Friday, October 05, 2012

Impugning God

I’m going to comment on this article: Jerry Walls, “Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever Be a Compatibilist,” Philosophia Christi 13/1 (Summer 2011), 75-104.

This article is better than the book Walls recently coauthored with David Baggett, for in this article, Walls at least attempts to argue for his position.

In §1 of his article, Walls appeals to the experience of choice as empirical evidence for libertarian freedom, quoting John Searle. To this I’d say several things:

i) In a footnote (#3) Walls admits that:

A compatibilist, after all, who embraced a conditional analysis of what it means to say “I could have done otherwise” (“I would have done otherwise if I had wanted to do so”) might explain this experience in such a way that it would be consistent with compatibilism.”

But that concession, all by itself, vitiates the argument for libertarian freedom in §1.

Brand Blanshard is a philosopher who draws the opposite conclusion from the experience of choice. He contends that introspection undermines the empirical argument for libertarian freewill. In that sense, reflective experience undercuts the prereflective impression of freewill:

The first reason is that when we are making a choice our faces are always turned toward the future, toward the consequences that one act or the other will bring us, never toward the past with its possible sources of constraint. Hence these sources are not noticed. Hence we remain unaware that we are under constraint at all. Hence we feel free from such constraint. The case is almost as simple as that. When you consider buying a new typewriter your thought is fixed on the pleasure and advantage you would gain from it, or the drain it would make on your budget. You are not delving into the causes that led to your taking pleasure in the prospect of owning a typewriter or to your having a complex about expenditure. You are too much preoccupied with the ends to which the choice would be a means to give any attention to the causes of which your choice may be an effect. But that is no reason for thinking that if you did preoccupy yourself with these causes you would not find them at work. You may remember that Sir Francis Galton was so much impressed with this possibility that for some time he kept account in a notebook of the occasions on which he made important choices with a full measure of this feeling of freedom; then shortly after each choice he turned his eye backward in search of constraints that might have been acting on him stealthily. He found it so easy to bring such constraining factors to light that he surrendered to the determinist view (p21).

iii) Psychologically speaking, deliberation, in which we contemplate alternate possibilities, is the same whether we’re contemplating the past or the future. For instance, many of us, when we reach a certain age, look back over our lives and consider what we’d do differently if we knew then what we know now. If I had it to do all over again, what would I do that I didn’t do, and what would I not do that I did?

The “sense” of alternate possibilities, the experience of mentally comparing different courses of action, is the same when we contemplate our past as when we contemplate our future. But, of course, the past is accidentally necessary. The past is unalterable. Over and done with.

So even though past and future are psychologically symmetrical in that respect, they are metaphysically asymmetrical. Time’s arrow only moves in one direction. Therefore, the argument from experience proves too much. The same logic would prove the possibility of time travel whenever we regret something we did or failed to do.  

This carries over in §2, where Walls defends the empirical argument for experience by making statements like:

A theist who holds that God is perfectly good and that he is the ultimate designer of human nature should be much more reluctant to think that God has implanted within us the tendency to believe deeply misleading things…if our clearest, most vivid perceptions and intuitions are fundamentally misleading where they bear on morally significant matters such as freedom and personal responsibility, that is hard to square with God’s perfect goodness. 

But, of course, that piggybacks on the false premise of §1.

In a footnote, Walls says in passing:

For a fascinating argument that God could create a nondeterministic world without evil, see Josh Rasmussen, “On Creating Worlds without Evil–Given Divine Counterfactual Knowledge,” Religious Studies 40 (2004), 457-70.

Yet if Rasmussen’s argument is sound, this eviscerates Walls’ argument against Calvinism at one struck. No wonder he buries this in a footnote!

In §§3-4, Walls discusses manipulation arguments. He equates theological determinism with manipulation–which he describes as follows:

A person has been unknowingly determined by another agent in such a way that he will willingly perform certain particular actions. It is precisely the notion that the determinism in question is due to an intelligent agent who determines things for reasons of his own that lends the “manipulation” label to these cases. The determinism here is the specific design of a personal agent who very much takes a “hands on” approach with the persons he manipulates for his own purposes.

