Friday, August 7, 2009

Calvinism 2: Sovereignty, Grace, Love, and Free Will

Sovereignty, Grace, Love, and Free Will:

God is Sovereign! Oh yeh. Definitely. God deserves all the glory in the world, and more! Not only because He is simply all-powerful and able to create life, but also because He is intelligent, creative, humorous, trustworthy, righteous, holy, and, most surprisingly of all, loving and merciful. He could have been an all-powerful God who loves to make people suffer just for fun. But He isn't. He could have been a dumb God who made really stupid laws of physics that didn't end up working so well. But He isn't. He could have been perfectly righteous and holy and still been cool with letting us all burn for our sins. But He isn't. He is so much more awesome than that! He is the great "I AM," the righteous, pure, and loving God. That is amazing. It's simply unbelievable that for no reason that I can think of, the God of the universe just happened to be this awesome - what if some other God had existed instead? Why isn't that the case? I don't know. I don't even understand how our God came to be existent in a universe where there was no other god. It makes me dizzy to try to figure it out. How did He just always happen to be there? Why didn't some sort of sadistic God just always happen to be there? I don't know, but I'm ready to sing and dance and praise God for eternity for being simply being so awesome!

God, having created us, is Sovereign over all. He can do whatever He feels like. Thankfully, He never feels like doing anything evil. God not only is all-powerful, but also refrains from doing everything He could do. He could make the earth crumble at this moment. But He does not. He could make me become ten feet tall. But He does not. I do not disagree with calvinists that God could, if He felt like it, causally determine every human action. I do not disagree that He could, if He wanted, save randomly selected people and leave others to burn. I do not disagree that He could, if He wanted, regenerate them so that they would have saving faith. I do not disagree that He has the power to create some people just to see them burn in hell, to give Himself more glory points somehow. I do not disagree that He could take away free will from every human on earth. I merely say that although He has the power to do all that, although He is sovereign in His reign, He does not use His power to do any of those things. I do not argue that God is not sovereign over all, I only argue about what God does with that sovereign power. I believe that God is powerful and sovereign enough that He could give men free will, and still remain perfectly in control of the universe. He would not lose His sovereignty somehow if He felt like giving men true choices. No, He would still be King. God is still on the throne.

God is sovereign, and deserves all glory. The main reason that I speak against calvinism is because, by misrepresenting God's character, they take away from His glory. They do not glorify Him for being the all-loving Being that He is! They do not glorify Him for being able to Author free creatures, and still remain in control of the world. They do not glorify Him for being tender-hearted, gracious, and merciful. They do not glorify Him for being just. They do not glorify Him for being the great "I AM," without any variation or shadow of turning, but rather claim that He decrees evil and that He is more loving to some than to others. They do not glorify Him for loving and dying for those who He knew would reject Him. They do not glorify Him for being Him, because they confuse themselves with God. They sometimes say that God causally determined that they would do something that, in fact, they themselves determined to do. That's not small. Calvin himself claimed that "every act of man is secretly instigated by God." Thankfully though, that that particular view is not a very commonly held belief. We need to understand God better, in order to glorify Him for being the awesome amazing righteous God that He truly is!

Now the question of free will is a very important one, especially when it comes down to assigning responsibility and blame. A person cannot justly be held responsible for that which he had no choice about. You have no choice about where you were born, and it would be unjust to kill you simply because you were born in America. But even more importantly, if a thing does not have free will, then it acts as an extension of the true actor. For instance, if I flip the light switch, the light will go off. The switch does not have free will, and acts as an extension of me, while I am using it, and therefore it is not said that the lightswitch turned the light off, but rather that "I" turned the light off. If God were indeed Author of our every act, and we only thought that we were determining what we did, then as Author, He would be responsible for the story. If I write a pornographic novel, and fellow christians rebuke me, I cannot blame the main character in my book for the dirty thoughts. No, indeed, that character had no free will, but was, in effect, an extention of me: a projection of my mind. The author, then, is the one with the dirty mind. If God secretly instigated and decreed every act of man, if He causally determined our every thought and choice, then He would be the one responsible for every act of cruelty, deceit, and genocide in history. I dream every night, and there are people in my dream. However, even though they look and act like separate people, they are only an extension of my own mind. Since I determine, subconsciously, their every thought and action, they are not free beings, and are an extension of myself. I maintain, then, that we are separate beings from God. I maintain that God loves us differently than He loves Himself. There is a God, and you are not Him. You are not an extension of Him, like a dream, or a puppet, or a lightswitch. We are separate beings whose actions are not causally determined by anyone but ourselves.

