What is Reprobation?

Question
How can a loving God knowingly create a person that he knows will reject him and therefore spend eternity in hell?
Answer
Thank you for your question, which really addresses two things: election and reprobation. While studying these doctrine one will realize that on the one hand election brings joy to the heart and the other reprobation brings sadness to the soul.

Election and reprobation rely on distinct foundations. On the one hand, election rests on the eternal redeeming love of God to save certain lost individuals. On the other hand, reprobation rests on the moral necessity to manifest to all creation the nature and consequences of sin. Election is dependent on divine grace. Reprobation is dependent on individual personal sin. Yet, while there is grace to some, there is no injustice to any.

God's eternal counsel brings glory to himself (Eph. 1:5, 11; Rom. 9), but it does not necessarily bring emotional pleasure to him. For example, God ordained the very crucifixion of his own Son (Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:18-21), but it did not bring him pleasure in the sense that he was laughing that day of days. Yes, he is satisfied that his Son died to save the elect, but what brings satisfaction does not always equate to emotional pleasure. Furthermore, Paul reveals to us that God is glorified in that some of his eternal decrees are designed to allow him to express his wrath (Rom. 9:22-23). But this does not mean he has a smile on his face or pleasure in his heart when they occur. As Ezekiel 33:11 states: "Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?' " (also Ezek. 18:23, 32; 2 Pet. 3:9).

As a former police detective, I have seen people sentenced to death. I have seen the sentence of death carried out on murderers. However, while I knew justice was being served, I was not laughing, smiling, nor did I go home with pleasure in my heart. Rather, I was saddened that things had to end the way they did, but "must they must." See "Is God pleased with the death of the wicked? - Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11" below.

Herman Hoeksema writes in The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel:

Reprobation exists in order that election may be realized. Reprobation is necessary to bring the chosen to the glory which God in his infinite love has appointed for them.

That God reprobates there is no doubt. Scripture states, "The LORD works out everything for his own ends - even the wicked for a day of disaster." (Prov. 16:4). That God uses the wicked for his glory there can be no doubt either "The righteous man is rescued from trouble, and it comes on the wicked instead." (Prov. 11:8).

Hoeksema also states:

The idea here is that the ungodly serve to deliver the righteous out of trouble, to glorify them. And having done so they perish for their sins. Still stronger is the language of Proverbs 21:18: "The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright." Here again we have the idea that God gives the wicked as a ransom, which He pays to glorify the righteous.
In context, "ransom" in Proverbs 21:18 is not the same as the ransom for sin given by Christ alone (Mark 10:45). Rather "ransom" in context refers to fact that the reprobate draw down the wrath of God upon themselves, so as to become scapegoats for the righteous. As John Gill says, "Not to make satisfaction for them, as Christ is a ransom for his people; but as a ransom is in the room of another, so the wicked cometh in the stead of the righteous, and into the trouble he is delivered from."

Hoeksema gives an example from nature:

It is no different in the lives of individuals, or individual persons and animals. The mother gives life to her child, not infrequently at the expense of her own. It is virtually always true that one generation lives and dies to make room for the next. There are species of animals in which the male dies after mating. The male is cast off (reprobated) to give life to the young.

According to the Scriptures, it is no different in the plant kingdom. When a farmer sows seed in his field, he sows much more than he needs. When the seed falls into the earth and dies, there appear not only the kernels of wheat, for which the seed was planted, but also the stem, the straw, and even the chaff. Without the stem and the chaff the grain could never have germinated and ripened. The stem and the chaff serve the grain, the seed. Yet both will presently be burned by fire in order that the grain may be gathered into the barn. Here also we find election and reprobation, and in such a way that the latter serves the former, and is necessary to it.

No wonder all creation groans for the manifestations of the sons of God! (Rom. 8:18-23).

Nature is not the only testimony to this. It is seen by example in the very life of Israel. God declares, "Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life" (Isa. 43:4). Hoeksema states regarding this:

The text says that, in order to accomplish this, God has given other people in the place of His chosen people. Because He loved His people, those others had to pay for Israel's salvation with their own lives.

We see examples of this in Scripture; Achan was a ransom for Israel (Josh 7:26), and Haman for Mordecai (Esther 7:9-10), etc.

God's church, his very people, are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, [and] a peculiar people" (1 Pet. 2:9). Because he has set his love upon them (Num. 6:23-27), he will bring about their salvation (Jer. 24:6). God even uses the reprobation of others to bring about the salvation of his elect. Scripture proves this time and again. He delivered Israel at the cost of Pharaoh and his nation, did he not? He delivered Israel at the cost of Goliath, did he not?

Let's look at the question again: "How can a loving God knowingly create a person that he knows will reject him and therefore spend eternity in Hell?"

