What follows is a forum debate from Facebook… all PERTINENT comments (meaning, not all comments are reprinted, because not all of them are relevant) and my personal responses. This will be a lengthy blog post… but well worth investing in if this question has ever confronted you. Atheists love to throw this one out — making God the “bad guy” because he doesn’t “LOVE” the world enough to save EVERYONE…. here’s the initial question that started things off.
May I ask how Calvinists who believe that God has determined in advance who will be saved reconcile that with the issues with which it inevitably comes into consideration – the omnipotence and omnibenevolence of God, and the perception (encouraged by the preaching activities and exhortations in the Bible) that by preaching and persuading it is possible for someone who was not saved to become saved? For anyone less familiar with the territory (and it is territory upon which many have made the decision for agnosticism or outright disbelief) the essentials are: 1-if God is omnipotent, he could save every body. So why would he not do that? 2-If God was not able to prevent people from being lost, and needed us to preach and witness as much as possible and even then most humans would miss it, then he would not be omnipotent. 3- If God chose to not save some people, and instead by implication condemn them to hell, he cannot be all loving. 4-If it is all decided in advance by God, there is obviously no point in trying to influence matters here. We would do better to concentrate on living happy, healthy, loving, creative lives here in the creation where God put us. 5- if we can influence outcomes here, then there is obviously not total predestination. But then we should be manic about it – what else can possibly matter than eternal salvation? Behind all this is the core question – does/did/could God decide in advance that some would be saved and some not? The answer is either that he is omnibenevolent but not omnipotent, or the other way around. What position do strict election only Calvinists take?
Ok…. here’s the responses. I will label the Original Poster as PP: myself as ME: and give a first name for anyone else. (for the record — Omnibenevolent = the idea that God Kindness extends to one and all. It is NOT found in scripture and is NOT used by most theologians when referring to God.)
Darrell: Here we go, Arguments from human reasoning rather then scriptures. What you do not understand is that God has a plan that he worked out before creation and everything happens to bring that plan about. Here is some logic to ponder. Why would God go to the trouble of creating man if He knew man would fall? Gods plan was to save the Elect. To do that, man had to fall and Christ had to redeem. God is benevolent towards the Elect. You cannot limit God by your ideas of what God must be or must do to be righteous. You judge God to be evil if He does not fit your measure for Him.
PP: Darrell, you ask the right question. Why indeed would God go to the trouble of creating sentient creatures with the intention of damning some of them? From the perspective of those creatures that is not good.
ME: PP — Consider the words of Romans 9 — let’s break it down verse by verse for a moment. What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? God has already prepared them for destruction… they are the objects of his wrath. This is put in a present tense, even though this wrath has not yet occurred. (Romans 9:22) Why has he done so? Because of their sin. God did not MAKE them sin… God has not made ANYONE sin… ever… And God has told one and all that there will be Judgement over sin. But men REFUSE to listen. Jesus said it best on this front: This is the verdict, light has come into the world, but men PREFERRED darkness because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19) Now… From this point we come to the next verse — 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— (Romans 9:23) The whole matter for which God has displayed His wrath is that we might know and understand more fully the depths of his Glory. Let me assist you by summing all your 5 questions into one simple one — Why did God allow evil? That one question really kind summarizes most of what you’re asking — but once you understand the “WHY”…. everything else sort of falls into place. WHY did God allow evil? Because if we had not known Evil (in our selves) God’s mercy would NEVER have had a chance to have been displayed, God’s grace would have NEVER been known. When I see my own evil…. when I view my sinfulness for what it is… forgiveness, mercy and grace become all the more precious and dear. And that would have never been so, had evil never existed. God often does WHAT He does so that HIS power, (or mercy, or Justice, or grace, or compassion, or whatever) might become known. Go back to Romans 9 for a second… back up about 5 verses and you find this little gem of a verse —- For 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.” (Romans 9:17) GOD — put evil Pharaoh into position so that HIS OWN POWER might be displayed throughout the whole Earth… THROUGH Pharaoh’s sinful choices. The same could easily be said of Herod and Pontius Pilate if one merely reads Acts 4:27-28 — They were placed into power BY GOD’S DECREE…. so that the death of Christ would in fact occur…. AND YET….. They are still judged for their sinful actions, BECAUSE… it was precisely that… THEIR sinful actions… not God’s. I hope this helps to make sense of things for you… I’m more than willing to carry this conversation forward if you feel it necessary.
