Calvin’s God as Smoking Father

Calvin’s God as Smoking Father September 20, 2016

Calvin's God smoking father

Jonathan Bernier made the remark above on Facebook, and I asked for permission to share it. The context was a discussion of Calvinism’s view that God creates some humans expressly for the purpose of being tormented for eternity – something which, if a human being did it, would be considered horrifically immoral.

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  • It’s even worse than that. Calvin’s God is more like the deranged father who intentionally burns his child with his cigarettes because it gives him some sort of strange “pleasure” and “glory.”

    For according to 5-point Calvinists, God sends most human beings into eternal torture for his own “glory,” and “good pleasure.”

    Even worse, God foreordained them solely for that damnation, before the beginning of time.

  • bibleandbeeswax

    Interesting. How do you feel about the apostle Paul’s view, when he says,
    “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction…” (Romans 9:22)?

    • There are a number of ways that one could understand that – some of which would involve an attempt to harmonize the statement with other texts such as 2 Peter 3:9, and some of which simply allow Paul to have a different viewpoint than others did. Ultimately, the decision to allow a particular understanding of texts like Romans 9:22 to dominate their system of thinking is a choice that Calvinists make of their own free will. Nothing in scripture or outside compels them to do so.

      It is worth noting as well that Paul is (1) speaking hypothetically, and (2) focused on groups which experience salvation, not individuals. Hence his view that one may find oneself by nature included in or excluded from the people of God, and yet be broken off or grafted in.

      • bibleandbeeswax

        I’d be interested to see how you relate 2 Peter 3:9 to this–from my understanding that passage means that God is being patient until all of the elect are saved. Like Jesus puts it in John 6:37, “All who the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Personally, I consider this passage to be part of a matrix of texts that support a general understanding of predestinatrian election/reprobation. It’s a text like this that has led me to Calvinism. It’s not like I presuppose Calvinism and then imbue my intent on the passage…though I think it’s certainly easy to do that. I also can’t see a way to harmonize that passage with either Arminius’ understanding or with Pelagius’s or with Molina’s view. And I’m speaking entirely on good terms here–I’m not interested in being mean about your view or anyone else’s. I think charitable discussion is very important.

        I do agree with your exegesis about Paul speaking hypothetically, and in part about his focusing on groups (ethnic Israel). At the same time, Paul does say that God hardens some individuals and not others–that He hardens Esau (individual) and not Jacob (individual). And then he speaks hypothetically to say, “Here is one reason God could be viewed as perfectly just to harden some and save others.” In fact, Paul’s language might rub us the wrong way when he says that just as the potter has THE RIGHT to do what he wants with the clay, so too God has THE RIGHT to save or condemn.

        • David Evans

          God, unlike a human potter, has no need of practice, experimentation or any of the other reasons why a potter might make a vessel with the intention of discarding it.

          Also (to state the obvious) the clay does not suffer, whatever the potter does with it. A man has fewer rights over his children or his animals than over his inanimate property.

          • bibleandbeeswax

            You’re right–He is unlike a human potter. He actually has MORE rights over His creation than a potter does over the clay since He made the dust of nothing by the word of His power, and formed mankind from the dust. You’re also right that He doesn’t throw things away in error, but has a specific purpose for all of his creatures. Prov. 16:4, “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.”

          • David Evans

            I’m sure that’s a great comfort to those he designed to suffer eternally in Hell.

            Also it is frequently said that he is fearfully angry with those he consigns to Hell. Why, if they are carrying out the purpose for which he made them?

          • bibleandbeeswax

            Well, I think you and I both agree that this doctrine doesn’t comfort the damned. But contrarily, it is why Paul urges the church to “make your calling and election sure”, to grow in assurance that they are indeed saved with an eternal salvation.

            About your second part–God uses secondary means to carry out his purposes. Creatures freely rebel against Him, and are justly punished as a result, though He has also ordained this to occur. I don’t admit to understand how His will and the creature’s freedom coincide, but they do. But for that reason it is said that God is angry with them. Sin is an affront to God, and it is done willingly.

          • Any father who “ordained” that the children he is going to conceive MUST commit evil, and then he is planning to torture them, ought to be locked up.

            Sin that is ordained, can’t be “done willingly” or “freely.”

            All Calvinists that I dialogged with for 55 years emphasized that no human has a choice, not the slightest.

            “Ordained” is a very strong verb; my father was “ordained” to the ministry and if I had stayed in the ministry, I would have been “ordained.”

            Really sick.:-(

            Sounds exactly like the Islamic doctrine of “qadar” where God is the will/cause of all evil.