And he derives the following conclusion:

To whatever degree we judge the actions to be bad, we will likewise be inclined to think the manipulator of those actions is bad. We can call this the evil manipulator principle.

(EMP) A being who determines (manipulates) another being to perform evil actions is himself evil. It is evil more perverse if a being determines a being to perform evil actions and then holds him accountable, and punishes him for those actions.

i) A basic problem with this objection is that it fails to distinguish between the potentially divergent aims of the “manipulator” and the aims of the manipulated. The manipulated may intend malevolent, short-term consequences whereas the manipulator may intend benevolent long-term consequences for the same action. Actions have delayed effects.

ii) Consider this illustration: a terrorist mastermind communicates through couriers. We don’t know where to find him, but we do know where to find one of his couriers. We drug a courier, rendering him unconscious, then implant a remote controlled bomb and tracking device. When he goes to the hideout, we detonate the bomb, killing the terrorist.

The courier didn’t know we were sending him on a suicide mission. And the courier didn’t know he’d be murdering the terrorist.

However, we ourselves didn’t murder the terrorist. What we did is just reprisal.

ii) In addition, classical Arminian theology has a very robust doctrine of divine providence. Seems to me that classical Arminianism would also fall prey to manipulation arguments.

In §5, Walls says:

Free will and its associated values radically call into question our first blush guesses about the kinds of worlds a perfectly good, omnipotent, omniscient God could, and perhaps would, create…Libertarian freedom gives us at least plausible reasons for much of the evil in our world. Not only is it the case that much of the evil is directly due to human choices but it is also worth emphasizing that natural evil is also connected in intimate ways with human choices.

i) That’s a circular, insular appeal. The freewill defense is only plausible to freewill theists. Agnostics and atheists don’t think the putative value of libertarian freewill exceeds the quality and quantity of evil in the world. And they find the attempt to extend the freewill defense to natural evil even more implausible. Same thing with soft and hard determinists.

ii) Walls is also ignoring the possibility, which he mentioned in footnote #18, of a nondeterministic world without evil. That alone would sink his argument.

Compatibilism strengthens the skeptics’ hand in making the case that God could have made the world in such a way that it would be free of at least much of the horrific evil that scars our world. Indeed, for a theist engaged in theodicy to affirm compatibilism is akin to a soldier inadvertently handling critical intelligence information to a determined enemy of his country that will enable that enemy to infiltrate and destroy his country’s civil defense system…And this makes altogether understandable why skeptics would be completely dubious of the notion that any God could be good, let alone perfectly good, who would create a world full of misery and intense suffering when he could just as easily have made one relatively if not altogether, free of evil.

That objection fails to grasp the implications of the opposing position. Calvinists don’t have a problem with that consequence. If some folks are so offended by predestination that they become atheists, their reaction is, itself, a predestined reaction. They are infidels because God intends them to be infidels. The existence of infidelity serves a purpose in God’s overarching plan.

Compatibilism undercuts any substantive claim that God wants to eliminate as much evil as he can…

i) Calvinism doesn’t regard the existence of evil as an accident, oversight, or inadvertent mistake. Evil plays an instrumental role in God’s plan. If you eliminate all evil, you thereby eliminate certain resultant goods in the process.

For instance, Cain murdered Abel. Fratricide is evil. Because Cain murdered Abel, Abel had no children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Murder results in a different family tree. If you cut down a tree, it may grow back, but everything above the cut will be different. Different branches, different twigs.

You and I exist because Cain murdered his brother at the advent of human history. Our genealogy takes the place of Abel’s. If Abel had survived to father children, that would produce an alternate history. The alternate history might be as good or better in some respects, but it wouldn’t be good for you and me. A sinless world has a different set of people.

ii) God doesn’t intend to eliminate evil. God will quarantine evil in hell, but evildoers will continue to exist–forever.

iii) Walls himself doesn’t think that God eliminates as much evil as he can. Walls rejects annihilationism. So Walls believes that God sustains evil for all eternity.

