Saturday, June 19, 2010

Calvinism and the resignation to hell

A reader of my blog asked me what I thought about a question Calvinists sometimes discuss: would you still love God if He were sending you to hell?

The idea of this question is to cause one to evaluate his or her love for God and its purity. If one says he/she would not love God if they knew He was going to send them to hell for eternity, would it not then mean that the love one has is not truly for God but for His gifts? Thus the Christian who truly loves God for God's sake would love Him as the highest good regardless of His dealings with the individual in question.

So what do I think of this discussion? It is useless, and harmful, only leading the Christian to despair or boasting.

This question is useless simply because it is not addressed in scripture. Scripture nowhere says "love God regardless of His gifts." This is to separate God from His gifts which is impossible. The God who is to be loved is Himself a God of love and mercy. Our motivation for loving God, like all other Christian acts, is Christological. As the apostle John states, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." (1 John 3:16) He states again, "We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19) The very basis for our love of God in scripture is that He saved us. To ask whether or not we would love God if it meant resigning ourselves to hell is to say the very opposite and to take Christ out of the equation. Scripture does not contain the abstract command "love God above all else" as an Aristotelian "highest good", but commands this only within the context of our redemption in Christ. A Christless, speculative discussion is not a Christian one.

I say this question is harmful because it will make the Christian doubt or make him proud. It is harmful because the honest Christian must look at his own heart for his assurance. "Do I really love God? Is my love of God sincere? Is it sincere enough?" Since one must love God to be saved, one then wonders if he truly has been regenerated by God's Spirit, and if God indeed truly loves him. This question is actually not new within Calvinism but was often discussed in the middle ages. It appeared commonly within the late medieval German mysticism that Luther was steeped in. This may have in fact been one of the reasons Luther was so often in despair about the state of his soul. This question can do nothing but drive ones assurance inward, and when he looks inside himself, he will see a sinner with impure motives.
If one answers this question in the positive, I submit that he is lying. To say that one would suffer eternal damnation for the sake of Christ's glory out of total love for God is to say that one has actually fulfilled the first commandment. Well here's some news for you: no one has. If you think you have, you need to repent of your pride and ask God to reveal the sin that still lies within your heart.

Ultimately, this question is speculative. Scripture does not ask us to even think about these concepts. When thinking about love of God, don't just focus on God in His eternal glory, but upon the cross of Christ where He revealed His love for us. Only through the lens of the cross can we truly love the God who sits on His throne controlling the universe by His sovereign power, because only through the cross can we approach Him and begin to see His gracious character.