Many people throw around the words "free will," but a good majority of those cannot agree on what it actually means. I will give a working definition that I will be using throughout all my explanations and theories. Despite any talk of two-sides coins, any being's choice only has one determinent: one being that actually determines what choice is made. The chair moves when I push it. Its motion is determined by an external source, and therefore I would qualify it as not having free will. A cat walks across the room. I may have influenced the cat, by calling for it, but its motion is determined by itself. The determinant is internal. Therefore I would qualify it as having free will. Man has free will. This is not to say that nothing can influence him, for many things do. This is not to say that he is not born with a thirst for sin. He is. But because every man's choices are internally determined, man is has free will. God also has free will. He Himself is the determinant for all that He chooses to do. He is, however, more free than we are in power. We can also choose to try to fly. He can choose to try to fly, and actually succeed! However, I must add that God, having free will, chooses to be bound by His own nature. He will always and forever do what is right. One reason that it is important to understand that free will is determined, (self-determined is still determined) is that people always trip over the question of foreknowledge. How can God know something for sure about the future, if the future could change, was random, or free? God can know the future, for certain, because every one of our acts are determined. Those acts, though determined, are free because we are the ones to determine them.

I think that it is very important, in order to understand the rest of the story, to understand the beginning. In this case, I am referring to the earth before the fall of man. That was the beginning. That was a time when God looked at everything He created and called it "good," it was a time when God would walk with man in the garden. Why is this important? Don't we already know all this? Well, first of all I think that it is very important to note that in God's ideal set-up, man had free will. Man was able to choose whether to climb a tree or walk on the ground, to disobey or to obey. Why is this? Perhaps it's because God wanted to actually relate to humans. Christianity is only religion that teaches that people can have a relationship with God Almighty. The only religion that teaches of a God who, for some reason, loves people, and wants to interact and enjoy their company.
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me."
Revelation 3:20

He could have easily given man free will, but not put that nasty tree in the garden. Why did He not do that? I don't think the scripture gives us a straight-forward answer about that, but since we know that God wants to fellowship with man, and since we can see through out the Bible our relationship with God painted as a romance, it is quite possible that He gave us the choice not to obey so that we would be able to choose to obey. To say "I do" is only an option if "I don't" is also an option - or else the words "I do" lose all meaning. So to truly study and appreciate the set-up of this world leads to an understanding of how God wanted things to be. He wanted man to exist, to exist in a beautiful, exciting, and safe place, to relate to Him and fellowship with Him in the garden, and to make the choice not to do what He commanded man not to do, choosing instead to continue trusting God and enjoying His company.

So, after all that, man fell and it was a huge disaster that is still tearing apart all of mankind. God, because He is loving and just simply awesome, chose to interact again with humans, and to help them. He still wants man to exist, to be in fellowship with Him, and to choose to want Him instead of sin.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!"
Luke 13:34

Calvinism is the doctrine that God does not give people grace enough to be in the position of being able to choose either to have faith in Christ, or to reject Him: it is that He either gives them so little grace that they cannot have faith, or so much that they for sure will be saved. (Irresistible Grace) Now, if God's ideal is to have man choose, then why, after the fall, would He give up that ideal? If He is all-powerful, and can give people however much or little grace as He would like, why would He not give them enough to achieve His ideal?

Also, there is the question of the origin of sin. Satan sinned, and so did Adam and Eve. Did God cause them to sin? There is no scripture to support that, and in fact many scriptures which claim that God does not look on evil, tempt people, and is not anything but pure from any point of view. Who made them sin? Well, I think the only possible answer is that they themselves caused themselves to sin. Three logical possibilities:
  • -God caused a created being to sin
  • -Someone God didn't create caused the created being to sin
  • -The created being caused itself to sin
The first is very unbiblical, because of God's righteousness, holiness and purity. The second is unbiblical because the Bible does not teach that there is any uncreated being other than God Himself. The third, then, must be the answer. Why, then, is it denied by most calvinists? There is mystery, and then there is contradiction. Many things are mysterious, but to claim that all possible answers are wrong is a contradiction. I believe that the idea that the created being caused itself to sin is mainly rejected on the grounds that a perfect creature cannot cause itself to sin. Well, then, I would have to say that, according to the evidence, a perfect angel or a perfect human can cause himself to sin. Read the Bible. It's right there. This self-determinism is what most people would call "free will." The perfect man has free will, and therefore is capable of making the decision to sin. And he did make that decision.

