Is God a moral monster? Is God evil in the Bible? This is a question that is often raised by atheists and other non-Christians who labor to bring forward a case against the biblical model of God. Since God is necessarily righteous, they cannot be believers, for the biblical presentation of God is one that does not measure up. It does not adequately reflect the holiness and righteousness that one would expect from God. This is an atheistic argument that Christians encounter when interacting with the non-believers. Yet, shockingly, and absurdly, there are Christians who mount the same arguments against other Christian conceptions of God. Arminians will often say that if Calvinism is true, then God is a moral monster. They go as far as to say that if the Calvinistic interpretation of the Bible is true, they would forfeit their Christian faith and resign themselves to unbelief and disobedience. Is this reaction warranted? Is God evil is Calvinism is true?
Many reading might be wondering what these terms are that I am using. In the narrowest and most concise sense, Calvinism is an expansion of monergism. Monergism is the view that God alone brings salvation in the human heart. It is the view that when a person has faith, it is because God has saved them already. God actively pursues them and makes them new creatures so that they can turn to him in faith and repentance. I represented this view in my article “Do We Have The Free Will To Choose Salvation?” There are certainly a few moral tones in this doctrine and questions that have to be answered. But rather than engaging the text, some have chosen to change their interpretation of the text based on these moral tones. Hence, we have Arminianism, which is to be taken as an expansion of synergism. Synergism is the view that God is actively pursuing everybody, yet fails in most cases, and only those who respond to him in faith and repentance are saved. Many Arminians (synergists) look at Calvinism (monergism) and raise several moral objections, a few of which you may be shuffling through as you read this. I will address them through the course of this article.
Who is deciding what righteousness is? If a police officer were to take off his badge and doff his blue uniform, get in an unmarked car, and try to pull somebody over, the citizen would not respect the authority of the off-duty cop. But if he is wearing his uniform with his badge, in a marked car with sirens, then the citizen will pull their car over. It is an issue of the authority of the officer. Similarly, when the atheist looks at the Bible and sees him taking a life, what they are seeing is not God’s judgment, but a manifestation of the wicked hearts of man. They have removed God’s authority from Scripture. God can take a life, for he is the one who gave life in the first place. He can send somebody to Hell if he wishes and even bring destruction upon a city. He is God and he is more righteous and more loving than we are. Just consider all of the times that people have made snap judgments and then, when they learned more of the details and context, they repented of their judgment. God’s wisdom and knowledge supersedes our own, and we just do not know enough to make these judgments.
This is something that the Arminian will acknowledge when discussing moral issues with atheists. Yet it seems that they fail to apply that standard to their own theology when they indict God with immorality. For if one is to say that God is behaving in a way that is evil, that is not only blasphemous, but it is a statement born out of ignorance. Indeed, it is precisely the lesson that Job had to learn. When he lost his family, his home and everything that he owned, he questioned God and claimed his own righteousness. He made the same indictment against God that we see Arminians making. The divine response that we see is, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). The Arminian who claims that God is being evil is darkening counsel by words without knowledge. They are assuming to know more than God knows.
After all, this is a discussion about the Bible. The question about whether monergism is true is one that is answered by Scripture. When we exegete Scripture, we need to be honest with the text and not contort it to our own liking. If we find something in Scripture that we disagree with, we need to ensure that we conform our beliefs to Scripture, and not Scripture to our beliefs. For if we conform Scripture to our beliefs, then we are constructing God in our own image. We are creating an idol for ourselves. Is God evil if Calvinism is true? Even if we do not understand why God would do certain things, we have to remember that he is more righteous and more holy than we are, and we just do not know all of the facts. The Bible is God’s word and we need to just conform ourselves to it.
Why did God save one person, and not another? Calvinists are often posed this challenge. If God has it within his ability to freely save everybody, then why does he not freely save everybody? Something interesting that should be remembered is that this is a question that everybody has to deal with. Unless you deny that God knows the future, then you are committed to the belief that God knows who will be saved and who will not be saved. The Arminian answer to this quagmire is that God elects individuals on the basis of their free choice. However, if everybody has an equal opportunity, then the question remains: why did one person choose God, and not another? It cannot be that they were more wise or more righteous, for if that were the case, then we would have a model of works-righteousness. The only resolution to this problem is to say that God provides more grace to the individual so that they may freely choose him, which would lead us back to monergism.
