Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Demonstrative love

Freewill theists say the God of Calvinism is less loving than the God of freewill theism. They say God loves everyone, whereas (some) Calvinists say God only loves the elect. They say Calvinists redefine "love" to make it conform to Reformed theism. 

In addition, they often make human good a standard of comparison for divine good. For God to be recognizably good, he must behave in ways analogous to what we consider to be virtuous human behavior. Specifically, they often use the parental analogy: a good God will treat all people the same way a good father will treat his children.  

Let's play along with those assumptions for the sake of argument. What does it mean to be loving? What does it mean to be recognizably loving? Consider two illustrations:

Suppose a man fathers a son by a mistress. He provides generous child support payments. If his son has special medical needs, he foots the bill. 

However, the father avoids direct contact with his son. His son has never met his father. This despite the fact that they live in the same town. 

Would we consider the man to be a loving father? Surely there's more to being a good father than providing for the physical needs of your kids. The son needs to spend time with his father. Do things together. Talk. Hug. Parental love requires demonstrative love, not hands-off childrearing. 

Suppose an elderly parent becomes too enfeebled in mind and/or body to care for herself. She has an affluent grown son who pays for a live-in caregiver. Or maybe he pays two or three caregivers to be there on rotating shifts. So his mother is never alone. 

He has hidden cameras in her house to monitor the treatment she receives. To make sure she's not neglected or abused. When she's hospitalized, he receives regular updates on her medical status. 

But he never visits his elderly mother–even though they live the same town. He never calls her on the phone.

Would we consider him to be a loving son? Surely it's not enough for him to provide for his elderly mother behind-the-scenes. She needs to see that he loves her. She's at a time of life when it's easy to feel unloved and unwanted. Does anyone love her just for her? Will people still love her when she can no longer do anything for them, but everything must be done for her? She's at an emotionally vulnerable time of life when, more than ever, she needs reassurance. She needs to see her son. Hear him talk to her. Hold her hand. 

Suppose we grant the freewill theist interpretation of John 3:16. Problem is, many unbelievers have never even heard of that verse. They don't experience God's love as God's love. Even if good things happen to them, there's nothing that recognizably connects that to God. They have no tangible evidence that God loves them. John 3:16 is just an abstraction. 

They feel that they are on their own. They have no experience of God's demonstrative love. Even if God is working behind the scenes to provide for them, that's undetectable. They can't sense God's love. 

Moreover, my two illustrations are pretty idealistic. What about, say, the plight of street kids in the Third World? 

In my observation, freewill theists like Jerry Walls and Roger Olson are sociopathic in the sense that they have no real empathy. They talk about God's love in the abstract. They presume to speak on behalf of everyone. But they don't project themselves into the experience of many lost souls. They don't speak from the viewpoint of the lost. Freewill theists may say God loves everybody, but everybody hasn't heard God telling them that. As far as they can discern, God, if there is a God, is an absentee father. 

A freewill theist can, of course, "redefine" love in a more detached, providential sense, but that falls well short of the human exemplars they bring forward when contrasting Calvinism with freewill theism. 

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