Friday, June 17, 2016

A Loving God Would Never

Our understanding of God is too often predicated on our own redefinitions rather than on what He says about Himself. "A loving God would never send people to Hell" (or whatever else we claim a loving God would never do) is premised on what we think "love" is, not on what God says He will do. "God is gracious; He's not an angry God" presumes that "grace" and "wrath" cannot both be present because we've decided that is the case, not because He said it.

We have no problem accepting from God the good things He tells us about Himself. "God is love" is pleasant. That He is the Creator is good. Most of us like His attributes like omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. That He is everlasting is fine with us, even if it isn't entirely comprehensible. We really like His mercy and grace. We are fairly happy with lots of the things we know about God. Most of us, however, draw the line at some point.

We believe that the Bible is "God-breathed", that God is the source of the Bible, having "breathed" it into the writers who used their own divinely-superintended words to write what God wanted to express. We claim it, then, to be "God's Word". Now, to be fair, much of it is not precisely God's words. That is, it isn't a quote from God. However, there are passages that are quotes from God. One of these is found in Isaiah.
"I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides Me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know Me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides Me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things." (Isa 45:5-7)
This isn't merely "God-breathed" inspiration. It is a direct quote. And what does God claim about Himself here? Sure, He claims to "equip" those who do not know Him, requiring His involvement in their lives without their permission. But that's less offensive than His next claim. "I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity." We're fine with the light and well-being He makes, but how about His claim that He creates darkness and calamity? (The King James says "evil", by which we understand Him to mean "unpleasant circumstances" as opposed to "moral evil".) Many of us will attribute to God the good things that happen in our lives. How many of us will allow that the trials and tragedies also come from Him?

We know that God is gracious, loving, and merciful, but how about the biblical claim that it is God's will that He demonstrate His wrath and power on vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom 9:22)? We'll skip right over that as quickly as we can to get to the part where He makes known "the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy" (Rom 9:23) because that part we like.

We like the part about how God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4), so it's hard to fathom the biblical statement that "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day." (Rom 11:8) Similarly, we have to walk carefully when it says "The LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart" (Exo 10:20, 10:27; 11:10) and claims that God raised Pharaoh up in order to demonstrate that He has mercy on whomever He wills and hardens whomever He wills (Rom 9:17-18).

Some of what God says about Himself we take lightly. Much of it we like. But there are things that God's Word says about the nature of God that runs so sharply against our human sensibilities that we are often likely to toss them out entirely. "Can't mean that." "God is not like that." "A loving God would never do that." Except it is what it says and it is, by virtue of it being God's Word, what He claims about Himself.

A view of God that dismisses God's own presentation of Himself is not a view of God; it is idolatry. When we read that "God is love", we cannot dismiss the rest of what He says about Himself because "love is like a warm puppy and He would never do that" as a replacement of what He says. Anything that replaces the true God is an idol. And we are not unclear on God's' view of idolatry.


Bob said...

I have tried to use the Character of God to settle biblical arguments. that is to say, if two ideas about God differ, the one that diminishes his Character is the one that is at fault. but this method is only sound if we agree upon what His Character actually is. if i say that God is absolutely sovereign. others Christians would agree. But when asked the question what does it mean to be absolutely sovereign? we differ on the definition. so back to square one again.
it just highlights the difficulty in communicating biblical truths about God's nature.

Stan said...

I suppose it gets back to how God defines God instead of which "diminishes His character". I would say, for instance, that "Sovereign over all" is larger than "sovereign except where He lets others be sovereign", but the "Free Will of Man" folk think that the "Sovereign over all" diminishes God. Square one, to me, then, would be "What does God's Word say?"

Marshall Art said...

I just skimmed this post before checking the comments, but I have to say, Stan, that the argument you oppose ( I would say, for instance, that "Sovereign over all" is larger than "sovereign except where He lets others be sovereign", but the "Free Will of Man" folk think that the "Sovereign over all" diminishes God.) is not one I ever hear, except by you. That is, I don't know that it is an accurate reflection of the argument you're opposing. I know this is not really on topic, but it is kind of insulting. I still wrestle with this concept of God's sovereignty versus the free will of man. I just don't see it is at all possible that God loses sovereignty by allowing man to have complete free will. He is the Supreme Being, after all. How can He possibly NOT have total sovereignty simply by allowing us to choose our course? It seems illogical. Regardless of what He allows, He can always take it away since He IS God with total sovereignty over HIS creation. In other words, there is no conflict between the two concepts as far as I can see, because the bottom line (His sovereignty) CAN'T change.

Just sayin'. I'll peruse the post later, as it brings other stuff to mind.

Stan said...

