Grace Failure Log

Hen and Chicks
He Marvelled
My Mind
My Mind
Blot Me Out
Bad Calvinists


There is a Linux utility called 'faillog,' which may provide a helpful example of how to proceed in the case of puzzlement at an unexpected outcome. It may be instructive to study those instances in scripture where grace has failed, where God's extended hand of mercy was not met with anything warm or living, but hovered futilely in empty space, and see exactly how God Himself diagnoses the problem:

  • “I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. The haters of the LORD should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time should have endured for ever. He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.”

  • (Psalm 81:10-16).

It is God Himself who expresses frustration in this cases and denies that the outcome was what He had wanted. What can it mean for God to say, "Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!" unless this was His heart's desire? Certainly it is better, as William of Ockham pointed out, to posit no unnecessary entities, and instead of replicating 'wills' and 'decrees' of God, it is preferable to try to understand what He Himself says about the content of His will.

God Himself testifies of His vineyard, that He did everything He could: "What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes?" (Isaiah 5:4). This is God's testimony, not man's.

According to God, He spreads out His hands, but the people are rebellious:

"I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts; a people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick; which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels; which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day." (Isaiah 65:1-5).

Paul cites this passage, “But to Israel he says: 'All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people.'” (Romans 10:21). How can it be understood by a Calvinist? 'I stretched out my hands, but only far enough to tantalize, not to reach'?

Psalm 78 goes so far as to accuse the disobedient children of 'limiting' the Holy One:

"How often they provoked Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert! Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel." (Psalm 78:40-41).

How can a finite human being 'limit,' impede, or set boundaries to an almighty God? Obviously not by main force, a divine/human power struggle ends only one way. But if the Holy One holds out for willing, consensual obedience, not enforced compliance, then they can do what the Psalm says they did.

According to God's word, it was the Pharisees who rejected Him, not He they: "But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him." (Luke 7:30). If His will for them was reprobation, then what is the force of their having "rejected the will of God"?

It would be possible for God to explain that He Himself has produced these grace failures out of no other source than His own sovereign will; who could fight against Him? If He had desired to populate a world with puppets and robots, who could object? But that is not how He explains it; rather, He stresses His forbearance and His unending diligence to teach and reach out: "And they have turned unto me the back, and not the face: though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not hearkened to receive instruction." (Jeremiah 32:33)

Lady Wisdom likewise stresses her patience:

"Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;  When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof." (Proverbs 1:20-30).

God expects His people to seek His face. Certainly He seeks out the lost sheep, but His people too are to be seekers:

"And the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded: and he went out to meet Asa, and said unto him, Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin; The LORD is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you." (2 Chronicles 15:1-2).

It is best to say what the Bible says in Bible words. God's own tears of sorrow at His people's treachery would be a deceptive pantomime if we accept certain man-made theories in this regard:

  • “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images. I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them. He shall not return into the land of Egypt, but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return. And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches, and devour them, because of their own counsels. And my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him.
  • “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.”

  • (Hosea 11:1-8).

Ilya Repin, Crown of Thorns

It is best to describe these situations the way God describes them. To suggest that God is disingenuous in recounting His feelings draws us onto gnostic and blasphemous territory. If there is a clever man-made theory which draws together a number of scriptural threads into a neat package, self-consistent and logically coherent, but which requires us to describe these events in a way markedly different from how God describes them, then it is best to leave the man-made theory alone.

Another instance is Deuteronomy 5:29: "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!" If they did not have this heart simply because He did not give it, then against whom is His complaint directed, "O that there were, etc."?

The invitation goes out to all: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-3).

Is it sincere or disingenuous? The parable of the sower presupposes some obduracy in the material which impacts the outcome: "Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away." (Matthew 13:5-6). God does not will that any should perish: "And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish." (Matthew 18:13-14). Taken at face value, these scriptures leave some element of human nature which God will not constrain but which can leave Him in tears. This obdurate element need not be described as 'free will' because there is no Biblical basis for such a description, but denying that it is there takes us outside the Bible paradigm.


