They are exclusive, by definition (mercy == the withholding of due justice) when applied to one subject for one event at one time. Now there can be both mercy and justice on display when God is speaking of one outcome with two subjects, such as this Isaiah passage, mercy on the Jews (or a patient remnant) and justice for their oppressors (the Assyrians) or for the Jews who did not listen to God’s advice. Context is everything. But your example is really this: one can simultaneously have mercy upon and justice on behalf of. But when it comes to a single event and a single subject at a single time, they are “zero sum.” Your salvation, in particular, cannot be an act of mercy (receiving from God a reprieve from condemnation that you didn’t earn) and an act of justice (receiving a reward that God owed you.) It would, IMO, violate the Law of non-Contradiction.
That is just begging the question. You have built into your premise that God is amoral unless he elects everyone, ergo Calvinism --> Universalism. But I concede the point. Using the same blunt strategy I can indeed convert all non-Calvinists into Universalists: The only way I could understand Arminianism (leaving aside views with an amoral God who is incredibly unfair) is if God gives everyone a level playing field from which they can freely choose Him or reject Him, i.e., everyone in the whole world gets the same education, the same cognitive ability, loving Christian parents, the same exposure to the Gospel, the same access to the Word, etc.
Actually most Calvinists I know address this difficulty by saying that they hope that God’s mercy is lavished on dead infants, and point, as reason for their hope, to passages like David’s certainty that he will be reunited with his dead infant son. But most, in my experience (and I’m surrounded by the species) do not go as far as to say “all dead infants are elect.” Ironically, in my experience it is non-Calvinists who become uber-Calvinitsts when it comes to the imponderable reality of dead infants. Evangelical Protestant Arminians (naturally, as do we all) tend to expect that God, even in light of Original Sin, would not condemn dead infants. But given that dead infants cannot, most would say, muster a saving faith, in this instance they, just like good Calvinists, rely on God to do everything for their salvation.
David, thanks for responding. I appreciate your posts, to me and others, because they give me a window into Calvinism that usually remains shuttered. I doubt either of us is close to changing our mind on this topic, but I do want to better understand the appeal some others see in Calvinism. For me, it remains a mystery, and that’s why similar conversations to this are so often frustrating when they either get too heated or too focused on agreeing to disagree that nothing helpful gets shared.
Mercy and justice can be defined in a way that makes them exclusive, but I’d suggest that isn’t the way the Bible typically uses the terms nor the way we are to understand mercy and justice to be part of God’s character. God is a merciful judge – to every person. This is good news, since every person will be judged by God: there is no escape for the elect. Bringing justice need not be a robotic, unfeeling task. Compassion often prompts justice, and justice can be compassionate as well. Some of the most foundational Old Testament texts about God’s justice forefront mercy, such as Exodus 34:6-7. Psalm 103 expands on this concept and makes it even clearer how mercy and justice mingle:
The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:6-14)
It’s not that some receive mercy and others receive justice. God gives justice to the oppressed, and it is a mercy! God works justice – even as God forgives, removes transgressions and has compassion. God’s justice is merciful – thank God!
Again, this uses definitions that unecessarily force a contradiction. Justice need not be getting what God owes us. When God works “justice for all who are oppressed,” it is not about receiving what God owes them, but it does include reparation for unjust suffering.
No, I just didn’t want to deal with the alternative that even though God isn’t good, God is powerful enough to do whatever. I was trying to set that view to the side, not raise it as a characterization of mainstream Calvinism.
A very good point! And that’s why many Christian thinkers have suggested that God’s final judgement will take into account all those things. In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis gave one “supposal” for how, post-death, God might tease apart all external factors from the individual being who either trusts their creator or doesn’t. Gerry Walls builds on this, proposing that every person ultimately receives “maximal grace,” the strongest influence to the good that will not overwhelm their freedom (Hell: The Logic of Damnation, pp. 88-90).
My own view is similar, based on hints in Scripture* as well as the logic that, as you noted, seems to demand resolution on how life’s contingencies influence choice if we accept that God is fair.