Well, how would you put it. That argument goes that God in His sovereignty, has surrendered some of His sovereignty to Man's Free Will, and that makes Him more sovereign than any old limited "Absolute Sovereignty" kind of thinking. I use "Man's Free Will" (with the capitalization) as a specific concept of Man as sovereign, as Man overriding God's Sovereign will and doing what God does not allow. It is referred to in some circles as autonomy and in others as "libertarian free will" in which Man does whatever he wants and God can't or won't interfere. If that kind of Free Will (there's those caps again) actually exists (as opposed to Man's free will -- limited in some sense), then God is not sovereign insofar as Man's Free Will is in effect. That would leave God scrambling to fix the necessary problems Man's Free Will creates.

David said...

I wonder, if God has relinquished some of His authority, and let's humans work in opposition to His Will, how can He accomplish anything He intends? We are highly unpredictable, sometimes doing things we didn't even know we'd do. If an author has a story in mind with live characters, how can he finish his novel if the characters don't always do what he needs them to do in order to accomplish his finale? At some point you'd think he'd just give up since very little of what he intends to happen can because his characters keep blocking his plan. We know from Scripture that God has plan that He has been able to accurately predict and accomplish. He was scurrying to try to make it work, it was sure. To me, were are free to choose as we will, but are limited when it comes His plan. If something we would do would interfere with it, He will stop us, either through natural or direct means. I doubt that the disciples would have dropped everything and followed Him if they had been in complete control of their will. Without them, His plan for having followers fails, nobody chooses Christ without intervention because Christ's teachings are foolishness to natural man. That can't be true if we are capable of choosing Him on our own.

Stan said...

Well, David, your logic is impeccable, which is why that particular group says that it elevates His sovereignty, you see. I mean, if you control everything, the outcome is easy. If you do not and you get the outcome you wanted, now that is sovereign. (I'm explaining the idea, not endorsing it.)

David said...

But that's the problem. How is He capable of making a known outcome from unknown actions? He couldn't possibly predestine anything without knowing for certain that key individuals would do exactly what He needs them to do.

Stan said...

Because He's Omnipotent! (They think that's the answer.) But, I do need to point out that most don't believe in "unknown actions". Most still hold to an Omniscient God who knows everything that we will do and works around it. That doesn't work for those who hang onto the "Libertarian Free Will" concept, but most hold those two -- Omniscience and Omnipotence -- still. So He knows what everyone will do and, like the biggest box of puzzle pieces you've ever seen, fits them all together. (You are aware, I'm sure, that you can't think about that too deeply.)

David said...

Aren't most that believe in that also subscribe to Open Theism? He knows that there will be a group of the elect, but He doesn't know who they will be? If He doesn't know who they will be, then He can't be omniscient.

How can you ever complete a puzzle with ever changing shapes? He would have to intervene in the natural world some how in order to accomplish His Will with us rarely doing what He needs is to do. It just asks me to ignore reason to ask me to believe that He subjugates Himself to our will and still accomplish His Will.

Without intervening directly or indirectly with our choices, He cannot guarantee His desired outcome. That is the rub that I see. If He never told us what His specific plan was, then we could be some overly complicated puzzle. But He gave specific predictions to specific events that required specific actions by specific people. Without those people doing those things, those events don't happen as predicted. Jesus fulfilled however many prophecies about the Messiah. Those prophecies required people to do particular things. Without His intervention those prophecies could not come true. Just not possible. As possible as it is for Him to make a boulder to heavy for Him to lift. Prophecy negates the ability for Man's Free Will to supplant God's Will. Do they say that He sometimes does impose His Will in opposition to our Will? That is the only way I could see Him subjugating His Will and still accomplishing prophecy.

Stan said...

The Open Theists deny Omniscience (but say they don't), yes. But most of those who deny Absolute Sovereignty are NOT Open Theists. They're your run-of-the-mill, standard Christian. Many are Arminians. Of those who deny they are Arminians, many still subscribe to Arminian views. Most don't bother pointing to Scripture for it; some do. Their preferred passages are about "choice" -- passages that call on us to choose (as if God's Sovereignty would require the elimination of choice).

Hey, I'm not arguing with you. I do believe in the Sovereignty of God. I have lists of biblical reasons why. I do not grasp the idea that God can take whatever Man may dish out and make it come out the way He intends without ever intervening in Man's Free Will, nor can I support that with Scripture. I'm just telling you that some do.

Bob said...

Great arguments guys;
I guess it begs the question; what do we mean by Man's free will?
if it means that we can make choices, then i would agree that man has that kind of freewill.
but that is not the point of the argument. the point is that man cannot choose apart from his greatest inclination. Because his greatest inclination is to SIN against God. The natural will of the creature is to oppose God and his salvation message. The scriptures describe the condition of man as Dead in Sin. what ever will man may have before regeneration, it is corrupt and Dead to the Spiritual things of God. i believe Stan did a better treaties on the nature of man in a previous post. but consider this; arguing in favor for the freewill of man, maybe just another noble sentiment...

Stan said...

Of course, my point is that God's Word says that God is Sovereign and God's Word gives examples of God interjecting Himself into Man's "free will" and God's Word indicates that God has His hands in all things, so I have to conclude ... you know, based on God's Word ... that God does intervene in Man's free will ... that this is something that a loving God will do because He says so.