Tom Gilson

The Humbling Insult of God’s Unconditional Love

We’re on the leading edge of a long weekend here (Monday is Memorial Day in the United States). I’m the last to leave my office today; the boss gave us all the afternoon off, but I decided to stay a while, to read and write in the quiet. It’s not, I’m sad to say, as quiet within me as it is around me. So much to do! So much to catch up on! And why?

Misunderstanding Why God Loves Us

Christianity’s chief heresy down through the ages has been legalism: seeking to earn favor with God by what we do. It’s a Christian fault because it’s a very human fault. What confusion surrounds this whole matter! We don’t understand unconditional love as God offers it. We want to earn his love; we want to be the sort of thing that could earn his love. We want to show that we deserve his love, that he owes it to us, for the special things we do in particular. We are, in fact worthy, but not by our own works or goodness. We are worthy because he has deemed us so.

There is — though this is dangerous to say — something of a paradoxical insult in the way God loves us.

If we could stand before him and say “thank you very much, God, for your love, and of course everyone can certainly see what I’ve done to earn it”—if we could say that, then that would be something to be proud of. That’s not the way it is. One might almost say it’s regrettable that’s not the way it is, except for this: for us to be able to face him that way, God would have to be shrunk down to our size. He would no longer be the object of our worship but the subject of our manipulation.

Legalism As Manipulation

And I think to a great extent that’s actually what legalism is about. It’s about manipulating God, trying to get on his good side, so that we can get good things from him or feel good and special about ourselves. It’s about controlling God, or at least our relationship with him. Even a teenager can sense manipulation a mile away, though. How much more do you suppose God will see it and resist it?

But here’s the astonishing thing: though we try to shrink God to our size so we can impress him — and how God must laugh at that! — yet he emptied himself, and in a sense shrunk himself down to our size. He was born a babe in a stable, grew up in a craftsman’s home, wandered for a few years and taught a small band of followers. In the course of all this he met two kinds of responses: those who insisted on being impressive before him, he defeated by argument and by his works. Those who saw the grandeur of God in him, he set on a course toward a Kingdom.

The Humility of Being Loved

He still says that those who humble themselves before him will be lifted up. For many of us, the hardest part of that is knowing it is because of his own goodness, not ours, that he gives us his love. We need not earn it; we could never earn it. But for those who want real love, it’s there in abundance, without measure and with only the condition that we accept it on his terms and not on our own.

Yes, of course there is an answer to the “why” question I opened with. Understanding God’s love, and that we cannot earn it by our work we still work because it is good to do so, to be fruitful and productive, to serve, and obviously to make a living. God worked for six days and rested on the seventh; we work to follow God’s own example.

But our work is not a way of scrabbling toward the light of God’s love. It is a way of basking in that light.

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29 thoughts on “The Humbling Insult of God’s Unconditional Love

  1. Tom

    We want to earn his love; we want to be the sort of thing that could earn his love. We want to show that in ourselves we deserve his love, that he owes it to us, for the special things we do in particular. We are, in fact worthy, but not by our own works or goodness. We are worthy because he has deemed us so.

    Can you touch on a question that people often ask? It goes something like this: How come I can’t earn God’s love, grace and forgiveness, but I can earn his judgement and wrath?

    I think people have a hard time with this because they think it doesn’t jibe with their everyday lives. In our everyday lives we earn the favor, love and respect of another person by what we do.

  2. Steve,
    That’s a good question. I don’t mean to jump in front of Tom, but I think the answer has a lot to do with our sin nature. Theoretically, we could earn God’s love by being perfect – but we always fail to do so, and that’s by our own choice. Wrath and judgment are responses to our choices. Part of what makes God’s Grace so powerful is that He offers it to us in spite of what we do.

    I also think that “love” is a different thing than “respect” and “favor”. I know some parents who love their children, even though their children’s choices have caused them not to respect them, or favor them.

    That’s all just an off-the-top sort of answer…and note the date, because “off the top of my head” from me comes around about as often as Haley’s Comet. 🙂

  3. Hi Tom,
    Great take on this issue.
    Coincidentally, I was thinking the other day about unconditional love and approached it from a different angle. I was going to ask if you would mind taking a glance at my recent posts on my ‘blog’ and offer some critique of the ideas (try to ignore the autobiographical gloss). This reminds me and seems as good a time as any.
    I know you’re busy so don’t feel any pressure.