So I am inclined to think that the Arminian has the greater logical quagmire. After all, even if I do not know why God chooses one person and not another, there is nothing that logically compels me to think that therefore, these people have the freedom to choose God. Rather, I am biblically compelled to think that it is simply by the counsel of God’s will. I do not know the answer to this problem. I do not know why God chose one person and not another. But I do know that God is more righteous and holy and I am, and he is in a position to make these decisions. I also know that there really is no logical alternative, for the Arminian resolution leads to a logical problem that only monergism can resolve.
It should also be noted that when presenting this doctrine, Paul anticipated this question and answered it. He writes, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?'” (Romans 9:19). Notice that this is exactly the moral dilemma that the Arminian is raising. Nobody can resist God’s will. How can he possibly still blame us if he is the one who is choosing to save us? Like the rest of us, Paul does not know the answer to this question. It is a logical problem that is left to God to know the answer. He calls us to just put our trust in him, that he is more righteous and loving than we are. He writes, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (Romans 9:20).
In response to this, you might be inclined to suggest that Paul was not talking about individuals, but about nations. Well, first of all, in verse 16, he switches from talking about nations to individuals. But secondly, if Paul were talking about nations, then why did he not provide the logical answer to this problem? The logical question that Arminian exegesis suggests that Paul is answering is, why is God expanding his salvation to include the Gentiles? So, why did he not just say, “God loves Gentiles, too,” or “God is saving the Gentiles so that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” But he does not say those things. Why does he not answer the rhetorical questions? There are very simple answers to that question. Instead, he calls man into obedience to God. He calls man to trust in God’s righteousness. Perhaps the question is more difficult than Arminian exegesis suggests. Perhaps the question is, “why does God save one person, and not another?” Is God evil if Calvinism is true? Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?
How can you fellowship with such a person? If somebody thinks that the God you believe in is evil, how can you join hands and sing hymns with them? The person with whom you are singing thinks that you believe in a God that is evil. Oh, you do not realize that the conception of God that you maintain is evil, but nonetheless, they think that you believe in an evil God. If somebody thinks that you believe in an evil God, how is it that they would think that you were saved? Those two concepts are just utterly incompatible.
Further, how is it that the Calvinist can think that the Arminian who thinks that God is evil, is saved? After all, they are maintaining that the God of the Bible is evil. The Arminian should try to put themselves in the Calvinists’ shoes. The Calvinist believes that this is the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible unconditionally elects people based on his good and sovereign will. The Arminian is looking at the God of the Bible and saying that he is repugnant, unworthy of worship. What sort of fellowship can be had with such a person? Is God evil if Calvinism is true? Well, to maintain such a thing seems to be a disconnect between Arminian and Calvinist fellowship.
Finally, and critically, if it were the case that Calvinism were true, then the Arminian would essentially be blaspheming God. I am not saying that the Arminian who says such a thing is not saved. But I will say that I would not want to answer for such a thing. I would not want to have to explain to God why I called him evil. In response, the Arminian might say that they would stand the judgment seat of God and ask, “so why did you not save those other people?” Suppose, though, that God provided the answer. He told this Arminian the answer to that question at his judgment seat, and it satisfied all of their moral qualms. Would it then not be the case that God could say, again, “Who is it that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”
Evan Minton of CerebralFaith challenged this article. Click here to see his response!
“I thought about writing a counter article to this, but I realized that I’ve already got like 2 different blog posts on Cerebral Faith
where I argue that Calvinism impugns God’s goodness, so I think to write another one would be redundant.
Therefore, I’ll only say this; I do not think there is anything morally wrong with thinking a particular theological viewpoint entails negative consequences. For the record, I do think Calvinism impugns God’s goodness, but that does not mean that I cannot accept Calvinists as brothers and sisters in Christ. One can hold, as Roger Olson and I do, that Calvinism impugns the goodness of God, and still have fellowship with those in the reformed camp.
I think Open Theism and the simple foreknowledge brand of Arminianism impugns God’s sovereignty, but that doesn’t mean I can’t accept them as brothers. I merely think their views entail theologically unacceptable consequences. Would you say that I’m blaspheming God for thinking THAT? Is it blasphemous for me to think that Open Theism and simple foreknowledge Arminianism undermines God’s sovereignty?
