What is Reprobation?

How can a loving God knowingly create a person that he knows will reject him and therefore spend eternity in hell?
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; cf. Matt. 25:41 - see "Wasn't hell made for the Devil and his angels and not real people?" below). 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 ordain things 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, 31). 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 with a sin nature.

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 - when he ordained such - "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.

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:

Wasn't hell made for the Devil and his angels and not real people?
Calvinism in 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 (Thirdmill).