgotten to be true to the LORD their God. Come back to me, you wayward people, I want to cure your waywardness." (Jer. 3:21-22 NET, emphasis added) Note God's plea: see what He desired. Was God genuinely granting them repentance? Yes! The LORD has this to say to the people of Judah and Jerusalem: 
Like a farmer breaking up hard unplowed ground, you must break your rebellious will and make a new beginning; just as a farmer must clear away thorns lest the seed is wasted, you must get rid of the sin that is ruining your lives. Just as ritual circumcision cuts away the foreskin as an external symbol of dedicated covenant commitment, you must genuinely dedicate yourselves to the LORD and get rid of everything that hinders your commitment to me, people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. If you do not, my anger will blaze up like a flaming fire against you that no one will be able to extinguish. That will happen because of the evil you have done. (Jer. 4:3-4, emphases added)
Is God sovereign? Yes, God is utterly and absolutely sovereign. Has He foreordained what every person should think, say, or do by a mere decree? No, absolutely not. That is a grossly unbiblical and practically illogical concept. If otherwise, then as the Hebrew scriptures prove, God would certainly be schizophrenic and bipolar, foreordaining that a person rebel against Him, and then complaining about and punishing the person for obeying His foreordained decree to be disobedient to Him. God is not schizophrenic.


God is by no means finished in His complaining against the sins of Israel: "Oh people of Jerusalem, purify your hearts from evil so that you may yet be delivered. How long will you continue to harbor up wicked schemes within you?" (Jer. 4:14) Calvinists must answer: "As long as the decree of God has already foreordained." Why did God punish Israel? "So then, Jeremiah, when your people ask, 'Why has the LORD our God done all this to us?' tell them, 'It is because you rejected me and served foreign gods in your own land.'" (Jer. 5:19)

Were they not just fulfilling that which God had foreordained? "But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts. They have turned aside and gone their own way." (Jer. 5:23) Gone their own way? So, they did not go the LORD's way, but their own way? Does that, then, mean that there are two ways: the LORD's way of obedience and righteousness, and their own way of disobedience and unrighteousness? Yes, this is true, as Isaiah also declared. 

He further states: "'There is no limit to the evil things they do. They do not plead the cause of the fatherless in such a way as to win it. They do not defend the rights of the poor. I will certainly punish them for doing such things!' says the LORD." (Jer. 5:28-29). "The LORD says to his people: 'You are standing at the crossroads. So consider your path. Ask where the old, reliable paths are. Ask where the path is that leads to blessing and follow it. If you do, you will find rest for your souls.' But they said, 'We will not follow it!'" (Jer. 6:16, emphases added)

Compatibilistic Calvinism will have us believe that God foreordained by decree that the Israelites "freely" rebelled against Him -- yet they could not have chosen any other path but rebellion -- while the LORD stood by and commanded them to choose the righteous path. This is entirely unacceptable, unbiblical, and unworthy of a just and holy God. The truth, justice, and righteousness of God requires Him to communicate with His creatures in a manner commensurate with His divine and perfect attributes. To suggest that God has secretly decreed for human beings to rebel against Him, while He then responds by punishing the person(s) for rebellion, is to contradict the moral attributes of God. This is what Calvinism accomplishes in its deterministic doctrine -- undermining and demeaning the absolute perfect attributes of God.

More to the point, Calvinists will have us believe that God "influences the desires and decisions of people ... But we must remember that in all these passages it is very clear that Scripture nowhere shows God as directly doing anything evil, but rather as bringing about evil deeds through the willing actions of moral creatures."3 But the question begging to be asked is, How does a "free" agent "freely" do something which God has foreordained for him or her to do? How can God be guaranteed that a "free" agent will "freely" decide to do that which He has foreordained, unless He eliminates all other choices or options, thereby guaranteeing the outcome which He decreed? If God eliminates all choices, in order for the "free" agent to "freely" do that which God decreed, then the agent is not free to choose the contrary whatsoever. Hence genuine freedom is a farce even in compatibilistic Calvinism.

Arminians do not need to rely on strict philosophy as a crutch to support our theology, as do Calvinists: Scripture clearly supports Arminian theology -- or, better stated, Arminian theology affirms the truths of Scripture. God tells the Israelites: "Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other ... Therefore choose life so that you and your descendants may live!" (Deut. 30:15, 19; cf. Jer. 6:16; 7:3-7) Why will God grant the Israelites these choices if He has already foreordained by decree that which He has predetermined they should choose?

How unjust would God have to be in order to foreordain and decree that a person should "freely" choose rebellion, when that person has no other choice but to choose to rebel against God? How unreasonable would God have to be to then complain about and punish the person who carries out that which He unchangeably and predeterminately decreed for him or her to do?

Do not be deceived into thinking that Arminians deny the sovereignty of God. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We believe in sovereignty, not determinism, and the two are not synonymous. What Arminians deny is the Calvinist's erroneous and philosophical insistence that God exhaustively predetermined everything that comes to pass merely by a divine decree. We do so because the Bible does not teach such a concept. 

God will certainly "accomplish all things according to the counsel of his will." (Eph. 1:11) But we are not permitted to go further and affirm that God has decreed all things, not from foreknowledge of genuine free acts, but according to a decree which necessitates sin, evil, and rebellion. He tells Israel: "Obey me. If you do, I will be your God and you will be my people. Live exactly the way I tell you." (Jer. 7:23) Israel disobeys the LORD, and He responds: "I have rejected them because the people of Judah have done what I consider evil." (Jer. 7:30)

They even sacrifice their infants by fire to a false god. The LORD responds, "That is something I never commanded them to do! Indeed, it never even entered my mind to command such a thing!" (Jer. 7:31) More to the point, YHWH explicitly rejects Calvinistic ideology by insisting: "which I did not command or decree [dabarti, to speak, command, counsel], nor did it enter my mind" (Jer. 19:5, emphasis added). Yet they did it! How? By God's predetermined decree or by their own wickedness? Arminians affirm the latter, biblical response, while Calvinists espouse the former error.

The Hebrew scriptures even affirm that some of God's intentions do not come to fruition, despite Calvinism's promotion of the contrary. The LORD says, "For, I say, just as shorts cling tightly to a person's body, so I bound the whole nation of Israel and the whole nation of Judah tightly to me. I intended for them to be my special people and to bring me fame, honor, and praise. But they would not obey me." (Jer. 13:11, emphases added)

As we witnessed in the previous post, Isaiah confesses the same, concerning the LORD building His vineyard: "What more can I do for my vineyard beyond what I have already done? When I waited for it to produce edible grapes, why did it produce sour ones instead?" (Isaiah 5:4) I do not see how anyone can read the Hebrew scriptures of the prophets and not conclude that Arminianism is right, and Calvinism is in serious error.

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1 The Westminster Confession of Faith, in The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 3.1:2176.

2 Ibid.

3 Wayne A. Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 146-47.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.