So perhaps: Each of us will one day see Jesus as he truly is. At the same time, we will grasp what’s become of ourselves. All that has been fused into the raw material of our being – whether by our consistent choices or other people’s malice or rotten luck – will be laid bare. Jesus will not erase our personality or disposition, but he will remove the compulsion of every neurosis life’s contingencies drove within us. Each facet of our person will be judged as growth into the image of our creator or cancer eating us from inside. We will feel God’s wrath towards the cancer and Jesus’ determination to extinguish it. In this moment of unparalleled freedom, we will declare our allegiance: do we submit to the great physician who alone can remove our cancer, or do we cling to our cancer and equate it with ourselves? For some, the declaration will arise automatically, the reflex of a life in which we set our disposition. For others – the aborted, those with severe mental limitations, those whose circumstances severely distorted their picture of Christ – it may be a surprise.
And all will be judged. And all will receive mercy. And, I fear, not all will enter into God’s eternal kingdom. That’s my view, to which I’d add C.S. Lewis’ disclaimer: “Guesses, of course, only guesses. If they are not true, something better will be.”
[*] Some of the texts that especially inform my view are Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:25-29; 1 Corinthians 13:12; Hebrews 9:27-28; 1 John 3:2; 1 Peter 2:12; 3:18-22; 4:5-6; Revelation 20:11-13.
Yes. We do tend to expect the judge of all the earth to do right, and for what is right to bear some semblance to what we see as right. I think the problem comes when we equate justice and judgement with bad news. For many, to face God’s judgement means to be sent to hell. But if we allow that judgement includes judging – discerning – and that we see the judge’s face most clearly when we look to Jesus, then the thought of even dead infants facing God’s judgement can be a comfort. I know it is when I consider my own children I never got to meet. Yet.
this is a very edifying conversation, Dr Heddle and Dr Janzenn. Thank you. Another passage which demonstrates compassion and justice intermingled is Hebrews 12. Who can say whether God will not continue to work on every one of His children who need help (and who does not?) Till all are in the Kingdom? Hebrews 12:6-11 King James Version (KJV)
6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
I won’t get heated, although I have a bad habit of replying to someone displaying arrogance (not you!) with snark. But I am not a “cage stage Calvinist”–or at least I haven’t been for a long time.
I agree there is an issue of definition here. I tried to be very careful in the last post by saying that mercy and justice are exclusive when applied to a single event to a single subject at a given time. Let us agree that God can be merciful and just (simultaneously) to address oppression. What does that actually mean? I would say it involves two subjects, the oppressed and the oppressors and implies (in my thinking) that the oppressed are the subjects of the mercy while the oppressors are the subjects of the justice.
When the Jews were freed from enslavement they were certainly recipients of mercy. This is true regardless of what happened to Pharaoh. If Pharaoh suffered no consequences the Jews would still have received mercy. Justice, however, was served by an action upon the Egyptians (the Red Sea) not on the Jews. Yes the language permits us to say that the Jews received justice–but the subject of the justice was Pharaoh’s armies.
To be honest this is a fair question for Calvinists that doesn’t have a pleasant answer. To wit: if salvation is entirely of God and I bring nothing to the table except my sin, why doesn’t God save everyone? One answer that is often given is: “I don’t know.” Another defers to Romans 9 and argues that Paul (viewed as a Calvinist, of course!) anticipates this question and answers it:
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Rom 9:19-23, ESV)
This seems, taken at face value, to give a very unappealing answer as to why God doesn’t save everyone.
But again, as I like to point out, Arminianism is not free of this kind of angst, and has it’s own version of the “that’s unfair” complaint, namely the obvious fact that some people have whatever it takes to respond to prevenient grace while others don’t. Really, the only people who get the high-ground on the fairness question are Universalists.
That still seems to assume that we can’t, in the end, have an over-riding will to rise above our given circumstances. But I’m not pretending to have any final answer to this either (other than that I continue to believe that free-will is a real thing in all the mix somehow.)
Perhaps this is a good time for me to dust off an oldy-but-goody joke. Apologies if I repeated this a year or two back here (or maybe in the ASA listserve). But here it is again:
A Calvinist and an Arminian were happily debating with each other over lunch in an upper room, when unbeknownst to both of them a workman came and removed the stairway leading up to the room. When they went to leave and stepped out of the doorway, they both fell to the ground. The Arminian picked himself up, dusted himself off and declared: “whew! I’m going to be more careful next time!” The Calvinist got up and declared, “I sure am glad that’s over with!”
