Sunday, August 28, 2016

Loving evil people

On Facebook (early June), Jerry Walls said:

Does everyone realize that if Calvinists would just forthrightly, consistently affirm that God loves EVERYONE, (which I think most know in their hearts), that He does not need eternal hell to be fully glorified (if any are lost forever, it because they have freely, persistently rejected God's love), that it could save us all a lot of arguments?

For Jerry, it's just inconceivable that Calvinists don't really believe God loves everyone. In their hearts, they know that God must love everyone, but their theological overlay forces them to deny what deep down know to be true.

It's unclear to me why he treats that claim as indubitable. One reason he gives is that God is that love is an essential divine attribute. And Calvinists agree.

But Jerry acts as though that makes God a love machine. If love is essential to God, then God automatically loves everyone.

But surely that inference is too strong. By that logic, God must love evil.  

According to Walls, God would not be good unless he loved Josef Mengele. Why does Jerry think that's self-evidently true? 

(To be clear, that's my example, not Jerry's. But it follows from his belief that God loves absolutely everyone.)

Notice, I'm not necessarily saying God can't love Josef Mengele. But why does Jerry insist that God must love Josef Mengele? What makes it antithetical to divine goodness if God didn't love Josef Mengele? 

That's not a universal moral intuition, is it? Is it intuitively obvious to most folks that God wouldn't be good unless he loved Josef Mengele? Is it intuitively obvious to most theists that God wouldn't be good unless he loved Josef Mengele? Supposed you were to poll orthodox Jews? 

I'm not discussing garden-variety sinners, but moral monsters. Psychopaths. People with no conscience. 

One argument might be that, according to the Bible, no one is too evil for God to save. Let's consider that. 

First of all, if God doesn't intend to save somebody, he may let them become more evil that if he intended to save them. The reason some people are so evil is because God had no intention of saving them. So he allows them to sink into depths of depravity. 

From a Calvinist perspective, God's love is transformative. If God loves a deeply evil person, his love is a means of transforming an evil person into a good person. It's not just a divine attitude, but a divine action: irresistible grace. 

Freewill theists might also wish to say that God's love is transformative, but that's qualified. For them, God loves people who will never be transformed by his love. 

There is a difference between saying I will love an evil person in order to redeem him, and saying I will love an evil person despite his evil, irrespective of whether he will ever change. Those are not morally equivalent. 

Is it intuitively obvious that a good person will love an evil person? Even if we think it's commendable to love an evil person in case we know that by loving them them will be transformed into a good person, is it self-evident that a good person will love an evil person for love's sake, even though he knows that his love will have no effect on the evil person?

Isn't there a prima facie tension between goodness and loving someone who embodies evil? If anything, doesn't our reflexive moral intuition find it wrong to love someone who embodies evil, absent some overriding consideration? Isn't there something evil about empathizing with evil people? Take women who become pen pals with convicted serial killers. They fall in love with them and marry them. Or take Charles Manson's groupies. Isn't there something morally twisted about that? 

Let's take another example: A feature of friendship is that to be one person's friend sometimes means you can't be a another person's friend. You can't be friends to both of them. You have to choose. There's an element of loyalty in friendship. Sometimes you have to take sides.

Suppose you befriended Sharon Tate's mother. Suppose, at a later date, you tell her that you befriended Charles Manson. Surely she'd find that intolerable. If you love the man who murdered her daughter, then you can't be friends with her mother. From her perspective, for you to even be sympathetic to Manson would be unconscionable.

Now, Jerry might counter that my objections are subchristian. The Gospel teaches us to love our enemies. We must overcome our instinctive revulsion to certain people. 

That, however, wreaks havoc with Jerry's overall position. That's not morally intuitive, but morally counterintuitive. Yet in the book he coauthored with David Baggett (Good God: The Theistic Foundations or Morality), Jerry says divine goodness must be analogous to human goodness to be recognizably good. Otherwise, "good" is equivocal, if it has one sense for God, and a divergent sense for man. That's essential to their case against Calvinism. 

If, however, Jerry is going to say that we ought to love everyone because God loves everyone; if he's going to say that we must learn to emulate God's universal love, despite our natural inclination to be discriminatory, despite our natural inclination to hate someone like Charles Manson or Josef Mengele, then Jerry is conceding that divine goodness is unrecognizable. Divine goodness is radically disanalogous to our moral intuitions. God's universal love violates our intuitions. We must suppress our moral intuitions in order to bring our sensibilities in line with God. 