PP: Wayne, You said it all came down to God permitting or lining up certain people or groups up for destruction in order to show his glory. The core dilemma is that if God could not prevent them from being evil, this affects the idea of him as all powerful. And if he did but chose not to, or indeed if he was causal in them doing the evil (‘hardened their hearts’ etc)then how is that compatible with God as good? That is the big general question, since you wanted to open it out to the question of Evil in general. I find it perplexing, so do many. I am interested to know how others here have come to terms with this, other than by ignoring it. However my question was originally about specifically Calvinist approaches, and how you decide what to do if you believe in strict election.
ME: Why should he “PREVENT” them from being evil if that is not their desire? God will give you the desires of your heart…. If your desire is to have NOTHING to do with God whatsoever… doesn’t it follow that he will give you just that? C S Lewis aptly stated — the doors of Hell are locked… from the inside.
PP: Wayne I agree with everything you say in your last post. But somewhere down the line strict electionism , unless I am mistaken, says that God selected some people to be saved and others not. If you do not believe that to be the case, that’s great. But I thought Calvinists did, I’ve come here to find out, and if they do i think there is a problem, just as I described in the OP.
ME: Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated….. said before either of them were born. (Romans 9, If memory serves me correctly….)
Anita: I think we need to be more charitable when people come with questions and not go on the attack, assuming they are out to argue or persuade us away from our positions. Phil’s questions were reasonable and deserved to be answered without hostility and accusations, which most of you did. I’ve struggled with the same questions. Why not save all? I finally realized that if God had only saved one person in all of history, that would be an incredible act of mercy. Instead He has saved millions. And He chose to save me, which boggles my mind! Most of us who were not saved as Calvinists have had to struggle with these questions at some point. Gracious explanations from Scripture will do more to win people over than insults and accusations.
PP: Wayne, you are telling me that the first answer as to why God is prepared to not just allow but preordain that certain people will be lost is because he can do so if he wishes. This means he is not the God of Love, God is Love etc. Or you say he does not love everyone equally, which is also not the God of love of JOhn 3 16, or you say as Brian did that God is Good but in a completely different sense of the word that is beyond our understanding and not to be compared with what we mean by ‘Good’, and that amounts to the same thing again
ME: Phil, here’s your catch-up, the point at which you are stuck. You feel that God should be OBLIGATED to save all men. That would be “Love” in your view. But let me ask you a simple question. Would it be “Love” to violate someone’s desires and twist them in a direction that they don’t want to go? In the real world we would call that manipulation, and we would frown upon it … and in more extreme cases (Jeffrey Dahlmer, John Wayne Gacy…) we would look upon such a one as a monster. But this is what you would have God do…. to turn you in a direction that you DON’T care to go. One of my previous comments to you pointed this out — God gives you the desires of your heart. The scripture is quite clear — No man DESIRES God naturally. (Romans 3:10-18) At the end of the day (or, rather, at the end of time) God gives you what you want…. and you wanted NOTHING to do with him, his ways or his definition of “Sin” and “Salvation” Is this wrong? No, because God has set the parameters — God is the standard by which all things are judged. It is within His RIGHT to do as He wills…. it is HIS creation after all. you’re merely a bit player on a grander scale than you can conceive. You keep asking about “Love”…. The very verse you keep pointing to us…. well…. it has a tragic ending…. John 3:16 does indeed say “For God so loved the World…..” But what does the following verses say which were just as much a part of that given conversation? John 3:19 says this — This is the verdict (RE: a legal judgement) Light has come into the world (Jesus, referring to himself) but men PREFERRED darkness because their deeds are evil. Men don’t want to change — they don’t want to agree with God that what they do, what they think, what they fell, how they act — all of this — is Evil in his sight. Paul, in