Bridezilla was very clear. She asked for a wedding cake made with chocolate and strawberries. The strawberries she got. But the chocolate? Well it seems Bridezilla was not clear enough, for the chef made it with white chocolate. Not an ounce of cacao to be seen (let alone tasted). “That,” snarled Bridezilla, “is not chocolate. It’s icing sugar!!!” With that she grabbed a dictionary and read to the befuddled chef: “CHOCOLATE. A preparation of the seeds of CACAO, roasted, husked, and ground, often sweetened and flavored.”
Right Bridezilla. You can call the confection pictured in this blog post chocolate if you want while adding that it is white, but that’s really just a semantic game. Truth be known, by dictionary definition it isn’t really chocolate at all.
Now let’s move from chocolate to something even sweeter: love. If we can ask what makes chocolate chocolate we can also ask what makes love love. Earlier this week I offered the following definition:
“to love a person means that, if it is at all possible, you want that person to achieve shalom.”
I then noted that while this definition, like Newtonian physics, is apposite in virtually all circumstances, it does break down in the extreme circumstances introduced by the Sophie’s choice (think of the Sophie’s choice as analogous to approaching the speed of light or entering the quantum realm). In order to accommodate Sophie’s choices we would have to qualify the definition, perhaps like this:
“to love a person means that, if it is at all possible, you want that person to achieve shalom. However, it is possible to love two people but face a dilemma in which you can act to realize shalom at most for one of those persons. In that extreme case your failure to will through your action the shalom of the other person is not inconsistent with your willing shalom for — and thus loving — that person.”
Fortunately this is an extreme case. For our present purposes you can forget about the italicized addendum and focus on the central definition. Even if love means more than willing the shalom of another (I’m not, after all, purporting to offer an exhaustive definition) it cannot mean less than this.
But some people apparently think it does, or at least that it can. That brings me to my recent conversation with Paul Manata, a generous and skillful debater and able defender of Reformed theology. He avers that God loves all people (in some sense) even though God does not will to save all and is not unable to save all (pardon the double negative) due to a Sophie’s choice. To put it another way, it is Paul’s position that God loves all but chooses not to save all. Love without willing the shalom of the one loved? Sounds like chocolate without cacao to me.
So how is it that God is supposed to love the reprobate, those he wills to will to reject him? That is, God wills as primary cause that the reprobate will as secondary causes to reject his offer of salvation, a choice which results in their own damnation. How can this be consistent with God’s love of them?
Paul readily admits that the love God has for the reprobate is not salvific love. (To my mind that’s like saying that the chocolate isn’t cacao chocolate.) But then what kind of love is it? In the thread of “Don’t you want your baby to feel alright?” Paul explains:
“I don’t believe God salvifically loves the reprobate, while he may love them in other senses. So, he may common-grace-love some reprobate and provide them with sun, food, shelter, a healthy life, etc.”
So Paul gives us one sense here in which God might love the reprobate. According to Paul we might think of God’s love for the reprobate not as a “salvific love” but rather as a “common grace love”. To be sure, Paul is no radical innovator here: this is a standard Reformed view. William Shedd for instance argued that God showed love for the sinner by delaying punishment:
“if God really felt no compassion for a sinner, and showed him none, he would immediately punish him for his sin, and the matter would end here.” (Calvinism: Pure and Mixed: A Defense of the Westminster Standards (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), 45.)
“is God unmerciful and destitute of compassion toward this man, if he decides to proceed no further with him, but leave him where he is, and as he is? Is all that God has done for him in the way of long-suffering, forbearance, kindness, and inward monitions in his conscience to count for nothing? If this treatment of the sinner is not benevolence and compassion, what is it?” (46)
Frankly, Shedd’s comments strike me as misleading. He refers to “inward monitions” (that is, warnings) as evidence of God’s love for the sinner. But this is rather perplexing since God wills that the sinner not respond to these monitions because if he had willed otherwise this sinner would be of the elect rather than the reprobate. Giving a person monitions which you will they do not heed is about as loving as giving a new English speaking Christian a Japanese Bible you know they cannot read. So I’m a bit curious as to how that in particular manifests love for the reprobate.
Let’s focus on Shedd’s point that God delays punishment of the reprobate coupled with Paul’s companion claim that God allows the reprobate to enjoy many things prior to their eternal damnation including but not limited to drinking a glass of wine, engaging in (ahem) coital relations, watching the sunset, taking in the smell of freshly mown grass, and moshing at an Underoath concert. Doesn’t God’s allowing people to enjoy these experiences manifest love?
My first response is, not necessarily. There could be innumerable reasons why God delayed punishment and allowed some (but far from all) of the reprobate to enjoy some of the pleasures of this life. (Remember other reprobate people lead wholly miserable lives.) So the mere fact that he allows them to enjoy certain goods is not necessarily evidence of love.
The second response is that we need to weigh the pleasure God wills the reprobate to experience over-against the suffering he wills them to experience. How does one compare the four score and ten of moderate pleasures (on the best case scenario) that a reprobated person experiences over-against the eternity of unimaginable torture they will experience? Isn’t that akin to saying the father is loving because he takes a breath before mercilessly beating his child with a belt for several hours? (I know the image is an emotive one, but if you don’t like it please propose your own comparison of the momentary moderate goods of this life contrasted with the unimaginable agonies of the next.) No one would suggest that the father taking a breath is a sign of his love for the child prior to an extended beating. On what basis could somebody suggest that God “taking a breath” is a sign of his love for the reprobated sinner that is about to be subjected to an eternity of the most unimaginable suffering in body and mind?
To sum up, chocolate is certainly more than cacao but it is at least cacao. To get rid of the cacao ultimately means you can call pretty much anything chocolate, and the term thereby becomes meaningless. Likewise if you throw out the desire for shalom as being at least love, then love too can become anything. And as a result, the concept of love becomes a mere cipher devoid of substantial content. So a more consistent Reformed position would admit that God does not will the shalom of the reprobate and thus that he does not, in any meaningful sense, love the reprobate.