  1. Why does God have hell at all according to Jerry? Why punish people you love, even if they reject you? Can't God just give them an eternity of the things they want, let them fill their sinful appetites with fleshy pleasures for all of time?

    I don't understand how someone like Jerry Walls accounts for hell at all, given his rhetoric on divine love.

    1. FWIW, he's written about Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, and how they all fit together (from a philosophical perspective).

    2. Is his position on hell some variant on "heaven would be hell for someone who hates God, so he says to them 'Not my will, but your will be done." ?

  2. >> Isn't there a prima facie tension between goodness and loving someone who embodies evil?

    This may be true of us, in our fallen state. We tend to be performance-driven, judging others based on their utility to ourselves and others. It seems a mistake to view God in the same way.

    You've neglected a significant component of God's revelation of Himself. He isn't simply the transcendent Creator of the universe...He's also the immanent Father. You've framed the question of whether He must love anyone without considering His relationship to the objects of His love and wrath. Adam loved Cain. David loved Absalom. Jesus loved Judas. When we consider His love in light of His self-identification as Father, it becomes clear that He *can* and likely *does* love everyone, irrespective of their actions toward Him and others.

    1. You need to learn how to follow an argument. Pay attention.

      I was responding to Walls on his own grounds. His argument isn't based on the Gospel (as he construes it). Rather, his argument is based on his appeal to moral intuition and general revelation. Indeed, he uses that as a criterion to assess whether the Bible is true.

      So his position is inconsistent. On the one hand he appeals to extrabiblical moral intuitions. If, on the other hand he says that we need to reforming our faulty moral intuitions by realigning them with the Gospel, then those two principles tug in opposing directions.

      Consider what he says in Good God:

      We think of our argument as unapologetically appealing to general revelation… (67).

      Whereas biblical authority trumps in the realm of theological norms, there are more basic philosophical processes at play that hold logical priority in the realm of basic epistemology (67).

      The Bible is taken as authoritative in the realm of theological truth. But before we can rationally believe such a thing, as human beings privy to general revelation and endowed with the ability to think, we must weigh arguments and draw conclusions, that is, do philosophy (68).

      At a minimum, for example, scripture must be understood in a way that's consistent and coherent, not just internally, but also with what we know outside of scripture (76).

      What violates our reason or nonnegotiable moral intuitions in contrast, is beyond the pale and so irrational to believe (77).

      If the Bible did indeed teach such a doctrine [i.e. "unconditional reprobation"), wouldn't it be more rational to believe that it's not morally reliable? (78)?

    2. "You've neglected a significant component of God's revelation of Himself. He isn't simply the transcendent Creator of the universe...He's also the immanent Father. You've framed the question of whether He must love anyone without considering His relationship to the objects of His love and wrath."

      You completely miss the point of the argument. It's not an issue of how I frame the question but how Jerry frames the question. He takes the position that for God to be "good" in any meaningful sense, his goodness must be recognizably good. What humans regard as good. Divine goodness must be analogous to human standards of goodness. He claims that God would not be good unless he loves everyone. And he appeals to moral intuition and general revelation.

      But where's the evidence that humans think a person can't be good unless he loves absolutely everyone, included sadistic killers? That's hardly a universal moral intuition.

      So there's a contradiction in Jerry's argument. Is God the standard of goodness–or the human perception of goodness? If divine goodness (as he defines it) is a corrective for our defective notions of goodness, then divine goodness isn't recognizably good. Rather, divine goodness is disanalogous to human goodness. Yet he attacks Calvinism based on the alleged disanalogy between divine and human standards of goodness.

  3. Good points Steve. But do Arminians like Walls really believe God loves all people in the same way? If they are consistent with their Arminian beliefs, don't they deep down really believe that God only loves people conditionally. That is he only loves those who meet the condition of faith and the rest he casts into hell? For example, if he had a rebellious child run into oncoming traffic would he wait at the curb for his child to meet a condition before he would help his child or would he run out into traffic at the risk of his life to make certain the child was safe, in spite of the child's will at the time because the parent knows better than the child what is good for him? Even in an everyday life example you can see that what he proposes as love is not what we think of as love at all.

    Yes God gives us conditions but in love, Jesus meets the conditions for us by giving us a new heart that believes, something we could not do for ourselves.