Whereas libertarians face the puzzle of explaining why God allows the sort of moral evil just noted, compatibilists have the more difficult challenge of explaining why he causes or determines it to happen and in so doing, they seem to be endorsing moral consequentialism.

Why is that a more difficult challenge? Why is permitting a preventable evil less morally problematic than causing or determining it? That’s a facile Arminian assumption, but why think that distinction is morally germane? Surely it’s easy to multiply examples in which allowing evil is morally equivalent to causing, commanding, or determining evil.

Since no one has libertarian freedom on their view, God need not allow or permit anything he does not prefer to happen, as he may have to do on the libertarian scheme.

i) It’s true that according to Calvinism, God doesn’t have to permit anything he does not prefer to happen. So, on that view, God has a good reason for whatever happens. How is that a challenge for Calvinism? It’s not inconsistent with Calvinism.

ii) Given libertarianism, must God permit things he’d prefer not to happen? What does that mean, exactly?

a) Does that mean the Arminian God is unable to prevent evil? Is evil inevitable in every possible world? But that would mean evil is metaphysically necessary. How is that consonant with freewill theism? If human agents are free to do otherwise, then there ought to be at least one possible world in which they freely choose good over evil. That may be a world with a different set of people. That may be a world with a smaller population. But if there’s no possible combination of libertarian agents which yields a sinless world, then evil seems to be a metaphysical necessity.

b) Or does that mean the Arminian God is unable to prevent evil consistent with other priorities? All things being equal, he prefers to disallow evil-but all things considered, he prefers to allow evil because a world with evil is preferable overall to a world without evil. If so, that complicates the invidious contrast between Calvinism and Arminianism. That means the Arminian God could eliminate evil, but he values some things more highly than eliminating evil.

iii) Does the Arminian God merely permit evil rather than causing evil? How is Walls defining causation? On a counterfactual theory of causation, the Arminian God causes evil.

The problem is that permission language does not make much sense on compatibilist premises. Typically, to say an action is permitted is [to] imply that one is not controlling the action.

i) I don’t see how that’s a typical definition of permission. To the contrary, permission implies sufficient control over the situation that you could prevent the outcome if you so desired.

ii) I don’t have any stake in permissive language. I don’t think Calvinism requires that. However, permissive language is consistent with Calvinism. You don’t allow what you can’t prevent. For in that case, you have no choice in the matter. Like it or not, it’s bound to happen. Permission assumes the ability to preempt or prevent whatever you choose to allow. That’s consistent with Reformed theism. God allows something by not prevented it, even though it lies within his power to prevent it.

It is more doubtful that the compatibilist can appeal to the doctrine of double effect for, again, God can determine people “freely” to choose exactly as he wishes.

That strikes me as fallacious. The Calvinist God can will evil because it contributes to an incommensurable good or second-order good. He doesn’t will evil for its own sake. Rather, that’s the necessary tradeoff to secure the counterbalancing good.

…part of the arena God has designed for the purpose of eliciting and developing moral virtues in human creatures, virtues that essentially require freedom in order to be genuine.

i) Calvinism can also incorporate soul-making virtues in its theodicy.

ii) To say that requires libertarian freedom begs the question.

iii) Conversely, it’s not as if Arminians have clear title to a soul-making theodicy. On the face of it, many evils foster soul-making vices rather than soul-making virtues. Many evils destroy character rather than refine character. There’s no direct correlation between evil and virtuous character building. The same evils can have opposite effects on different individuals.

In §6, Walls says:

Damnation is the worst thing that can befall a rational creature, and because of its eternal nature, it is incomparably worse than any evil in this life, however terrible.

I think that’s overstated.

i) For one thing, I have no compelling reason to think eternal punishment is the same for all the damned. It may well be milder for some than others.

ii) I can imagine suffering in this life which might be more psychologically intense or physically painful.

The endless duration of eschatological punishment is, itself, punitive. For their condition is hopeless. It will never end, never get any better.

Yet that’s not “incomparably” worse than the worst thing that can befall you in this life. Rather, that’s a different kind of suffering. It could be outwardly mild, but despairing because it’s so utterly interminable.