  4. MM,

    But then why didn’t God create us with such a nature that we didn’t sin? It can’t be because the world is better because of it because God, as that-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-conceived, is not better with sin in his life, or even with the possibility (no matter how remote) of comitting sin. It can’t be because it is better to learn from our mistakes and sin because, again, God didn’t have to and he is, by definition,  the best. It can’t be because God wanted us to choose to follow him if we accept Calvanism in any sense (weak or strong), so the ‘choice’ is God’s one way or the other (and the unregenerated man hates and curses God, so making us such would be contrary to the aim of creating beings who love him). It can’t be because God couldn’t make us like that since, obviously, he does when he regenerates us (or at does so to a degree), so it must be possible or else it would make salvation itself meaningless. Also, if God made us like that then it would single-handedly eliminate a large amount of suffering, not only in life but for those who are damned to an eternal punishment because of God’s choice, either because he chose not to regenerate us through his own divine will or because he didn’t make us otherwise in the first place.

    So I guess I’m still very fuzzy about exactly why sin and punishment are necessary given classical theism.

  5. Those are good questions, Kevin. Since it’s the weekend and it’s a big topic, I’m going to punt and refer you to a previous series. It may be that we can come back to it here next week.

    Jeff, I think you’re on the right track in what you wrote in response to Steve. We can earn the one and not the other, because a) God’s love is ours regardless, so how could we earn it? and b) We don’t have the capacity to do enough good to earn God’s love, but we do have the ability to sin, and to earn what follows therefrom.

    Which brings us back to Kevin’s question…

  6. I don’t think the libertarian argument works on two levels (whether we’re speaking of a deductive or inductive argument): first, that God is likewise free yet does not have the capacity to do evil, so such a condition must, in fact, be better than having freedom and being able to do evil. Second, Calvinism (whether hard or soft) still makes salvation completely as God’s perogative, such that our choices do not matter, so why does God then choose to damn probably the large majority of humanity? Are we really supposed to buy Craig’s argument from transworld depravity?

  7. You may not think it works–but 90% or more of philosophers do. As I begin to respond, I have a couple points of clarification to make, and then a question that I hope will prevent me from wandering off in the wrong direction from there.

    First, we must establish the sort of freedom of which we speak. God’s freedom is the freedom to do everything that is consistent with his eternal nature. He is indeed perfectly free, except that he cannot deny himself; there is that limitation upon his freedom.

    Second, we need to keep in mind that (as explained in the previously linked seried), to overcome the logical problem of evil does not require proof that humans have libertarian freedom, but merely that the possibility exists that we have libertarian freedom.

    I’m fairly confident you caught that and that this is what you are addressing. Thus I will not rehearse the reasons Plantinga said this (they are–in a brief form–in the above link, for others who want to get caught up with it).

    So I believe you are either arguing that a) humans do not and cannot have libertarian freedom (Plantinga’s tentative premise is necessarily false), or b) the argument from the possibility of libertarian freedom does not do what Plantinga says it does. It would appear that you are following (b) more than (a), but that is not entirely clear. Would you be so kind as to clarify that for us?

    This only covers the first part of your response, but I’d like to get this much in order before going on to the rest.

  8. I accept some kind of libertarian free will, though I do doubt its existence if we accept absolute divine foreknowledge (I’m not a compatibilist). But the latter issue is not central to my argument; God’s place in our perfection and our notion of how that comes about (i.e. if we accept Calvanism), including why God did not create us in an already saved state, are central.

  9. Then I think you would say that, given Calvinism, problem (a) is a significant one: if we suppose that God is as Calvinism says, then there cannot be libertarian free will. That would be one weak point in Plantinga’s argument for you. Am I correct? I’m trying to stick with his argument here for now because it has been so enormously influential in the thinking on this subject for the past several decades. One cannot deal with this question in its deductive form without dealing with Plantinga.

