For God So Loved the World?

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I was asked the following question by a Calvinistic Christian and want to answer his question in the following post. My initial argument was that for Calvinism, at least with regard to the doctrine of Unconditional Election, an explanation must be given how God is displaying His love towards those whom He has not unconditionally elected unto salvation. I insist that Calvinism dishonors God’s character in this regard, and was asked “why” or “how so” by this individual. I was also asked to demonstrate my answer from Scripture.

The individual who questioned my argument believes, as do I, that when Scripture explicitly states that God loves the world (John 3:16), He genuinely loves each and every individual (a world of sinners). After all, Scripture indicates that God is “the Savior of all people [unqualified], especially of those who believe [qualified]” (1 Tim. 4:10 NRSV). God does not, as some Calvinists (such as James White) admit that God loves the unconditionally elect and hates the non-elect. The question I, therefore, posed to him was how we can consider not electing (unconditionally) any sinner to heaven to be loving on God’s part. God is, in effect, suggesting: “I love you, I just have not unconditionally chosen to save you. I need you, the non-elect, to experience my wrath in order to be rightly glorified” (as John Piper and so many other Calvinists have reminded us).

God does not “need” any sinner to experience His wrath in order for Him to be glorified. Since God, admits the Calvinist, unconditionally elected some unto faith and salvation, then He would not have been less glorified had He unconditionally elected all to salvation — at least, Scripture does not give us that indication. Scripture does admit, however, that God is “desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power” (Rom. 9:22 NRSV). How does God accomplish this desire?

The apostle Paul argues that God has “endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction” (Rom. 9:22 NRSV). Notice that God did not “prepare beforehand” the objects of wrath (cf. Rom. 9:23). Hence God has not decreed their destruction from before the creation of the world. Inductively, we understand that all sinners, apart from Christ Jesus, are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). The Calvinist has yet to adequately explain how a supposed “unconditionally elect” individual can be a child of God’s wrath, considering that the “unconditionally elect” will allegedly never experience God’s wrath — it was decreed from before the creation of the world that His unconditionally elect will not experience His wrath (again, so claims the Calvinist). Yet Scripture unequivocally affirms that all sinners are children of God’s wrath. The only way to escape God’s wrath is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:36).

I hold that for some Calvinists to admit that God hates the non-elect is actually more consistent than to imply that God loves the non-elect, for what kind of love decrees a person to hell when He could have “unconditionally elected” him or her to heaven? Is God displaying His “love” for the non-elect in their damnation? May it never be! This is not mysteriously paradoxical, it is contradictory. I think God has every right to condemn us all for our sins. We have willingly strayed from Him. We deserve hell. He was not obligated to save any one of us. Apart from Christ, we are, spiritually speaking, “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).

But God, because of His immense love for the creatures He created in His image, decided to provide a way to escape His wrath by grace through faith in His one and only Son Jesus Christ (John 3:15-17): “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36 ESV). Note that the only way to come out from under the wrath of God is to trust / believe in the Son. All people apart from Christ are under the wrath of God. The apostle Paul explains that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18 NRSV). God will most certainly reveal His wrath. But He has provided a way for all sinners through the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17; 2:4) and the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11) to escape this coming wrath.

Why has God done this for all sinners? He has provided a way of escaping His wrath because He “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4 NRSV). From God’s own lips we understand that He does not take any pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather takes pleasure in their repentance (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; Luke 15:7; Rom. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). He does not have a vested interest in a sinner experiencing His wrath, but He will demonstrate His wrath against sin. He did so with His only Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross for our sake. For those who reject Christ, He will do so for all eternity in hell.

The conclusion of the matter is that God would not tell sinners through the gospel to trust in Christ Jesus for salvation, even enabling powerless sinners to trust in Him by grace (John 6:44, 65; Rom. 2:4; 5:6), if He had already unconditionally chosen to save only some of them. This deceptive tactic is beneath God’s holy, just and righteous character. To assume otherwise dishonors God. Calvinists such as John Piper have tried their best to explain how God genuinely desires the salvation of all people while He has decreed unconditionally to save only a few (comparatively), but have never come close to maintaining any semblance of consistency; nor have they, in our opinion, taken seriously God’s genuine desire to see all saved. How can this desire be genuine when He has already, allegedly from eternity past, unconditionally elected to save only some people? The doctrine of Election is taught in Scripture: God has elected to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21). The doctrine of Unconditional Election is nowhere taught in Scripture.