On Facebook I came across the following post in one of my Calvinist groups:
Spoke with my brother about my Calvinist theology and one question I struggled answering was “So you believe that there are just a set group of people that are hopeless and bound for Hell, that God won’t even give them a chance to believe?”
I also struggled a bit with the “God makes us robots” argument. Have any of you run into a situation like this, and, if so, how did you handle it?
Having encountered this myself, I’ve seen both bad and good arguments in response to the question. That said, here is what I typically aim for in that conversation:
God, in his kindness, allows all people to live on this life for their “best life now”. They can pursue that which their hearts desire to the fullest extent of that, until God directly prevents them from sinning beyond what he allows, or until he prevents their influence upon others.
That said, God has placed the conscience in the hearts of all men, and they have to overcome this conscience in order to begin pursuing this desire to sin. No one is just free to sin without the knowledge of the consequences that are at hand. You have to push past your conscience time and again before it becomes comfortable for you to just continue living in that way, and the reason most people rile against the teaching of scripture is that it reminds them that they’re living beyond the bounds of their conscience. So no one stands uncondemned before God. No one is pure from sin in the eyes of God. Also, due to our sin nature, no one lives their lives in any way that’s pleasing to God. The 10 commandments aren’t a simple rule set for a life of blessing, but it’s God’s holy standard of perfection. This is his “you must be this holy to enter My rest” marker that stands before the entrance before the gates of Heaven, and only a life spent in constant obedience to that will allow you to enter. As James 2:10 says, to violate one point of the law, you have failed in all of it.
More than that, no one, because of our self-focused, sin-sick hearts, would ever want to have a redeemer, much less would pursue this savior unless there’s a significant, personal pay off for that man. As we know from Psalm 51, the only sacrifice that God desires – the only one he acknowledges is one that comes from a contrite and humble heart. You cannot be truly contrite or humble if you’re coming to the throne of grace for how it will improve your life. If you’re looking for a salve for your conscience, or some kind of religious rite or procedure that will help you to balance out the sin you enjoy and the guilt you feel over it, then this is not the place for you. This is what the vast majority of Jews in Israel and Judah were pursuing prior to the Babylonian captivity and it led to their public humiliation and destruction.
Since we know that the heart of men only ever seeks its own interests and comfort, and since God has provided to all men both the natural revelation around them which point to his existence and guiding hand in all of creation, and the conscience which lives in their heart, revealing their sin to them, the question about those who are clamoring for salvation and are “turned away” just doesn’t happen. Sure, there are many in the church who are there for their own benefit, but those are the ones who will be told at the last day, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Mt 7:23). God, knowing the hearts of men, and knowing that only those who enter the throne room of grace with a contrite and humble heart are those who are the ones who are there for God’s purpose and not their own, has chosen from the vast throng who are sprinting headlong into hell to interfere in the lives of his elect, to radically change the attitude of their hearts away from themselves and toward him, then to bombard them with his grace and mercy until they can do nothing but cry out in repentance and faith in the God and King of all creation who died in their place.
The kindness of God allows sinners to pursue their own desires – their own dreams, despite the fact that they’re both living in rebellion to him, but also knowing that they’re doing it to their own hurt. It is therefore the God who interferes, the God of the “but God” statements in the Bible, who steps in and violates the autonomous rule of man’s heart to turn him to Himself for the sake of the sinner, and for the glory of the King of mercy and grace.