To get an accurate perspective on the doctrine of judgment, we must begin by situating it within the larger Christian picture of a God who is overflowing with love and grace…whose eternal nature is love, and who has demonstrated that love most vividly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus…The love of God as revealed in Jesus is an expensive love as well as an expansive love.

i) Actually, that’s an inaccurate perspective. God doesn’t have one central attribute. All God’s attributes are coequal. It’s not as if divine love, mercy, and grace are primary while divine justice, holiness, and righteousness are secondary.

If it’s Walls’ contention that all God’s moral attributes are reducible or accessory to love, then he needs to present a supporting argument. Certainly the Bible doesn’t support that reductionism.

ii) Walls makes the love of God expansive by stretching it so thin that his love is indifferent and ineffectual. Indifferent because he loves everyone equally. That’s less like love than diffuse, impersonal benevolence.

Ineffectual because God cannot or will not save a sinner in spite of himself.

iii) There’s a reason that Walls talks about God “demonstrating” or “revealing” his love in Christ. Because the Arminian God can’t actually save anyone, his love is merely hortatory and illustrative. He gives us a loving example.

God is shown to be like a shepherd who is not content with having ninety-nine sheep safely in the fold. Rather, his love is such that he pursues the one sheep that is lost…

The problem with that description, from an Arminian standpoint, is that in the parable, God doesn’t merely “pursue” the lost sheep. God finds the lost sheep and brings it back.

The shepherd isn’t merely seeking a stray sheep. Rather, saving the sheep depends on the shepherd rather than the sheep. The sheep is too stupid to appreciate the peril it’s in. The shepherd must act on behalf of the sheep by returning the shepherd to the fold regardless of the sheep’s wishes.

The Bible has numerous passages, particularly in the prophetic literature, in which God warns his people, urges them to repent, expresses frustration for their hardness of heart, and pronounces judgment on them for their persistent refusal to heed his word.

The obvious question demanding an answer here is how to make sense of these large stretches of scripture if one assumes compatibilism. There are, of course, difficult texts for both sides of this debate, but the large number of texts similar to the one I cited seem to fly directly in the face of a compatibilist reading.

…if God has determined all things, as theological determinists claim, then he determined the Judeans of Jeremiah’s day in such a way that they persisted in sin and disobedience…The notion that God is angry at sins he himself determined when he could have determined things otherwise, and then pours out wrath on those same actions is puzzling in the extreme, to say the least. Indeed, if EMP above is correct, it is perverse. 

i) When it comes to exegeting Scripture, I don’t think we should filter the text through philosophical categories like compatibilism. A more pertinent question is how a text like this relates to predestination.

ii) Citing more passages of the same kind doesn’t really strengthen the argument. If all his prooftexts are if a kind, then we can count them as one. They invite a unified explanation.

iii) I’m struck by his hermeneutical naïveté. Walls is a philosophical sophisticate who operates at a Sunday School level when he turns to the Bible. It’s downright childish.

iv) To begin with, we must make allowance for rhetorical and narrative conventions. In Scripture, God often casts himself in the role of a stock character, viz. farmer, father, potter, shepherd, king, husband, warrior, prosecutor. The impersonation includes conventional plot motifs and plot devices. Type scenes.

This is story telling. These theological models are analogous to God in some respect, but you can’t take it all at face value.

v) We also need to distinguish between propositional/illocutionary discourse about God, and performative/perlocutionary discourse about God.

vi) It’s simplistic to think God has only one purpose or one audience when he addresses Israel. There’s a righteous remnant within the apostate mass. There are backsliders. Likewise, punishment can lead to restoration.

