God’s love shines through a prism
I’m so confused by Calvinism
Bill Mallonee, “It’s not bothering me”
Many people have found themselves confused by Calvinism. This article is concerned with exploring some of the confusion, more correctly the cognitive dissonance, introduced by this theology.
Let’s begin with the first of Bill Bright’s four spiritual laws:
God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
You may not be a big fan of Mr. Bright’s tract. Perhaps you worry that it is a bit too “consumer centered” with its “Have I got a deal for you!” opening. That’s a legitimate concern. But most Christians who read the first law don’t take issue with the part where it says God loves you. Surely he does, or so they think.
But maybe not.
Enter the (self-described) prickly Calvinist, David Houston, who recently commented in the blog on the issue of God’s love (or not) for everyone (or not). David begins with a question:
Are there any good reasons to believe that God does NOT love everyone?
From there he proceeds with aplomb to list off the textual evidence, as he sees it, for God’s hatred of some of his creatures. We’ll focus on his first line of evidence:
(1) The Bible explicitly teach that God hates evildoers:
(i) Psalm 5:5 says,‘The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.’
(ii) Psalm 11:5 says, ‘The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence’
So the claim is that God hates “evildoers” or the “wicked” but that he loves the “righteous”.
With this claim David is making a rather glaring leap. From my perspective it is a leap so large that I bet not even Evil Knievel would have attempted it on his best day. (For some perspective, Evil is the same guy who attempted to traverse the Snake River Canyon in a rocket.) The leap consists of David’s assumption that “the righteous” can be equated with “those included in God’s hidden decree of election” (that’s my wording, not David’s) while “evildoers” and “the wicked” can be equated with “those included in God’s hidden decree of reprobation”.
But there are a number of problems with this assumption. I’ll note three here:
First problem: The psalmist believes that God’s hatred of the wicked is causally connected to their commission of evil actions and omission of good actions, i.e. he hates them because they are evil doers. But according to Calvinism God does not place the wicked in the category of reprobation because of their evil actions any more than he places the good in the category of election because of their good actions.
Second problem: The psalmist believes that we can readily identify at least some of the people that God loves and some of the people God hates based on their external actions of righteousness or wickedness. But according to Calvinism God’s decrees of election and reprobation are hidden.
Third problem: The psalmist frequently (if not always) understands the distinction between those God loves and those God hates along lines of social identity (e.g. Psalm 79:6; 137).
As significant as these differences may be, let’s set aside these problems for a minute and walk with David down this path by considering the practical implications of this theological picture. The so-called prickly (more properly: the consistent) Calvinist should object to the opening line of the Four Spiritual Laws not merely because it is a bit consumer-centered but because God doesn’t love everybody. According to the Calvinist purveyor of the Good News of salvation God loves some people and hates others.
In other words, the following reworking of the First Law is more consistent with a Calvinist theology:
God either loves or hates you. If he loves you he has a wonderful plan for your life, but if he hates you he has a terrible plan for your life.
One would think that might put a bit of a damper on evangelism, no? I mean what do you do when people come up to you pleading “Tell me, does God love me?” Do you stammer “Uh … maybe?”
Since David Houston rooted God’s hatred of some creatures in the psalms, let’s return to the psalms to get a fuller picture of the hatred God has for the wicked.
Observation 1: God hates those he has included in his hidden decree of reprobation.
11:5 “the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.”
Observation 2: Due to his depth of his hatred for the reprobate, God relishes with great anticipation the suffering he will inflict on them in the future.
37:13 “the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.”
Observation 3: The elect should emulate God by hating the reprobate and anticipating with pleasure the great suffering God will inflict on them in the future.
52:6 “The righteous will see and fear; they will laugh at you [the wicked],”
58:10 “The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked.”
Observation 4: The elect should pray for the swift destruction of the reprobate and demonstrate their solidarity with his plan by pleading with God that the reprobate not repent.
69:23-24, 28 “May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever. Pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them. May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous.”
79:6“Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you”
83:16-17“Cover their faces with shame, LORD, so that they will seek your name. May they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace.”
Observation 5: In at least some circumstances the elect should extend their hatred of the reprobate to the children of the reprobate.
109:9-10“May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.”
137:9: “Happy are those who seize your infants and dash them against the rocks.”
Wow. That’s quite a picture, isn’t it? God absolutely hates some people and relishes their impending destruction, and as we model ourselves after the psalmist we find ourselves doing the same thing.
Jesus, Calvinism, and Problem 2
One reason the Calvinist’s picture appears so perplexing is because many Christians have heeded closely the words of Jesus:
Matthew 5:43-47: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
How does a Calvinist reconcile his views with this? Here is one possibility. One could say that Jesus was not repudiating the hatred of enemies categorically (as many people assume). Rather, he was saying “Don’t hate them now”. From this perspective his words are like somebody saying “You have heard it was said ‘Put on your raincoat’ but I say ‘Take off your raincoat.'” The guy who says that doesn’t mean you should never have put your raincoat on to begin with. Rather, he means that you no longer need to wear your raincoat. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep it close at hand for the next cloud burst. The sun is shining … but only for now.
Similarly, from this perspective Jesus is saying that we should love our enemies provisionally for now.
Why the switch?
Well one possibility traces back to Problem 2. While the psalmist may have known just which evildoers to hate, and which children to despise, we don’t know that. So we should be provisionally loving to all simply due to our epistemic limitations.
Imagine that the imprecatory psalmist was in the crowd when Jesus said: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” What might he have said?
“Love our enemies?” the imprecatory psalmist exclaims. “Are you kiddin’ me?! I want to bathe my feet in their blood! I want to dash their babies against the rocks! I want their names blotted out of the Book of Life!”
Jesus turns to the psalmist. “Yes, that’s because you had an insight into the identity of the elect and the reprobate. Unfortunately these people here don’t. So for now they must provisionally love all. But there will come a day when the veil of election and reprobation will be lifted and they will cry out for the blood of the reprobate as surely as you. Even a father who now cradles his beloved newborn daughter in his arms may one day realize that she is an object of my Father’s eternal wrath. At that point he will long to bathe his feet in her blood as surely as do you imprecatory psalmist. Be of good cheer imprecatory psalmist. That day will come.”