Ephesians, painted the NON-Christian mind this way: (A) they are futile in their thinking (B.) they are darkened in their understanding (C) they are separated from the life of God (D) they are ignorant (E) they have hardened their hearts against God (F) they have lost all (moral) sensitivity (G) they have abandoned themselves over to sensuality so as (H) to be guided only by their lusts. All that is in 2 simple verses (Ephesians 4:18-19) and explains why men don’t care about God or his ways — they prefer their sinning. They have hardened their hearts — And you would have God violate that???? as an act of “Love”??? OK…. let’s suppose for a moment that he does…. in the real world if someone has been manipulated… and knows it…. do they “LOVE” the manipulator back? No…. they will despise such a one who forced them to do what they did not want to do. They will not “love” them. John 3:16 — For God so loved the world… John 3:18 — ….whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. God set up the parameters for salvation — Believe on his Son and you will be saved. But people spit on that and say — F**k that, I am going to believe what I want to believe. That is the essence of what sin is — rebellion AGAINST God…. against all that He has said. This doesn’t make that man God’s child, his friend — that makes men — ALL MEN —- His enemies…. which is likewise clearly portrayed in scripture….. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —- For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:8,10 God’s Enemies!!! That is where you are right now… His ENEMY…. and you would demand of him to “Save you” despite this fact…. Well… He has …. He offers you life eternal, if you will but believe…. but your stubborn refusal to do so is your own doing, your own choice. Which brings us back to your question — Why did God ordain some to be saved and some to be destined for eternal flames? Where’s the justice? I would turn it back upon you and state: Where’s the justice if God were to FORCE you to be something you’re not? When does that become “LOVE”? You demand of God to accept you as you are… But the one thing you fail to see in all of this (well, two things actually) is (A) that God is HOLY. Nowhere in Scripture does it state that God is “Love, love, love” — but SEVERAL places in Scripture state that God is “Holy, Holy, Holy” stressing the fact that He is pure beyond measure. And God’s Holiness is what you despise — because that holiness demands that you pay for your sins. (B.) You fail to see that God has shown love to you… and to all… you fail to see it because you reject it as an answer. Jesus, hanging on the cross, was God’s superlative act of love. God came to earth in human form. God walked among men. God understood what temptations and trials we face. God even cried at the death of a friend. And then God took upon himself the loathing and scorn that the world holds for him. God took upon himself a beating so brutal that he probably should have died from it. God took upon himself mocking and shame. God took it to the cross…. and nailed it there with his own hands and his own feet. And he did all that…. to show you the lengths to which love will go…. TO LOVE AN ENEMY. The responsibility is yours — but when you understand that you are DEAD in your sins and BLIND in your understanding… and only God can raise the dead back to life, and give sight to the blind… then you have the missing pieces to the puzzle that right now escapes you. The NON-Christian mind will NEVER…. and I repeat…. —->>>> NEVER <<<<—- understand the actual love that God holds for them… because they reject his answer as “Love”. Simple as that.
Andre: The first thing that comes to mind when I see these type of arguments is the perception of God’s obligation. He created all things for His own glory. How is this missed by so many? Our very salvation is not chiefly for our benefit but chiefly for His glory. If we don’t start there we’re going to come up with all kinds of (even subtle) humanistic objections to His sovereignty as expounded upon by Calvinistic doctrine.
ME: Andre — They miss it precisely because they don’t WANT it to be about GOD’S Glory… they WANT it to be about themselves. Remember in C S Lewis amazing work, The Great Divorce, where folks were taking a trip from Hell to Heaven…. and why… because they wanted to preach to those in Heaven about how they felt slighted because it wasn’t all about them. The objected to giving Glory to God even when in Hell precisely because they refused to give glory to God while living on Earth. without Christ showing us how self-centered we really are… all of us would assume the role of “little gods” demanding glory for ourselves.