One has to evaluate any particular statement within the continuous, overarching narrative of Scripture. The present in relation to the past and future. Where is God taking history? Human disobedience advances the action. That, in turn, leads to the next stage. It’s a mistake to isolate a particular passage without regard to how it functions in the ongoing story or narrative strategy.

i) Walls then presents a lengthy syllogism. One problem with the syllogism is equivocation. Take his use of “free.” But free means different things to libertarians and compatibilists. Indeed, there are different definitions of freedom within both libertarianism and compatibilism. Some libertarians define freedom as ultimate sourcehood, whereas others define freedom as access to alternate possibilities. Some compatibilists define freedom conditionally, while others define freedom in terms of regulative/guidance control. So libertarians and compatibilists could affirm or deny the same minor premise(s) of Walls’s syllogism, but mean different things by their affirmation or denial.

ii) Calvinism is less concerned about the compatibility of determinism and freedom than determinism (or predestination) and responsibility. The Bible teaches both predestination and man’s responsibility.

By contrast, “freedom” is a term of art. There are different ways of modeling freedom.

Freedom of the right kind is considered philosophically necessary to ground responsibility. Freedom is only relevant in reference to human responsibility–especially blameworthiness.

We need to guard against recasting issues in a way that no longer maps onto Scripture. It becomes too abstract and detached from reality.

Let’s take Walls’s first two premises:

(11) God truly loves all persons
(12) If God truly loves all persons, then he does all he can properly do to secure their true flourishing.

i) Premise #12 is already biased, because the adjective “properly” is there to give Arminians an out. Arminians don’t think God does all he can do to secure their flourishing. Otherwise, they’d be universalists. He can’t secure their flourishing without their consent.

“Truly” is another weasel word. “Truly” in contrast to what? That he doesn’t love all persons, or that “love” is used equivocally?

ii) We could also reverse the argument:

(11) If God doesn’t do all he can to secure their flourishing, then God doesn’t love all persons.
(12) Ergo, God doesn’t love all persons.

a) Empirically speaking, that’s a plausible inference. Many human beings aren’t flourishing. On the face of it, it’s easy to imagine God doing more for them to enhance their condition. So, if we were to judge by experience, we’d rationally conclude that God doesn’t love everyone.

b) Arminians try to deflect this countering that God can’t secure human flourishing at the cost of violating human freedom. But that’s ambiguous.

Many human beings who aren’t flourishing would welcome divine intervention.  Take the millions of street kids in India, Russia, Pakistan, and the Philippines. God could miraculously intervene to improve the quality of their lives.

c) Arminians will object that this would be too disruptive. Free agents need stability to make responsible decisions. Responsible decisions require predictable consequences.

But even if we accept that explanation for the sake of argument, it still means God is not doing everything he can on behalf of millions of individuals. He does not love each individual as much as he can. Rather, he’s sacrificing the individual good for the common good.

And, ironically, this means some individuals get a far better shake than others. It doesn’t mean everyone must settle for the same lower level of treatment. At least that would be equitable. Rather, you have wild disparities, where some individuals enjoy every conceivable advantage while other individuals suffer every conceivable disadvantage. It’s hard to square this with the claim that God loves everyone equally. For he doesn’t begin to treat everyone equally well. Not even close.

The street kids drew the short straw. And that’s not the straw they’d draw if given a choice in the matter. But that choice was taken away from them.

Theological compatibilists appear to be left then with premise (11), which does not seem to be a very attractive option to deny, since it is a basic theological truism. Indeed, the claim that God loves the whole world, all persons without exception, appears to be one of the clearest teachings of the Bible, as well as one of the most compelling components of the gospel. So understandably, compatibilists are not typically anxious to deny this claim, at least forthrightly.

i) Walls is taking Arminian exegesis for granted, but that blatantly begs the question.

ii) He’s also equivocating over the meaning of “love,” which is ironic for someone who alleges that Calvinists equivocate over the meaning of “love.”

It’s not so compelling to say God loves everyone without exception if you qualify that to mean God loves the damned as much as the saints. For in that event, his universal love is an impotent love. It doesn’t save you from the worst conceivable fate. That reduces divine love to an empty gesture or idle sentiment.  Waiving farewell to the lost with a tear-stained Kleenex.

By contrast, libertarians can affirm the love of God for all persons without being disingenuous, even if some persons are damned. For God extends his love to such persons in such a way that they are truly enabled to response. Indeed, it is my view that God gives all persons “optimal grace,” which means they have every opportunity to accept the gospel and be saved.

