Monday, July 15, 2013

Did God Create Some Humans to be Damned? Part 4

A High-Calvinist Response to the Title Question

The reason I have made such a long statement on God’s justice is because many don’t agree with me, and so have adapted a sordid view of what lies behind the determination of some people to choose not to love God.  The high-Calvinists answer “yes” to the title question of this paper: If God created everything, and some reject Him, doesn’t God create some to damnation? They teach God does so for His glory, which they define as His demonstration of power.  In his book, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism (Baker publications, 6th Edition, p.54), the Calvinist, H. Henry Meeter explains it this way:

We can begin by saying that as reprobate, as sinners, they are never the objects of God’s favor, but always of His wrath.  God is glorified in the administration of His justice as revealed in the eternal punishment of the wicked.

Of course, this viewpoint is completely understandable when argued from the presupposition of voluntarism (above), foundational to Calvinist theology.  But it clearly impugns God’s goodness.

God doesn’t purpose to destroy people in response to their rejection of Him.  God is primarily concerned with restoring right order—the righteousness of His kingdom.  People who reject God place themselves outside of justice (i.e., outside His kingdom) and therefore are dead spiritually and therefore remain outside His kingdom.  God doesn’t need to punish them with hell because they are already in hell—that is, they remain under God’s wrath; although the hell they experience now in the presence of God will certainly pale in comparison of the hell they will experience in the second death (Rev. 20:11-15), where God’s influence is absent.  Whoever holds to a course of rebellion against God, God will ultimately leave him or her to the desire of his or her will because for His kingdom to reign fully, it must be perfectly just; therefore, no injustice can be allowed to exist—again, not because God is vengeful or retributive, but because God is Good.

Some will argue at this point the Scriptures clearly teach God will us judge based on our works (e.g., Ps. 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Jer. 17:10; Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6-11; I Pet. 1:17; Rev. 20:12 and 22:12).  This would seem to be distributive justice.  It isn’t.  Our salvation is to stand in the kingdom of God, in Christ.  If we are in God’s salvation it will be reflected by our most consistent character.  Whether our consistent character is of holy love (in the kingdom) or is of selfish-ambition (outside the kingdom), it will be evident by our actions and passions. At the final judgment God will assess our works and depending on what He finds, He will either say we are or we are not in His kingdom—that is, whether we stand in Christ or don’t stand in Christ.  Because we neither earn entrance into God’s kingdom, nor somehow build God’s kingdom for ourselves, our ultimate character as kingdom dwellers is the work of the Holy Spirit within us and our devotion to the Holy Spirit’s work (contrast the passages about judgment by works against passages such as John 3:21, Eph. 2:10, and Phil. 2:12-13)—that is, we live by faith.  If we reject God's Spirit, which is to stand outside of God's kingdom, our consistent character will reflect this choice, too.  Therefore, our salvation is not decided on the basis of distributive justice but on whether or not we are standing in God’s justice.

When we properly understand God’s justice as the right order of things, we can no longer even imagine God creating some people for reprobation.  Double predestination—the choosing before all eternity whom God would love and whom He wouldn’t, or even a more moderate position of God withholding necessary grace from some, so that while acting “freely” they would nevertheless be guaranteed to fail (i.e., compatibilism)—becomes an absurdity in the face of God’s kingdom justice.  To purposely create beings to be disordered—to be unjust—would undermine His purpose in creation, and therefore contradict His Goodness.  No, we must discover a different reason for God allowing the universe to end up with both people who reject God and people who accept Him.

A Response to the Title Question on the Basis of God’s Goodness

Hopefully by all of this we are beginning to understand God’s purpose in creation.  His glory is righteous relationships between His image bearers and Himself and, consequently, between His image bearers, collectively as the kingdom of God.  His glory is the power of His goodness to create a place where beings necessarily in His image can dwell with Him by the same love bonding the relationships inherent to God’s eternal being—not power for the sake of demonstration of power.  When Saint Paul states, “For all persons have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23),” he means the glory of the power of God’s goodness manifested in a kingdom of relationships of holy love.  Paul’s statement doesn’t make sense if glory meant simply a demonstration of God’s power.

God’s glory that is His kingdom has meaning only if His image bearers truly love Him in perfect tension with holiness.  This means among other things, his image bearers must freely choose to love Him.  God could, of course, create automatons programmed to love Him, but such love—if we could call it that—would be unholy, and therefore, not good; for God to create such an artificial state—except, I guess, as a toy kingdom, which was not His purpose--He would have to deny Himself.

