Calvinism and Universalism: Separated At Birth?
Both C and U can scream all they like about
misrepresentation, but I’ve written plenty about the details of both in this blog to support what I’ve summarized here. I have noted that their adherents often have not thought through to the logical conclusions of their beliefs, which accounts for much of the outrage. Continuing on the theme of degree versus kind, let us note how very much alike these two presumed opposites are:
C- God’s sovereignty exists in a vacuum (love/mercy doesn’t matter)
U- God’s love exists in a vacuum (holiness/justice doesn’t matter)
C- God makes some people love him eventually
U- God makes all people love him eventually
C- Evangelism really doesn’t matter because all the elect are guaranteed to be saved
U- Evangelism really doesn’t matter because all people are guaranteed to be saved
C- Prayer really doesn’t matter because God will always do what he has decreed
U- Prayer really doesn’t matter because God will always do what’s best for us
C- In the end, there is no free will to reject God because God will do whatever is necessary to turn some people toward him
U- In the end, there is no free will to reject God because God will do whatever is necessary to turn all people toward him
I’m sure more comparisons could be made, but the point is that in both systems God forces people to accept him, regardless of the means or time it may take. The end result is inevitable, whether it applies to some or to all. And both systems have their internal inconsistencies, for example:
C- If most will spend eternity in hell because God is sovereign, then God is a cold-blooded monster. If God gives most people false hope by commanding the gospel to be spread to those he had reprobated, then God is a deceiver. If God fills the scriptures with commands for us to choose while knowing all the while that we have no such ability, then God is psychotic and wicked.
U- If no one will spend eternity in hell because God is love, then any and all suffering of any duration should never happen. Either suffering is incompatible with God’s love or it isn’t, regardless of whether that suffering is temporary or eternal. Would a loving God allow babies to die of disease, hunger, or violence? And for annihilationism, how is either love or justice served by ending people’s existence, since a loving God would have chosen not to make anyone who would reject him--- meaning God is the worst kind offair weather friend?
Unbelievers have long ago seen through these contradictions. If God is love then he is not sovereign (evil obviously happens, so God must be powerless to stop it), but if he is sovereign then he is not love (he is able to stop evil from happening but chooses not to). The Cs and Us simply ignore the contradictions/logical conclusions or engage in the fallacy of
special pleading, while the anti-theists engage in the fallacy of
false dilemma (or
non sequitur) and declare that God cannot possibly exist because he is self-contradictory. I encourage you to pause and take a look at this article and the excellent conversation following. One comment seemed particularly well-stated in exposing unconditional election as the common root of both views:
As English Puritanism evolved, it did lead to unitarian universalism, in both the US and England. And rather quickly. Part of this is due, at least in part, to its emphasis on the role of election. Rather than the emphasis being on choice (which emphasis I see all over the pages of the New Testament), the imbalanced emphasis on election seems directly related to a universalizing trajectory. I simply do not think the moral intuitions of men and women can sustain at one and the same time election as Calvinists understand it and the moral life of choosing. If they do not give up on teaching election traditionally taught, then they cannot for long live with the conclusion that we were born to go to hell and only a few born to go to heaven. This is too morally repugnant to keep present to the soul as a continual theme. It is interesting how long people will hold on to the doctrine of election (traditionally conceived), even if it leads to universalism. A strange situation.
So it would seem that to put God in any kind of vacuum (love or sovereignty) is a self-defeating position. But what happens if we remove God from the contrived vacuums? Many have tried and failed to reconcile both the sovereignty and love of God, but debates such as this, the Trinity, etc. never seemed to have been deemed of great importance to the apostles. Can it be possible that they considered such questions rather like a fish pondering the existence of water— a kind of
goes without saying thing? The answer, as I’ve tried to explain it here many times, is love, and very well-stated in yet another comment at that article:
I would preserve free will, even if I were allowed to choose between election of all to heaven and free will with not all saved, for the same reason that God did: one cannot have a real relationship of love without the possibility of rejection and of choosing the loved even in the face of difficulty. I think that love is the higher and more primary rationale over moral responsibility, and that moral responsibility is the corollary of freely willed love. That is, it is necessary to make how God deals with rejection of his love (i.e., hell, annihilation) moral.
