The Hate of God

Theology Thursday

I am completely besotted with my Systematic Theology class. I don’t mean specific people in some kind of creepy sketchy way, although I will say my classmates are pretty remarkably and universally fantastic. What I mean is, I’m really enjoying the dialogue and trying to stretch my brain around all these actually uncontainable ideas. Last week we had this really intense (but never hostile) discussion about predestination and free will, and as we wrapped it up (without actually wrapping it up, because of course that discussion never does get wrapped up), I said, “I think? We should all go find a pub when class is over and keep talking about this over beer.” Beer is a little more acceptable among evangelical Christians than it was when I was a kid, but I was still a little surprised I didn’t get thrown out and that some of the students even seemed to think that was, at least theoretically, not a bad idea. I think we should reopen the Inklings. I’ll be Dorothy Sayers–who maybe wasn’t technically an Inkling, but close enough. Dorothy Sayers minus the affair with the married man, I mean. Then again, I haven’t been entirely “by the book” (or maybe the Book) in that area in the past either . . .

But we’re not talking about that. Anyway, it wouldn’t be as scandalous to most of you as it sounds–or probably to any of you as you are thinking.

Unlike at least one of my classes during a previous iteration of seminary, in this class it is quite clear that the goal is to think for ourselves. The assumption is that the Bible is going to be the basis of our reasoning, but there also seems to be a general trust that each person will approach God and the Bible intelligently, honestly and humbly, and even though Prof SysTheo is quite open about where he stands regarding certain doctrines, if you can intelligently and biblically argue an opposing view, he will not mark against it. He also wants us to read across a spectrum of positions–a fact I respect very much.

I am not sure, therefore, whether Prof SysTheo assigns the book The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink because he agrees with it in its entirety, or for shock value, but whichever he means, it definitely has shock value to me. I have read all of our other texts with interest and assent, but if this one were an actual book instead of downloaded onto my Nexus 7, it would definitely have flown across the room a few times by now.

Mr (Rev?) Pink wrote his book in the 1930’s and takes a very hard-line view on the sovereignty of Go–meaning (at least as far as I understand him) that God micromanages the universe. There are, on top of this, swaths of text describing with something that reads to me an awful lot like glee (not Glee) the intentional, predetermined damnation of the majority of human life. I get the impression Pink was the kind of child who pulled wings off of flies for enjoyment. I want (I think) to talk about predestination on this blog sometime, but the concept in Pink’s book with which I take most offense is the one that God doesn’t love everybody. No, like, really–he said that. See?

If Pink's God were an Emoticon

If Pink’s God were an Emoticon

When we say that God is sovereign in the exercise of His love, we mean that He loves whom He chooses. God does not love everybody; if He did, then He would love the Devil. Why does God not love the Devil? Because there is nothing in him to love; because there is nothing in him to attract the heart of God. Nor is there anything to attract God’s love in any of the fallen sons of Adam, for all of them are, by nature, “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2.3). If, then, there is nothing in any member of the human race to attract God’s love, and if, notwithstanding, He does love some, then it necessarily follows that the cause of His love must be found in Himself . . . In the final analysis, the exercise of God’s love must be traced back to His sovereignty, or, otherwise, He would love by rule: and if He loved by rule, then He is under a law of love, and if He is under a law of love, then is He not supreme, but is Himself ruled by law (Pink, The Sovereignty of God).

How I feel after reading about Pink's God.

How I feel after reading about Pink’s God.

I think, for a theological education, it’s probably important to read some heresies. Yes, I do believe that heresies exist, even though I would agree with anyone who said we can never know all there is to know about God and so maybe we’re all heretics in a way. It kind of worries me, though, when heresies like this one aren’t called out. I don’t mean there should be a witch hunt. I just mean–apparently my own (quite saintly) Grandmother loved this guy. And this, maybe, is why systematic theology is important–so that as much as possible crazy stuff like this (there is equally crazy stuff at the opposite end of the spectrum–don’t worry Reformed conservatives) doesn’t slip through the cracks and get absorbed with our morning coffee. I mean . . . we wonder how groups like Westboro Baptist Church manage to exist? Probably from reading and not critically (and biblically) thinking through ideas like the one above.