    The other question, I think, turns on whether God could have had a morally sufficient reason to create a universe where evil could arise. If such exists, then there is no contradiction in positing a good and all-powerful God.

    I’m taking this one step at a time, not following that particular thought where it could lead, because I want to check on problem (a), and because I’m finding it very refreshing and helpful actually to have a dialogue moving forward this way. (You are aware, I know, of another thread with another participant, in which I have noted how hard it has been hard to keep the discussion on track.) I appreciate your questions and your comments, Kevin.

    (Oh, and there’s another reason I’m not pressing forward into more discussion. I’ve been doing some painting in the garage, and I have a lot of other cleanup to do around the house today. Life goes on…)

  10. Tom,

    On the issue of Calvinism and libertarian free will, they are not incompatible; it is only the case that our ability to do good is either nonexistent and/or severely limited. In the least we cannot choose to be saved. But that is not my particular focus for Plantinga’s argument (whether it is good or bad, strong or weak). What I am arguing is that if Calvinism is true, in either a weak or strong sense, then it is within God’s power to save everyone. Even more so, if God is truly omnipotent then he could have created us in a saved state to begin with and I have yet to find a good reason for God not to do that.
    With saying that, let me say that I am not a classical theist, though I am certainly a theist. So I do not think that God’s existence has been ‘disproven’ (any more than I think it has been ‘proven’), but this is a particular issue I have with classical theism.
    I am glad you are enjoying the conversation, but please refrain from any not-so-subtle gibe to other participants on this blog. It does nothing for dialogue and you come off (to me at least) rather haughty and full of yourself, not to mention demeaning to the person you are talking about. I’m not saying that that is what I think of you, but I at least don’t appreciate it.

  11. P.S. I am tempted to say that painting and house cleaning are indeed more important than this discussion. Sometimes I fear that those of us with philosophical tendencies spend so much time thinking about life that we fail to live it…

  12. Kevin,

    I can’t think of any person who is less aptly described by the words “haughty” and “full of himself” than Tom.

    There are some persons who just cannot, or will not, engage in a open exchange of ideas; when that happens, the conversation is just a waste of time. When one side wants to drag everything off in ten different directions, the conversation is a waste of time.

    There is more to life than arguing about philosophy, indeed. That’s why I don’t have any problem with differentiating between worthwhile and worthless uses of what little time we have.

    The first reason I can think of for God to not create us in a “saved” state is a rough analogy, but I think you’ll get the idea. In many video games, there are “cheat” codes, which give you invincibility, infinite money, and so forth. There is absolutely no satisfaction, joy, or pride to be had in ‘winning’ a game that way. The victory is meaningless. Creating a world where everyone is forcibly made to love, honor, and obey God would be somewhat like using a cheat code – what’s the point? The words “I love you” from a programmed robot are meaningless.

    I think that the answer to your dilemma also depends a lot on how you define “omnipotent”. God can’t violate the Law of Non-Contradiction, so it’s not really possible for Him to make us free and not-free at the same time. Omnipotence really means “the ability to anything that can be done”, not “the ability to do anything that can be put into words.”

  13. MM,

    Like I said, I don’t necessarily think that Tom is haughty or full of himself, but it comes across that way and I don’t appreciate it, whatever the history he has with he-who-was-not-named. Just voicing my concern.

    Now, on your reasons: the analogy doesn’t fit because, whatever our enjoyment in attainment, (1) God didn’t have to attain his perfection (which, according to the logic of classical theism,  is apparently better than having to do so) and (2) salvation and perfection is not something that we can ‘attain’ in any way, as an explicit gift of God’s volition, and God’s volition alone. So the analogy does not connect with the reality in its most important elements. Similarly, God is not “forced” to love us, yet he did not have to attain that love, so I don’t see how it is different with us.

    On your second point, I don’t think creating us such that we are like God morally (which is one of God’s ‘communicable attributes’ in classic theism) is impossible as it is certainly necessary for salvation itself; the only difference is timing (in one case he creates us that way from the beginning of our existence and in the other he creates us that way later in life).

