Note: This was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
This post is in response to “Why I Stopped Being a Calvinist – Part 3 – Calvinism Dislocates God From our Experience of Him.”
I remember my days before I was a Christian. As a child, I thought that God was like Santa Claus, someone I prayed to in order to get sleep at night, as per my father’s advice.
When I noticed my prayers were not being answered combined with a materialist worldview that pervades our society and educational system, I felt that an empirically unproven god did not exist. Then, something happened to me.
It was March 30, 2005–my second year of college. I was in my Western Humanities class. We had to read Sophocles, Thucydides, Plato, the Bible, Augustine, Dante and etcetera. When the professor was reading Augustine’s account of his conversion, unknown to him, something I did not plan for happened to me.
It had felt like lightening had hit me, it is hard to describe. It literally felt like 30 pounds was taken on my shoulders, and I had this new desire in my heart–repentance. The funny thing is, at that time I didn’t even known what repentance even was. It was not a word used in my household.
God had put a desire in my hear to read the Bible and to continually repent. Not knowing what was going on, I tried to rationalize it. “I’ll read up on all the world’s great religions,” I said. But, this was not God’s plan. Furthermore, I would not accept Jesus Christ as my Lord for two more years. But, thanks be to God, that is what transpired.
So, when I read up on Robin Phillips’ “Why I Stopped Being a Calvinist – Part 3,” I cannot help but read his argument in light of my own personal experience. His argument, that a sovereign God dislocates our experience from Him, to me is wrong on a personal level–my experience was impossible without the moving of a sovereign God, the God that reveals Himself in Scripture.
Now, to address his points, I see his main complaint is that the God of Calvinism doesn’t meet him on his terms. He wants a god that does!
Our task is presumably to get on the side of God that needs to express love and then be thankful that we are not a target of the side of God that needs to express His hatred of sin, just as Xenophon had to get on Zeus’s side as god of safety and not god of propitiation.
How is it a task if God is sovereign and God chooses? It is totally outside our power. This is why the Bible states: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). Of course, this verse apart from a Calvinistic understanding of it is incomprehensible, but just as Jesus had to heal the blind so they can see, apart from God curing our spiritual blindness, how could we even understand the plainest descriptions of God’s will in Scripture?
[Y]et on an experiential level I don’t know how to love such a God or to feel anything other than horror when contemplating Him. That doesn’t make such an idea false (i.e., that might be who God really is), but it did render it existentially problematic for me.
At least he admits that our gut feeling about stuff does not determine its truth. So, the question is, what does? Well, for Christians, it ought to be our only undisputed source of Christian tradition and revelation: the Bible. Just as the church fathers did, all doctrinal disputes should be settled by honestly looking at the Scriptures.
If your argument cannot be made from there, to me, how is it even Christian? To quote the Bible: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). I am unaware of any other source that is “given by inspiration of God.”
The writer then continues complaining about God on one hand commanding us not to do bad stuff, but on the other sharing responsibility for the fact that we do in violation of his own explicit desire:
So with respect to God’s prescriptive will, He wills that no one commits adultery, but with regard to His decreed will, every day He wills that thousands of people will be unfaithful to their spouses.
What the writer is describing here amounts to divine puppetry, which generally the Bible does not endorse (aside from perhaps the example of Judas.)
The Calvinistic mindset still makes man responsible for his own actions. Even though I can say that while God has uses demonic forces to encourage people to sin, the desire to sin originates in man’s nature: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Furthermore, the Scripture says: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). It should be noted that in the Bible, God explicitly tempts people to sin (David with the census, Job with the loss of his family, even Jesus Himself in the wilderness) using demonic agents, not personally.
Listen, demonology is not my forte, but perhaps the reason why the writer is so confused over how people do bad stuff and God does not stop it is because he lives as if they are not real. Paul writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
If you think any of this is ridiculous, then I ask you politely to stop using the Lord’s prayer that says, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” How can this be the prayer of our hearts if it were not necessary to have divine aid in repelling demonic temptation, that waters the seeds in our own hearts where “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust” (James 1:14).
Many may ask, why on earth did God create demons to tempt people with a sinful nature to turn against Him out of their own free will? Obviously, it seems counterproductive.
I cannot say exactly why. I can only return to Romans 9:23 where it states that the vessels of wrath were made “to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” Of course, apart from the Calvinist interpretation of this verse, Paul isn’t writing about anything and is just wasting paper. Personally, I don’t ascribe to that interpretation.
The writer does make a good point through all of this:
This means that for everyone that isn’t saved, there is a dual telos (in what sense, God’s desired end for such people is salvation, but in another sense it is damnation).
God’s the savior of all men, especially believers (1 Timothy 4:10). This verse of Scripture is seemingly a contradiction, as how can God save all men, but save other men more? Either some men get better stuff in heaven, or more likely, what Paul is referring to is that God makes salvation available to all, but only by believing can we take part in union with Christ, which makes us right with God so that God’s salvation becomes effective.
Now, this interpretation is workable. Essentially, Calvinists presume two things:
1. God’s omnipotent nature (obvious in Scripture)
2. God’s foreknowledge of events (also obvious in Scripture)
Anti-Calvinists usually don’t admit that their god is either not all-powerful (it can’t stop sin or evil from occurring) or that god has no idea what’s going on (so, evil occurs under his nose).
Obviously, in Scripture God manipulates demonic forces that employ evil. He is their Creator (Col 1:16) and as Satan complains in Job, He uses a “hedge” to prevent them from activity He does not decree. Jonathan Edwards observed that God “permits” evil, but within certain limits in accordance with His plan for the universe.
