What did I mean by this? I meant that in making their case sometimes Universalists take for granted the idea that God loves us all. They will argue against hell in the context of a loving God based on certain biblical passages that indicate God loves all men and desires our salvation. Often the argument will revolve around passages that tell us to love our neighbor, forgive our neighbor, do unto others, and so on. These passages, however, do not carry a lot of weight with Calvinists. And there's a reason for this. The Calvinists understand these passages to contain a hidden subtext. The subtext is twofold:
- We are not to love our neighbor in the sense that we could not also love a God who may hate them, and
- We are to love our neighbor only because God says so, and not because of any intrinsic value we attach to their existence.
This might seem to preclude any love at all, at least as we would normally understand the term. So exactly how and why are we to love our neighbor? To understand this, you must also understand the Calvinist vision of God and where man stands in relation to Him. It goes something like this: God has created vessels of wrath—the reprobate—and vessels of mercy—the elect. He created the reprobate to punish and He does not, nor did He ever, love them. They will spend eternity in hell. On the other hand, He created the elect to love. They will spend eternity in Heaven. But in the meantime we are all here sharing this earth and no-one knows for sure which of us are elect and which are reprobate. And so, in His infinite wisdom, God has decided it would be best if we all treated each other as either elect or potentially elect people. In other words, we are to understand that while God may hate our neighbors, we are to love them. We love them provisionally, until the veil of election is lifted and we are free to join God in hating them.
Now I would like to examine what I believe are two problems with this theory.
- The Witness of Conscience
Now, how might Norman react to all of this? Well, there are any number of ways he might react, but for the purposes of my illustration, I am going to propose just two, and then examine the implications of each one with regard to the issue at hand. One way Norman might react is as follows: As he watches his wife weeping in the corner, Norman is overcome with remorse. He cannot believe he treated his wife in this manner. With tears streaming down his face, he throws his arms around her and begs for forgiveness. He feels genuinely bad for what he did to her. Although he knows his behavior violated God's commands, it is not that fact, per se, that grieves him, for the harm was done not to God, but to the woman made in His image—the precious, wonderful women he adores. This is why his conscience is stricken. He has harmed his wife and he fells genuinely bad about it.
Now, let's examine another way that he might react—a more Calvinistic way. As he watches his wife weeping in the corner, Norman is overcome with remorse. He cannot believe he committed such a flagrant violation of God's commands. With tears streaming down his face, he throws his arms around her and asks for forgiveness, although he knows it is truly God who is the offended party, and whose forgiveness is required. He feels genuinely bad for what he did to Him. He does fell a certain sentimental remorse for assaulting his wife, but comforts himself with the thought that she has no intrinsic worth, and in fact is probably despised by God anyway.
These are two very different responses to the same sin. Which one is more consistent with ultimate truth? If you are a Calvinist, you must say the second.
That's the first problem I have with provisional love. Now, for the second.
2. James 3:9-10
James 3:9-10 says: With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
In this verse we have what I believe is a fairly explicit repudiation of the Calvinist idea that we are to attach no inherent worth to our fellow humans. Norman is to feel bad for harming his wife, not because God says not to, but because his wife was made in God's image. There's a big difference between the two. And the second one simply does not square very well with the idea of provisional love.