A Conundrum for Calvinists
I am reading Roger Olson’s “Against Calvinism.” It is a well researched and well reasoned exposition of the Biblical and logical flaws of that doctrine. It reminded me of a few ‘conundrums for Calvinists’ I wrote up a few years ago. Please allow me to present one of them to you. Implicit within the story is why I, too, reject Calvinism.
I have been invited to your home for a visit. Upon arrival, I hear noise in the back yard and note that the side gate is open. Walking around the house and into the back yard I discover that the noise is being made by your two year old little girl in the swimming pool. It takes but a second to realize that the sound isn’t the joyful glee of play, but the frantic effort to keep from drowning. And drown she will if I don’t intervene. But I have chosen not to intervene and allow that event to unfold into the eventuality of her death. I stand and watch as your daughter thrashes wildly around, takes her last breath, and closes her eyes forever.
After a moment you emerge from the back door of the home calling the name of your daughter. Your eyes are drawn to my figure and are surprised to see me there and say so. My gazing into the pool pulls your eyes down and you see her lying silent and still. Jumping into the pool you grab her and immediately, instinctively know that she is dead. The realization overwhelms you. You yell for your wife to call 911 and begin the attempt to resuscitate her, but all to no avail. The emergency personnel arrive and their attempts also prove futile. She is lifted into the ambulance and transported to the morgue.
In an attempt to understand the tragedy that has taken place and how it came about, you question me. To your utter horror, you discover that I was a witness to the final moments of your daughter’s life. I recount how I came around the house through the side gate and saw your daughter in a life and death struggle in the pool. “Why didn’t you jump in and save her?” Your question is asked through a veil of tears and in rising anger. “Yes, I could have, but I chose otherwise. I was under no obligation to save her. It wasn’t me who left the back door of your house open. It wasn’t me who forgot to close the gate to the pool. It wasn’t me who lost track of the where-a-bouts of your daughter. And though I could have intervened and saved your daughter, I am in no way responsible for the course of events that led to her drowning death.” I defend myself from your unjust charge that somehow my failure to rescue your daughter reflects poorly upon me and throws my character into an unfavorable light.
Regardless of what I say, no matter how vigorously I defend myself, in spite of how logically I shift all the blame to you, you will think me the most despicable, most damnable person who ever walked the face of this planet. I could have saved her, but I didn’t – that’s all you see, that’s all you know, and that’s how you will judge me the rest of your life. “But”, I protest, “I loved your daughter so much that I would have done anything to save her from this fate.” Your anger towards me turns to confusion as you think through the hypocrisy of my actions as measured against the illogic my words. I say that I loved your daughter so much that I exhausted all my efforts to save her – except jumping in and saving her. From that day on, you will want nothing to do with me and my bizarre way of thinking and nonsensical notions.
The Calvinist has a problem. Within the Calvinist position, God has the power to save all, but not the will to save all. God has done everything in Christ to secure the salvation of sinners, except to savingly elect them. He can, but He chooses not to. God can save all from the unceasing terrors of hell, yet He chooses otherwise. Why? To the praise of His glory (or so we’re told). I could jump in and save your daughter, but I have made a choice to let her drown. You have considered me (rightly) the most despicable, damnable person on the planet. God can save all, but chooses to save some. My choice to allow your daughter to die a cruel death makes me damnable in your sight. God’s choice to do nothing while sinners go to the eternal horrors of hell makes Calvinists praise Him all the more. What you find despicable in me you find laudable in God though His decisions affect billions for eternity. I do nothing and your daughter has a few moments of pain and terror. God does nothing and billions suffer the agonizing torments of hell for all eternity. I am to be damned and God is to be praised. My refusal to make a choice for life reveals my utter depravity. God’s refusal to make a choice for life reveals His holiness. Here is a moral disconnect. I, too, reject Calvinism.
Calvinists give theological priority to the will of God, not the nature of God. Yet the nature of God is more basic to Him than His will.
The fundamental error of Calvinism is giving theological priority to the will of God. Nature is more basic than will.
Will is the expression of nature. God’s nature isn’t arbitrary – God is love. The sovereignty of God expresses the nature of God – His love. Sovereignty doesn’t mean that God is arbitrary. It doesn’t mean that He can do anything He wants to. It means that He can pursue whatever course He desires that is in keeping with His nature. The Bible says, “God is love.”
The Bible doesn’t say, “God is will.” God has a will, but He is love. What you are is more basic than what you possess. God cannot will to be what He is not.
Calvinism desires to maintain the freedom of God, but freedom is not something God is too terribly afraid of losing. The nature of God is love. Love binds you to people. I am in glorious bondage to my wife, children, grandchildren, friends, and church. I am not free to do as I will in an arbitrary manner. I am free to love; I am not free not to love. Not to love is sin to one whose nature is love. Again, I believe the error is giving priority to the sovereignty of God rather than the love of God. Calvinists bend God’s love to His sovereignty. God’s will bends to His nature; sovereignty bends to love.
“Calvinists give theological priority to the will of God, not the nature of God. Yet the nature of God is more basic to Him than His will.”
I couldn’t agree more. While I appreciate many of my brothers who hold a reformed/calvinistic position, and recognize that they are brothers. I’m often concerned that God within strict Calvinism is omnipotent, but not necessarily omni-benevolent. God’s sovereignty is often exalted as God’s supreme character attribute, when I believe that God Himself emphasizes His mercy. It’s because the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, thank God they are new every morning.
I too have been reading Olson’s book and plan to read Horton’s once I’m finished. I appreciate the tact and gentleness that Olson uses in “Against Calvinism.” Many such books do not take the tactful track.
Thanks for the reply, Miles. I think a very helpful discussion would be one centering on the difference(s) between nature and will and which is more intrinsic to personhood. Maybe this would get us away from merely meeting text with text and move the discussion into new waters.
I definitely agree that such an approach would be helpful. But I have found that when I’ve done this I’ve been met with the response, “that’s theory and philosophy and not theology.”
As far as I see it, the existential realities of Calvinism are not bearable.
Well put, Miles. I agree.
Great thoughts, Tim. I so appreciate your insights.
Reminds me of Yahweh’s expression of the meaning of His name in Exodus 34. He starts by saying “merciful and gracious”, which isn’t true with Calvinism’s version of God.
I’m glad you point back to the passage in Exodus 34, as it is one of my favorites… I’m convinced, after many years of study in both the old and New Testament’s, that if there is an attribute of God’s character that He exalts above others, it is His mercy and not His sovereignty. Furthermore I think that most Calvinists hold an extreme position on God’s sovereignty.
Tim, I so appreciate the comment you made regarding God’s sovereignty in your post. “The sovereignty of God expresses the nature of God – His love.” AMEN! It amazes me that while so many Calvinists aim for the glory of God, they fail to recognize what their theology does to His glorious character.
Thanks Tim, I was blessed by that.
This about sums up my thoughts on Calvinism as well.
Calvinism reminds me of a doctor who delivers a baby born with AIDS. The baby contracted it through someone else and had no say in it. The doctor had the cure and could’ve cured it but chose not to then punished the baby for exhibiting the symptoms anyway.
It makes sense that God would know who will chose Him and who will reject Him, however, if it’s God’s will that “all men be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4) why would He only elect a handful of us?
Good analogy, Craig. Thanks for that.