Explaining how this light of general and special revelation is spread, how the atonement is applied, and who comes to faith must finally be explained in light of God’s foreknowledge of all things. After all, however much you account for human responses, in the end, what occurs must take place because it is God’s will.
Calvinists and Arminians solve this problem differently, by laying the weight of responsibility for this state of affairs in different areas, and placing mystery in different places. Calvinists place the weight of responsibility on God’s decreed will. That is, God chose this state of affairs and decided to bring it to pass. Therefore, God’s foreknowledge is causative: He sees only what He plans to do and will bring to pass. Consequently, the ones who will receive sufficient light to be saved, and the ones to whom the atonement will be applied are the ones who will be regenerated, and are therefore the ones whose God chose before the foundation of the world. In Calvinism, the elect meet no condition for which God chooses them; it is His choosing of them that will result in them meeting the condition of faith. Their election is thus unconditional. God will supply them with the necessary grace to restore their ability to repent and believe, meaning the call in them will be effectual. From God’s foreknowledge to human belief in Christ, there is really no mystery: all is an inexorable chain beginning in God’s causative foreknowledge. The mystery, for Calvinists, is the counsels of God. Why God chose whom He did, why God chose the number He did, why God did not choose others, or more people, is inscrutable. The mystery lies in how God’s love works within the counsel of His will.
Arminians place the weight of responsibility on the human will. Eternal destinies are decided by human free will. Humans all receive necessary grace from God to overcome their inability to believe; the decisive moment of regeneration is supplied by an indeterminate human will. God is passive as to this decisive moment; but foreknowing what it will happen, he elects people that freely choose salvation. Having met the condition of faith, they are chosen, meaning the election is conditional. Again, there is little mystery here: foreknowledge is mere foresight of what men will do, election is conditional on what men will do, and God supplies prevenient grace to all mankind. The mystery, for Arminians, lies in human free will. Two mysteries arise. First, how God can know the future if decisions are completely indeterminate until the moment of decision? Second, how do we explain why one human chooses one way or another? And why is it not meritorious for those who choose rightly?
There is a further mystery for the Arminian, similar to the Calvinist, beyond the mystery of human choice. Even if God’s foreknowledge is mere foresight, it appears He could foresee a world in which so many freely reject Him and condemn themselves. Why did He not refuse to create that world? In other words, for all his attempts to move the problem of evil from God’s will to man’s will, the Arminian is still forced to grapple with the mystery of God’s will. And it appears he has no clearer answers than the Calvinist as to how God’s love works in the counsel of His will.
For mysterian reasons, it appears that a kind of minoritism prevails when it comes to the number of righteous and wicked, saved and unsaved. Scripture’s references to the “remnant”, and Christ’s words seem to say as much: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13–14). Perhaps this minoritism is the soteriological equivalent of Gideon’s 300 men: God retains maximum glory to Himself by winning with a minority, not through the force of numbers.
However, while it may be a minority that consciously choose (or find) the narrow gate during this age, it is not certain that this means only a tiny minority of the human race is saved. First, Jesus is speaking of conscious faith. Second, He appears to be addressing the period of time before the kingdom. Both of those factors rather drastically affect the outcome of how many are saved.
The salvation of infants, if universal, would certainly number in the billions, with infant mortality before the 20th century being between 30 and 50%. Furthermore, those of us who believe in an earthly Millennium believe that the human population will then certainly far exceed what it is now, in a world without war, disease, natural catastrophes, and very little crime. After 1000 years, once can easily picture 20 to 30 billion people on earth, a large percentage of whom openly and truly confess Christ. Indeed, there is an apostasy at the end of the Millennium, but this does not necessarily most people in the kingdom are unbelievers by its conclusion. When Habakkuk 2:14 says, “For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, As the waters cover the sea”, it hardly sounds like the description of a world full of hypocrites and nominal believers.
Whether the final numbers will be a numerical victory over evil, or whether the victory will be the glory of humble minorities defeating proud majorities, the Bible closes with the problem of evil resolved. Revelation 21 and 22 present a cosmos where evil no longer retains its active opposition, but is consigned to the flames of Gehenna.
Our attempts to resolve this problem have to deal with the nature of Hell, the presence of sufficient light, the nature of rebellion, and ultimately, the sovereign will of God. Finally, we are left with unanswerables: why God created at all, why the transcendent Trinity chose an immanent Incarnation, why God permitted the very existence of Satan. For these insolubles, our final recourse is to the nature of God: beautiful, perfect, wise, and the source of our own sense of justice, fairness, and love.