The Love and Glory of God

In my first post in the series on Arminianism and Calvinism, I suggested that at the heart of Calvinist theology is the desire to preserve the glory of God as the sole cause of salvation and that the heart of Arminian theology is the desire to preserve the faithfulness of God to his own relentless love for every one of his creatures. I then raised the question of whether the priorty of God’s heart is his own glory or love? Or, do we have to choose?

I appreciate the Reformed emphasis on God as the sole cause of salvation–God alone initiates and grounds our salvation and we do not contribute one iota to the merit of redemption. I, too, want to preserve the glory of God in a way that excludes human boasting.  At the same time I appreciate the Arminian emphasis on the love of God that desires the salvation of every human being.  I think both of these emphases are on target.

The problem is the correlation of these two emphases. How do we conceive their relation?  With due respect to my Calvinist friends whose heritage I deeply appreciate, the fundamental problem with Calvinism is that it ultimately exalts the glory of God over the love of God.  God is ultimately more concerned about his glory than he is loving every human being.  To me that is an ego-centered God who is willing to leave some in damanation so that he might be glorified.  I know this needs explanation.  So here goes….

According to the Reformed understanding of election, God elects some out of his love to the praise of his glory and leaves the others to their own damnation.  The love of God serves the glory of God in such a way that only a few are loved while others are unloved since they are left in their sin.  To be sure their damnation is their own; they sinned.  But God choses not to save them. In other words, he chooses not to love them.  Why does he not love them?  Why does he not love all of them?  The fairly standard Calvinist response is that God shows his justice and holiness for the sake of his own glory.  God, then, is more concerned about his glory than he is their salvation.

This means–amazingly–that God is more ego-centered than he is other-centered.  He loves the world, but only in a limited way.  He must love the world in such a way that his glory has priority since his glory demands that he execute justice upon part of his creation.  He does not save all because he must display the glory of his holiness and justice.  He does not save all because he does not love all.

This is my fundamental problem with Calvinism.  It turns the gospel story on its head.  The gospel is other-centered rather than ego-centered.  The gospel story is about God’s love for his creation–all his creation.  It undermines what I take to be one of the fundamental truths of Scripture–God’s love for his creation, for all his creation. To be sure, Calvinists would argue that God does love; he loves his elect but only the elect.  [I am using “love” here in a salvific sense since it is difficult for me to think of God loving those whom he willingly allows to be damned when it would only take his own decision to save them.] Yet, his holiness and justice also means that he refuses to choose to elect all so that his glory might be displayed. He leaves many in damation because of his glory. That, to me, is an ego-centered God who exalts his own glory over the love of all his creation.

I know this characterization of Calvinism’s implicit theology is rather harsh.  I don’t intend it as such. As I have said, I think there is lots of common ground between Calvinism and Arminianism, there are emphases in Calvinism that I embrace and appreciate, and the hearts of my Calvinist friends are pious, loving and holy. But the system, I believe, leaves us with a God whose ego is greater than his love.

I would offer a different alternative.  I believe the glory of God is his delight in loving his people; the glory of God is the pursuit of a people for himself as he calls every human being into relationship with himself. The glory of God is the triune fellowship in relation with the human community.  God displays his glory by loving his creation–all his creation and seeking relation with every person in his creation.  He enjoys his glory by being in authentic relation with those who respond to his love.  The glory of God is loving community; it is other-centered and finds its joy (delight) as being-in-relation.  There certainly is a dimension of the glory of God that involves his holiness and justice.  God manifests this glory against sin but, I think, he would rather enjoy communion with his people in the relationship as the manifestation of his glory.  The Calvinist God willingly chooses in terms of his own will alone to allow his creatures to damn themselves for the sake of his glory rather than electing them to salvation out of his own will alone.

The joy of the triune community is, in part, that the Father loved the Son before the creation of the world.  This is the glory of the triune God.  It is being-in-relation.  This is now the glory of God in redemption.  It is being-in-community with his creation as he loves the world, pursues every human being, and pours his love into the hearts of those who believe. From the Arminian perspective, this being-in-relation is mutual and reciprocal though God takes the initiative and is the enabler of the relationality itself. Being-in-community is the relation of mutual enjoyment by mutual choice.

