Calvinism, Drivel, and the Best Possible World

Herman Bavinck’s section on the divine counsel in Reformed Dogmatics is, in my rather biased mind at least, teeming with shrewd theological judgments.  However, it also bears the mark of a deep, pastoral awareness of the tragic and the disturbing realities of the world.  In the midst of underscoring the active posture of the will  of God and the dependence of all creaturely happenings thereon, he acknowledges,

Present in this world there is so much that is irrational, so much undeserved suffering, so many inexplicable disasters, such unequal and incomprehensible apportionment of good and bad fortune, such a heartbreaking contrast between joy and sorrow, that any thinking person has to choose between interpreting it – as pessimism does – in terms of the blind will of some misbegotten deity, or on the basis of Scripture believingly trusting in the absolute, sovereign, and yet – however incomprehensible – wise and holy will of him who will some day cause the full light of heaven to shine on those riddles of our existence….Pelagianism scatters flowers over graves, turns death into an angel, regards sin as mere weakness, lectures on the uses of adversity, and considers this the best possible world.  Calvinism has no use for such drivel.  It refuses to be hoodwinked.  It tolerates no delusion, takes full account of the seriousness of life, champions the rights of the Lord of lords, and humbly bows in adoration before the inexplicable sovereign will of God Almighty.  As a result, it proves to be fundamentally more merciful than Pelagianism (RD, 1:394).

For Bavinck, the tradition has always taught ‘not that God could have done “more” and “better” than he did, for he always acts in a divine and perfect manner, but that he could have made things “greater in number, greater, and better” than he did’ (RD: 1:234).  Along with this recognition of the fact that God’s abilities are not exhausted on created things, Bavinck is of course steeped in the biblical hope of new creation.  It’s from this vantage point that he can bluntly characterize as ‘drivel’ talk of this world as ‘the best possible world’.

How does this stack up against contemporary Calvinistic expositions and impressions of the divine decree or divine providence?  What do you  make of it?

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7 thoughts on “Calvinism, Drivel, and the Best Possible World

  1. Pingback: No Use For Such Drivel « Life in Christ

    • It seems to allow for a ‘surplus’ in God (a variance) that a contemporary Calvinist probably wouldn’t like.

      When he speaks about this world not being the best possible world; is he speaking out of an eschatological lens (e.g. in re. to creation’s original telos), or does he have Molinism in mind (with this kind of language)?

      • I think the eschatological piece is in the background here. I included it because I think Bavinck would write about this with a sense of despair if we didn’t have the biblical description of the life to come. The immediate context concerns reprobation and Bavinck is basically saying that, if we resist sugarcoating things, we can see that the doctrine of reprobation resonates with the tenor of the world.

        I’m not an expert on contemporary accounts of Molinism (by, say, William Lane Craig), but what Bavinck claims here does challenge the idea that in eternity God identified the best possible world and chose to actualize it out of all the other options. It seems to make sense to me, not least because it’s conceivable that there could have been creatures who were both self-determining and, by virtue of their constitution, more resolutely opposed to evil.

  2. Pingback: “Landmarks in the critical study of secularism- “Internal Barriers to Online Expansion ………… | Erkan's Field Diary

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