Scripture Against Calvinism #5

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. Philippians 3:18

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Romans 9:1

In both these passages, Paul expresses grief that some people will be damned. The passage in Philippians is broad and applies to everyone who does not believe, while the second passage in Romans applies only to the Jews who have not believed. In the passage in Philippians, Paul says that it is “with tears” that he tells them that many “live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” This means he finds no satisfaction in the fact that people are going to be damned. He also is not indifferent to it, as one would expect him to be if it were decreed by God “before the foundation of the world.”

Would Paul express this grief if he thought that it is in the original will of God to damn these people? To put the question another way, as Leighton Flowers has remarked, would Paul express an attitude toward the damned that he doesn’t think God has? Would Paul express grief about the damned, to the point of wanting to take their place ( in the Romans passage), if he didn’t believe that God himself had the same attitude? If you do think that this is possible, that Paul is, in effect, more self-sacrificial than God, then you would have to believe that Paul has a virtue or some goodness which God does not have, which would mean that God is not perfectly or fully good, because there are those who have virtues he does not have. Perhaps you might say that because of the difference in position and authority ( the difference of role), there are virtues that are appropriate for humans beings to display but that are not appropriate for God. That is the only way I think a Calvinist could get out of this dilemma, but it’s not clear how that could be. Christian teaching tends to affirm very strongly that every single drop of goodness comes from God and is perfectly manifested in God. Elsewhere in the Bible, the prophets directly attribute grief to God about the disobedience of the damned, which was the subject of my second post in this series. In addition, Jesus laments the Jews’ disobedience (and presumably, their consequent condemnation) in this well-known passage (Matthew 23:37):

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

So these passages directly attribute to God grief for the damned, which answers the question. God does have the same attitude as Paul, but holds it even more fully and strongly and perfectly than Paul does. What’s more, we do see the origin of Paul’s attitude toward the damned in God through the traditional conception of the Atonement, as universal and available to all people if they repent and believe.

Alternatively, you can believe that these passages are not inspired. But if Paul does have the same attitude as God, then Calvinists have a contradiction on their hands. They have to believe then that God is very grieved about the damned, so much so as to wish to take their place, but at the same time wills them to be damned in his original will. This is a contradiction. It means that God simultaneously wants and does not want people to be damned. By the “original will” of God, I mean part of his original intention and design for things “before the foundation of the world”. It is not a conditional will that occurs as a result of peoples’ rebellion and refusal to repent. Let’s illustrate this with an analogy. Say two parents have a wayward child, who commits increasingly worse wrongs. His parents are patient with him and discipline him gently each time. One day he does something terrible and they punish him more severely. Yet they are very grieved by their child’s behaviour and by the need for the punishment. To illustrate Calvinism and non-Calvinist positions, there are two ways to make sense of this story. One is that the parents love the child and do not want to punish the child in their “original will”, but do punish him as a result of his evil acts. In the second scenario, they do want to punish him in their original will, but also do not want to punish him in their original will ( because they are grieved by the fact that he needs to be punished). The latter is a contradiction and does not make sense. You can hold that God has an original will and a conditional will that are at odds. God wills the best for everybody ( original will) but wills that some be condemned ( as a conditional will). An original will can be incompatible with a conditional will, because the one will is contingent. For example, my original will is to eat cake. But given that it has fallen on the floor, I no longer want to eat it. My original will to eat the cake does not contradict my conditional will to not eat it, because it has fallen on the floor. I still want to eat the cake even though it has fallen on the floor, so that will hasn’t changed, but I’m not going to eat the one that has fallen on the floor even though I may have intended to do so originally. But you cannot maintain that God has two original wills that are at odds; that God’s original will is both that people be damned and that all be saved. This is analogous to me wanting to eat the cake and not wanting the eat cake from the start. This is fully contradictory.

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