  14. Oh, and for the issue of being free and not-free: God is free, yet he also can’t sin (in a strong sense), so it doesn’t create a contradiction. The best argument that can be given is that, in fact, the movement from being able to sin (ethical fallibiltiy) to not being able to sin (becoming ethically infallible as God is) is better than simply being the latter from the beginning. But if that is so then it is the case that God is not that-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-conceived, which is also a contradiction (according to classical theism). Both are being-free yet both also have their own ‘restrictions.’

  15. Kevin,

    I’m not really connecting all the dots in your response to my analogy; then again, I’m not able to put a lot of time towards this right now. Still, I think that there’s a need to define “perfection” here. The idea of “needing to attain perfection” bespeaks a lack of perfection. A being that has to attain something it lacks or lacked can’t be called perfect. God is perfect in the sense that He is the only being/thing in existence who finds the reason for His/its existence in Himself.

    I think that trying to differentiate between God creating us a certain way now as opposed to later in and of itself has a lot to do with free will. Creating us initially “like God morally”, by which I’m assuming you mean “sinless”, is in effect to rob us of free will to be otherwise. It’s like using the cheat code; there wouldn’t be any beings who could choose to express love and worship, only beings programmed to do so.

    God’s inability to sin is not because of a lack of freedom on His part. Saying so is circular, since “sin” is most simply defined as “that which is opposed to God’s nature.” That would be like saying that God is not free because He can’t be Himself and not Himself at the same time. It’s sort of a logical truism that actions contrary to perfection can’t come from a perfect being.

  16. MM,

    Defining perfection in terms of being “the only being/thing in existence who finds the reason for His/its existence in Himself” denies the possibility that we can become sinless through Christ as we lack, in classical theistic terms, the unity of our essence and our existence. I think we both agree that we can eventually become sinless and that, in classical theism, this can only come about by God’s choice to so perfect us.

    On your second point, I don’t see it: certainly God has the “ability to do otherwise” even though he does lack the ability to wilfully sin. Certainly we will continue to have this “ability to do otherwise” after we are perfected, right? If, indeed, it is the case that “God’s inability to sin is not because of a lack of freedom on His part” then why must it then be so for us? When we are perfected aren’t we also made morally part of the divine nature? Doesn’t it then become part of our nature to not be able to sin because of the power of the Spirit in our lives? If this is not the case (which you seem to be arguing), then what does it mean for us to partake of God’s communicable attribute of moral perfection?

  17. Kevin,

    “Defining perfection in terms of…denies the possibility that we can become sinless through Christ.”

    I don’t see that there’s a necessary connection between “sinless” and “perfect.” Theoretically, I could live a life free from sin, but still not be ‘perfect’, since I lack many other things needed for ‘perfection’. I would say that when all is said and done, we’ll be sinless, but we won’t be perfect – at least not in the same sense that God is perfect. In particular, because we’ll still be contingent on God, and not wholly on ourselves. That may be a tad circular, but I don’t see that “perfection” and “sinlessness” are identical.

    BTW, I don’t know that I have the definition of “classical” theism brushed up, I’m just trying to think through this logically and on the fly. I’m actually glad you brought this up, because I hadn’t considered it from this angle before.

    I still think that the issue of “can God can sin” is just an inverted truism. There is no other coherent way to define “sin” other than that which is against God’s nature. A perfect being cannot change, and lacks nothing, therefore it also cannot change its nature – not because it lacks the power, but because such a thing is simply nonsensical. It would be like 1 no longer equaling 1, or 3 equaling 2. Power and omnipotence have nothing to do with it, it’s a matter of that thing’s essential nature.

    That’s the difference that I see between man and God on this issue. It’s encapsulated in the difference between omniscient (can do anything that can be put into words) and omniscient (can do anything that is possible). God’s “inability” (probably a non-ideal choice of words) to sin has nothing to do with power, it has everything to do with the definition of “sin”. Since we are not God, we are not self-contingent, and so there will always be a standard of morality external to ourselves. Therefore, if we actually have free will, then we will be able to act in ways contrary to that standard.

