In this post, we will be talking about why people may have difficulty taking some Christian doctrines seriously and that it is entirely our fault.
The problem, I contend, is that through failing to fully rationalise our own doctrines, when others do it for us they see not a loving God but an evil one.
As with all my articles, I will preface with a few definitions so there is no doubt or confusion.
This article rests on the axiom that all scripture is good for establishing doctrine. In this article I am going to be talking about two topics:
That is not to say that one is the other, I do not wish to say that, only that one rises in the context of the other.
What is evil?
Evil, in the abstract, is a noun or verb indicating a thing, action, or entity that is in any way harmful or tending to harm or profoundly immoral and wicked. I’m going to go one step further and state that evil is the seeking or willful attainment of privilege or agency without the implied responsibility or price associated with it.
For example, a person wants a car but being unwilling to pay for it they steal it. For another example, the bully who waits until the teacher is not looking and takes the paper-round money earned by a smaller child. Both of these are privilege without responsibility.
The opposite of this form of evil, responsibility without any agency, is an injustice. For example, slavery where people are expected to work hard but not enjoy the fruits of their labour. The Romans had a particularly violent form of this injustice – decimation. Should a military commander fail spectacularly his troops might be lined up and every tenth man would be killed.
The Romans had a particularly violent form of this injustice – decimation. Should a military commander fail spectacularly his troops might be lined up and every tenth man would be killed. This too was responsibility without agency.
What is Calvinism
I am going to be talking about Calvinism throughout this post. I do not intend to give a full overview of Calvinistic doctrines and would probably not do a very good job of it but here are the basics.
To quote the Wikipedia on predestination:
Reformed theologians teach that sin so affects human nature that they are unable even to exercise faith in Christ by their own will. While people are said to retain will, in that they willfully sin, they are unable not to sin because of the corruption of their nature due to original sin. Reformed Christians believe that God predestined some people to be saved.
To summerise, Calvinism teaches that we lack a completely free will. The atonement is limited and was only for the elect. Calvinism is, therefore, a predestination, doctrine.
This is generally coupled with a doctrine that only those that accept Christ in the form of a sinner’s prayer, or similar are the elect and all other souls are bound for hell.
What is an evil god doctrine
An evil god doctrine arises when we fail to fully rationalise our own doctrines. Often when we chose a theistic framework and try to jam in doctrines that are not a good fit. In this case, you guessed it, jamming extras into Calvinism.
When fully and logically explored the god being presented mutates into a vicious and malignant being deserving of no-one’s worship.
Dissecting an evil god doctrine
The atonement is limited and was only for the elect is pretty harsh but, you know, kismet – fate is fate. Right? Yeah, I’m not fully convinced but that is another discussion for another time.
The problem arises when some Calvinists try to combine predestination with pre-reformation theology without thinking through the consequences.
This sealed fate paradigm is less than ideal for motivational recruitment. So, somewhere along the line, evangelical ideas of “reaching the lost” get added to the mix. Now you find a doctrine that heaven and hell are a done deal with a drive to go out and make converts and “save people”.
A “god” who loves everyone but you
One of the inherent weaknesses of this doctrine is that it preaches John 3:16 with God loving the world but at the same time not enough to save everyone.
This is countered with the claim that while it is true that God is love He is also infinitely just and His law is absolute. Thus we have a God angry at sinners for being sinners but some (via verses like Exodus 33:19) will get the gift of a free pass.
From the other side of the fence – as a hell-bound soul, it must seem like God is picking favourites. Whichever way you cut it, this is very hard to reconcile with claims of an infinitely loving God.
This is, apparently, perfect justice. I don’t see it myself but I am not here to discuss Calvinism as a whole. If Christians want to believe that they had no choice but to accept Christ, I am willing to let them believe that.
Blaming the victim
At the more extreme end of things, you have well-meaning and otherwise mild-mannered Christians who espouse the belief that the condemned sinner is somehow responsible for their own damnation.
Now, I should point out this is not a Calvinistic doctrine. It is not even especially compatible with Calvinism. This free will aspect is a pre-reformation idea found more commonly in, for example, Catholic dogma.
This leads quite logically to a doctrine where the choice is God’s but the responsibility for is ours. Which, as we established earlier, is the definition of evil.
You cannot blame a victim who lacks any agency for what was done to them and still claim justice has been served. The child forced to hand over his money for the “crime” of being weaker might not have any choice but that child is a victim of injustice no matter how many times the bully says “You are lucky, other bullies would beat you up as well.”