FYI, my biggest qualm with Calvinism isn’t that it teaches that God doesn’t want everyone saved, but with universal causal determinism. If people freely chose to sin, and God simply chose not to save them, He’d be giving them their just deserts. After all, God is not obligated to save anyone. I agree with Calvinists on that.
The problem is that on Calvinism, God is actually the one who got them into the sin situation to begin with. He decreed the fall of Adam and Eve, and he “freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass.” which includes sins. But then he chooses not to save most people. He chooses not to save most people from the sins he causally determined them to do? Instead he torments them for it. He torments them from the sins he made them do. What kind of screwed up sense of justice is that?”
Richard: Well, you are not merely saying that a theological stance is wrong. You are saying “if X is true, God is evil.” I am saying that X is true. This means that you think that the God who I believe in is evil. Sure, I do not know that he is evil. But nonetheless, the God I believe in is evil. So it is not a matter of merely critiquing a position. You are critiquing the God who Calvinists believe in.
You’re being logically inconsistent! You affirm the same appeal to mystery in theodicies. You affirm identical logical patterns in other contexts. You are also not addressing the biblical argument that I gave.
Evan: So, I’m allowed to think “If X is true, negative consequence Y would follow?” So if I’m not allowed to think “If Calvinism were true, God would be evil”, I suppose I’m also not allowed to think “If Arminianism were true, God would not be sovereign” or “If open theism were true, God would be an ignorant risk taker” or “If finite goddism were true, God would be weak and pathetic.” Is that what you’re saying?
No, Richard, I don’t believe that you believe in an evil God. You’re a monergist, but (according to your own words at least), you’re a Molinist. This means you can avoid many of the pitfalls that Calvinistic monergism believes, because on your view people have libertarian free will in every other area of life except in whether or not they become Christians. What this is means is that, on your view, God is not punishing people for the sins he made them do, he’s punishing them for the sins they freely chose to do. I see nothing wrong with that. He chose not to save them. He’s not obligated to. Although I would take issue with that on scriptural grounds, from a conceptual perspective, I don’t think such a concept of salvation impugns God’s goodness like the Calvinist version does.
In theodicy, I can provide a plausible explanation for how God might be justified in allowing bad things to occur. What i can’t explain is specific situations, and why God allowed them to occur, for example, 9-11, or the Holocaust. But I can explain at least how it’s possible for God to have morally sufficient reasons for allowing bad things to happen. The problem with Calvinists is that they don’t do that. They argue “God causes everything to occur, but who are we to question Him?” As you’ll notice, I never argue that way with atheists. Instead, I bring out things like the free will defense, and give some illustrations of how God might take a terrible situation and bring good out of it (e.g the soldier getting his legs blown off in a war zone), and I explain that many situations of great suffering have actually resulted in people turning to God for salvation (e.g yours truly). Often I appeal to Dr. Craig’s Chaos Theory and Sliding Doors analogy to show how this can work out in the real world. Every event sends a ripple effect through history, such that circumstance A brings about a circumstance T in the end. Circumstance A being an instance of horrible suffering, circumstance T being a greater good.
True, I cannot explain why God allows every particular instance of suffering. If someone were to ask me “Why didn’t God stop the terrorists from flying the planes into the world trade center”, I’d have to respond “I don’t know”. But I least I can show how it would be possible. Calvinists don’t even do that much when it comes to determinism. They just throw up their hands and say “We don’t know! We don’t know! Stop asking so many questions and accept Calvinism like a good little boy.”
Here’s another thing, even with regards to my own soteriological views, I do have to appeal to mystery sometimes. I don’t know why some choose to receive Christ instead of others, and I don’t know how God has knowledge of all counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (middle knowledge), but I find that I have to appeal to mystery FAR, FAR, FAR less often to explain apparent issues in my soteriology than Calvinists do for theirs. In my discussions with Calvinists, I find that they appeal to mystery like 80-90% of the time. I find that I have to do it maybe…10-20% of the time. Something is glaringly wrong with a view when almost all of the major issues brought up against it are brushed aside with an appeal to mystery.