In other words, Walls invents whatever he needs to massage the problem of evil. He invents optimal grace. He invents purgatory. He invents postmortem salvation.

This reduces theology to pious fiction. This reduces theological method to creative writing. Postulate whatever you need to make it seem right to you.

It reminds me of John Hick’s eschatological verification, which is conveniently inaccessible in this life. You find out the hard way if he’s wrong. By then it’s too late to know better.

It is, I think, most telling that theological compatibilists often make claims and engage in rhetoric that naturally lead people to conclude that God loves them and desires their salvation in ways that are surely misleading to all but those trained in the subtleties of Reformed rhetoric. They assure their hearers that “whosoever will” may come when they preach the gospel, believing that only the elect can actually come or truly want to come.

i) There’s no evidence that Walls has ever read a serious analysis of the free offer in Reformed theology. For instance:

ii) Walls is alluding to Rev 22:17, in the KJV:

“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

Although Walls accuses the Calvinist of deception, it’s Walls who is being deceptive with his mangled quote. For in the full quote (which is, in turn, modeled on Isa 55:1), the phrase is clearly conditional. The invitation is addressed to those who hear, to those who thirst. And it’s free to all in the sense that it’s been paid for (made explicit in Isa 55:1).

You don’t need to be trained in the subtleties of Reformed rhetoric to understand this. You just have to pay attention to the wording, the context, and the literary allusions.

There is, however, another option for compatibilists who are reluctant to deny God’s love for all or to equivocate on the nature of love…God has other goals that are incompatible with his saving all persons…This classic line of thought begins with the unobjectionable claim that God’s purpose is fully to glorify himself. It goes on to suggest that he would not be fully glorified if all were saved, so God’s saving all persons is actually incompatible with his larger goal of receiving full glory.

This notion goes back at leas to Aquinas and Calvin…The basic idea here seems to be that God’s full glory could not be fully displayed unless he manifested his justice, which requires sin to occur, along with fitting punishment. Some must even be eternally damned for the full force of his just wrath against sin to be displayed.

This is roughly accurate, although it’s misleading to say God does this to “receive” glory. God is not the beneficiary. God has nothing to gain. Rather, the elect are the beneficiaries.

Now this is a striking claim to be sure, but we need a preliminary clarification to even begin to assess it. Is the compatibilist saying it is necessary for God to display his justice in this fashion?…Were there no sin and evil, God would never show wrath or punish anyone. If, contrary to this, it is insisted that God must display justice by punishing evil in order fully to manifest his glory, then sin and evil must occur for God’s full glory to be demonstrated. The disconcerting consequence here is that God needs evil or depends on it fully to manifest his glory. This consequence undermines not only God’s goodness, but his sovereignty as well.

i) To assert that this undermines God’s goodness is just another example of Walls begging the question.

ii) How does it undermine God’s sovereignty? Even omnipotence can’t dissolve internal relations. That’s not a limitation on God. Rather, that’s a limitation of any creaturely medium. For instance, even God can’t change the past.

iii) It isn’t absolutely necessary that God manifest his attributes. But if he intends to manifest his attributes, then it’s conditionally necessary that he employ means. Walls himself says that if were there no sin or evil, God would never show wrath or punish evil. Given the goal, that’s a necessary presupposition. There’s no inherent necessity in the goal, but with that end in view, that commits God to corresponding means. Omnipotence can’t perform a pseudotask.

iv) Some goods are second-order goods. Likewise, some goods are incommensurable goods.

To take an illustration, suppose two teenagers love the same girl. Let’s call them Jake, Jim, and Jane. And Jane reciprocates their affection. But she can’t marry them both.

Suppose Jane becomes engaged to Jake. But, tragically, her fiancé is killed in traffic accident before the wedding. After grieving his death, she marries Jim.

She and Jim have a happy marriage, and their kids turn out well. That’s a second-order good. Those kids wouldn’t exist if Jake hadn’t died in the traffic accident.