This brings me back to the concept of God's will. You may remember that I said previously that God is Sovereign. I still stand by that. Now, a person may fairly ask, if God is sovereign, why do evil things happen in the world? If God wants people not to murder each other, then why do people murder each other? Is it because God's moral will commands people not to murder, but with His sovereign will, He decrees that people do murder each other? I would have to say no. That's more like what the devil does. With one hand, he offers happiness, and with the other hand, he takes away happiness. Like abusing hard drugs. God is the great "I AM," and what He is, He is. He is just to one, He is just to all and for always. He is love to one, He is love to all and for always. We know from the scriptures that He is not only righteous but completely Holy and Pure.
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning."
James 1:17

That's right. No shadow of turning. He does not command right with one hand, and with the other command, decree, or instigate evil. God states that He hates wickedness, and I believe Him. He does not want people to murder each other. God also states that He wants men everywhere to repent, and I believe Him. He wants men to choose to turn away from their sin, asking Him for redemption. Sometimes, you cannot have both. The only way to have no one kill anyone else is to take away from them that choice, in which case they would also not have the choice of repentance.

It's as simple as me and brownies. I want brownies. I want to be healthy and not weigh too much. I can't always have both. My complex will is what I choose to do: I only eat brownies every one in a while, because I want to be healthy and skinny more than I want to eat brownies. My simple will is any simple statement of will, without reference to any other desire. My simple will is to eat brownies. Why then am I not eating brownies while I write this blog? It is a mystery! It's because I have so many things that I want that I act according to my complex will, my integration of all my desires, after sorting which ones are most important to me. God does not like evil, but allows it because, apparently, even more than He wants evil not to exist, He wants His creatures to have freedom, He wants them to choose to ask Him for help, and He allows them to make their own choice, even if it includes doing evil. One must keep in mind, however, that He is patient, but not permissive. He will allow it only for so long, and then will destroy the earth with fire. It is not God's simple will that happens, but rather the counsel of His will.
"According to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will."
Ephesians 1:11

I should also add that God does not like evil, but He does allow evil. Here is the awesome part of it: God is creative and awesome, and uses the fallout of that evil to produce good! Satan just can't win for losing! The devil's greatest "victory" was the crucifiction of the Christ, but God totally used that! People should not do bad things to us, but when they do, which God allows, God uses that trial to purify us and to sanctify us, to draw us closer to Himself.

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
Romans 8:28

Now one question that always comes up, when speaking about the sovereignty of God, is the hypothetical question of God's complex will clashing with men's will. Surely man could not, with his freedom, override God's will? True enough. I would say that God never lets that clash happen. For instance, God wanted the jews not to be slaughtered in the time of Esther. He used Esther to prevent the massacre. What if Esther hadn't wanted to go before the king? Would God's plan have crumbled? Or would He have overridden her will somehow? Neither. Esther 4:14 "For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” God would have simply used someone else to deliver the jews. The last statement holds much significance also. If God from eternity past had known that Esther would have remained silent, perhaps He would have put another girl in her position in the kingdom instead. God, you must remember, chooses where and when any of us are born. If God knew that Pontius Pilate would not have condemned Jesus to death, why would God allow Pontius to be at that time in history, in that position? He wouldn't. God shuffles history. He chose the line of the Messiah - He chooses who your family is. No matter what man chooses, God's plans happen.

Sometimes, God even directly intervenes, to make sure that His will happens. He does not, however, seem to enforce His will by "secret instigation." I see throughout the Bible and real life that He seems to prefer straight-forward external methods of persuasion. For instance, do you remember the time when God wanted Jonah to go to Ninevah, and Jonah didn't want to go? Did God respect Jonah's choice and just give up on His own plan? God forbid! Did He override Jonah's free will, or give Him some irresistable grace or something? God forbid! Instead, He simply made a storm, and then had Jonah swallowed by a big fish, who transported Jonah to exactly where God wanted Him. Now Jonah, in the belly of the fish, finally sorta repented and agreed to do what God asked, even though he really didn't have the best attitude about it. I'll come back to that point later. God used eternal methods of persuasion, and let Jonah choose for himself what choices to make. Consider missionary biographies as well. I've read several accounts of supernatural protection. God wants the missionary to remain alive, and some people want to kill the missionary. Does God give up His plan of keeping the missionary alive? Of course not! Does He choose to over-ride human free will, "restrain the evil in their hearts," or give them irresistible grace to do right? Again, no. The stories always say that He physically retrains them. One time the missionary was guarded by nine angels, who the bad guys could see, and fled from. Another time, an attacker raised his arm, holding a knife, but then was unable to move his arm! God's plans happen. That's right, and if God's plans include man having free will, that's going to happen too!