Much of that Calvinism could affirm as well, but the dividing point is that the Calvinistic God choses to damn some for the sake of his own glory by leaving much of his creation in their sin.  That is a different definition of glory than being-in-relation and the delight of community. And this is the crux of the difference between Arminianism and Calvinism.

 



9 Responses to “The Love and Glory of God”

  1.   RICH CONSTANT Says:

    since I am commenting first, I would like to say,
    when I read the conclusion of the third paragraph,

    “I know this needs explanation. So here goes….”

    Sometimes I’m so tired I can’t read, sometimes I’m so busy I can’t read, but I can’t sit down to read I realize how much I look forward to your comments John Mark as I sat down to read and got to this third paragraph.
    I smiled and said to myself oh boy!!

    That’s it.
    Got to read more.
    blessings,
    rich in ca

  2.   Randall Says:

    Thanks very much for another interesting post. It has been a long time since I pondered many of these issuse to a significant degree. I understand some things are difficult to explain and will bear with you as I know you will bear with me if I don’t express something exactly as I should – would – could have.

    I appreciate your emphasis on God’s love in this post as expressed in a couple of sentences: “God displays his glory by loving his creation–all his creation and seeking relation with every person in his creation.” and “The gospel is other-centered rather than ego-centered. The gospel story is about God’s love for his creation–all his creation.” My difficulty is that ultimately God does not save all of his creatures. He certainly saves some men and it seems apparent that he does not save others. The lost resist him and I think you would say they successfully resist his best and most relentless efforts. (I don’t want to misrepresent you – so feel free to correct me.) Do you think he could have saved all men without exception, but chose to delegate the end to man, knowing that some (many?) ultimately would be lost?

    Your post deals primarily with the salvation of men and not angels but I would like to raise the issue of the salvation of fallen angels as they are also his ceatures.

    It is my understanding that God made no effort to save Satan and the fallen angels. There isn’t a lot of scripture that directly deals with the issue, but Hebrews seems to support that view. Satan was created holy and beautiful but exalted himself, rebelled and fell. Apparently other angels followed him in the rebellion.

    Is it your understanding that God made an effort to redeem Satan and the fallen angels as they are also part of his creation? It would seem to be consistent with a deep love for al his creation, but I can’t think of any scripture that would suggest any attempt was ever made to redeem the fallen angelic beings.

    It is difficult for all of us to understand the mind and love of God but I think it helps us to strain to do so.

    Thanks for your consideration.
    Randall

  3.   markus z Says:

    my current professsor of sys. theology is a protestant lutheran, with an alltogether different approach. instead of trying to find common ground between the views of God’s glory (including the belief in predestination as in election/rejection and monergism) and God’s love (his potential grace for all and human responsibility in the salvation process as in synergism), he lets those two strands fall where they fall. he says that they are both scirptual and both irreconcilable. according to him that is an authentic lutheran position, that does not assume the human ability to produce an answer on this issue. rather, eternity will make it clear to us. what do you think?

  4. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Randall,

    I think we must ultimately claim ignorance about the angels–fallen or unfallen–and leave that with God. It seems to me that Scripture is silent about any attempt to redeem the fallen angels of which 2 Peter speaks. I would prefer not to speculate on the point.

    The problem that Calvinism and Arminianism seek to overcome is exactly the point you are raising: God loves all (in some sense) but he only saves some. Unless Universalism is true, this is the problem every theology must contemplate.

    With the Calvinist, we could say that God only loves his elect to salvation while he has a certain “common grace” (some form of love) for others but does not save them. With the Arminian, we could say that God loves everyone and desires the salvation of all but that decided the means of salvation involve human response.

    It seems to me that at the very least I should affirm that God loves all and desires to save all but that the reason some are not saved lies within the human person rather than in the will (desire) of God. Whatever that resistance is, that is what God regards out of his holiness as a just cause for condemnation. Ultimately, I think we should locate the damnation of any human being in their own will rather than in the will of God and this is how God designed his redemptive work.