Desderius Erasmus
Scriptural Basis
Adam and Eve
Seek and Find
Glorious Liberty

Hen and Chicks

Matthew 23:37 is the most widely quoted example: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" Without grasping for any unnatural restriction of the context, this implies a divine will capable of frustration: "how often would I. . .and yet would not." Certainly, God's will can admit of frustration only insofar as He will allow; He could have made us robots or puppets had He so chosen. Nothing can stand against His will, except if He refrain from utilizing all His power. By His own testimony, He does so refrain.

Or else where is the promise, where the threat, in verses like Isaiah 1:19,

"If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." (Isaiah 1:19-20).

God's bewilderment expressed in passages like Jeremiah 8:4 is either real or it is a pose:

“Will they fall and not rise? Will one turn away and not return? Why has this people slidden back, Jerusalem, in a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit, they refuse to return.” (Jeremiah 8:4-5).

Do they refuse to return, as it says, or has God refused to return them, and this verse is empty mockery? Who stiffened their necks, the children of Israel, or God?:

“But they and our fathers acted proudly, hardened their necks, and did not heed Your commandments. They refused to obey, and they were not mindful of Your wonders that You did among them. But they hardened their necks, and in their rebellion they appointed a leader to return to their bondage. But You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them.” (Nehemiah 9:16-17).

If it was He who stiffened their necks, as Calvinists claim, then what is the force of the antithesis? Who is willing, and who is not willing?:

  • “But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”

  • (John 5:38-40).

The fictional movie character the 'God-father,' an imperious crime boss, proposed to 'make him an offer he can't refuse.' The Calvinist God prefers to make them an offer they can't accept. Scripture contains categorical commands, like the command for "all men" to repent:

“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).

Certainly it is a matter of common observation that not all heed God's commands. To the Calvinist, the "all men" promiscuously addressed by the command fall into two categories, those who can obey, and indeed cannot help doing so, and those who cannot. Under Calvinist assumptions, commanding the unregenerate to repent is like commanding a bird with a broken wing to fly. But then why does God so phrase these instructions?

How does John Calvin himself explain away the conundrum of the hen and chicks? He says it's anthropomorphism, a figure of speech in which human characteristics not properly belonging to Him are assigned to God. Didn't say it was plausible, just said that's how he explains it:

“'God wills to gather all men,' say they; 'and therefore all are at liberty to come, and their will does not depend on the election of God.' I reply: The will of God, which is here mentioned, must be judged from the result. . .And I am astonished at the obstinacy of some people, who, when in many passages of Scripture they meet with that figure of speech (ανθρωποπαθεια) which attributes to God human feelings, take no offense, but in this case alone refuse to admit it.” (John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Volume 3, p. 82).

He Marvelled

We all have occasion to say, 'I can't believe I did that,'— forgot to take the warmed-over food out of the microwave, or whatever,— but surely Jesus is immune. We can marvel at our own actions, or omissions, but is it likely He will? And yet He is astonished at the faith of the centurion,

“When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, 'I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!'” (Luke 7:9).

No doubt is to a very great extent the gift of God, but if there is not some element left over, then at what is Jesus marvelling?

We know it is God's will to extend mercy to all, "For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all." (Romans 11:32). Not all will have His mercy, but it is His will to extend it to all. He wills to draw all, though not all will come: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all [παντας] [men] unto me." (John 12:32 KJV).


T - Total Depravity U - Unconditional Election
L - Limited Atonement I - Irresistible Grace
P - Perseverance of the Saints

  • “The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.”

  • (Psalm 145:9).