    I’d also say that the conception of true morality that I have (classical or not, beats me) involves the idea of choice in the first place. Robots are inherently non-moral, because they do only that which they must do. Part of moral perfection for a contingent being is choosing to be moral, rather than to be non-moral. I think that it’s reasonable to assume that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in heaven will prevent us from sinning from that point forwards, but that very indwelling came about as a consequence of a choice made through free will, by those who chose to accept that moral standard.

    If we were simply infused with that Spirit from the get-go, then we’re back to where free will is meaningless. For a contingent being, no choice means no free will.

  18. To be sinless is to be morally perfect. I think you’re doing violence to the notion of perfection by making it a global thing, as if perfection requires perfection in everything and does not allow perfection in one thing but not other things (I can solved 2 + 2 perfectly while being rather imperfect at other things). Granted, our perfection will be contingent on God, which is a difference from his nature (again, in classical theism), but I still fail to see how our being morally perfected cannot entail the inability to do sin and why such entails a loss of freedom for us when it does not do so for God (for whom it is innate). Its contingency on our unity with God seems to be irrelevant on whether we are then incapable of comitting sin when regenerated, when infused with the Spirit. And if God’s moral perfection is indeed a communicable attribute, then I see no reason why our regenerated perfection could not mean a similar inability to do sin with a similar presence of genuine freedom in the face of that inability.

  19. Kevin, I’m just using the definition of perfect as it applies to God; that is, perfect in everything. When it’s not “real” perfection (absolute perfection) that we’re discussing, then we add a specifying term like “moral perfection.” I’m not so much doing violence to the notion of “perfection” as I’m using it in a particular way. So, yes, sinlessness would be “moral perfection”. But, as you noted, there is more to God’s perfection than just the dimension of morality.

    The point I’m making about God is simply that there is a categorical difference between the contingent imperfect creation and the self-contingent all-perfect Creator. All I’m really saying is that the phrase, “God sinning” is as meaningful as the phrase “a one-ended stick”, or “a four-sided triangle”. Sticks aren’t limited in their two-ended-ness, it’s just that sticks by definition have two ends. A shape with more than four sides just isn’t a triangle, by definition. Anything sinful isn’t part of God’s character, by definition. Until we can define sin apart from God, it’s logically and functionally impossible for anything He does to be “sinful”, because whatever He does defines what is moral.

    So, this does not involve a lack of freedom for God, but a limit to what “sin” is, I suppose. God sets the definition of morality, so from a technical standpoint, nothing He does could be considered “sinful”, no matter what He does. Add in the properties of perfection, timelessness, and so forth, and you have a being for whom “sin” isn’t something He’s limited from doing so much as “sin” is something that His very nature makes nonsensical to ascribe to Him. “A God who sins” is a lot like a “circle with corners”…it just doesn’t compute.

    Getting back to the main point of Steve’s question, I think that this is why God operates as He does with mankind. Without free will, “love”, “worship”, and “submission” have no meaning whatsoever. God creates us with the ability to choose between morality and immorality, obedience or disobedience, submission or rebellion. I can’t say I know exactly why God chose to operate in the way He did, but that seems to make sense to me. God wants legitimate expressions of those feelings, not meaninglessness responses from automatons. The only way to get that is to offer a real choice between one and the other.

    You mentioned, earlier, the idea of learning. Yes, it’s true that God didn’t have to learn, and He is the standard – but once again, only He is non-contingent. The un-regenerated curse the God who created them, but that doesn’t run counter to the idea that God wants to be loved. In fact, what we’re talking about here implies that it’s the only meaningful way for God to achieve that aim in the first place. Part of worship and submission to God is a recognition of our contingency; if no such difference was recognizable, at least in a way that we could respond to, then worship and submission are once again automaton responses, not genuine acts of choice.

    I’m getting long, but I hope my ideas are clear. God cannot “sin” because “sin” is always defined in relation to Him. “Worship” and “love” imply something more than a programmed response – if it was otherwise, then God presumably would have just created a world of worshippers. The very fact that He didn’t (create automatons or pseudo-automatons) suggests that the act of choice is central to the value of our interaction with Him. More to the point, it’s just as nonsensical to talk about “forced love” as it is to talk about “God sinning” as it is to talk about “pale green right-handed emotions.” The words are grammatically correct, but the ideas are skew.

