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.


Tom Hering said...

I agree it's a harmful question, because it encourages us to wonder if a lie about God might be true, i.e., His final judgment can be the opposite of what He promises sinners.

I suppose someone posing the question wants us to affirm Job's pious declaration, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him" (Job 13:15). But Job's declaration was an expression of his self-righteousness - something God mercifully cleansed him of.

Let's flip the question around to arrive at a truth. "Would you still hate God if He were sending you to heaven?" Yes. Because our old nature still clings to us, and is always ready to accuse God when life becomes painful.

JDK said...

I'm Reformed, and I even find that a stupid question. If you were loving God, you wouldn't be going to hell. If God were to send you to hell even if you loved Him, God would be acting against His very nature.

If the question was perhaps reframed in this way: Is God still good if He sends someone to hell? I would say yes since God would still be just in doing so.

luthergrace said...

good thoughts. the love of God is offered to all. but the only ones who truly love him are ones risen from the dead (spiritual death). so, to ask someone if they would love God for sending them to hell in his justice is to ask one regenerated if they would give up their regeneration to somehow sake the lust of an evil and backstabbing god - which God is NOT.

God displayed his love in sending his Son only. through his death we first experience it, and through his resurrection we are given its benefits. the love of God is something only his people can understand, and even then, we fail to understand the depths of its strength.

Josh Brisby said...

Hey Jordan, I'm a Calvinist who has a great appreciation for Lutheranism. I've been wanting to chat with you, sent you a few e-mails. Please contact me at We have much in common--musically as well. :)

Christopher said...


This comes up in Luther's "Lectures on Romans" around the 8th or 9th chapter...he says there are three kind of people (as Christians?) and that the highest level of faith is loving God even if He were to send you to Hell because you would love His will in all things.

Obviously Dr. Luther and I have a disagreement on this issue, but I think there is something more than what a surficial reading of him will give you.

Jordan Cooper said...

I do remember Luther pointing this out in his Romans lectures. However, this kind of language does not occur in his later writings.

Anonymous said...

Once again the wonderful reminder that we are to remain Christological in our Theological thoughts is voiced. Thank you for this post. John 14:8-10 sets this crazy challenge right. I must admit I have set the very question out for discussion and have since wished I hadn’t. It is asking us to look inward and not upward into the face of Christ who alone shows us the Father.