This is also an incommensurable good. Suppose Jake hadn’t died. Suppose she married Jake and had kids by Jake. Suppose they turned out well.

That’s an alternate good. But the good of having kids by Jake is incommensurable with the good of having kids by Jim, for these involve alternate histories or forking paths. If one timeline plays out, the other does not–and vice versa.

v) The Fall is a precondition of redemption. If Adam hadn’t sinned, Christ would not have come to redeem the elect. That’s a second-order good.

And that involves incommensurable goods. An unfallen world is good. In some respects, an unfallen world is better than a redeemed world. Yet a redeemed world is better in other respects, for that has compensatory goods which are not and cannot be duplicated in the unfallen world.

For one thing, as I noted before, different people will be born, depending on whether or not the fall takes place.

In addition, redeemed creatures have a greater appreciation of God’s justice and grace. For they have experienced his grace. And they’ve seen that in contrast to others, no better than themselves, who suffer God’s just punishment. That's humbling.

In the first place, it is highly dubious that justice in the form of punishing sin is essential to God, rather than an entirely contingent expression of his nature. What is essential to God is holy love, and that is what must be fully displayed for God to be revealed. Wrath as expressed in just punishment, however, is merely the form holy love takes in response to sin and evil. Were there no sin and evil, God would never show wrath or punish anyone.

i) God’s justice is as much an essential attribute as God’s love.

ii) If manifesting justice is a contingent expression of God’s nature, so is manifesting love. If there were no sin and evil, there would be no grace and mercy.

iii) Moreover, exacting justice is essential in a way that mercy is not. Mercy is inherently discretionary rather than obligatory. Sinners deserve justice–they don’t deserve mercy. So Walls has it backwards.

But even if it is granted that God needs evil fully to glorify himself (which I do not grant), the question still remains why he must punish anyone by eternal damnation. Could not God express his wrath in terrifying and striking ways, if necessary, by punishing those he has determined to sin with intense and spectacular misery for some finite duration. He could then determine them to repent in response to his punishment and glorify him by worshipping him.

i) The very fact that Scripture teaches everlasting punishment as the just deserts of the damned means a lesser punishment would be unjust.

ii) In principle, it’s not strictly necessary that God send anyone to hell. Had he decreed a universal atonement, he could justly forgive everyone through the merits of Christ.

iii) It is, however, right and just that God exact retribution on the wicked. God isn’t a wronging evildoer by consigning him to hell. That’s fitting punishment.

iv) Moreover, that underscores the gratuity of grace. This is something that Arminians like Walls never get. They act as though God is obligated to make salvation available to the wicked. That’s a perversion of the Biblical outlook. Indeed, it’s subversive. That’s taking the devil’s side of the argument.

Arminians like Walls fail to appreciate the gravity of sin. They act as though sin is merely misfortune.

Now at this point we face a clash of fundamental intuitions…What one side sees as necessary, or at least fitting, to manifest God’s justice is seen by the other side as an outrageous perversion not even remotely recognizable as justice.

Truth is divisive. Christ is divisive. The gospel has a polarizing effect. Some people are repelled by the light (Jn 3:19-20).

So I call their bluff with a test. If I am wrong, let them openly and without equivocation declare that it is the need to manifest God’s very justice that requires, or at last makes it fitting, that he determine some, perhaps many, to resist him forever, and then punish them with eternal misery, persons he could otherwise determine to freely accept his grace and joyfully worship him forever. Let them forthrightly say God is more glorified and his character more fully manifested in determining those persons to hate both him and each other than he would be in determining those same persons to gratefully adore him and love their neighbor as themselves.

I stipulate to all that. It is good to expose the true character of evil. To let evil run its course. To let some things, some people, become as bad as possible. That way there’s no mistaking the real nature of evil.


  1. "Arminians will object that this would be too disruptive. Free agents need stability to make responsible decisions. Responsible decisions require predictable consequences."

    If God had always acted in such a way, from the beginning of time, to alleviate the suffering of street children (etc.), then that WOULD be "stability" wouldn't it?

  2. Good point. That would be a consistent modus operandi.