Does God HATE the ones whom He will not save?

A February 22, 2013 blog by Stephen McCaskell on entitled “Does God HATE the ones whom He will not save?” highlights the primary reason I am not a Calvinist. This is my response to McCaskell’s article.

cross-earthOne of the biggest dilemmas of Calvinism is, how can a loving God elect some people for eternity in Hell? If God chooses who is saved, and who is condemned, then God must not love all people. As McCaskell admits, “It would seem that it’s not exactly the easiest thing to reconcile the doctrine of election and God’s universal love.”

Some Calvinists see no problem here. They believe God loves the elect, but hates the non-elect. But in order to do this, they must twist the clear teaching of Scripture. If this view were correct, John 3:16 should read, “For God so loved the elect that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever God elects will believe in Him and not perish but have everlasting life.” However, that’s not what it says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Other Calvinists, such as McCaskell, cannot ignore the clear teaching of the Bible that God’s love is universal. This creates the paradox that God loves the very people He sends to Hell. McCaskell explains his solution to this paradox:

In the Scriptures we read of God’s amazing love towards sinners, but normally it’s towards his people, the elect. Obviously God doesn’t love all people the same way. If he loved everyone in a saving manner, then all would be saved. But we know this is not true. Not all are saved.

Obviously God doesn’t love all people the same way. This solution to the paradox is even more problematic than the paradox itself. McCaskell simply redefines God’s love in a way that is obviously nonsensical. Note some of the comments posted on his blog page:

Sagrav says:
February 22, 2013 at 11:04 am
A love that sits by passively as you are tortured for eternity is a hollow thing indeed.

Sharon says:
February 22, 2013 at 11:28 am
Your definition of love is morally bankrupt if you can say with a straight face that God both loves and chooses some people for damnation.

So, what’s the answer to this paradox?

The problem with Calvinism is that it’s based on a logical fallacy. According to every Calvinist I’ve read or talked to about the subject:

  1. God is sovereign, meaning that God is in absolute, total control of everything.
  2. Free will means that Mankind controls at least some things.
  3. If Mankind controls some things, then God does not control everything.
  4. Therefore, free will cannot exist.

The fallacy is in point 3. Free will does not take away from God’s sovereignty. God can, and does, remain entirely sovereign, while at the same time granting Mankind free will. Free will is the essence of what it means to be created in the image of God. No other creatures have the ability to make moral choices. God created Mankind in His image so that we would be capable of having a love relationship with Him. Without free will, love is impossible. Love must be chosen, or it’s not really love. God made the sovereign choice to give Mankind the gift of free will in order to allow us to have a love relationship with Him. This in no way detracts from or diminishes His sovereignty, but in fact, affirms it.

How do we reconcile God’s universal love and the reality of eternal damnation? It is only because of Mankind’s free will that this paradox is avoided. God gives everyone the universal invitation to be saved. Those who accept God’s invitation are saved; those who reject it are damned:

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” John 3:14-21

Calvinism falsely teaches that Mankind cannot choose to accept or reject the Gospel, and this is heresy.

On a side note, ironically, Armenianism (the opposite of Calvinism), is based on the same logical fallacy, but with a different conclusion. According to Armenian thinking:

  1. God is sovereign, meaning that God is in absolute, total control of everything.
  2. Free will means that Mankind controls at least some things.
  3. If Mankind controls some things, then God does not control everything.
  4. Therefore, God is not totally sovereign.

This logic is based on the same fallacy as Calvinism, and the conclusion is equally heretical.

Did Jesus Die For the Whole World?

Some Christians would argue that Jesus Christ only died for the “elect” – that God chose, or elected, certain people that would be saved (the Elect), and chose to send the rest (the Reprobate) to Hell.  Human beings have no choice in the matter; if God picks you, you will believe and be saved, but if He doesn’t pick you, you have no chance to be saved.  This belief is fundamental to Calvinism.