          • bibleandbeeswax

            I’m a Calvinist who is also ordained to the ministry, and believe that God’s ordination of all things is perfectly compatible with the freedom of the will. This teaching just denies that we have libertarian free will (one view of free will), while agreeing that we have spontaneity, or the ability to choose to do what we desire. In fact, the Westminster Standards devote a whole chapter to the freedom of the will. I admit that I too have talked with other Calvinists who have a fairly deterministic view, but it is out of line with the Westminster Standards (which many Reformed denominations vow to uphold) as well as with Reformed tradition in general.

            Just imagine: what if it was possible for human beings to freely rebel against God, and deserve judgment, and yet at the same time this wasn’t contrary to God’s plan for the world, but part of it? I believe this is what the Bible teaches. I don’t understand the mechanics of it since it is involved with the being of God and His will, but I do believe it is accurate.

            PS. I’m friends with some Muslims, and I have studied that doctrine as well. I disagree because when they use predestinarian terminology they mean it in a very strict and fatalistic sense.

          • You wrote,”…agreeing that we have spontaneity, or the ability to choose to do what we desire.”

            But that isn’t the ability of “choice” because what “we desire” has been foreordained by God.

            Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “the act of choosing : the act of picking or deciding between two or more possibilities”

            I studied under a professor who earned his PhD on Jonathan Edwards, have read the books of many of the famous Calvinists including R.C. Sproul, Loraine Boettner, John Piper, Tim Keller, R.L. Dabney, a little of John Owen,
            have read and studied the Westminister Confession, the Synods of Dort, etc.
            (My wife thinks its funny that on SuperBowl Sunday I am usually, instead, reading Reformation history.)

            Until I retired, I taught students for years about American Puritanism including it infamous poem, Day of Doom by Simon Wigglesworth.

            Plus, unfortunately (I used to joke with more friendly Calvinists that it must have been predestined;-)
            thousands of Calvinists/Reformed have come into my life in the last 55 years.

            As for Islam versus Reformed/Augustinian Christianity, I don’t think there is much, if any difference.

            Yes, I know there is a difference between supralapsarians versus infralapsarians, etc. The Christian bookstore I used to go to regularly was managed by a supralapsarian.

            Regardless of the fine-tuning or their redefining of commonly-understood words to mean something entirely different, what it ALL comes down to in Reformed theology
            is John Calvin’s infamous statement from the Institutes:
            “Some have been foreordained to eternal damnation.”
            “I admit that by the will of God all the sons of Adam fell into that state of wretchedness in which they are now involved; and this is just what I said at the first, that we must always return to the mere pleasure of the divine will, the cause of which is hidden in himself.”
            John Calvin, Chapter 23, 4 Institutes of C. R.


          • bibleandbeeswax

            Wow! You’ve been much more involved with Calvinism than most people I’ve talked to here. I will say that there is an “Edwardsian strain” of Calvinism that has a very distinct flavor. His work on the nature of the will represents less of an historical Reformed view, and it actually really upsets me. Richard Muller and Paul Helm have a published dialogue arguing about whether Edwards’ understanding of the will ends in fatalism (which, along with Muller, I think it does).

            I think that God’s ordination is concerned with everything that happens, but that we also do what we want to do. We have a liberty from coaction (coercion), and can do what we want. So, for example, I want to type on my keyboard right now. This is both ordained by God and my own desire.

            If you’re looking for someone to read on this I’d suggest Francis Turretin Sr.. He has a very good explanation of the freedom of the will, and was a teacher at Geneva after Calvin.

            Also, I really do think the Islamic teaching on predestination is quite different. I haven’t studied it in depth, for sure, but I have talked with several Muslims about it. We don’t see eye to eye on how God interacts with the world.

          • Thanks for the reply (though I know you had no choice;-).

            You wrote,
            “This is both ordained by God and my own desire.”

            However, according to all Calvinists (that I know of) your “own desire” was foreordained before the beginning of time.

            And if you can’t choose a contrary desire, action, then you aren’t free in the normal sense of the word.

            A relative and friend who are police officers wouldn’t excuse you if you drove 95 on a 65 mile limit highway because you said it was “my own desire.”

            They will tell you that you had a choice between obeying the law or disobeying the law.

            So will the judge.

            I’ve been called to jury duty a number of times.

            We used to support a missionary couple to Senegal. Then he earned his PhD and has continued to relate/debate Muslim leaders.

            Here’s a couple of quotes from my theology folder on Calvinism:
            From the Westminster Confession:

            “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.

            Wherefore, they who are elected are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. The rest of mankind God was pleased to pass by and reprobate; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praised of His glorious justice.”