Here is what I would say to Rev Pink if I could (though I’m not particularly hopeful he would listen to me):

Dear Rev Pink,

I’m a little shocked to hear that you believe God doesn’t love all He has made. You may be right that He has not destined all people for salvation (I don’t like that idea either, but I believe you may be right). I can see how one might think that that means He can’t love everyone, therefore, but then that idea itself puts limitations on God’s sovereignty, which you seem to think is God’s primary attribute. It seems to me that your unspoken premise is that God may not exist under a law of love, but He does exist in subjection to His own sovereignty. Which seems a little contradictory and self-defeating.

The Bible clearly declares that God is sovereign. However, that same Bible also–and just as clearly–declares God is love. It doesn’t simply say, “God is loving.” If that were all, then maybe you would have a point to say that God’s loving everyone would put Him in a position of subjection to something (an attribute) outside Himself. But it doesn’t just say that. It says, “God is love.” Love isn’t God’s attribute, but His essence. Maybe sovereignty is also His essence, in which case He is sovereign love.

You cite Malachi 1.3, where God says, “Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated,” to defend your view. However, though the ensuing verses clearly demonstrate God’s judgment on pagan peoples, I don’t think the “hatred” in this verse is any more literal than it was when Jesus told his followers they had to “hate” their families in order to follow Him (Luke 14.26). When the Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus and asked how to inherit eternal life, “Jesus looked at him and loved him,” (Mark 10.21), even though it appears he knew the young man wasn’t ultimately going to be willing to pay the price. Jesus came to show us what God is like, and I believe that story shows us–God loves everyone, whether we love Him back or not.

God’s love of everyone doesn’t negate His sovereignty. It enhances it. I agree with you that, since our rebellion, we humans have nothing inherent to “attract” God to us–but He has something in Himself–of Himself. His love is inherent, and by loving sovereignly He is being most true to Himself. We may not understand His ways all the time, but knowing and trusting that He loves all because that is who He is, is a lot more ultimately comforting than believing He is so sovereign even His love must mete itself out, and that at random. I don’t understand the doctrine of damnation, but knowing that God’s love is Himself and that He is sovereign helps me believe that there is something beyond it that I don’t see and that, even though the Bible doesn’t say this in quite these words, Julian of Norwich was right when she wrote, “All will be well and all will be well and all manner of thing will be well.”

What would you say to Reverend Pink? (I realise there may be a temptation not to, but please be polite.)

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31 thoughts on “The Hate of God

  1. I can’t really think of a response to Rev (?) Pink here, because – as you know – I hold different views on how to read the Bible than some other people do. I generally believe that Old Testament books were written by folks who, while definitely inspired by God, had a less mature understanding of God than we have. I also feel that we have not reached an “ultimately mature” view of the Bible, so future generations may come to know God more maturely than we do. With that in mind, the Mal 1.3 verse doesn’t bother me as much, simply because I feel that the idea that God hated Esau (or anyone, for that matter) is an immature view of God.

    *cue angry shouts and rock throwing*

    In “A New Kind of Christianity,” Brian McLaren makes a good analogy to explain this point. He talks about the Bible as if it were a library of math books, which are meant to teach people math as they mature. If you read a first grade math book, one of the rules will be, “You can only subtract any number from a number that is larger than it.” So, 4-3 = good, but 3-4 = not so good. As the learner ages, he or she learns about negative numbers. So wait!!! Does that mean that the earlier book that said we can only subtract one number from a larger number was LYING? No, it just means that the intended audience was only given information that they could be expected to handle. The author of those math books just waited for the learner to age a bit before they dropped negative numbers on them, and thank God that they did, or else the first grader would have been helplessly confused.

    So to try to bring this back on topic (as I realize how far it has veered from such) my point is that when OT passages that seem to endorse the hate of God are read as being 100% accurate today, and the infallibility of the Bible is meant to prove that yes, God DID order the Israelites to murder thousands of babies in Numbers, then you’re going to have the Westboro Baptist church. It’s a natural response to a literal reading of the Bible – and yeah, it would take a rather SELECTIVE literal reading of the Bible, but I challenge you to name one reading of the Bible that ISN’T so.

    • You’re back!

      I like the math analogy, and your perspective is very nice and trendy, and I won’t throw rocks, but as I have been mulling this topic over since you and I emailed about it last summer and since talking about it in class, I have to say I “fundamentally” πŸ˜‰ disagree.

      I do, on the other hand, agree (with qualifications) that literal readings of the Bible are generally selective.

      But . . . I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you here again, and I’m so grateful people are starting to post their opinions. Thanks, Dan.

      • Oooo, you called my opinion “trendy!” Them’s fightin’ words! I’m not trendy, I’m an iconoclast, going my own way, doing my own thing! I’m the John Wayne of Thinkin’ ‘Bout Stuff, and don’t you forget it.