There are several verses in the Bible that contradict this belief.  One of these is 1 John 2:2:

 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

First, what does “propitiation” mean?  Propitiation can be defined as the act of appeasing one offended and gaining his favor.  When John says that Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins, he means that only the blood of Jesus Christ can appease God’s wrath against human sin, and can put sinners into God’s favor.  Only through Jesus Christ can our sins be paid for; only through Jesus can we be reconciled to God.

The problem for Calvinists is the second part of the verse:  “…and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”  Taken in a straight-forward manner, this verse says that the propitiation for sin is available not only to John’s audience, but to everyone.  Who was John’s audience?  Most scholars believe John was primarily writing to Jewish Christians – first century people who were born and brought up as Jews, but who became Christian believers after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

John Samson, a reformed pastor, writes on

… we approach the First Epistle of John, and remember that it is a letter written to a primarily Jewish audience. So in 1 John 2:2, as in the rest of the letter, we have the Apostle John, a Jew, writing primarily to fellow Jewish believers in the Messiah. He writes of Jesus Christ being “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” It is possible that the word “world” here refers to every person on planet earth, but in my estimation, not very likely, because of the fact that we have a Jew, writing to fellow Jews. I think it is far more likely that John is here declaring that Christ died not only for our sins (the sins of Jewish people), but for also for those of the whole world (the sins of Gentiles throughout the world).

Samson is arguing that the phrase, “the whole world,” doesn’t mean the whole world, but the elect gentiles.  This is an example of coming to the text with a preconceived idea, and forcing one’s understanding into the text.  Samson presupposes Calvinism, but when the text contradicts his presupposition, he simply forces his presupposition into the text to make it say what he wants it to say.  He even acknowledges that a plain reading of the text doesn’t support his view –  “It is possible that the word “world” here refers to every person on planet earth” – but he then explains why he thinks the text means exactly the opposite of what it says.

What did John Calvin have to say about this verse?  Quoted on, he writes:

Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.

Calvin is arguing that “the whole world” actually means “the whole church,” which would exclude the reprobate, and only include the elect.  Again, the problem is that John didn’t write, “the whole church.”  He wrote “the whole world.”  Again, this is an example of trying to fit one’s personal beliefs into the Scriptures, despite the fact that they don’t fit.  In effect, Calvinists must claim that John didn’t write what he meant to write; he didn’t phrase his statement clearly.  And, since God Himself inspired John to write 1 John, God must have gotten it wrong, too.  It is ironic that Calvinists, who focus so much on God’s sovereignty, must in effect deny His sovereignty, and argue that God goofed, because  1 John 2:2 doesn’t mean what it says.

What does 1 John 2:2 mean?  Does it mean, as others would argue, that everyone is saved?  1 John 2:2 states that Jesus is the propitiation for the whole world.  This means that in Christ is found everything that is necessary to appease God’s wrath, and gain His favor.   What is doesn’t state is whether the propitiation is actually applied to the whole world.  Other verses, such as John 3:16 and Romans 10:9-10, make this clearer:

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Romans 10:9-10 – if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.   For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

These verses, as well as many others, indicate that a person must believe in order to be saved.  Neither the one extreme of Calvinism, nor the other extreme of Universalism, is correct.  What is correct?  I think Calvin himself stated it well, although he didn’t believe it to be true: Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were sufficient to cover the sins of every person in the whole world, but are only applied to those who God elected, based on His foreknowledge of who would choose to receive the gift of salvation.  1 John 2:2 makes it very clear that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world; John3:16 makes it clear that one must choose to believe in order to receive the benefits of Jesus’ propitiation for sin.

Theological Positions I Don’t Understand, Part 2

Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace

This is the second in a series about Christian doctrines that make no sense to me.

There are several theological doctrines that are widely held by Christians that I just plain do not understand.  I have dug into the Scriptures and read commentaries both pro and con, and cannot find cogent explanations for these doctrines.  If these doctrines are correct, I would like to understand why, so that I can correct my thinking in these areas.

The doctrines I’d like to consider in this blog entry are Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace.