Evil god in the wild
Lest you think I am making this stuff up I present to you an actual example of this doctrine being preached. This is a blog called The Gospel Truth written by a man named Bob Hutton. I have no doubt that Mr Hutton is sincere in his zeal for the gospel but someone has sold him some incompatible doctrines.
Remember, too, that the natural man refuses to accept God’s word unless their eyes are opened (1st Cor. 2 v 14).
Either way, by pointing out that God has opened the way for people to be saved we put them on notice that, if they end up in Hell, it is entirely their own fault.
In case you think that Maybe Mr Hutton has just not made his point very clearly, he clarifies in the comments:
If you die in your sins and end up in Hell, you have no complaint because you have received justice, and the blame for your sin, and its consequences, is entirely yours.
If God plants the gift of faith in you and converts you (John 6 v 65), then He has shown you His mercy, and all glory goes to Him.
And agains, citing John 5:40 (out of context, I might add), Mr Hutton says:
the choice is God’s but the responsibility is still man’s
This responsibility without agency, as we defined already, is the injustice that evil serves. It makes for a very strange form of Calvinism. By strange, I mean self-refuting and contradictory.
The “god” presented there appears to be a bully demanding people suffer the outcomes of His choices. Mr Hutton’s answer, though not untypical, defines an evil god. This is the perfect illustration of a failure to fully rationalise our own doctrines.
This god only picks some people and the rest he condemns for not being picked. It is a doctrine devoid of love but packed to the nines with condemnation and blame.
It is also not just a little smug. The “saved” sitting there smugly telling everyone else that he or she is “teacher’s pet” and everyone else is doomed. What worries me most is that no one who espouses this doctrine is the least bit bothered by this. It is as if their very sense of justice were somehow scorched and blinded.
What is the problem with “evil god” doctrines?
The problems with this hybrid Calvinism are manifold. Not only are we unlikely to convince any rational people of a loving God while also presenting them with a self-evidently evil lying god but we look like we have no idea what we are talking about.
Much worse, though, are the implications of the evil god doctrine.
In John 5:19 we see Jesus saying that he only does as His Father does. Ephesians 5:1 commands that we also imitate God. We see in teaching’s, such as Mr Hutton’s, the outworking of that where, imitating the evil god, they effectively say “I have no pity, this is all your own fault.” The resultant behaviour is devoid of compassion or kindness. It is without love.
If a country ever enacted statutes that imitated this god, you would have a country where one person commits a crime and quite another can be punished for it. We call such regimes oppressive and evil.
The fruit of this doctrine is evil because the god (root) of this doctrine is evil. As Matthew 7:15-20 says, by their fruit you shall know them.
What’s the solution to the “evil god” problem?
There are three possible solutions as far as I can tell.
- Refine your doctrines to weed out the ones that do not belong
- Reject all your current doctrines and start again
- Resign yourself to worshipping an evil and inconsistent god
This extreme-Calvinist doctrine arises from a failure to think through the doctrines that have been loaded in together. Doctrines which simply do not fit together. Such self-refuting doctrines could be avoided altogether if we made even a little more effort to fully rationalise and consider what it is we claim to believe.
At the very least, we must take note of 1 John 4:1-3 and put the teachings that are presented to us to the test. Those that lead to a hate-filled god are, scripturally, anti-christ. Something I am sure zealots, such as Mr Hutton, would want nothing to do with.
I would be prepared to accept a relatively indifferent god if the Calvinistic framework were to not also include a blaming the victim mentality. I might, with some persuasion be willing to see God as loving for only saving some.
As long as some proponents of Calvinism also try to have their cake and eat it, the conclusion must be that the god they worship is evil.
What I am saying is that’s not my God.
That’s not my God
I do not know this evil god that the extreme-Calvinists preach.
The God that I worship is loving (1 John 4:8), His mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13), and is well able to save us all (Isaiah 59:1).
The God that I worship does everything he says He will (Numbers 23:19). He says that His intention is to save all mankind (I Timothy. 2:4) because he is full of loving compassion (Psalm 103:8) and cares about the well being of people (Matthew 9:36) and expects us, his followers, to be the same.
The God that I worship sent His son, Jesus, to Earth as a ransom all (1 Timothy 2:6) from the grip of our imperfections (sins) and grant us the power to forgive sins (John 20:23).
The good news that makes me glad is a good news of restoration, not this dictatorial nonsense. How about you?