        Although, since I got the math analogy from a Brian McLaren book, maybe I ought to give up my indy cred. ALTHOUGH ALTHOUGH, McLaren only was describing a theory I’d come to on my own, so maybe I can keep SOME of my indy cred.

        I know you’re a very intelligent person, and I greatly respect your opinion. So I’d love it if you would write me an email stating why you “fundamentally” disagree with me. (I see what you did there, by the way.) Don’t expect me to debate you on it, not because I don’t like debating, but because I want you to write it without feeling a need to defend it. I want to hear what you feel in your heart and how you reconcile it in your brain when you’re just being yourself and don’t feel like you need to defend your position.

        What I’m hoping to get from you is HOW exactly one accepts a traditional fundamentalist view of the Bible from a logical perspective. Maybe you can address the stuff that I get hung up on – how the Bible can be said to not contradict itself when it clearly contradicts itself in red letters – like when the OT “angry God” says “eye for an eye” and the NT “nice God Jesus” says “turn the other cheek.” My understanding of the Bible completely rolls with that (less mature worship vs more mature worship) but how do you make that work from a different perspective on Biblical infallibility?

        Thanks for posting something I just HAD to share my opinion about. πŸ˜‰

        • Heh. Sorry. Kind of. πŸ™‚ I do think it’s trendy, though. And I also kinda knew that designation would bug you and, ya know. πŸ™‚ *cyber-punch in the arm* Anyway, I near enough called myself a fundamentalist, which I don’t actually strictly consider myself to be, so . . .

          So thanks for the offer to explain my view. I’m going to take you up on it, but here’s how I think I’m going to do it: I have to write (and preach) a sermon on the 21st about some topic we’ve talked about in this class, so that will be my topic. After I’ve written it, I’ll send it to you in an attachment. So . . . give me about two weeks and there will be something. πŸ™‚ Thanks again for the opportunity–and also for helping me nail down what my sermon’s gonna be about!

    • Oh–also? I TOTALLY plagiarised your email in my debate about the (in)errancy of Scripture. And then someone in class said, “You can tell you’re a writer.” And then I said, “Well, I am, but I didn’t make that up–someone else said it.” So yeah. Thanks!

  2. Do you know how it’s really hard to stay grumpy when others are mocking your grumpiness (I loved your emoticon for that reason, although I wasn’t grumpy)? When kids in our youth group are getting slap happy and taking it out on others, they get a group hug, basically smothering the negative attention in overwhelming, teenager-awkward christian love. I guess mr Pink is getting a lot of group hugs.

    Also, as you suspected, I really enjoy these blogs.

    • Awww–nice. Yeah, he probably needed some. I have to say, there are some other things he writes that are really right on, but this segment just . . . really riled me up. As you can probably tell, since I actually read that about a month ago and I’m talking about it now!

  3. I’d go further and say that since each one of us is made in the image of God, then of course course (without wanting to make God sound narcisistic) God sees within everyone, the person he created to be loved, and loves us.
    What we have in Christ is not a creation of loveliness which we didn’t previously have, but the recreation of a relationship which was only ever blocked fromour side, never from God’s.

    • Ah! Yes, Lindsay! Excellent point about the recreation of an existing relationship. And about God’s image in us. I don’t think God is narcissistic either, but I DO think He loves Himself πŸ™‚ and it’s just not possible for us to talk about things like God glorifying Himself without it sounding that way–because it would be narcissistic if we did it.

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  6. Love the post! I think the answer lies somewhere between Pink and Rob Bell, Calvin and Wesley, Catholic and Baptist, Conservative and Liberal..etc..All I know is that the more I studied, the less I knew for sure. And, your grandparents were on opposite sides in this particular doctrine. But, it does expand your mind, kind of like counting stars.

  7. I was fascinated with this post. I have been thinking, pondering and mulling this over all day! After my initial reading I was struck by the quote “God does not love everybody”. I struggled with this, because I DO think God does love everybody. However, I wondered what the author’s intention truly was. We tend to think of love as a human expression…a feeling. But if you read the first sentence of your quote we are really talking about the “exercise of His love”. This is completely different…this is the action. And to me…the ultimate “exercise of His love” is salvation. If you re-read the quote and substitute the word “salvation, save, etc.” for the word “love” I think the author’s intent becomes much clearer.