  20. No time to catch up on the thinking here, but I do want to say that I accept your words of correction, Kevin, regarding what I’ve said about other comments elsewhere. You’re right, and I was wrong, at least in bringing up other comments and other persons out of context for insufficient reason. Thanks for your good words here.

    I do not mean to undercut the words of encouragement that a couple of others have left me on this. I appreciate your words a lot! But I still think it’s better if I just change my approach on this anyway.

  21. Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath — prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory — even us, whom he also called . . .?
    PS: Kevin, I really appreciate your brand of disagreement; if only everyone were so thoughtful — as in “full of thought” — before posting, this blog and indeed the internet would be a much richer resource. Thanks.

  22. Sorry, I’ve been busy with other things. I just want to say one thing (and I know it is short and might not address all the arguments given) and then I’ll have to take a leave from this issue (because of continued time commitments, but I just wanted to give one last idea on this issue)

     The mere conditional nature of man’s being made to be like God morally does not seem sufficient to destroy freedom. Contingency or necessity in itself does not add to or take away from the attribute in question: a being that is red contingently is still red and the redness itself is not changed, despite its inhering in an object in a particular way (i.e. contingently). If the inability to do evil (and the ability to do a lot of good) is compossible with genuine freedom in the case of one being, who possesses this attribute necessarily/essentially, then I do not see a necessary reason why it would not be so compossible in another case, though the attribute is possessed contingently.

    And with that, on to other things.  :o)  Of course, feel free to argue against the above.

  23. Kevin, I may have missed something, but I haven’t seen a response to this from May 24:

    <blockquote>The other question, I think, turns on whether God could have had a morally sufficient reason to create a universe where evil could arise. If such exists, then there is no contradiction in positing a good and all-powerful God.</blockquote>

    Regarding the rest of this discussion, I have some catching up to do. I’m going to try to work through it this evening and tomorrow.

  24. Tom,

    But I have yet to hear a “good reason.” A lot of this boils down to why God created us in the first place. If it was so we could enjoy unity with him, then creating us without the communicable moral purity (that which the saved would eventually have by divine decree) is counterproductive. If it was so we could praise him, then, again, creating us such that we do not share the communicable attribute of moral purity would be counterproductive (or even if we praised him in a depraved state, “God, thy ways are just,” then the evil and suffering is still not necessary. If we accept a soul making theodicy (like Hick) we come to my question: obviously someone ‘becoming’ perfect is not the best possible situation or else God, by definition, would have done so himself.

    So, yes, we could say that God had a good reason, but unless we can understand that reason, we are simply left in the dark: an empty ‘answer’ that really answers nothing because it lacks content and so we must accept it on blind faith.

  25. On a level of comparison, the plea that God did have a reason but we don’t know it yet could be said to be on par with scientism’s claim that everything really is just matter in motion but we don’t understand how yet. Both do not answer the question, but merely delays it by positing some unknown.

  26. Kevin,

    “So, yes, we could say that God had a good reason…”

    Yes, this is important, and much more defensible than “there cannot be a good reason.”

    “…but unless we can understand that reason, we are simply left in the dark:”

    I would agree there also, that the answer must be understandable – but not necessarily that it has to be palatable or preferable. I can’t agree here:

    “an empty ‘answer’ that really answers nothing because it lacks content and so we must accept it on blind faith.”

    Because we have context as well as content with which to understand and accept that answer. That is, what’s presented above isn’t empty. If we are able to accept that God is indeed good and just, then we have a foundation from which to presume that He has good reasons for doing as He does. In fact, even though some of the justifications we can come up with in our own limited ways aren’t perfectly satisfying, or don’t match our own preferences, they do suggest that such reasons are at least plausibly possible.

    This is not “blind faith”, this is reasonable faith; a trust in things we cannot prove, but have good reason to believe. It’s not lacking in content, because it’s based on what we DO know of logic, reason, human nature, and what God has revealed about Himself.

    Some of what you’re saying seems to boil down to this: “It doesn’t matter what reasons God did, did not, or might have had, I just don’t like the idea. I don’t agree with it, and don’t personally understand why God would do it, and so any possible answer is either wrong, or empty in my view.”

