Walter: “I don’t see how people being tormented for eternity with no chance of parole can ever be seen as a good thing. To claim that it is good if God chooses to do it simply reduces the word ‘good’ to meaningless gibberish.”
Well, perhaps not quite gibberish.
If you’re a good Calvinist* you recognize that according to your theology God chooses to damn some people by giving them the desire to rebel and refraining from giving them the desire to repent. And why does he do this? Consider Romans 9:22-23:
“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? 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….”
On the Calvinist reading, God wills that some creatures eternally reject him so that they can serve as objects illustrating his “glory” (sovereign justice for the objects of wrath and inexplicable mercy for the objects off mercy).
This brings me to an old theologian’s joke. A young candidate for ordination was called for an interview before the Calvinist presbytery. After a grueling two hours being pilloried by questions a gruff old Presbyterian stood up to deliver the death blow. “Young man,” he barked, “Would you be willing to be damned for the greater glory of God?” “Sir,” the young man replied, I’d be willing that this whole ordination committee be damned for the greater glory of God.”
I’ll give you a second to wipe the tears of mirth from your eyes before I continue. [pause]
Okay, now for the main point. We can understand this Calvinist position like this:
(1) The maximal state of affairs that manifests God’s glory most fully is the one God ought to actualize.
This seems straightforward and plausible. If God is that being than which none greater can be conceived, then a maximal state of affairs which illumines God’s glory most fully is plausibly the one that he ought to bring into being.
(2) The maximal state of affairs that manifests God’s glory most fully involves the salvation of some creatures and the reprobation of others
(3) Therefore, God ought to actualize the state of affairs which includes the salvation of some creatures and the reprobation of others.
And this is precisely what he does. He chooses to save some and damn others. And that young ordinand, if he’s worth his salt as a Calvinist, will appreciate this fact and embrace his own damnation as a possible means to the end of God being more fully glorified.
I already stated that (1) is very plausible given a particular widely held and intuitively compelling definition of God (the Anselmic definition). And (3) simply follows from (1) and (2). So our focus in evaluating this argument should be on (2). Why think that that the state of affairs that most fully maximizes God’s glory is the one in which some creatures are damned?
More to come in Part 2.
*Good Calvinist: I do meet Calvinists who appear to be unfamiliar with this Calvinistic account of election. Incredibly that seemed to be the case with the tango I had a couple years ago with popular Calvinistic blogger Tim Challies. See here and here. In his review of my book Finding God in the Shack he claimed I present “a completely fabricated portrayal of Calvinism….” I couldn’t let that go by. The ensuing conversation revealed that he didn’t understand some of the most fundamental aspects of a Calvinist theology of election and God’s glory.