The Best Calvinist Proof-Text in the Bible

Roderick Edwards

The theological perspective often called “Calvinism” can be summarized as the view that God is completely sovereign or in control of EVERYTHING that happens. That God doesn’t just “allow” things to happen, but He actually DECREES, WILLS, or DECLARES them to happen…yes even the things we consider bad or evil. This view of God is based on several texts but perhaps the main one would be Isaiah 46:9-10 which reads:

Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’

But this ISN’T the text that I consider the best Calvinist proof-text in the Bible. If you have ever interacted with a Christian who holds to the Calvinistic/Reformed view, you may have seen them using verses like Romans 9:10-23 wherein the account is related that God loves Jacob over Esau even before they were born & had done good or evil & that God is like a potter who has every right to form clay into vessels (cups, bowls) He intends to use for honor & ones he intends to use for other purposes…but all for His own purposes. Yet, this is also not the text I consider the best Calvinistic proof-text.

Further, you may have heard Calvinist Christians citing the many verses that talk about predestination & election, showing that God chooses people BEFORE they are even born & have done any good or evil. (see references) Yet, not even these verses should be considered the best proof-text for Calvinism.

The account I’m thinking of is one where God basically makes a bet with the Devil that one of God’s faithful will not curse God no matter what happens to him. Of course I speak of the Jobian account, which after introducing us to Job himself, reads:

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. And the LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” So Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” So Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:6-12 NKJV)

This is the classic situation people use when they question the idea of God being in control of everything. They claim like Satan here, that when bad things happen a person will blame/curse God or even give up their faith…especially if it is considered that God actually “allows” those bad things to happen let alone actually DECLARING those things to happen. Look again at the text above. Satan says for God to “stretch out His hand” against Job. God isn’t just “allowing” Satan to torment Job, but even so, by God “allowing” Satan to torment Job, some would find God at “fault”. After all, Job didn’t deserve this did he?

Over the course of this torment, Job loses all of his family members & his all of his possessions (Job 1:13-20). Note how he loses them. Does Satan have the power to send down “fire of God” or “great winds”? Yet in Job 1:22 we see Job does NOT curse/blame God. Wow! A lot more faith then most of us.

Well, Satan comes to up the ante & we read in Job 2:3-6

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.” So Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.”

So, Satan is given leave & begins to torment Job with boils all over his body (a plague). But notice again how Job 2:3-6 is worded. God says Satan incited God against Job…so again we see these things that are happening to Job are at God’s hand. After all, if Satan had the ability to torment Job on his own, why is he coming before God to get the deed done? Now, even Job’s wife thinks he should curse God for what is happening yet Job does not. (Job 2:9-10)

Job’s “friends” come to “comfort” him in his grief but you can tell they really think he must have done something to deserve all of this wrath. Job begins to feel sorry for himself. (Job 2:11-13, Job 3) As a matter of fact, it looks like his “friends” are kind of playing a gottcha game with Job – since Job had a reputation as an upright man & now it appears he is getting his due, as if he is suffering from secret sin that deserves to be corrected. (Job 4-5) This back & forth between Job & his friends continues for several chapters until a young observer named Elihu chimes in:

So these three men ceased answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then the wrath of Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, was aroused against Job; his wrath was aroused because he justified himself rather than God. Also against his three friends his wrath was aroused, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job. (Job 32:1-3)

Notice what’s happening. Job was “righteous in his own eyes” – this means Job thought it was unfair for God to “allow” all these things to be happening to him. Elihu is also depicted as being upset with Job’s “friends” because they were missing the point of what this was all about. Elihu wants to deal with the OVER-ARCHING PREMISE of God’s nature instead of Job’s individual experience. After all, Job’s “friends” were using “logical” arguments…but for all the “logic” is ignored the OVER-ARCHING PREMISE of God’s nature.

In Job 33:8-12, Elihu recounts Job’s argument/complaint & then Elihu begins his answer which reads:

“Surely you have spoken in my hearing, And I have heard the sound of your words, saying, ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am innocent, and there is no iniquity in me. Yet He finds occasions against me, He counts me as His enemy; He puts my feet in the stocks, He watches all my paths.’ “Look, in this you are not righteous. I will answer you, For God is greater than man.

So, Elihu correctly relates that Job’s problem is that he thinks it is unfair that God “finds occasions against” him & then Elihu tells Job he is not righteous to be thinking this say & that the issue is that God is greater than man. Elihu spends the next few chapters laying out the case that God as the Creator can do what He wants with His creation AND it is still “fair”. Elihu sums up his case by saying:

Oh, that Job were tried to the utmost, Because his answers are like those of wicked men! (Job 34:35) Moreover Elihu answered and said: “Do you think this is right? Do you say, ‘My righteousness is more than God’s’? For you say, ‘What advantage will it be to You?  What profit shall I have, more than if I had sinned?’ (Job 35:1-3)

What??? Poor Job was minding his own business & had his entire family wiped out, his possessions destroyed or taken, & is suffering from boils from head to feet & yet Elihu is so cold (might we say “mean” & “hurtful”, or “unChrist-like” -- comments like this against Elihu we would often hear even from the mouths of so-called Christians) that he is saying that Job is behaving like a wicked man in his answers. How could Elihu be so insensitive?

Then God comes into the picture & basically backs up everything Elihu had been telling Job. In Job 38-40 God makes the distinction that He is God the Creator & we are mere creatures. Then God asks Job to answer:

Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said: “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.” Then Job answered the LORD and said: “ Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.” Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: “Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me: “ Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? (Job 40:1-8)

Notice how Job finally realizes the OVER-ARCHING PREMISE of God’s nature – that God is God & we are not. God then asks Job if man’s judgment should be put in place of God’s judgment so that man can decide what is & isn’t just/fair.

God continues to make the case that He is the Creator & can do what He wants with His creation & by the time we get to Job 42, Job now understands & repents. God goes on to correct Job’s friends for not speaking “what is right” of God. Then God restores & even increases Job’s possessions & gives him new sons & daughters. But even had God NOT restored Job’s possessions & family, God would STILL be righteous & just.

To conclude, this is the best proof-text in the Bible for relating God’s sovereignty & complete control. It answers every objection coming either from a non-believer or a believer concerning God’s nature. Even so, some believers will have a difficult time worshiping a God like the one depicted in Job. They instead want to envision some grandfatherly God that would never impose His will upon His creation. People who will not accept the God depicted in Job are like Job who was “justifying himself when he should have been justifying God” (Job 32:2)

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