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In various debates about soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), this is an aspect that I think needs to be considered a lot more. That is, the image of God in human nature and how it relates to God’s will in salvation. I’m not the first to think of these things so I won’t try and take the credit. But I do like to work out and understand the logic of various positions for myself. So here are a few thoughts on the matter.
There are positions of Christian theology which say that God predestines *persons* to eternal damnation. By this they don’t simply mean God knowing and confirming the free choices that some people make to reject Him as included in His over arching eternal plan to create, redeem and glorify the human race. No rather that God can determine any creaturely decisions and choices at all times and has determined that some or many will choose to reject Him. Thus God has in this sense predestined them to damnation. This is called the doctrine of reprobation. How then does this relate to the the image of God in humanity?
The end/purpose/telos/final cause for human nature is the image of God. That’s God’s will for human nature and it’s inherent to us. What is moral and what makes us virtuous are actions and dispositions that move us in the direction of fulfilling that image. Moving in the opposite direction is what constitutes evil. In fact since God is the source of its fulfillment, it is moving away from Him. It is a return to corruption, death, non existence. Because its trying to have immortality, life and existence without the source of all those things. So then for God to create someone for the end of eternal reprobation, which is to exist in a state that is constantly moving away from Him, a state opposed to the fulfilling of the image of God in that person, is for God to will an *evil* is end. Since it is contrary to His already inherent end and will for people given their human nature. So it puts two opposing wills in God. One good and one evil. There is the other option of saying that God’s will for human nature (and by extension the human person), the image of God, is not inherently good. The way we are has no more moral weight anymore than choosing the colour of ones car. So the image of God is only good if God says it is. Not because it is grounded in God’s own goodness. Therefore for Him to will that some people do and some do not come to salvation, fulfill the divine image, is no more significant morally than choosing to call one kid Sandra and the other Smurphinette (please don’t call your kid Smurphinette).
This position however raises other difficulties. Is love not part of the divine image? Wisdom? Righteousness? The fruit of the Spirit? Are these no more morally significant than their opposites? I doubt many will say so. Saying too that God wills the reprobation of some as their *end* for the sake of His glory is also problematic. First it says that God’s glory is dependent on evil. Or at least His “maximum” glory as is sometimes indicated. That doesn’t say much for God’s aseity (self existence/lack of dependency on anything outside Himself). Second, if God doesn’t need evil or rather the end where some (or many, depending on ones position) are damned, but determines it anyway, it means He preferred it. Preferred evil over good. Or for some reason in His own nature, had no choice but to do it. Neither of which seem to be good options (no pun intended). The third thing is that it has a sort of “means justify the ends” motif. Let’s say I granted that God got more glory by willing an evil end for some. Paul says in Romans 3:7-8 “Some might argue, “if my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned a sinner? Why not say- as some slanderously claim that we say- “Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!”
So either doing an inherent evil is forbidden since it is against the image of God in us and against God’s own goodness. Or what is forbidden here is simply what God has decided is wrong for us and the divine image doesn’t necessarily reflect God Himself, since it is isn’t an intrinsic good. In fact if goodness is not intrinsic, then neither is evil. Meaning ironically that the passage of scripture that says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil” could have existed in a world where what we know as evil is actually good. If God had wanted it that way.
Fourthly, it also puts one in the awkward position of saying that God gets more glory when some or most do not fulfill their God given image, than if all did. That’s akin to saying that the world would’ve been worse off if everyone loved God and others as they should have. I find it ironic (as does the Christian philosopher Jerry Walls) that one really well known line by a Christian determinist (whom I respect), is “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” However that doesn’t seem true if God needs evil in order to receive the maximum glory. Rather it should read “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him and some others aren’t.”
It seems that these underlying tensions and dynamics are ripe in theologies were God does create certain people with the determined end of damning them. Those who hold to this position will often try and hold a tension in God’s will (saying that God does have a general love for all but at the same time chooses not to save all though He could) or they’ll come out on the voluntaristic end where the tension is denied and something is good because God wills it so determining someone’s eternal damnation or having no love for them is perfectly consistent and up to God. There is another form of this where the tension is not denied, but the two seemingly opposing wills are said to be reconciled in God, but a mystery to us that we are just to accept. Usually a certain interpretation of Romans 9 is given in order to demonstrate that we have no business questioning about this matter.
Appeals to mystery are not wrong in and of themselves. But they have to be grounded in good reasons. In other words, one can’t just accept a mystery without thinking there is good reason to believe it or that a matter may be true despite our inability to resolve it. I have no good reasons based on what I’ve laid out above for thinking that God would act in such a manner. So I’ve no good reason to accept that reading of Romans 9. Or to believe that this tension in God’s will exists or that that our purposed goodness from the image of God is morally insignificant or could have been otherwise. In fact I don’t just *lack* reasons for these positions. But I believe there are good reasons in favour of others.