Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Did God Create Some Humans to be Damned? Part 1

Over the next several weeks I will be publishing here installments of a paper I wrote on behalf of my fellow elders in my church.  In it I attempted to provide some perspective on the thorny question of how sin can exist in a world created by a good God.  Notice I said perspective and not answer because many brilliant man and woman have preceded me, are alive today, and will arise in the future with far better minds than I possess, who nevertheless won't be able to definitively answer this question.  Alas, I would much rather take the high road and continue to have us consider what it means to be dwellers in God's kingdom, in Christ, but I cannot seem to evade these difficult theological questions; such is one of the challenges that goes with the territory.  The following paper will likely not satisfy anyone; the scholars among you will find it poorly attested, and the rest of you will find it too heady.  Please don't give up on it, though; because the exercise will be good for all our brains and hopefully cause us to wrestle with--perhaps for the first time--what we believe and why.  BONSAI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


In order to give an answer to the question, “If God knew some would reject Him and yet created them, anyway, doesn’t that mean he created them for damnation?” I must first list the seven presuppositions undergirding my thinking.

1) Because God is Good whatever He wills is Good; God’s will always flows out of His inherent Goodness.  One reason we can be certain we can trust God to be faithful to His promises is because His Goodness is His very nature.  It is as the Psalmist confidently trusts:

He restores my strength.
He leads me down the right paths
for the sake of his reputation. (Ps. 23:3)

The presupposition opposing this is held by the so-called High-Calvinists.  It states, “Whatever God wills is good because He willed it.”  This supposition, also called voluntarism, was perfected—if not invented— in the 13th century by Duns Scotus, who firmly asserted that for God to be God, God must be absolutely free.  And voluntarism became the foundation of Reformed theology.  For example, in, Bondage of the Will, Luther states,

God is that Being, for whose will no cause or reason is to be assigned, as a rule or standard by which it acts, seeing that, nothing is superior or equal to it, but it is itself the rule of all things.  For if it acted by any rule or standard, or from any cause or reason, it would no longer be the will of God.[i]

One of the main problems I have with voluntarism is if it were true, it would leave us doubting God’s faithfulness to His promises.  If His will is only a pure expression of His free, unbridled power and not His goodness, then God could change His mind, if He so chose, in order to demonstrate His power.

2) God will not act in contradiction of His Goodness; God is God.

3) God is relational.  The whole Biblical narrative attests to this fact, but a particularly poignant demonstration of the relational nature of God is found in Matthew 23:37,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!” [NET]

We also know God is relational because of the eternal relationship of the three Persons of the Trinity.  And this relationship is bonded together by love; for God is love.

4) There is a right order that both defines and is defined by love; God is holy. The inscrutable Divine nature  is Goodness, which is love and holiness in perfect tension, where by tension is meant that if either side—love or holiness—is diminished, or eliminated, both sides are lost.  That Goodness can be defined by the tension of love and holiness is supported by Micah 6:8.  Probably the most explicit statement of the tension of love and holiness is found in Ephesians 1:4,

For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. [NET]

But the love/holiness tension is ubiquitous throughout the Scriptures[ii], and usually stated in terms of mercy and justice (see below).

5) God’s love does not want to be contained.  But because of its nature, love can be contained by one rejecting it.

6) Therefore,  righteous relationships, by definition, are when love is freely chosen and shared through translation—not as a transaction—between the lovers in  the perfect tension of love and holiness.  Love is not a matter of deal making or coercion, but freely giving and freely receiving and receiving in order to freely give again.

7) God is sovereign over His sovereignty; although, this is really a restatement of Presupposition 2 (above).

God’s Purpose in Creation

Next, before we can properly address the thesis question of this paper, we must establish what we know about God’s purpose in creation.  God created the physical world—the cosmos—to be joined with the spiritual world—heaven-- to become God’s dominion—the kingdom of God.
Heaven is My throne, and the earth My footstool.”

Love was both the motivation and the purpose of creating the kingdom of God.  His kingdom is a place of righteous relationships, where by righteous relationship I mean one set apart from all other types of relationships because it is grounded, empowered, and driven by love in perfect tension with holiness.  Thus, God created beings with whom He could dwell, and therefore they—God and created beings--could dwell together in righteous relationships:

Surely your goodness and faithfulness will pursue me all my days,
and I will live in the Lord’s house for the rest of my life (Ps. 23:6). [NET]

Putting it another way, God created beings capable of sharing His Divine nature (II Peter 1:3,4).  By necessity, then, God created these beings in His image (Genesis 1:27).  Such creatures could reflect God’s image back to God, which means God’s love flows between God and the creatures and back to God freely in the perfect tension of love and holiness.

Because of the righteous relationship between God and His image bearers, there can be, consequentially, righteous relationships between the image bearers.  This truth is behind the two commandments summing up the Law and Prophets (i.e., the entire Scriptural narrative) and Jesus’ careful ordering of them:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37, 38).’” [NET]

It is through these righteous relationships—God and His image bearers, and between His image bearers—human beings fulfill their task as God’s regents over the cosmos:

When I look up at the heavens, which your fingers made, and see the moon and the stars, which you set in place, Of what importance is the human race, that you should notice them?
Of what importance is mankind, that you should pay attention to them, and make them a little less than the heavenly beings? You grant mankind honor and majesty; you appoint them to rule over your creation; you have placed everything under their authority, including all the sheep and cattle, as well as the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea
and everything that moves through the currents of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how magnificent is your reputation throughout the earth (Psalm 8:3-9)! [NET]

And as the Psalmist so beautifully concludes, God’s kingdom—His Dominion of righteous relationships—is established in His Goodness: God’s reputation.

[i] Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will.  Kindle Books, Loc. No. 2501.
[ii] E.g., Gal. 5:13-26; Col. 3:12-14;I Pet. 1:22-25;I Thes. 4:1-12; Ps. 25:8