One would think that the Universalist would see this clearly: love isn’t love if it isn’t free, and if it’s free then it must allow love to be rejected.
Yet one would also think that the Calvinist would see this clearly: if God is truly sovereign then he has the right to allow people to have free will, and can even let them influence his decisions or actions.
And one would think as well that the anti-theist would see this clearly: only a loving God would, in spite of his sovereignty, allow his creatures to defy him and reject his love.
In the Bible, God is described as sovereign, just, holy, etc., but love is the only thing he is said to be; God doesn’t merely have love, he is love. Therefore, his sovereignty can never operate without it. Justice and mercy are not incompatible but complementary; each by itself would deny the nature of God. Jesus’ sacrifice is what allowed mercy without violating justice. So there will be ultimate justice as well as ultimate mercy, and which we receive depends completely on our personal choice regarding the love of God extended by grace through faith in the risen Jesus.
But keep in mind that all these things extend beyond this life; justice isn’t denied forever though it may be delayed in this life. Yet at the same time, even eternity isn’t guaranteed to change people from rejecting God to accepting him. It’s quite probable that this particular choice will be denied once we leave earth; otherwise we have to concede that people could choose to reject God after having been in heaven.
The objection then arises,
But that’s crazy! Nobody in hell would choose to stay there, and nobody in heaven would choose to leave. Yet we know from experience that this is not true; many who have been in prison are released only to commit their crimes again and be sent right back. Anti-theists tend to take the attitude that to bow to God is far more distasteful than the agonies of hell, and some have stated openly that they would never regret their choice. (This was actually the point of an early episode of Star Trek called The Menagerie:
Humans’ history shows them to have a hatred for captivity, even if it is pleasant and benevolent.) Of course nobody wants to suffer, but given a choice between suffering and bowing to God, many people’s pride is so great that they would prefer suffering. This, I believe, may be at least part of what the Bible means by
the secret of lawlessness (2 Thes. 2:7). And it is the sin of pride which made Satan what he is, and will be forever.
At the heart of such choices, besides pride, is really faith: the Christian trusts God to be like a father rather than a slave owner, while the unbeliever trusts that either there is no afterlife or it won’t be like the Bible says it will. The Christian trusts that there will be justice at last for victims and soothing for the oppressed, while the anti-theist isn’t concerned about unpunished evildoers or innocent victims.
But what about the Calvinist and the Universalist? They fare no better than the anti-theist, because the C denies the injustice of sending babies to hell while the U denies the injustice of sending murderers to heaven. The fact is that all three perspectives fail to follow their beliefs to their logical conclusions, and all three have a distorted definition of love and power.
To repeat what I’ve said often, this life is a test and the world is under the temporary juristiction of Satan. We should expect only bad things to happen here, but the fact that good things happen too is proof that God still puts limits on Satan’s sovereignty, stolen by trickery as it was. Our task is to choose where to put our faith and to have that faith tested, and we cannot demand a chance to change our answers after the test has been graded because that would be most unfair to those who passed it legitimately.
When you consider where each argument leads and examine whether they are consistent or not, you have a choice to make. And in light of the turmoil in the world these days, those of us who have put our trust in Jesus should have a special sense of urgency. If we love the lost we will do everything we can to implore them to reconcile with God through Jesus, because terrible times are about to come to the earth. Yes, it’s been bad enough, but Jesus told of a time when
there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now— and never to be equaled again (Mat. 24:21). If God is love, sovereign, just, merciful, and holy— not just a few of those but all of them— then we can only conclude that the time of choosing is temporary:
So while it is still called Today, if you hear his voice don’t harden your hearts... And who did he swear would never enter his rest? The disbelieving. Now we can see that they were not able to enter because of distrust. So then, beware that while the promise of entering his rest is left open you are not left out, because we too have been brought the good news. But hearing the word did them no good because it was not mixed with faith. (Heb. 3:15-4:2)
Calvinism must come to grips with the damage it does to the love of God, and Universalism must come to grips with the damage it does to the holiness of God. Focus on the love of God and remember that love must be free; this will answer any objection about various scriptures typically offered as proof that God is either unloving or weak— or self-contradictory. We cannot watch people run toward the edge of a cliff and do nothing to warn them, or to deny they’ll fall to their deaths; we must speak the whole truth if we care. But above all, we must know the God we worship.