Richard: Everything that you are saying reminds me of Bart Ehman’s book on why the Bible fails to solve the problem of evil. You are bringing yourself to question the character of God. Proper theodicy is not in explaining why evil things happen. Proper theodicy is in appealing to the character of God and saying that we trust in him. He is more righteous than we are, and so, is worthy of our reverence and respect. Your comments implicitly deny that. Your comments implicitly regard your moral dictates as of greater value than God’s. You are using reasoning that is inherently atheistic.
Job is the typical model for proper theodicy. In the book of Job, we see God allowing Satan to bring calamity. God uses this secondary source to take Job’s home, his family, even going so far as taking their lives. When Job questions God, God tells him that he needs to trust in him. Who is it that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? When we question God’s moral actions, we are speaking without knowledge.
On Page 173 of God’s Problem: How The Bible Fails To Answer Life’s Most Important Question – Why We Suffer, Bart Ehrman offers pretty much an identical response to what you said. He writes, “God appears at the end of the poetic exchanges, and refuses to give an answer.” He goes on to complain on page 188, “God does not explain why Job suffers. He simply asserts that he is the Almighty, and as such, cannot be questioned… God is not to be questioned, and reasons are not to be sought… Doesn’t this mean that God can maim, torment, and murder at will and not be held accountable?” Ehrman applies this reasoning precisely because he denies biblical authority. He denies who God is.
The reason that we are not to question God is because he is more righteous than we are. He is more loving that we are. When he makes a moral judgment, we can trust it, and acknowledge that we simply do not have enough information to indict God. That is the pious response to God’s morality. But your response to God’s moral system is to stand in judgment over God. You complain, with Ehrman, that we cannot question God. We need reasons. God has to give an accounting to us. Well, that is just not the theodicy that the Bible presents. We would all be better off if we just put our trust in God and assume that he knows more than we do. Lest we behave like atheists.
With that in mind, I do not find your comparison to Arminianism or open theism compelling. For to say, “God is not sovereign,” is not akin to saying, “God is evil.” For in saying, “God is evil,” you are moralizing, while in saying, “God is an ignorant risk-taker,” we are philosophizing. By saying that a Calvinist worships a God who is evil, I do view that as borderline blasphemous and, at the very least, impious. It is not that you are just following things to their logical conclusions. It is not that you are restricted in your thoughts. It is that you are not trusting in the perfect righteousness of God. You are moralizing, while in the case of open theism and Arminianism, we are philosophizing.
I have reviewed your articles on the topic, and while you may say that you addressed my points, you simply did not. Your points are what I was addressing. The atheistic stream of argumentation that you presented was what I was responding to.
Evan: I do not stand in judgment over God, but some things are mystery and other things aren’t. There’s nothing mysterious about determinism. It is evil to cause other people to do evil. I’d have to have to turn off my brain in order to believe otherwise. Common sense will not permit me to believe otherwise. I cannot force myself to believe there is anything the least bit praiseworthy about a determinist God. As C.S Lewis once said “nonsense is still nonsense even when we speak it about God”. You arrogantly accuse me of standing in judgment over God and using “atheistic reasoning” when all I am doing is simply rejecting nonsense that is applied to him. Not everything can be solved by appealing to “God’s mysterious ways”. Some things aren’t mystery, some things really are nonsensical. Determinism turns God’s courtroom into a cruel joke.
I’m quite open to being convinced otherwise, but no Calvinist has ever been able to do so. Instead, all I ever receive are condemnations like what you’re doing right now, or else they appeal to mystery. Neither are very convincing. Yes, I do need reasons to believe something is true. Rational people demand reasons to believe. If I am to believe that it is somehow not evil to make someone do evil, someone’s going to have to show me how.
Moreover, the fact of the matter is that I DO trust God. I trust that God is perfectly good. That is one of the biggest reasons that I reject Calvinism. In fact, there’s an argument I recently conjured up against Calvinism based on that premise.
1: If Calvinism were true, God would be evil.
2: God is not evil.
3: Therefore, Calvinism is not true.
This is a logically valid argument since it takes the form modus tollens. Therefore, all one needs to do to reach the conclusion is to affirm both premises. I do affirm both of them.
I stand by my convictions. I will accept Calvinists as brothers and sisters despite what you may say. I can reject a viewpoint without rejecting one of its adherents, just as I still consider you a brother and a friend despite all the nonsense you’ve spewed about me in your last comment.
I don’t appreciate being accused of blasphemy and impiety, so if you’re going to do that, we might as well drop the conversation
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