It was only a few days ago that Roger Olson offered these thoughts on why he could not be a Calvinist:
It seems to me that most 5 point Calvinists I know seem bound and determined to believe anything they think the Bible says regardless of how horrific that may be. In other words, IF they became convinced that somehow they had been overlooking something in Scripture (as they think I do) and, in fact, God and the devil are actually the same being such that God is evil, they would believe it because the Bible says it. I, on the other hand, presuppose that God cannot be evil; that goodness and being belong inextricably together or else there is no ground for basic trust.
That’s why we cannot be Calvinists–because IF WE believed what Calvinists believe God would not be good and therefore could not be trusted. We realize that Calvinists (at least most) do not believe God is a monster, but we are saying if WE believed what they believe we would find it necessary to think of God that way–as indistinguishable from the devil. I find most (all?) Calvinists simply sweep that aside as unworthy of consideration and fall back on quoting isolated Bible passages that they think prove their view of God and salvation, etc.
As if on cue, Mark Driscoll devoted a good portion of his sermon yesterday to proving Olson’s point. Here’s a sampling [skip to 4:30 if you don’t have the time to watch it all]:
The quote at 4:30 is as follows:
Some of you, God hates you. Some of you, God is sick of you. God is frustrated with you. God is wearied by you. God has suffered long enough with you. He doesn’t think you’re cute. He doesn’t think it’s funny. He doesn’t think your excuse is meritous [sic]. He doesn’t care if you compare yourself to someone worse than you. He hates them too. God hates, right now, personally, objectively hates some of you.
I have a few questions:
1) What about the rest of the Bible?
Driscoll tells us that God hates, not just sin, but sinners themselves. In support of this proposition, Driscoll quotes a few verses from the imprecatory Psalms. This is exactly what Olson was talking about – the idea that we’ve no choice but to adopt a view of God, no matter how repulsive, if there are a few isolated verses that appear to support it. Does Driscoll really think that the best place to look for clear insight on God’s character is in the anguished cries of a psalmist imploring God to punish his enemies?
Why should those verses force us to overlook the many passages that describe God’s attitude toward the wayward as one of love:
Proverbs 3:12 “For the Lord disciplines those he loves, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights.”
Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Ephesians 2:4-5 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved!”
Luke 13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!”
The overwhelming message of Scripture is that God’s posture towards the rebellious is one of broken-hearted love, not hate.
2) What is the psychological impact of this view of God?
I worry for the children and young people in this church. What kind of fear-based relationship with the Almighty is engendered by your pastor hollering at you that God is sick of you, that God “personally, objectively” hates you? If you internalize the message that God hates you, it’s going to be hard to shake those fears no matter how repentant you become. What if I slip up? What if I fall short? Is the terrifying, wrathful God of hate gone for good or is he hiding around the corner, ready to punish me the moment he gets sick of me again?
As Rob Bell has observed, it’s hard to trust a God who can switch between hate and love in an instant.
3) Where is God the Father?
If you’ve listened to Driscoll enough, you’ll know that he frequently draws upon his experience as a father to explain God’s relationship with us. Strangely, we don’t hear any of those analogies here. We don’t hear Pastor Mark explaining how he hates his children when they rebel. He doesn’t mention that his hatred towards his rebellious children is only assuaged by pouring out his wrath on them (or someone in their stead).
Perhaps we don’t hear this from Driscoll because he’s actually a good and decent father. And because the heart of a good father towards a rebellious child is one of love and reconciliation, not hate.
4) How should we feel towards those outside the church?
Let’s be consistent. If God hates sinners, then so should we. I even have a verse from an imprecatory Psalm to prove it:
Psalm 139:21-22 “O Lord, do I not hate those who hate you, and despise those who oppose you? I absolutely hate them, they have become my enemies!”
I guess we have to follow this verse uncritically as well. Seems the Westboro Baptist Church had the right idea all along.
If you believe God hates sinners, it’s going to affect how you treat them.
5) Is Driscoll’s God “good” in any meaningful sense of the word?
Driscoll’s theology makes a monster out of God. He insists that, “God doesn’t just hate what you do. He hates who you are.” In other words, God hates you because of your sinful nature. Remember that thing you were born with? That thing about which you had absolutely no choice? That’s the thing that makes God hate you.
The idea of God hating people because of a nature they were born with (as per Driscoll’s theology) is the moral equivalent of hating people because of the color of their skin. It’s abhorrent.
6) What does vengeance have to do with justice?
In my view, the most telling part of the sermon comes when Driscoll says the following [at 0:55]:
Some of you say, yes, this is the problem with religion. It’s so primitive. It wants things like justice. And might I say, when someone breaks into your home, so do you. [long pause] It’s the wrath of God.
It’s fairly self-evident that the purpose of the pause is to allow Driscoll’s audience of 20-something men to imagine how they’d want to kick the crap out of someone who broke into their house. This is supposed to help them understand why God wants to kick the crap out of them.
Driscoll’s imaginary critic is quite right. That is “primitive”. Because what Driscoll is describing is not justice – it’s vengeance.
As a criminal defence lawyer, I routinely represent people who have broken into other people’s homes (and worse). Most have tragic stories of dysfunctional families, physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, and drug addiction. The prosecutor will often invite the victim to submit a “victim impact statement” to the court. Some victims are just like Driscoll’s notion of God. They want “justice”, by which they mean that they want the offender to be punished. They were hurt and they want to see the offender hurt in return. In short, they want revenge.
The nobler of the victims respond differently. Sure, they recognize the need for consequences. But they are more concerned with seeing the offender rehabilitated. They want consequences that serve a purpose, namely, to see the offender restored to society. Sometimes they even offer forgiveness, unsolicited.
Justice may require consequences, but by no means does it require the hatred or retributive wrath that Driscoll ascribes to God. [For more on this point, see this thoughtful piece by Steve Douglas.]
Like Roger Olson, I am convinced that the “‘goodness’ attributed to God cannot be totally different from every understanding of goodness (and love) we know of.”
If God is perfectly good, then surely he rises above the human instinct to seek revenge. Surely the Heavenly Father does not hate his children for being what they cannot help but be. Surely he is more like the father of the prodigal son, scanning the horizon for any sign of his beloved child returning.