Yes, I agree we can use the language of justice and mercy like this. I do it myself sometimes. But I don’t think this helps us understand God’s character of being both just and merciful. Both oppressed and oppressors will receive God’s merciful justice. In various acts we might see how one or the other is highlighted, but I don’t think the two can ever be entirely separated. Nor, for that matter, can all people be neatly divided into the oppressed and the oppressors, even when focused on a single event. And of course, when enlarged to the question of ultimate salvation, our status as oppressed or oppressor doesn’t determine God’s response to us.
It does. And it’s not even the Calvinist answer, as best I understand it. It isn’t about the vessels complaining about what God is going to do with them, but complaining, “Why have you made me like this?” Paul seems to accept, for the sake of argument, that God is the reason the vessels are flawed. The vessels themselves have nothing to do with it. In his analogy, the pots have no culpability.
But if we take seriously the “What if” that begins it, answers more in keeping with God’s revealed nature (and human nature and sin) can emerge. The widow’s persistence roused the unjust judge to action. Like Jesus’ unjust judge, Paul may be using a portrayal that isn’t fair to God’s character in order to make a point: God can do as he pleases. In the rest of the letter, we find that God doing as he pleases is good news for us, too, because God is not so cavalier as the hypothetical potter (such as 11:30-36).
I agree, but I see several ways of resolving that angst to my own satisfaction (as I sketched in my last post), and I expect God has much better ideas than mine. I don’t find the problem intractable from this side of the tulips.
I don’t really see a solution. If I start with in Mervin’s direction from above
I still end up in the same place. Take two twins in which everything we can measure about them is the same. One accepts the gospel, and one rejects it. There had to be something different that prepared one twin’s will to accept and not the other. That extra experience, or friendship, or guidance that one received and the other didn’t amounts to an unfair advantage.
And if God, in order to be fair, judges and absolves the the twin who rejected the gospel (contrary to orthodox Arminiansm as I understand it) in light of the fact that that twin did not receive the extra “something” that the first twin did, then we have taken a giant step toward Universalism.
Or if there was truly no difference in any experience, then one twin simply had a more receptive inherent will—then in that case we have a nascent form of Calvinism.
I don’t see a way around the inherent unfairness of Arminianism. (Or of Calvinism-- but there it is more obvious.)
I wonder if there isn’t an essential distinction crying to be made between “flaws” and “sin”. My inability to perform some normal physical task because of a rolled ankle or a pulled muscle might be termed a “flaw”. My rebellion against my creator because I love some worldly temptation for myself more than I love righteousness is surely in a different class? While we often refer to our sins as “mistakes” (as if we’d just gotten a wrong sum up at the board), there is a huge difference between being rebellious and being mistaken. While I can imagine God removing the former from me when we become clothed in immortality, it would be the latter that I more seriously need to be rescued from. Our most cringe-worthy memories of ourselves when we are made to wholly see ourselves with God’s eyes will almost certainly be more from our being willfully wicked to others rather than the comparatively trivial “failings” that we can’t at all help because they are an in-built part of our physical selves. I know - Calvinists would fail to see any distinction here, and insist that I am just as helplessly prone to rebellion as I am to sweating when I get hot. Still, the sin is the truly awful stuff from which we should all most want a bath before we would feel fully able (or even want) to join in a community of bliss. Would you want to be the only one at a wedding celebration not wearing proper attire? We all know how that turned out. That part of that parable has always bothered me, and come to think of it, maybe what we’re speaking of here is the connection for that which has always eluded me!
I totally agree, Mervin. But it is a distinction the analogy of people as pottery is not well suited to draw out. Which is perhaps why we shouldn’t rest too heavily on that analogy for understanding God’s ways with humanity.
Reminds me of C S Lewis’ analogy of purgatory–from Letters to Malcolm (Malcolm was a chief character of one of Macdonald’s favorite novels–a man who truly loved God and tried to integrate submission to Him into every part of his life. It’s one of my favorite books by Macdonald).
" I believe in Purgatory.
Mind you, the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on the ‘Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory’ as that Romish doctrine had then become…
The right view returns magnificently in Newman’s DREAM. There, if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer ‘With its darkness to affront that light’. Religion has claimed Purgatory.
Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’ - ‘Even so, sir.’
I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don’t think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.
My favourite image on this matter comes from the dentist’s chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am ‘coming round’,’ a voice will say, ‘Rinse your mouth out with this.’ This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But . . . it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed."
C.S. Lewis, Letters To Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, chapter 20, paragraphs 7-10, pages 108-109"
not that there really is a Purgatory–but I think Macdonald (and likely Lewis, in The Great Divorce) felt that if God chased rebellious sinners to Hell and they repented, they would say they had been in Purgatory when they got to Heaven.
“Son,‘he said,’ ye cannot in your present state understand eternity…That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say "We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
Frankly, I just call that heaven. Otherwise heaven would be empty. So I see no reason to invent purgatory. The truth is that our expectations of heaven and hell are a little bit backwards. Heaven is the difficult and uncomfortable one because it requires radical surgical change of our inmost self. I often say that hell is our heart’s desire, while heaven is God’s desire for us. If you think this makes hell sound nice then this is because you do not understand the human heart which is not good – not good at all.
When you think about it, the usual concept of heaven being the place where good people are rewarded and hell being the place where bad people are punished doesn’t make any sense. What kind of justice is that? People are not black and white but a broad spectrum of gray and dividing this with arbitrary lines down the middle is ridiculous. So I don’t think heaven and hell are any such things.
So instead, I think heaven and hell represent a polarization in the ultimate human destinies due to the competition of creative and destructive forces within us (i.e. learning and growth vs. the self-destructive habits of sin). This is why there are only two. Either you learn and shed your bad habits or the sin drags you down into greater evil and degradation. There are only two direction you can go.
So how does grace fit into all this. Well frankly all of us have sin and so all of us are getting dragged downward. It is like gravity (with no escape velocity). Some of us may have high flying trajectories but in the end, we all have the same destination – the downward fall into greater sin and evil. The only way out is put ourselves into the hands of God. He reaches down and we have to grab and hold on, fighting the gravity of sin to do so.
So what of Romans 2 where Paul says God renders to every man according to his works. Frankly I think this is a completely separate issue. No matter which direction we end up going, I believe we will still have good reason to regret every evil we have done and be thankful for the good. They will not change our ultimate destiny, but that doesn’t mean they don’t count for anything – quite the contrary. In the end, the plain stark truth is that there is no escape from the consequences of what we do. All we can do is choose how to deal with the consequences – choose between the easy downward slide of surrendering to our bad habits or to make a very difficult upward battle against them, where we are going to need the doctor’s help of course.
For me, the classic picture of hell as place of fire and torment seems a bit silly to me, more cause for laughter than fear. That just doesn’t scare me. I see far more to be afraid of just by employing a little introspection to look inside of myself. It is the potential I see within me for sliding into the very evil which I so much hate and despise – that really does terrify me!
I think that your views are fair when reasoned from a universalism paradigm. In simplicity, this is to argue for the best outcome for society/humanity, or even, to love your neighbors as you love yourself, and this ‘should’ be the gold standard for society - and God is/has not met that standard because he will judge us etc.
To cut to it, Jesus stated that there are two ultimate commandments that summ up ALL the laws of the bible. The 1st, is to love God with all we have, mind, spirit, body. Jesus also says, that we simply cannot do this without the barrier between us being removed - sim. This was Jesus’s ultimate mission, to make it possible, because it is otherwise impossible to meet Gods standard of sinlessness.
Your position/commentary continues to generalise everything into a policy that can best fit a universal application. Unfortunately, God is solely interested in the discourse between you and Him, as that is where we are all going to end up after death.
We can go on forever, genealising and cherry picking bible verses to justify our chosen position, which often implies we know better than God. Even though, we played no hand in being born when we have, or developing/creating the world to live in, and have zero clue when we might die. Sin came into the world, because Satan wanted to take Gods job and was tossed out. He then came to Adam and Eve, and said hey, can you trust what God says, Did he really say will you really die if you disobey Him?
There is a huge difference between being aware that things don’t and won’t last forever, and the active pursuit of trying to bring about apocalyptic end and destruction. As Christ has said in similar contexts … Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come. Evil is still evil and too many Christians are living as enemies of Christ in this regard.