Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Death of the wicked

The debate over "does God love everyone?"was quite nasty, and I have no real desire to stoke the embers. However, I will try to summarize the arguments.

Arminians argued that God loves everyone and desires all men to be saved, and that He does not delight in the death of the wicked.

Most of the Reformed argued that God loves everyone, although He offers only "saving love" for the elect. Their universal love is not the prevenient grace of Arminians, which although non-existent at least has the virtue that by all appearances it is worthy of the mantle universal love, for it (mistakenly) postulates potential salvation for all. No, the universal love for many Reformed is merely that God does not make life as miserable as possible for the non-elect:
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt. 5:45)

Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." (Acts 14:17)

Indeed, who could argue otherwise: by measures of the pleasures of this world, the wicked often do quite well.

I argued a position—unfairly characterized as Hyper-Calvinism that you can call this love if you like, but I would not use that term, preferring the more accurate common grace. This so-called love offers little to the recipient other than an infinitesimal calm before an eternal storm of agonizing punishment. If I am non-elect, I would greatly prefer the prevenient grace of the Arminians to the universal love of certain Calvinists.

This universal love was offered by some Reformed as mitigating the clear but unpleasant teaching of scripture that God hates (e.g., Rom. 9:13). Yes, God hates, but He also loves those He hates. People can hate and love a person can they not? Perhaps, for what that is worth. Although the analogy, even if superficially valid, ultimately breaks down, for which human can say to another "I love you, but because I also hate you I will subject you to eternal torture in the fires that don’t consume, and there is no possibility of reconciliation or escape." This, however, is what God is said to do with those He hates and loves.

Today, I just want to comment briefly on an Arminian pillar:
For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD . Repent and live! (Ezek 18:32)

This is often presented as a "gotcha" against Calvinism. What is omitted in such instances are some other passages such as
And it shall be, that just as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess. (Deut. 28:63)

Here we read of God rejoicing over the destruction of the wicked. And then we have, regarding Eli's sons:

If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?" Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the LORD desired to kill them. (1 Sam. 2:25)

Apparently the Lord does desire the death of some. And yet Ezek. 18.32 is as God-breathed and true as 1 Sam 2:25. What gives?

The answer, of course, is what the answer always is in these apparent contradictions, the various forms of God's will. In the simplest schema, He decrees and he commands. He can decree the death of the wicked while at the same time commanding that all repent.

There is no way around such a conclusion without destroying the harmony of scripture. God can and does will that all repent and be saved, while at the same time wills that only the elect are saved.

The Arminian stratagem is almost always the same: To isolate passages where God exercises His preceptive will (Ezek. 18:32) to argue a position, a position that upon detailed examination is repudiated by other passages where God exercises His decretive will (1 Sam 2:25).

Hyper-Calvinism is an overused criticism—generally meaning anyone's Calvinism that is viewed as "harsher" than my own. Personally, I reserve it for those who teach God is active in reprobation (as embodied in the simplistic statement "God decreed that Judas sinned" without all the qualifications regarding God's eternal decree, free will, and secondary causes, as carefully laid out in scripture and the Reformed confessions.) I would also use it against those who teach that a sign of one's election should be in evidence before they are to be given the gospel. I am sometimes a recipient of this slander because I do not believe that God's offer of salvation is universally genuine. I see no evidence of it in scripture, I see only the opposite (e.g., Luke 5:32). This by no means implies that we as evangelists are to attempt in some manner to restrict those to whom we witness. The analogy I have used many times is that a universal genuine offer, in light of unconditional election, puts God in the position of "genuinely" offering salvation to a blind man if he can describe the image on the post card he has just been handed. More accurately, it is a "genuine" offer to any dead man who can resurrect himself.

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