The anti-Calvinist is obviously uncomfortable with how God reveals Himself in Scripture, ignoring these plain statements about Himself. This connects to my assertion from the beginning: we ultimately must meet God on His grounds, not ours. The only meaningful relationship you can have with God is a real one, not an idol of your imagination.
Lastly, I know you have read the Bible and have noticed that God’s ways are not our ways, how He wants us to have a healthy fear of Him, how He is sovereign over all things. God wants us to worship Him as He is, in His awesome majesty and power. Show me where I am wrong in Scripture in any of these points, and I will recant. I am trying to understand and worship God in light of His revealed nature in Scripture, not the picture I would like him to be in my heart like when I was a kid.
The existential problem is that since God reveals Himself to mankind in terms of the first mode (His revealed will) while He relates to mankind in terms of the second mode (His hidden will), a radical discontinuity is set up between God as He is and God as we experience Him.
Not exactly. For all practical purposes, God has sovereignty over the affairs of men, but men are fully accountable for their deeds and thoughts. Now, to try to explain how it is that “the mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Prov 16:9) in a rational way is difficult, if not impossible. We have to be content that the way the Bible presents things is true and not to take a Hellenistic, rationalized worldview and impose it upon the Scripture. The worldview we find in God’s revelation should be imposed on how we see the world.
Here’s a case in point: all Calvinists will affirm that during the time of Jeremiah when the people were sacrificing their children to the fires of Molech, this only occurred because it was part of God’s eternal decrees. Yet the Calvinist is also compelled to say that God reveals Himself as being so horrified by the act that, anthropomorphically speaking, He could declare that such a thing had never even entered His mind (Jer. 19:5; 32:35; 7:31).
This is the one part that the author actually quotes Scripture, but his interpretation is very easily found wanting.
It is interesting the he pretends to take it literally that God could not even contemplate that people would sacrifice their infants to Molech. “God cannot have foreknown men would do such a thing,” the author essentially says. “The Bible says the idea never entered his mind!”
Obviously, the term is a figure of speech, as God knows and sees everything and has perfect foreknowledge of all events, as the Scripture attests to. Being that the author used the term “anthropomorphically speaking,” I believe he understands this. I am not quite sure what he is arguing then. I suppose he feels God doesn’t want there to be evil, it exists in a realm He cannot control, yet one day God will get a handle on it and end it all at the Judgement.
My belief is that God wasn’t surprised in the Garden of Eden, nor did He accede to Abraham or Moses because their ideas (please don’t wipe out those people!) were better than His. In Habakkuk it says God’s eyes are too pure to look upon evil (1:13).
So, in a way, it is a divine mystery that God could know evil exists, having created a creation which contains it, yet cannot bear look at it or even think of it. I couldn’t tell you how it works. All I know is that the Bible says it is the case. This is probably why God generally uses demonic secondary causes in which to employ evil, as it would be against his nature to do the evil Himself.
God may not be an author of evil, but He certainly wills its existence, apparently for some sort of good purpose. It is also important to note that it is a logical fallacy to state that the creation reflects upon the Creator.
For example, if I bake a cake, I am not a cake. To stretch this metaphor further, if I bake a cake with sugar, salt, flour, butter and baking powder, my nature is not dictated by the ingredients I chose when I baked the cake. In fact, my intentions behind baking the cake (to make someone happy, for one) more accurately reflects my intentions as the cake-creator than the ingredients of the cake.
So, if we take God and He makes a creation which evil is an obvious component in it, that does not make God evil. A cake’s ingredients when isolated (i.e. salt, baking powder, etcetera) can taste quite bad individually, but the finished product is superior to the individual ingredients. Why is it so difficult then to understand that evil, along with good and morally neutral things are all ingredients for a creation which God said in Genesis 1 was “good?”
The Creator is not to be understood by the individual components of His creation, but rather by His intentions behind it. When we read the Bible, we see that God is loving, patient, righteous, and all powerful. It is through the lens of these attributes we have to understand why creation is the way it is.
Thus, being that we already discussed that the nature of the creation does not reflect on the nature of the creator, God can create fallen angels for an ultimately good reason, though the fallen angels in of themselves are bad.
So, what the anti-Calvinists are actually arguing is that they think that they can do a better job making creation than the Creator. I, like them, would probably leave the demonic sources of evil out of the mix. Personally, I would get rid of diet soda, country music, and murderous weather events, just for good measure. But God in His wisdom wants all these things to exist.
Once again, we know that God does not actually love every person, but we must act as if the statement “He is a good God and loves mankind” applies to everyone.
This I believe is a good point by the author, as the Bible is replete with references to God desiring all men be saved and reaching out to “lost sinners,” and on the other hand God judging these people, if not making them worse off than before (2 Thes 2:12 specifically comes to mind.)
As you might be observing in this response, all these things that the author contends “dislocates God from our experience of Him” are not things made up by Calvinism, but rather very confusing things that God reveals about Himself in Scripture.
We have two ways we can go at this juncture. First, we can make an idol of our own choosing that is easier to understand and nicer in our eyes than the picture of God found in Scripture. The second, and much better way, is to accept God for who He is. In Hebrews, when warning believers not to fall away during God’s sifting of the whole creation, it says “for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). He is a God who judges in His sovereignty. He holds men accountable for their actions, with the foreknowledge that it is a preordained conclusion that all will be “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:3).
In our eyes it is hypocrisy and foolishness. As Paul observed, “[W]e preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.” But then he adds that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:23, 25).
The challenge to those who accuse Calvinists of misrepresenting God is for them to make a case, from Scripture, that makes sense of everything God says about Himself. Being that the author chose not to employ Scripture, but rather philosophy, makes it appear to me that his view is not based off God’s revelation at all.
The only way to have a meaningful relationship with God is to know Him by His Spirit, through His son, as He really is.