Chrysostom and Accounting for Differences

, posted by Godismyjudge

Calvinists sometimes argue that the fact that some people are good and others bad is evidence that God predetermines all things. The Calvinist arguments run down two distinct tracts: 1) a forking maneuver and 2) an incoherence argument against libertarian free will. The forking maneuver looks something like this: either man or God is the difference maker – if it’s man, we have something to brag about, if it’s God, libertarian free will is undone. The incoherence argument runs something like this: the difference is due either to nature or circumstances, so something causes the difference or it’s random – in neither case does the agent have the type of control required for libertarian free will. The purpose of this post is to show that this argument is an inversion of Chrysostom’s argument supporting libertarian freedom.

Calvinists maintain that election is unconditional – the elect are not chosen because of some quality they possess which others don’t possess. In this, they are not just rejecting works or merit as a basis of election, but also faith and any other good quality or disposition. We all come from the same lump of clay, so the differences between the people weren’t the reason one was chosen and another rejected. But this seems random or arbitrary.

If you ask a Calvinist why it glorifies God to choose this person rather than someone else, or why He doesn’t choose everyone, they typically admit they don’t know. They may say “God has a reason even if we don’t know it” and perhaps they might even accuse you of prying into God’s secret council.

But whatever God’s other reason was, it couldn’t be related to some good quality or disposition in us. Let’s say I am building a house and need one nail. Even though my end goal is to build the house, I would still pick longer nails over short ones if the job called for it. In that case longer nails are more suitable for my purpose, so this example can’t be representative of unconditional election. But if any nail will do and all the nails are the same, then I don’t care which one I pick out of a jar full of nails. So in this way, whatever the other reason is, it doesn’t explain why one was chosen and another rejected.

So there’s a natural tension in Calvinism between the randomness in election with respect to us and not knowing God’s other reasons for electing one and not another. Ultimately, they don’t have a satisfying explanation as to why one person’s salvation glorifies God and another’s does not.

So what is Chrysostom’s answer as to what makes the difference? Choice. Each agent chooses for themselves, thus we end up with differences.

When therefore thou blamest, thou showest that the fault is not of nature but of his choice. For if in those things, which we do not blame, we bear witness that the whole is of nature, it is evident that where we reprove, we declare that the offense is of the choice…. Did God make all men? It is surely plain to every man. How then are not all equal in respect of virtue and vice? whence are the good, and gentle, and meek? whence are the worthless and evil? For if these things do not require any purpose, but are of nature, how are the one this, the others that? For if by nature all were bad, it were not possible for any one to be good, but if good by nature, then no one bad. For if there were one nature of all men, they must needs in this respect be all one, whether they were to be this, or whether they were to be that. …“But wherefore did He at all make worthless men, when He might have made all men good? Whence then are the evil things?” saith he. Ask thyself; for it is my part to show they are not of nature, nor from God….

… Didst thou once take by violence the things that belonged not to thee; and after this, subdued by pity, didst impart even of thine unto him that was in need? Whence then this change? Is it not quite plain it is from the mind, and the choice of will? (link)