  5. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Markus,

    The classic Lutheran position affirms both monergism and some form of synergism. The monergism is, as in the case of Luther himself, is a bold, Augustinian predestation. At the same time, Lutheranism (and some believe Luther himself) affirms at least a kind of passive synergism, that is, humans may resist even though cannot contribute to salvation. Melancthon sought to expand the synergism a bit. Lutherans, as the Book of Concord evidences, have debated this question for a long time themselves.

    It certainly is the case to my mind that there are dimensions of this question that beyond our understanding and even appear irreconciliable to us. I can live with that since I believe our finite minds cannot comprehend the infinite God.

    This is part of my point in earlier posts that we should live at the level of the practical means of salvation and not contend over the theory. Let us embrace the common ground between Arminianism, Calvinism and Lutheranism on the question of election and faith. We can leave the theory in the arena of opinion but embrace the conviction that we are assured of our election through faith and that all the elect will persevere in faith. This is the common ground of not only Arminianism and Calvinism but also Lutheranism. My point in this series coincides with your Professor’s–to live within the economy of redemption on the basis of the economic revelation as the means of assurance of God’s saving work in history and in our own lives.

    I affirm monergism in some sense–God alone initiatives, God alone merits our salvation, God alone saves. But I also affirm synergism in some sense–God enablues and empowers us through cooperative grace so that we may believe and participate in our sanctification through faith.

    But when it comes to the theory of how election and faith relate, we could live with a kind of both/and (Lutheranism), or we could prioritize the glory (Calvinism), or we could priortize the love (Arminianism). My problem with the both/and is that one side (the Augustinian monergistic predestination) is not, to my mind, what Scripture teaches and it has the same problem as Calvinism–it ultimately prioritizes the glory of God over the love of God. Monergism–in that sense–ultimately stands in stark contrast with what is, to me, the most fundamental claim of Scripture: God loves everyone and works for the redemption of all.

    Of course, I think my position is the “perfect” meld. But I realize it is not. That is why I would prefer to live at the economic level–God elects believers in Christ and I know I am elect through faith in Christ. To me, that is–at one level–sufficient for assurance and the gratitude that provides the missional fuel for life.

  6.   markus z Says:

    i like it. i think you are close to perfect – until i will end the debate about predestinantion once and for all. that will then be the perfect position. ;) but until then (I believe it will be the fall of 2089), i can live with the above! coming to think of it, it might end up as a blend of predestination/rapure book. that one needs to be sealed, too. :)

  7. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Well, brother, take your best shot and good luck. :-) Blessings, my friend.

  8.   amtog Says:

    As someone living in the Middle East, I can’t help but draw a comparison between the ego-centered god of Calvinsm and Allah of Islam.

    Allah also doles out forgiveness of sins and damnation in an apparently arbitrary manner. It seems (as an outsider) he does this because he is All-Powerful and therefore it is his perrogative to do so. I feel that this is basically the response that Calvinism offers to the question of why God choses to save some and not others, or as you say, to love some and not love others.

    God’s glory is seen by his Sovereignty and his Sovereignty necessarily entails deciding who to save and who to damn from eternity past. Just like with Allah, it is God’s perrogative as the All Mighty.

    This is a disturbing comparison to me to put it mildly because Allah (as far as I can tell) does not love at all as it is a human emotion and is beneath him.

  9.   Randall Says:

    I also live in the Middle East and find the local understanding of god to be somewaht fatalistic – altogether different than the sovereign God the Caklvinists write about.

    The Calvinists I have known teach that God provides for all and shows special favor to those that love him. They do have a concept of some being chosen in a way that others were not – but they believe that b/c they find support for it in scripture. e.g. “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated.”

    Growing up in the cofC I was consistently taught that predestination was a bad word rather than a biblical word. Only a strawman of Calvinism was ever presented so it was no great feat to blow the strawman over. I had a church history prof at ACU who did wonders to open my eyes to a whole world of biblical/theological thought I never knew existed. What a blessing he was!

    If memory serves me correctly John mark has indicated he will deal with the Calvinism/Arminianism (and Pelagianism ?) issue at some point in the future. I look forward to that as I have found him to be fair and intellectually honest in his dealing with many issues, especially the thorny ones.

    Grace and peace,
    Randall

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