    I’m quite sure you’re seeing this from a more nuanced perspective than that, but your 9:30 post leaned pretty heavily in that direction. You’re still arrogating the right to judge what is or is not necessary to yourself, and dismissing God’s higher right to do the same. On that basis, you call some things He’s done “unnecessary” and reject them.

  27. Ok, I guess I’m not done here.  :o)

    I do think it is blind faith, at least partially because the central issue, from my perspective, is creatio ex nihilo. The central fact is that God could have made us like himself, morally perfect, completely happy, eternally joyous, eternally basking in God’s light. Furthermore, as I’ve argued, God’s very nature as accepted in classical theism demands that any notion of development or changing into perfection is by definition less than perfect. Therefore, to be logically consistent, we must say that God chose to create less than optimal conditions which results in unnecessary suffering given God’s ability to create us in a perfect state wherein we could fulfill the functions that the Bible commands of us: loving, worshiping, and serving God.

    Yes, we could presumably move from God’s perfect goodness and justness to claiming that we can then assume that God’s creation is the best it could have been, and I agree. But the dogma of absolute creation ex nihilo makes the faith in this move problematic simply because it powerfully proclaims that God could have made us perfect to begin with and, again, that to be perfect in this way is better than moving into such perfection. Lastly, and I think this is the strongest part of my argument, this ‘attained’ perfection is by divine fiat either at creation or at the moment of regeneration, thus by no work, exertion, or effort on the part of the creature, so the focus on the ‘will’ of the saved (or their life in general) is irrelevant. Let me see if I can flesh this out:

    As our ultimate perfection is entirely by God’s will and choice, the delay simply makes no sense and the effect of sin and misery is irrelevant. It (i.e. sin and misery) cannot make us better because such occurs only by God’s gift (“none can do good, no, not one”); it cannot increase our worship of God as the sinner does not worship God (i.e. there are less worshiping God than there might be otherwise); it cannot help us fulfill our function as described in the Bible as such is performed only by the regenerated which regeneration occurs, yet again, only by God’s will (“love God with all your might, mind, and strength”). It is not merely that I cannot think of a good reason, but because every reason given so far ultimately fails and God’s omnipotence (as understood in classical theism) provides a very strong case for good reason for God to create us perfect to begin with. If perfection is completely God’s choice, then the experiences and choices of the created are irrelevant, the effects of sin in their lives are irrelevant, and sin provides no function as those who are touched by sin have absolutely no control of their perfection anyway (i.e. sin itself is irrelevant to our perfection as the latter is completely in God’s power and can be given to the created at any moment, regardless of history, experience, or creaturely will).

    Now, understand that I’m not presenting this as a refutation of theism (I think that such a claim would be just as silly as claiming that any given arguments supposedly ‘prove’ God’s existence), but I do think it is a major issue for classical theism’s understanding of God’s nature, in particular the notion of absolute creation and the notion of omnipotence that it entails.

    I hope that further clarifies my argument…and this time I won’t pretend like I’m done here.  ;o)

  28. Kevin,

    This does clarify your argument, in a sense, but it also reinforces what I was saying from before. You’re leaning very heavily on an argument from personal incredulity, and an appeal to “classical theism”, whatever that means to you. I’m not defending anything different than what I’m presenting, so references to what “classical theism” says are irrelevant for the time being. If you reject that other concept, fine, but it’s not sensible to reference it as a response to the points presented here.

    The foundation of what you’re saying is essentially this: I can’t understand/agree with why God would have done differently than He did, therefore, I can’t accept any justifications for His actions. Because of this, you’re treating some awfully far-reaching assumptions as though they were settled facts.

    For example:

    “…God could have made us like himself, morally perfect, completely happy, eternally joyous, eternally basking in God’s light.”

    How do you know this? More specifically, how do you know that doing so would have accomplished the results that God wanted?

    “But the dogma of absolute creation ex nihilo makes the faith in this move problematic simply because it powerfully proclaims that God could have made us perfect to begin with…”

    Not really. I’m directly challenging the idea that “love” without free will has any meaning at all. You can say, “well, God could have made 1=2”. The sentence is grammatically correct, but the idea is self-contradictory. If God wants to create creatures who meaningfully love Him, He has to give them a real ability to choose otherwise.