Going back to the story of Jonah, you might notice in the story that God loved those Ninevites more than Jonah did. This should not be surprising, because usually men love others less than God loves those people. I would even argue that God loves each person more than any other person loves them. God is love. There is no love more perfect than God's love. This point was probably my first reason for rejecting calvinism as unbiblical. Throughout the Bible, I see God as a loving God. God is love. There is no way in which He is not loving. We are told that God hates the wicked, (Psalm 11:5) but even in hate, God is pure and loving. He hates the wicked, yet died for us wicked people so that we would not longer be wicked, but would be a new creation.

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us."

Romans 5:8

It is therefore impossible for me to love someone more than God does. Given that, I used to witness to people a lot. There was this one widow that I would consistently witness to, but she was convinced that she was christian because she went to church. She believed that she would go to heaven because she had never really done anything sinful. I witnessed to her for years, and yes she was sometimes a bit insulted that I claimed that, from the Bible, she was a sinner deserved of hell, but she knew that I told her that truth in love. I would always add that I was also a sinner deserving of hell. She never listened, as far as I know, and died suddenly one day after falling and hitting her head. Needless to say, I was very sad. I had loved her, I would have given my life for her, I gave her my time, I prayed for her, and I wanted her to be saved. But, I also did not wish that God would save her without her repenting and asking for that salvation.

Years later, calvinism tells me that the only reason she didn't repent was because God didn't feel like giving her enough grace that she would even have the option of crying out for help. She wasn't saved because God didn't really want her to be saved enough to do anything about it. How could that be? How could it be that I would give my life for her, but God could have saved her with no extra cost to Himself, but didn't want to enough to choose to? How could it be that I loved someone more than God did? I would have, for no extra cost, saved her. (Except, of course, for the undeniable fact that I would want salvation to be conditional upon faith - as God truly does) But not taking into account free will or choice, I loved her enough that I would have saved her, and God didn't? That is not a scriptural view! The only true love I have is from God! If I love her that much, it is only because that love is from God, and God loves her that much. He loved her enough to be willing to give His life for her, and that is the only reason that I loved her that much.

One objection that people sometimes have to the teachings of non-calvinism is that the doctrine is too comfortable, and therefore people only believe it because they are unwilling to face the hard truth. Well, you know, it's not really my fault that God is so awesome that the truth is so much more awesome and wonderful than untruth! It's not my fault that the God of the universe just happens to be so amazing that people think He's nothing but a fairy tale. It's not my fault that He made up all these comfortable doctrines: that we are all loved, that we can know for certain that we are saved, that we can spend eternity in HEAVEN, that the Being who made the universe has no flaws at all, etc. Sometimes the hard truth is facing the fact that the truth isn't as hard as you think it should be. The jews stumbled over the same problem: the hard truth was that the way to gain salvation wasn't as hard as they thought it should have been. Prostitutes able to go to heaven! Imagine that!

Looking back across the post, I have to admit that it all seems rather poorly explained. To fully explain any of these paragraphs, complete with piles of Scriptural support, I would need a chapter for each point! Someday I hope to actually write a book about it all, and I'll have a chapter for each topic. Meanwhile, for the purposes of this particular group of posts about calvinism, I'm going to have to be content with a more sketchy explanation of all these questions and concepts. I will post, later, more extensive blogs covering each concept covered only breifly here, and if any of you want more explanation/verses for any of these topics, just ask me, and I'll either message you a long and cohesive response, or post a blog about that topic.

One other point I should add here, while I'm randomly rambling about random calvinist topics, is the idea that I do believe in monergism. I do very strongly hold to the idea that God saves us through His own power, without any assistance from us. It does not depend on us, it depends on Him. Now God, being a picky sort of fellow, does definitely have some conditions for who He likes to save. God, being God, has conditions, and who are we to answer back to Him and tell Him that He can't? These conditions, whether they be having red hair, or having faith, do not help save us at all. God saves us, single-handedly.

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