The Parable of the Drowning Man
Perhaps you have run into an earnest Christian, that when opposing the biblical teaching of the "bondage of the will", "salvation by grace alone" and "election" will use the common salvation analogy which likens the unsaved to a helpless drowning man. That a loving God gives us free choice while drowning whether we will reach out and take His hand to be saved or not. That only an 'evil' God, they say, would leave or not attempt to save people who are drowning in a lake. "How could a loving God be so cruel just to leave them there drowning," they argue.
There are quite a number of things that might be said in response to this. First of all we must clarify that what distinguishes our tradition from freewillism is not that one God loves people and the other conception of God does not. No... the distinction is between an intensive and an extensive love, between an intensive love where God actually expresses His love by laying down His life to redeem His loved ones, and an extensive love that loves everyone in a generic sense but actually delivers no one in particular. Consider the parable of the drowning man again in light of these two perspectives:
(1) Your child is drowning off the edge of your boat. You are a great swimmer but the swells are high and it is risky. You call out to your child to use his willpower to swim back to the boat to save himself, yet he is entirely too weak to do so. You reach out your hand but it depends on whether your child is a good enough swimmer to get to you and has the strength in himself to reach out his arm. But you do nothing more than call for him to come and will only go as far as reaching out your hand since you wouldn't want to violate his free will to let him decide if he will swim back and reach for your help.
(2) Your child is drowning off the edge of your boat. You are a great swimmer but the swells are high and it is risky. But your love for your child outweighs all other considerations and without hesitation you leap into the water at the risk of your own life, due to the weather, and actually save your child from drowning. You drown in the process but your child is saved. In other words, you don't just wait to see if he is willing or has the strength. He doesn't. So you go in and save your child regardless of the cost to yourself.
Which of the two fathers is more loving I ask?
The first one, if you haven't yet guessed, is the Arminian "father". He sees his child in trouble and will only save him on condition that he has the capacity to swim through the waves and reach out and take hold of the father. The father will not, however, risk his life to actually MAKE SURE that the son does not drown. His love does not act so this love is ineffectual. It all depends on how the son responds. It is a love which is conditional. The Arminian gospel is just like this because if God violates the human will in any way it makes Him evil in their mind. [Note: I will tell you what. If I am stubborn and will not obey the gospel, afterwards I would be grateful if he "violated" my will to save me from drowning. What I want does not matter since I am only a child with reference to God. It is what God wants that matters. What I want will conform to what God wants when He opens the eyes of my understanding. This is not something I can produce naturally. The Holy Spirit must act or I die. If your child is to be hit by a car, do you wait to see what he will do or do you run out to save him? I don't care if the child did not want it at the time. I do it anyway if I love him. The fact is what kind of love just sits there and does nothing but woo and hope you will save yourself? Is that the kind of love we expect of a parent, let alone our Heavenly Father?]
The second analogy is the Augustinian father. His love is not weak-willed or ineffectual but he loves his children with a resolute will that accomplishes what His love dictates by actually saving his child, even by forfeiting his own life in the process. God is love, and God's love is like His Word ... He says of it, "It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it." This is beautiful and what love is all about because it means we can take God at His word and promises.
Again, which father in the story is more loving?
Of course the analogy is flawed since the son, in real life is already dead to the things of the father and due to his autonomy and pride, would never take his father's help to do what he knows (or thinks) he can do for himself.
Naturally the next question is why does God not save everyone then? That is a deep mystery but we know God conspires with His own goodness and wisdom and always does what is right whether we fully understand His reasons or not. The same mystery equally extends to the question of why He bothers to save anyone at all. Given our hostility toward Him it is even more amazing that He chooses anyone. Why not give us what we all deserve, which is justice? So while it is true we may not know why He chooses only some for redemption, the Scriptures do teach the "what" and the "how" ...that He, in fact, does save a partuclar people for Himself. But it is not for us to pry into the mystery of why (since He has not revealed it) except that it was His good pleasure ... And it is not for us to presume, as some do, that election means He must have bad motives in doing so. We know, from revelation, that the character of God is always good and trustworthy so we can know with certainty that He does His choosing for good reasons that are in Himself even though we may not fully understand God's purpose. But to conclude, therefore, that God must be evil if He chooses some and not others is presumptious at best. The very fact that He does it is the highest reason in the universe. That He has covenantally set His affection on certain persons but not others is His prerogative. There cannot be a better reason than "God wills it". Can you think of a better reason?
But to perhaps gain some understanding from what God has revealed to us, consider the following:
The Arminian calls a God who leaves a rebel behind as evil. To expose the fallacy of this argument we should respond biblically by asserting that God would only be "evil" in leaving them if people were undeserving of just punishment. By using "drowning in a lake" as an analogy, they are making it sound like our condition before salvation is innocuous. This logical fallacy is called an "appeal to pity" (ad misercordiam). "Look at the helpless person drowning and the Calvinist God does nothing. This God must be an ogre".