To create image bearers who could be true dwellers with Him in His kingdom, He created humankind as neither Good, nor the absence of Good (Evil), but God created humankind innocent (Genesis 2:25).  And God called this nascent state of humankind, very good (beautiful).  He did so because had God created them “Good” they would have been like God in that they could only choose to love in justice.  But being created beings, they are necessarily contingent beings, so they cannot be God, or realize His purpose for them as His image bearers without sharing His nature.  But for them to genuinely share the Divine nature, they must grow into it through a relationship with God because only God is love; otherwise, they wouldn’t be contingent beings, but only mere projections of God.

For such a relationship to be righteous the creature must be able to respond to God’s love by freely choosing to love Him back.  Again, the kind of relationship God purposed us to enter into with Him involves genuine love, not pretence of love.  Only by a relationship can love grow within the creature—can the creature learn the reality of love--until love is eventually perfected in the creature, where the creature perfectly shares the Divine nature.  Therefore, God created humankind innocent—a clean slate—fully outfitted (i.e., created in His image) to grow through a righteous relationship with God until becoming Good, when humankind fully shares His nature.  Putting it differently, only by experiencing love, which means one receives love from God, and then one freely chooses to love God back, can one learn what love is; and this process takes time.

The kingdom relationships God created us to enjoy requires a holy love, which by definition therefore, cannot be coerced.  God could have a type of a relationship with automatons programmed to love.  In one sense the automatons would freely love God, but only because they had been predisposed to do so.  Not only would such a relationship not be righteous, it would be meaningless and therefore an effrontery to God because it would contradict His Goodness; God would not create for Himself a lie, because God does not lie.

Therefore, God created human beings fully capable of growing to the point of fully sharing His nature.  And this growth would occur through a relationship of holy love.  For a time Adam and Eve enjoyed such a relationship—like children with their parent--and they began to grow in their understanding of God’s love.  Through their burgeoning love with God, they were learning the wisdom of love.  And if Adam and Eve had stayed the course, they would have become authentic humanity—that is human beings fully sharing the Divine nature.  If you don’t understand what this means, study Jesus, who is the first born of all of us who dwell in God’s kingdom by faith.

Alas, Adam and Eve believed they could reach the goal without the process.  They bought into Satan’s lie they could take the quick fix and learn to love without loving.  In so doing, they contained love to themselves by rejecting it.  This severed their essential relationship with God, and they died.  Only in a relationship with God through holy love is there life; indeed, to walk with God in His kingdom is to live forever.

When Adam and Eve died, they ran out on their created purpose to maintain, through their righteous relationships with God and each other, the right order of the cosmos as God’s regents.  When Adam and Eve died, the physical realm was plunged into chaos.  No wonder Paul, in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans writes,

For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.  For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of God who subjected it – in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now.  Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance (Romans 8:18-25). [NET]

Paul tells us that God allowed the creation to fall into futility.  Why? Humankind must be fully restored to the just relationship with God so humanity will then meet their created purpose as God’s regents in the universe.  Because God is good, He will not artificially restore peace to the cosmos; instead, He waits for right order to be realized as it only properly can through the complete healing of relationships between God and His image-bearers and consequently between His image-bearers.  The restoration of peace in the cosmos—what will finally quell the groaning Paul speaks of (above)—requires the restoration of Divine/Human relationships because this is how God created it to be.  And He did so because of His goodness.

Of course, as a supreme act of God’s goodness, Jesus came and dealt once and for all with our Death which disables our relationship with God.  So why does God wait to bring a close to history?  I can only say I don’t know; it is a mystery.  The apostle Peter gives us a clue, though:

The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (II Pet. 3:9).” [NET]

God is relational.  When we ponder the title question, we must do so while standing on the foundation of righteous relationships--not contrived relationships—because God who created us is relational.  Peter’s words seem to imply God will save everyone because, if not, His will would be thwarted.  The Bible clearly stands against universal salvation, and rightly so.  If God saved everyone regardless of their choice, it would contradict His goodness—as we have already discussed.  Consequently, His goodness does impose a certain risk no one will choose Him.  So why would God create us in the first place?  Certainly, not because He needs our love; neither God’s being nor His character are contingent on anything outside Himself (see above).  I suppose the answer lies in His goodness; His goodness by its nature wants to expand out in relationships—not out of need, but by its very nature.  So why take the risk of no one choosing to love Him in return in a righteous relationship—especially at the cost of suffering?  The answer, I think, is He knew some would indeed so love Him.


jeff said...

Very interesting Bruce. Lots to think about here. At the end of the discussion you either believe 1) we are free will beings who choose to try and follow Jesus' message to love God and love each other or 2) we are nothing but machines with no power whatsoever. If you choose "2" then there is no rational reason to do anything but seek personal pleasure here on earth regardless of the impact on others. Call yourself anything you want but you are not a Christian!