First, this is how Paul answers in Romans 9:11-23:

Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls she was told, "The older will serve the younger."Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

In Paul's answer I observe that God is sovereign and he has a right to do as he wills in all the earth (1 Chron. 16:14; Isa. 55:11). This is the truth of the situation. Think of it like this: Do you tell your boss who to hire and fire? Of course not! Neither does anyone tell God whom to save. It is not even proper to ask the question, which Paul emphasizes saying, "But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'"

Second, this question assumes error. It assumes that all created persons are innocent and not worthy of judgment. While God created man "very good" and without sin (Gen. 1:31), man chose to fall, chose to sin, chose to be unholy, and is therefore worthy of temporary and eternal judgment (Gen. 3). Adam is the "federal head" of all mankind and all of us (save Christ, born of virgin conception) are fallen in him (Rom. 5:12-19). Not only are we fallen in Adam and born in iniquity (Ps. 51:5), but we also are sinners in our own right (Rom. 3:23). This is known as "total depravity. " By Adam's sinful choice, man is not born innocent and is, rather, worthy of eternal punishment!

Again, God created the first couple perfectly in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). However, man, not God, corrupted and deadened this image. God may now only create all mankind since Adam and Eve (save for Christ who was foreordained otherwise) according to their fallen nature. For God to do otherwise would be against his holy and just nature. Therefore, children, at birth, are rightfully born into sin.

So perhaps a more proper phrasing of this question would be: "How can a loving God knowingly save a fallen person who hates him (Rom. 3:10-18) and who is worthy to spend eternity in Hell?" (2 Pet. 2:1-9). Since all men are sinners from birth and deserve eternal judgment in Hell, God could not save a single soul unless he had elected them before they were created (John 1:13; Eph. 1:1-11; Rom. 9; 11:5; Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Pet. 1:2; 1 Pet. 5:13, etc.). Because of this agreement (Covenant of Redemption) before the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:18-21), God can and will save only the elect. He indeed is loving in that he chooses to save any.

One may ask, "Why did not God then elect ALL people from the foundation of the world?" In Isaiah 55:8-9 God says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." If we believe this, why do we question God's love? In addition, Paul speaks to this in Romans 9:21-22, saying: "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath prepared for destruction?" Well, simply, it is God's prerogative. But note that he does have a purpose a holy purpose "to show his wrath and make his power known."

This leads us to point three: God is not only a loving God (John 3:16), but a holy (Ex. 15:11; Psa. 103:1; Isa. 6:3) and just (Deut. 32:4; Job 4:17; 8:3; Psa. 89:14, etc.) God who MUST necessarily judge sin (John 3:18). Therefore, there must necessarily be those who are judged. There must also necessarily be a Hell. If neither of these existed, then God would simply not be God; the punishment of evil would be a farce, unreal, a deception. However, God does not lie (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Psa. 92:15; Mal. 3:6; Rom. 3:4; Heb. 6:18) and therefore sin must be, will be, and is being punished.

All of this is why we see statements of reprobation compared to election in Scripture:

Revelation 13:8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast--all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.

Revelation 17:8 The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.

compared with:-

Ephesians 1:4-5 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will...

Revelation 21:27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Or:

1 Peter 2:6-7a For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." Now to you who believe, this stone is precious.

compared with:

1 Peter 2:7b-8 But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone," and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message--which is also what they were destined for.

as compared to:

2 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

What about when God does not send his miracles when they would have changed a nation?

Matthew 11:20-27 Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you. At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

or sheep and goats:

John 10:26-27 ...but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Matthew 25:31-46 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Then he will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me." They also will answer, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?" He will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

The fact that some will go to Hell is not God's fault, as it is not his sin that put some there. All of us are fallen in Adam. Indeed, not only are we all fallen in Adam, but each of us is a purposeful sinner (Rom. 3). The fact that any of us go to heaven is all because of loving grace (Eph 2:8-10). Christ, before the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:18-21) chose to go to the Cross for his Church (Eph. 5:23). His sacrifice is for his own (John 1:13; 6:44, 65; Rom. 9:16, etc.) and them alone, as the rest are "judged already" (John 3:18).

In light of everything above, we observe that reprobation is indeed a very sad doctrine. "Jesus wept" (John 11:35) is the shortest verse in Scripture. This is my reaction to this biblical doctrine. It brings sadness to the soul. As a jury, that because of the evidence must find someone guilty of murder and thus the death penalty, they understand that while it is a just verdict, at the same time they are saddened that it must be given. Weep for the lost. See Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11.

Related Links:

Is God pleased with the death of the wicked? - Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11
Will all mankind eventually be saved? (Isn't election unjust?)
Does the Bible encourage murder? - Psalm 137:9

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).