Perhaps if our problem were only of a physical disability or of an innocent man drowning then, of course, we might be more tempted to make God out to be an ogre. But this is not how the Scripture describes the disposition of a sinner's heart. The Scripture says the unregenerate are rebels, hostile to God by nature. Realizing that analogies are imperfect, this drowning analogy still depends on pity for it to work at all, but is actually imposing an alien presupposition on the Scripture that we were just helplessly, innocently in need and God is, therefore, obligated to reach out to save us, lest we drown. So according to this analogy the one condition for us to meet if God is to love us is to reach out our hand and take hold of His, which He is obligated to extend lest otherwise He must be evil, they reason. Not only is this kind of love conditional but this love does nothing to help the helpless except call to him from afar. I hope you are beginning to see the clear problem with this line of reasoning.
Lets get the facts straight: nowhere does Scripture even hint that man is just innocently drowning. Rather it describes us as willfully and purposefully hostile toward God like an opposing army, suppressing the truth and replacing God with our own idols, having a debt we cannot and will not repay. The Text says that we love darkness and hate the light - which means our affections are bent on fleeing from God. Michael Horton once described it like this: â€œWe cannot find God for the same reason that a thief can't find a police officer.â€ It is not as though we just had a physical inability, but our condition is described as a moral inability with darkened affections (John 3:19) in need of a new birth (John 3:3-6), i.e. a completely new nature that we might desire and understand the things of God (1 Cor 2: 5-14). One thing to remember is that we are all debtors for willfully breaking God's holy Law. We owe a debt we cannot repay - the price is too high, and further, we are unwilling. This means that we justly deserve God's wrath - all of us. Unless we can say that we justly deserve God's displeasure, save in the mercy of Jesus Christ, then we have yet to truly understand the gospel. If God were to completely wipe out the entire human race in one fell swoop, it would be entirely just for that is what we rightly deserve. If we were all thrown into an eternal hell, we would merely be getting our just deserts.
But since we are using analogies here is another: if nine people owed me money, and I canceled the debt of seven, the other two would have no grounds for complaint. In the same way if God canceled no one's debt it would be entirely proper, but if He cancels the debt of some of them, the others have no ground for complaint. They are responsible to repay but do not have the ability to repay (see Rom 3:20). God is in no way obligated to to cancel anyone's debt, but because He is loving and merciful He paid the debt for those He came to save according to His sovereign good pleasure (Eph 1:4, 5).
We must remember also that God has more than just one attribute ... and we must also remember that God is infinitely holy, just and wrathful. When we say we are saved what do we mean? What are we saved from? We are saved from God. Yes, saved from God. If God is truly a just God, His wrath must be poured out on the guilty. God is holy and no sin can stand in His presence - His justice requires just payment, a payment we cannot repay.
So God gives one of two things to humans in this life: justice or mercy. Those in Christ have received mercy. It wasn't because God saw anything in us that recommended us to Him, or because of our great resume or skill but because of his mercy alone that he saved us.
He didn't love us because of our faith but loved and redeemed us UNTO faith. We are justified through faith alone but we didn't produce faith in our unregenerate, hostile fallen nature ... God mercifully granted that we would repent and believe the gospel (2 Tim 2:25, Eph 2:8). Apart from His grace, which He granted us in the new birth, we would never come to God on our own. Rather, God has set His affection on us from eternity. He came to find us and deliver us from death that we might worship and have fellowship with Him. So if men suffer in Hell it is not because God so determined that they would for no reason, but because of their sin, and if we are saved it is solely because of His grace.
In spite of ourselves God came in the person of Jesus Christ to bear the full brunt of God's wrath for His people. The punishment we deserved fell on Him. He saves many but passes over the rest. He leaves the non-elect to do what they will. They choose to rebel because this is their natural inclination - God did not have to coerce them. So is God an ogre standing over some poor helpless drowning man? No, He is faced with people who are wilfully trying to establish themselves against Him and do not want His help. In fact they take up arms against the King. They will do anything they can to flee from Him, to declare autonomy and mutiny.
God sends His servants and His Son but we kill them instead. Does God have the obligation to save those who killed His Son? Or those who conspire against Him as we once did? No, He is righteous if he casts them in the lake of fire. But in spite of all we have done against Him, He comes in love bearing the punishment we justly deserve on His own person. Great love. But He will have mercy on whom He will (Rom 9:15, 16). Who are you man to tell God He is evil or unjust for saving some and leaving others? We should marvel that He saves any. If anyone would agree that He is just in punishing us all (which Arminians do), how then can they be consistent to make Him unjust for punishing some and saving the rest for His own good and wise reasons?
We must ask ourselves in light of all this, what is love? What is a holy love? ... and which description most closely fits with true biblical love. Jesus said in John 10 that He not only "calls his own sheep by name and leads them out" (John 10:3) but that "the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." (John 10:11,15) but he says of others that they "do not believe because [they] are not of My Sheep." (John 10:26) . He lays down his life for the sheep but some are not his sheep, and that is the reason they do not believe, Jesus says.
GOD GAVE THEM A SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY." (Rom 11:8)
In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, 'YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; (Matt 13:14)
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Rom 11:33)
- J.W. Hendryx