Andre: My question was more rhetorical (directed at professing Christians who bring up these types of objections) but very well put Wayne Shuman! I guess eventually the question could be come (if you continue to miss this as a professing Christian) what do you really understand about salvation and God? I’m not even saying a person has to or doesn’t have to be a five point Calvinist, but at least understand that God is not obligated to save us, or understand the reason He made us and saves some.
PP: I get all you say about God not forcing salvation on those who reject it. No issue. My concern was about God choosing some for destruction and giving them no opportunity for salvation at all. Atheists challenge Christians on this, saying it proves God is not the God of Love. Many evangelicals try to argue against it, but it is a hard argue (I know because I have tried!) and can get very convoluted. So I wondered what Calvinists think, and it turns out you agree with the atheists – God does not love all, loves some more than others, and chooses to send some to destruction. I was surprised by your answers, but I accept it as evidenced in many places in scripture and history. I need to think now about what I make of it personally.
Charlie: How do you get around: “chosen before the foundation of the world”?
ME: Charlie — His problem isn’t so much with the “Chosen before the foundation of the world” regarding those who are saved…. but rather those who are NOT…. He’s trying hard to understand WHY God would (seemingly unjustly) condemn some men to Hell….. without ever giving them a chance to be saved. What he’s not seeing (PP that is) is that God does offer opportunities to them… and they reject them one and all. It all turns on Romans 3:10-18, 23…. and then Romans 6:23… the basic Romans road passages. God extends the invitation to ALL men… but yet MOST men will not listen… preferring instead to live in their sin. It also hinges upon what Paul writes / God says about Pharaoh & Esau in Romans 9…. God DID (in point of fact) condemn both these men… and one of them before he was born. Phil would think that this condemnation is not in line with what he understands of God’s Love…. how could God love someone … and never give them a chance. YET — God did. On both points. He both condemned Esau before he was born…. AND…. mark this ….. He likewise gave him every chance to repent of his sins THROUGHOUT HIS WHOLE LIFE. Esau was raised in a Godly family. Had Godly witness. Was told the truth his entire life —- and chose to go his own way. Does that make God the bad guy? Is God unjust because he didn’t do more to convince Esau (& Pharaoh & the rest of the world) that they needed to repent? God gives us life. sometimes 20, sometimes 30, sometimes 40, sometimes 50, sometimes 60, sometimes 70, sometimes 80, sometimes 90 YEARS of it…. 90 x 365 x 24 x 60 = 47,304,000(+++… I didn’t include leap years) minutes…. whereby any given person on this planet (who lives to be 90) is given opportunities to repent of their sins. God GIVES us life…. and we squander it on the most banal of things. Does God CHOOSE some to be condemned. Scripturally — Yes. But —->>>> MARK THIS <<<<—- He DOES NOT LEAVE THEM WITHOUT A WITNESS TO HIS WAYS…. he does not leave them without opportunity. He does not condemn them unjustly. They will be condemned…. and at that time they will be shown all that they have squandered in the way of missed opportunities of Grace and Mercy. Is it really any wonder that Revelation 2,9 & 16 all carry this similar thought — They were given time BUT THEY REFUSED TO REPENT. (Revelation 2:21; 9:21; 16:11)
Ok, there you have it as it stands for the moment…. the questions and answers regarding “Is God unjust in sending men to hell”, “Why is there Evil” “Why does God ordain some to damnation?” and “Why doesn’t God ‘LOVE’ everyone enough to save them all?” And I am sure this is only scratching the surface of this issue. For the record, this conversation has been ongoing for the last week or so. It’s been an interesting adventure, as most people simply wanted to attack PP for even asking the question and daring to call into question God’s reasons for doing things the way He has chosen to. (All of that was edited out… and there was a lot of it…) Thankfully, some people took the question seriously enough to respond and give it careful thought.