My Mind

Some of the modern Calvinists take all free agency out of the world, leaving none but God as able to initiate any action, even one so trivial and morally neutral as choosing whether to wear the red socks or the blue socks. They defend Calvinism by explaining that God would be altogether incapable of predicting the future (which, they think, is future to Him just as it is to us) were any freedom allowed to the creature. How, they indignantly demand, can God possibly be expected to know what an agent will freely choose to do before he has done it? No, they explain, like us, God knows the content of His own mind, and only the content of His own mind; He foreknows all things because He causes all things. This has the unfortunate consequence that God becomes the sole moral cause of evil. This they accept, explaining that God hardens Pharaoh's heart.

But is it Biblical? No; God casts all evil away from His will, He never thought of it at all:

  • “‘Because they have forsaken Me and made this an alien place, because they have burned incense in it to other gods whom neither they, their fathers, nor the kings of Judah have known, and have filled this place with the blood of the innocents (they have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind), therefore behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘that this place shall no more be called Tophet or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.’”
  • (Jeremiah 19:4-6).

  • “‘And they built the high places of Baal which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.’”
  • (Jeremiah 32:35).

  • “And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart.”
  • (Jeremiah 7:31).

These statements by God cannot be reconciled with Calvinism. As is pointed out by this author, if Calvinism is true, then not only did this behavior come into His mind, but it came into no one else's mind, because He ordained these events as the sole freely willing agent in history:

"But if God has, by an express decree, ordained whatsoever shall come to pass, he has ordained. . .that Cain should murder his brother; that the old world should be immersed in sin and sensuality, and then be drowned. . .also that the Israelites should murmur, tempt God, commit fornication in the wilderness, and their carcasses should then fall; in like manner, after they were settled in the promised land, that hey should fall in with the various abominations, such as burning their children to Moloch, use enchantments, witchcrafts, and every other abomination which we find them charged with." (Thomas Taylor, A Solemn Caution Against the Ten Horns of Calvinism, Kindle location 66).

"[N]or did it come into My mind" doesn't mean that He is unaware of what these people are doing, either while they are doing it, or after they have done it, or indeed even centuries prior. No, He means this is nothing He willed or intended. Therefore He is not the sole willing, choosing agent. Man-made theories which leave Him as such must accordingly be discarded.


Blot Me Out

"Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin — ; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book." (Exodus 32:32-33).

The vehemence of John Calvin's protest startles:

“By 'the book,' in which God is said to have written His elect, must be understood, metaphorically, His decree. But the expression which Moses uses, asking to be blotted out of the number of the pious, is an incorrect one, since it cannot be that one who has been once elected should be ever reprobated; and those lunatics who, on this ground, overturn, as far as they can, that prime article of our faith concerning God’s eternal predestination, thereby demonstrate their malice no less than their ignorance.” (John Calvin, Harmony of the Law, Volume 3, Four Last Books of Moses, Return to the History, pp. 266-267).

The reader will notice, this arrogant man is not just correcting Moses, who he correctly realizes is not using these words in Calvin's strained sense, but God Himself, who takes up the same expression. What else in the Bible does he dismiss as "incorrect"?


Bad Calvinists

Most of those who accept this recondite, man-made philosophy are in no sense any sort of menace to society, or threat to the church. But there are exceptions. One popular modern Calvinist author who is surprising well-accepted by his colleagues is Douglas Wilson. Some time ago he and a collaborator, affiliated with the secessionist League of the South, wrote a pamphlet singing the praises of Southern slavery. After the controversy kicked off by that publication had died down, Douglas Wilson sought to re-ignite it by a publishing a book called 'Black and Tan,' a disorganized and meandering account of the original pamphlet, reactions to it, and such non-retraction retractions as seem prudent. This author identifies himself as a 'paleo-Confederate' and describes the South as a 'nation:'


Happy Slaves
Racial Insensitivity
What Saith the Scripture?
Test Case
John Brown's Body
Whosoever Will
Hobgoblin of Little Minds
Neighborhood of Boston
French Revolution
Spoiling the Egyptians
Slippery Slope
League of the South
Birds of a Feather
Cultural Inferiority