Can a Calvinist Honestly Say “God Loves You” to Everyone?
Recently a leading American Calvinist pastor-theologian has asked and answered this all-important question on his blog: Can a Calvinist (and he means himself and those who agree with him) honestly say “God loves you” to everyone and anyone?
I have answered this question in Against Calvinism (Zondervan) and here, on my blog, before. But I’ll go at it again—for those who haven’t read what I have said about it before and elsewhere.
Simply put—no, a consistent “TULIP Calvinist,” one who believes in double predestination, cannot say honestly “God loves you” to everyone and anyone without meaning something very unusual and very odd by “loves.”
There is no analogy in human experience to determining a fellow human being to torment (let alone eternal torment) as punishment for doing what the fellow human being could not have avoided doing. Especially when what the fellow human being did was inwardly determined by the person doing the punishing.
John Wesley already explored and answered this question about whether a Calvinist can honestly say “God loves you” to everyone and anyone. In his two sermons “Predestination Calmly Considered” and “Free Grace” the revivalist-theologian and Arminian founder of the Methodist tradition said of that “love” it is such love as makes the blood run cold. Why?
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Again, I have to remind Calvinists and everyone of the inextricable connection between the Calvinist doctrines of providence and predestination. According to classical, historical, consistent Calvinism (from Calvin to Edwards to Hodge to Piper), God has determined everything that happens to happen exactly as it does happen without any exceptions. And that includes the fall of Adam and all of his posterity.
I believe it was Charles Wesley who expressed this in a cutesy rhyme about the leading Calvinist of Arminius’s day in the Netherlands, Franciscus Gomarus: “Francisco Gomarus was a supralapsarius; he actually gave Adam and excuse. God had decreed, foreordained Adam’s deed. God had pre-cooked Adam’s goose.” In that cutesy rhyme “Gomarus” simply stands for all TULIP Calvinists, not just supralapsarians.
Is it possible to say to an audience of unknown people “God loves you” without serious qualifications (such as “if you are one of his elect”)? Not and mean “loves” in any sense of the word outside of the Calvinist system. There it has to take on a unique, idiocyncratic meaning. No longer can it mean “benevolence;” it has to mean something radically different.
In the Calvinist system, every person’s eternal destiny is determined by God and God renders his or her “free choices,” including sin and lack of repentance for sin, certain by whatever means (e.g., by withholding the grace needed to repent). This is all for God’s glory—to manifest his attributes including justice through wrath. As Calvin’s Genevan successor Theodore Beza so well put it: Those who find themselves suffering in hell for eternity can at least take comfort in the fact that they are there for the greater glory of God.”
So what do Calvinists say? Well, one in particular says that God genuinely grieves over each sinner who fails to repent and necessarily ends up in hell. God genuinely wishes that were not the case. On the other hand, God is the one who designed the whole plan and scheme and rendered each individual’s eternal destiny certain.
Again, to repeat Wesley’s quip: that “love” is such a love as makes the blood run cold. And I add, the word “love” in such a sentence (“God loves you”) said to a reprobate person is equivocal.
The hyper-Calvinist is a consistent Calvinist. He (or she) is one who believes it is wrong to say “God loves you” unconditionally and indiscriminately to a group of people when one does not know who among them may be elect or reprobate. “God loves you and wants to save you” is not, the hyper-Calvinist says, a well-meant offer, so it should not be uttered to a crowd of people or even to an individual if one is not certain he or she is elect (and how can one ever know)? I respect hyper-Calvinists for their logical consistency.
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