Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Arminian inferno

I’m going to expand on something I said earlier. According to Arminians, why does God damn anyone? Why does God send anyone to hell?

The stock answer is that God can’t force free agents to trust him, love him, worship him.

There are, of course, obvious problems with that answer. Monergism isn’t forcing the sinner to do something against his will.

Likewise, even on libertarian assumptions, it’s implausible to insist that there’s no possible world in which every agent freely does what’s right.

However, let’s examine the question from another angle: To say that God can’t make everyone go to heaven doesn’t logically entail God sending anyone to hell.

If the Arminian God can’t make everyone believe in him, so what? Why must he make unbelief a damnable offense? Why would he consign someone to eternal torment or everlasting misery just because they refuse love or worship him?

Wouldn’t it be more loving to create a tropical paradise for them to spend eternity? Even if they were thankless, wouldn’t we expect a loving God to do whatever he could to make them as happy as possible? Do as much for them as they allow him to do? Do them good (rather than harm) regardless of their ingratitude?

Now some Arminians (e.g. Rauser, I. H. Marshall) are annihilationists. But that raises the same question. If God can’t make everyone go to heaven, the logical alternative is not to zap them out of existence. Why not let them continue in unbelief? That’s a lower quality of life than heaven, but it’s better than oblivion.

Maybe an unbeliever wants to play golf forever. A limited existence, to be sure, but a loving God could easily let him spend eternity in a wonderful golf resort, with other godless golfers.

Perhaps the Arminian would say that let’s unbelievers off too easily. But there are problems with that response:

i) First of all, that’s a very different argument. The Arminian is no longer contending that God must send unbelievers to hell because he can’t make them believe. Rather, he’s saying God must send them to hell because they’re unbelievers.

ii) but that just pushes the question back a step. Why must a loving God make belief a condition of avoiding hell?

iii) In what sense would God be unjust if he didn’t punish unbelievers? According to Arminians, Jesus made universal atonement for sin.

Perhaps the Arminian will say sinners must believe in Jesus’ atonement. If so, why does a loving God make that a prerequisite for avoiding hell? Why can’t he just forgive the redeemed, whether or not they love him back?

According to Arminianism, God is as loving to sinners as they permit him to be. He can be more loving to some than to others. That’s up to them.

But love doesn’t require reciprocity. Indeed, there’s a type of disinterested love that gives and gives, expecting nothing in return.


  1. Good post. I keep hearing that "forced love is no love at all" from that side of the fence.

  2. Perhaps the Arminian will say sinners must believe in Jesus’ atonement. If so, why does a loving God make that a prerequisite for avoiding hell?

    That's why I don't see why more Arminians aren't open to something like purgatory. Or Origen-like apocatastasis where some might have to be purged of sin. Where, if and when they freely repent and believe, they can then be saved. It need not be a guaranteed universalism. One could call it "open universalism" where people are free to eternally reject God, but because it's irrational to do so forever; for all intents and purposes all will eventually be saved (given the psychology of self-interest).

    Of course, not all forms of universalism teach 1. there must be punishment for sin (e.g. Pop spirituality), and 2. humans have libertarian free wills (e.g. there are so-called "Calvinistic", and therefore compatibilistic, universalists). But of those that teach both, there's always the possibility that there might be a second "Fall" and the need for another redemption. Hence, (as I've read from others) Origen's views doesn't exclude the possibility of multiple "Falls" and "Restorations" (eternally oscillating).

    Why can’t he just forgive the redeemed, whether or not they love him back?

    Good question for the Arminian. If Arminianism were consistent, shouldn't it be open to some kind of inclusivism (e.g. Pinnock's version)?

    But love doesn’t require reciprocity. Indeed, there’s a type of disinterested love that gives and gives, expecting nothing in return.

    I remember in my teens in my church youth group the secular book "The Giving Tree" was often mentioned as analogous to God's kind of endlessly giving love. I would always find it difficult to suppress the thought that it was such a pathetic kind of love. God can be abused like that without any positive resolution? God isn't strong enough to transform people from being selfish sinners? Fortunately, I eventually encountered the Doctrines of Grace. It was then that I understood that while God allowed Himself to be abused like that on The "Tree" (i.e. the Cross) for sinners (even the elect); for those whom He chooses to save, He not only suffers for them, but also transforms them. Changing them from ungrateful narcissists to thankful and considerate human beings.

  3. The "Giving Tree" kind of love is so pathetic and ridiculous that there are multiple YouTube parodies of the book.

    No human parent (and therefore neither God the Father) would allow his or her child (or children) to use them as a doormat or stepping stone. God will not allow His worship and fellowship with Him to be a means to another end rather than it being the end of all ends. As the Westminster shorter catechism asks,"What is the chief end of man?" The answer given is, "Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever." I agree with John Piper's reformulated re-statement of the answer as "The chief end of man is to glorify God *BY* enjoying Him forever" (as he argues for in his classic book "Desiring God"). Or as he states elsewhere "God is most glorified in us [i.e. the elect] when we are most satisfied in Him."

  4. Very good. It's like Rob Bell is Arminianism taken to a logical conclusion: If God loves "everyone in the whole wide" world "soooo much", etc, then why would He condemn anyone for doing what He gave them the libertarian free will to do?

  5. And Arminians will point out that Jesus wept over souls who were evidently damned as non elect, for so often spurning His call, (Mt., 23:34-37) and object to souls being damned essentially due to being born sinners, but never having an alternative to choose the Light. But perhaps that is based upon some misunderstanding.

    I think both sides must recognize that the character of God is the issue, and thus He cannot act unjustly, and which includes having an indulgent love that is separate from the demands of holiness and requirements of justice. And thus we have Rm. 3:26

    I only get so far into the issue of election before i have to plead Ps. 131, and without negating the need for theological depth, i am glad the requirements for salvation do not require a strong intellect, but God-given faith in the mercy of God in Christ out of a God-worked broken heart and contrite spirit. (Ps. 34:18) May we ever have that heart, and rest in Him and live it out better while it is still called today.