            From the Qur’an: Surah 6:125……

            “Those whom Allah, in His Plan, willeth to guide He openeth their breast to Islam; those whom He willeth to leave straying He maketh their breast close and constricted as if they had to climb up to the skies: thus doth Allah heap the penalty on those who refuse to believe.”

            I’m not an authority on Islam, though I’ve read the Quran all the way through once, and am almost through it again, and read 4 biographies on Muhammad.

            As for Reformed thought, I don’t think one can get away from determinism. Berkhof, or maybe it was Berkouwer (I read them years ago) tried to rescue choice without abandoning determinism. He didn’t succeed.

            The only Reformed theologian I sort of liked was Emil Brumer. I read 3 volumes of his theology. But I don’t think he was able to escape determinism either.

            Furthermore, I know the historic background of the Westminster Confession. Horrific:-( The English Civil War (and the 30 Years War, etc.) was so evil.Christians slaughtering, stealing, destroying, while also claiming that God was their leader:-(

            This is probably a pointless discussion. I encountered my first Calvinist leader (he was the new youth Bible study leader) when I was 17 in Nebraska in 1964.

            Needless to say I was shocked. There was no relationship between the God of Calvinism versus the God of my Baptist background and conversion.

            In fact, they are totally opposite.

            And it has been down hill ever since.

            I wonder how you got caught in it.

          • bibleandbeeswax

            Yes, I think that on a surface level you can compare the two, but the “mechanics” behind them are quite different. WCF goes on in Chapter 9 to explain, “God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil.”

            I’m in the same boat as you: I’ve read the Qur’an two times, and discussed the issue with an Imam and with a Sufi friend, but I’m not excessively knowledgable about it. They also have a doctrine of the covenant which I thought might have similarity to the Reformed understanding, but it is completely different (Allah covenanted with pre-fashioned souls in eternity, which then forgot about the covenant when they entered into materiality. Very neo-platonic!).

            Also–there are plenty of compatiblist Reformers.

            So would you say that your interaction with Calvinism led you to confusion about Scripture/God in general?

          • Despite my dramatic conversion experience, my love for Jesus, and in the past being a Baptist youth minister, elder, Bible teacher, etc.,
            I finally gave up after battling Reformed/Augustinian doctrine for 55 years.

            When our church here became more and more Calvinist, I permanently left it. I’m more Quaker than anything, but even Quakers now are going Calvinist. One in North Carolina Yearly Meeting is promoting the book, The Explicit GospeI, which declares that every infant is “in essence, evil” and the usual TULIP steps, but also includes a heavy dose of God’s primary reason for creation was his own self-glory.

            Such a view of God is totally opposite of the God I believe in.

            I visited many churches trying to find an non-Calvinist church. Spent several years doing this.

            Finally, I started going to a men’s Bible study at an Assembly of God church. I’m not Pentecostal, but I figured I was safe there.

            Nope. The leader proceeded to assign 3 Calvinistic authors in a row. When I pointed this out, he assigned our next book, a Calvinist.

            Furthermore, I talked for almost an hour with the Billy Graham Association when I discovered that they had gone Calvinist, too.

            They agreed that they believed “limited atonement” is the good news!

            I gave up and exited the Christian religion.

            Or should I say, that it exited me.

            The Christian religion (as understood in Augustinian, Reformed, Lutheran theology)
            is completely contrary to everything that was essential in the Christianity I grew up in and asked Jesus in heart on a country road in our family car on the way home from Bible study and prayer meeting in 1955.

            Calvinism isn’t the only reason that I finally came to realize that Christianity can’t be true, but it is about 99.9% of the reason.

          • bibleandbeeswax

            That’s sad to me. I’m assuming that your Baptist church was Arminian (right?). I ask with no ill will whatsoever. I’m hoping to get a PHD studying the influence of Franciscus Junius (a Calvinist) on Puritanism. He met Jacobus Arminius at a wedding and corresponded with him for the rest of his life. Arminius actually filled Junius’ chair at the University of Leiden after Junius died of the plague. While they didn’t see eye to eye on predestination, they both believed each other to be Christians, saved by the work of Christ. The same thing is true about people who differ as to the extent of the atonement. Our salvation doesn’t depend upon getting the nuances right, but the essential faith-trust in Christ alone for eternal life.

          • But, of course, we believed in an entirely different Jesus than what Augustinians and Reformed believe in, and a totally different God, etc.

            So I suppose that one wouldn’t classify us as Arminian, since at least some historians and theologians classify Arminius as one version of Reformed.

            And I got that impression when reading a biography about him and doing further research on him when Calvinists told me I was an Arminian heretic, years ago.

            It’s been a long time ago, but I doubt that what I believed was Arminianism.