I know that several of my readers hold to these doctrines.  The reason I am posting this is because I do not understand these beliefs.  My intent in this series is not to offend anyone, but rather, I’m hoping someone can give me a well-reasoned, cogent explanation.  I’m seeking to understand the truth, not to attack anyone’s theology.

John Calvin

John Calvin

Unconditional election is the Calvinist doctrine that before God created the world, he elected to save some people according to his own purposes, apart from any conditions related to those persons.  This basically means that God’s act of saving is not based on what man chooses or wills, but man is chosen by God solely by God’s grace, thus unconditional election.

Irresistible Grace is the doctrine which teaches that the saving grace of God is efficaciously applied to those whom he has determined to save (the elect) and, in God’s timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to faith in Christ.  Since man is so corrupt that he cannot decide and cannot be persuaded to follow after God, God must powerfully intervene.

These two doctrines together are commonly referred to a predestination, which is basically the belief that God predestines or predetermines who will be saved, and there is nothing we as fallen depraved human beings can do about it.  If God has elected a person, they will be saved; if He has not elected a person, they will not be saved.  Human beings have no choice in the matter.

There are literally thousands of Bible passages dealing with the topic.  Some verses emphasize the sovereignty of God; others emphasize mankind’s choice.  It seems that most arguments against unconditional election and irresistible grace ignore the passages that discuss God’s sovereignty and predestining, while most arguments for unconditional election and irresistible grace ignore passages that discuss man’s choice to respond or not respond to God’s calling.

The biggest problem I have regarding unconditional election and irresistible grace is the flip-side of the doctrines:  what happens to the unelected?  If God has predetermined who will be saved, then He has also predetermined who will be unsaved.  If human beings have no choice in the matter whatsoever, then God has created billions of people for the sole purpose of sending them to Hell for all eternity.  God has not and will not reach out to them to save them; they cannot respond to the Cross of Christ; they were damned before the creation of the world.  The Westminster Confession, after stating the doctrine of election, adds:

“The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the inscrutable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.”

This doctrine, called unconditional reprobation, is problematic if God is omnibenevolent or completely loving.  How could a loving God create people to whom He will never offer a chance at redemption?  How could God, before the creation of the world, select vast numbers of human beings, and allow them to come into existence specifically for the purpose of sending them to Hell?  Since God is love, why would He not want to offer salvation to everyone?  How can it “pleaseth” a loving God to “witholdeth mercy?”  This makes no sense to me!

It seems to me that unconditional reprobation is logically necessary if unconditional election and irresistible grace are true; yet, unconditional reprobation is inconsistent with the loving character and nature of the God of the Bible.  I’ve read numerous detailed attempts to explain how unconditional reprobation does not mean God is arbitrary and how God is still loving, but I have yet to find one that makes sense to me.  Most of the arguments I’ve read simply involve trying to redefine terms so that they mean something other than what they mean, which does nothing but make my head spin.  The problem is still the same, even if the terms are redefined.  How can a loving God pick and choose some that He wills to go to Heaven, and others He wills to send to Hell?

If unconditional reprobation, unconditional election, and irresistible grace are true, then John 3:16 should read, “For God so loved the elect that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever He elected shall believe in Him and not perish but have everlasting life.”  The fact that God so loved the world implies that God’s salvation through grace is available to everyone; the fact that whoever believes in Him should not perish implies a choice of the will.

BibleThe Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign; it also clearly teaches that man has a will, and is responsible for his choices.  It’s not an issue of God’s sovereignty or man’s will – it’s a matter of understanding how both exist at the same time.  It appears to me that the Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace focus too much on God’s sovereignty, at the expense of God’s love; Armenians focus too much on the opposite.  There must be a reality that fully includes both God’s sovereignty and His love.

If someone can explain to me how irresistible grace, unconditional election, and unconditional reprobation do not contradict God’s absolute love, I’d appreciate a comment clearing up my understanding.  Otherwise, this doctrine will have to stay filed under “Christian Doctrines I Don’t Understand.”