    “When we say that God is sovereign in the exercise of His love (salvation), we mean that He loves (saves) whom He chooses. God does not love (save) everybody; if He did He would love (save) the Devil. Why does God not love (save) the Devil? Because there is nothing in him to love (to save); because there is nothing in him to attract the heart of God. Nor is there anything to attract God’s love (salvation) in any of the fallen sons of Adam, for all of them are, by nature, “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3).[ We all deserve damnation!] If then there is nothing in any member of the human race to attract God’s love (salvation) [i.e. there is nothing we can do to earn or merit God’s love…we can’t earn our salvation…it is purely a gift of grace], and if, not withstanding, He does love (save) some, then it necessarily follows that the cause of His love (salvation) must be found in Himself….In the final analysis, the exercise of God’s love (salvation) must be traced back to His sovereignty, or, otherwise, He would love by rule (conditional…things we can do): and if He loved by rule, then He is under the law of love (not grace) and if he is under a law of rule, then He is not supreme (because we would be able to earn our salvation on our own…have no need for God), but is Himself ruled by law.”

    I think this also ties in to the authors quote of Malachi “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated” God chose to save Jacob. Just as he chose Noah, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Israel, Judah, etc. There is nothing in any of these men that “attracted God to them” it was simply God’s sovereignty. And that is the beauty of grace. That is the gospel. We receive something we don’t deserve, something we could never earn, and have the rest of our lives to live a life of gratitude and service to a HOLY God.

    • “And that is the beauty of grace. That is the gospel. We receive something we don’t deserve, something we could never earn, and have the rest of our lives to live a life of gratitude and service to a HOLY God.”

      This I agree with–and you may be right in your understanding of Pink’s intention. I guess I think God’s love, even toward the unsaved, is more active than this allows, but you’re probably right that that is the sense in which he was using the word “love.”

  8. Hi Jenn. Where oh where do I start!! My approach to God is simplistic. There is a God and Christ will return to Israel soon whom I back. I’m sorry but I can’t stand religion, the way it’s been taken over by business, politics, fanatics and boring religious practices. If it just spread the Word, okay. I have God in my life but I am not religious, I just am, be, do, help and love. I KNOW that I am being helped, protected, guided and loved by, who I call “my dear Ones”. I don’t know who they are, where they are, which dimension or plane of existence, whether it’s a Program of Life or Beings. I don’t care. I know that if my ego takes precedent things go wrong, so I try to stay in the flow of “wait” or “do this now”. These are just thoughts and gut feelings. I have that peace within after many storms over the years. God within me? Maybe, but I know I am being helped.
    A few years ago I was opening the drapes, no-one else around and I heard the most beautiful male voice just behind me who said “Do you wish to join the Kingdom of Heaven?”. Shocked I stuttered “Yes”. and that was it, no more voices or miracles, but a memory.
    That’s it. Take care. Ralph xox

    • That’s a cool story.

      I do think it matters, at least in general, what you believe, because I believe there are evil as well as good spiritual forces out there that are ready to deceive us because our true selves will only be found in a relationship to God in whose image we’re made. (And those forces hate us and God and will do anything to prevent that from happening.) I also happen to (unpopularly) believe that Jesus is ultimately the only one who can get us that relationship with God that we need.

      *However,* I don’t think that people have intellectualise about it ad infinitum like I like to do. I just like to do it. But that’s why I’ve decided to assign these sorts of posts to Thursdays:
      1. Because I have theology class on Thursday anyway so I’m already thinking like that.
      2. Because I *want* to write about it some of the time but I know not everyone’s into these kinds of ramblings, so now they know when to show up or stay away. πŸ™‚
      3. Because “theology” and “Thursday” both begin with “Th.” πŸ™‚

      • I respect your views and where you are in your Path of Life. So no argument from me. I don’t know whether I am good or evil, the thoughts never enter my head, all I know is that if I do have a thought that I don’t like I just say to myself, ” I will not entertain that thought. Go away, go back to where you came from!”. And it’s gone. No guilt. No worry. So is God within me? I don’t know. But what I do know is that when Christ returns he will not be alone. That’s what I am looking forward to, and, of course, the New Heaven and New Earth. That’s me, simple. πŸ˜€

  9. The simple answer is yes… and no, now, the only thing left to figure out is what the question was? I have to pass on saying more due to time constraints and the fact that I can’t type. πŸ™‚

  10. You could definitely see your expertise within the work you write.
    The sector hopes for more passionate writers like you who
    aren’t afraid to say how they believe. All the time follow your heart.

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