            The small Baptist church I grew up in in southeast Nebraska, in a village of 250 people was very anti-Augustinian, but we had never heard names such as Arminius or Calvin.

            Well, no doubt my dad had studied about Calvin at Baptist college in South Dakota and in Baptist seminary in Kansas, but he and my mom never talked about stuff like that.

            My dad’s sermons were fundamentalistic and pietistic, not focused on theological doctrine. He and my mom were practical Christians who emphasized like Billy Graham that God loves and wills for every single person to be saved–that’s the Good News.

            Graham was their hero and mine, too. I still have a very warm memory of being a young adult Crusade counselor and talking with an 11-year-old boy who came forward during Graham’s altar call.

            The only inkling I had of a contrary Baptist religion was when my folks sometimes referred to the G.A.R.B. as intolerant. They had had a very bad experience with that denominational version of the Baptist religion at college.

            They didn’t explain the negative statement. And I didn’t find out until years later when studying church history that the very acronym G.A.R.B. was a reference to Calvinism!

            We “knew” that our Baptist faith was the truth, that
            Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, and Presbyterians in town needed to hear the Good News and get saved:-)

            So, (like I tell atheists and Muslims about their worldviews), I live in a completely different universe than you and all other Reformed.

            I don’t remember reading about Franciscus Junius. So I’m off onto that rabbit trail.

            I see that your other reference, Francis Turretin, isn’t anyone I want to study. According to what I googled, he supported the Synods of Dort.:-(

            One of the most horrific conferences ever, and that doesn’t even get to the executions and banishments the Reformed leaders carried out afterward against the desenters (joked about by Calvinists related to punning meaning of canons:-(

            But hope your PhD studies go well.

          • bibleandbeeswax

            I find your family history really fascinating. I think that a fundamentalist Baptist is just as much a Christian as I am. The same is true of a Methodist and Lutheran (I’m Presbyterian). I mean, I’m assuming that they believe in the Triune God, the true deity and humanity of Christ, and the necessity of faith in Jesus for salvation.

            That’s also interesting about Dort. I wasn’t aware of the executions. Do you think that people can do things that are wrong, but still believe the right teachings? And vice versa too–can they do things that are right or good but believe terrible things? I believe this is the case.

            Junius is definitely worth researching. His most important work, “Treatise on True Theology” is available online (I believe), and the work that he wrote right before that is about the importance of unity among Christians with differing theological beliefs. He studied under Calvin at Geneva. His father was brutally murdered by Roman Catholics. But he still wrote that.

          • David Evans

            Here’s my problem with that. God, being infinitely good, omnipotent and omniscient, must be presumed to have created the best possible world. How can it be said that he has done that, if he creates human beings whom he foresees will sin (finitely, in a finite span of time) and will then suffer an infinite punishment in Hell? It was surely open to him not to create those particular human beings.

            (edited) I don’t buy the argument that since God is infinite, any sin against him is also infinite. We humans cannot even conceive more than a finite part of God, still less can we commit an infinite action.

          • bibleandbeeswax

            Hm. Imagine that you’re a little kid–maybe 4 years old. The president is in town visiting your family because your parents are old friends with him. The same day you find your dad’s gun in a closet, and play with it. You bring it out and accidentally shoot the president. Now–does it matter if you “didn’t understand” the significance of the man you shot? [of course this isn’t a perfect analogy–the child was not doing this purposefully, but our sin against God is purposeful] Sin is an affront against the person sinned against, and its magnitude isn’t dependent upon the understanding or lack of understanding that the sinner has of the victim’s greatness.

          • David Evans

            That’s a terrible analogy. The child shooting the President would be a disaster and the child would be right to feel bad about having done it. That’s because the President is mortal and can be (and in fact has been) damaged. Nothing we do can damage God.
            A better analogy would be if the child insulted the President, using words he had heard from an adult without understanding them. Should he be punished? I don’t think so. Should he feel worse because it was the President? Again I don’t think so.

          • bibleandbeeswax

            *Sigh* It’s just an analogy. The main point is that the magnitude or weight of sin isn’t dependent upon our understanding of the honor/worth of the person we offend. It’s not so much the “size” of the sin (murder versus verbal abuse) but the person offended.

  • Gaedheal

    Hello Father. I’ve an (apologies!) unrelated question, but couldn’t find an email address for you to ask directly. I read a blog of yours which critiqued Syrian (and other) Aramaic versions/translations of The Lord’s Prayer. I was relieved to read the blog as the versions were almost non-recognisable. But I can’t find the closest version to the original utterance of Jesus himself in Galillean/Palestinian Aramaic. Does such a version exist?
    Thank you.