    “…and, again, that to be perfect in this way is better than moving into such perfection.”

    Again, how do you know this? “Better” according to who, in particular? Part of my argument is that for a contingent, finite, caused, and limited being, change is inescapable. I also say that love, worship, and obedience are meaningless without the real ability to do otherwise; therefore, changing from imperfection to (a type of ) perfection is not just “the best” way, it’s the only possible way.

    “Lastly, and I think this is the strongest part of my argument, this ‘attained’ perfection is by divine fiat either at creation or at the moment of regeneration…”

    This means that you accept “hard” predestination as the only possible interpretation of God’s interaction with the universe. You cannot or do not accept that free will can be compatible with this kind of God. If that’s your concept of “classical theism”, then you’ll find me disagreeing with it as well.

    “…thus by no work, exertion, or effort on the part of the creature…”

    This is correct, and necessary. No matter how hard we work, we can’t attain perfection or infinitude anyway, so something more than our own actions is required. That’s what makes Grace central.

    “…so the focus on the ‘will’ of the saved (or their life in general) is irrelevant.”

    It’s not irrelevant, it’s the whole point. You haven’t really answered the charge that it’s the free-willed-choice which makes the whole notion of worship meaningful.

    “As our ultimate perfection is entirely by God’s will and choice, the delay simply makes no sense and the effect of sin and misery is irrelevant.”

    As it’s stated there, I’d have to agree. But if that’s the case, why think about it in the first place? I’ve used an idea before called the “hopeless hypothesis”, which is something that can’t be treated as true even if it is. If the above is true, then it makes no difference what happens to us or anyone else, since whatever is going to happen is going to happen. Where I disagree is the word “entirely”. The Bible makes it explicitly clear that there is a component if human choice involved in our salvation.

    The rest of the above is a lot of sweeping assumption (emphasis mine throughout):

    “It (i.e. sin and misery) cannot make us better because such occurs only by God’s gift…”

    Who says that growth and endurance gained through suffering cannot make us better?

    “…it cannot increase our worship of God as the sinner does not worship God…”

    And yet, suffering leads many, many people towards God who would never have had reason to seek Him in the first place. That results in more worship, and more souls ultimately saved, than otherwise. Nations who develop economically tend to drift away from religion, because people have a natural tendency to think that they don’t need God when their stomachs are full. It was Lewis who said that God whispers in our pleasure, and shouts to us in our pain.

    “…there are less worshiping God than there might be otherwise…”

    Again, forced worship is not worship. And this is just assuming that this is not the best possible world.

    “…it cannot help us fulfill our function as described in the Bible as such is performed only by the regenerated which regeneration occurs, yet again, only by God’s will…”

    Once again, God’s will is not the only aspect involved, according to the Bible. In fact, scripture makes a lot of hay out of the idea that believers are changed on account of their choice to turn to God.

    “…God’s omnipotence (as understood in classical theism) provides a very strong case for good reason for God to create us perfect to begin with.”

    This would be like saying, “I have good reasons to serve lasagna for dinner. Therefore, there are no good reasons not to.” Who is parsing acceptably “good” reasons for God now, you? I can just as easily say that the free-will requirements of worship give a far more compelling reason for God to create us as He did.

    “If perfection is completely God’s choice, then the experiences and choices of the created are irrelevant…”

    Yes, and acknowledging this idea only helps to demonstrate that creating us as “perfected” beings would be well and truly purposeless.

    “…I do think it is a major issue for classical theism’s understanding of God’s nature, in particular the notion of absolute creation and the notion of omnipotence that it entails.”

    Then I guess you have some major problems with whatever definition of “classical theism” that you keep referring to. I also think that you need to look at how you’re defining terms like “omnipotence” – I suspect part of the problem is that you’re using self-contradictory definitions for some of these words.

  29. Deacon & Usher were here…..

    When you’re a buzzard, one gives up being good.  Just enjoy the roadkill that falls from heaven and thank God for so many cars!

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