The day the tulip died, part 8

So there were two things Rob Bell said that made me walk away from Calvinism. The first (and I’m paraphrasing from memory) was:

There are lots of things God can do [followed by a rapid-fire, Rob Bell-esque list], but the one thing he can’t do is make you love him.

OK, to be fair, this sounds a bit . . . problematic. Isn’t God all-powerful? How can you say there’s something he CAN’T do? Didn’t God once ask whether anything was “too hard for the Lord” — the obvious answer being NO — and then proceed to make parents out of a couple of infertile nonagenarians?

But there IS something — or more precisely, a category of things — which God cannot do.

God cannot do that which is incompatible with his character. According to the writer of Hebrews, God cannot break an oath. According to James (the brother of Jesus), God cannot tempt or be tempted by evil.

The apostle John wrote that “God is love.” That is, God is the very embodiment of love. It’s essential to his character.

Sure, God is lots of things. God is holy (Psalm 99:9). God is light (1 John 1:5). God is spirit — i.e. breath, the source of life (John 4:24).

And to the extent that God is any of these things, he cannot be their antithesis. He cannot be unholy. He cannot be darkness. He cannot be death (which explains why Genesis and Revelation connect death to separation from God).

Last, God cannot be whatever is antithetical to love. So what exactly is love’s antithesis? Is it hate? Strictly speaking, no. Sometimes love compels us to hate certain things. Love demands that we hate injustice, oppression, and discrimination, to name a few.

The antithesis of love is coercion. Love, as portrayed in the scriptures, requires a decision not to use what power you have to manipulate others. It means setting aside your priorities to focus on the interests of others (Philippians 2). God himself provides the model for this kind of love, which we are called to emulate.

Other gods coerce. The God of the Bible loves.

In response, the neo-Reformed argue that love and coercion are not necessarily incompatible. Some, including Mark Driscoll, have offered the following hypothetical scenario (or in Driscoll’s case, not so hypothetical) to make their point: “If your child ran into oncoming traffic, would you just stand there and watch because you don’t believe in coercive love?”

The answer is, of course, no. But the analogy doesn’t really work. According to the Bible, God is the father of all who live. So how could an all-powerful God run into the street after some of his children but not others? What kind of God is that?

Besides, God has already gone to the greatest lengths possible to save all who will have him — incarnating himself, managing to contain uncontainable deity in a human form, and then dying at the hands of those he could’ve easily crushed.

The bottom line: if you believe, as I now do, that love and coercion are fundamentally incompatible, then it becomes impossible to maintain a Calvinist view of predestination.

And not because free will is so important. The truth is, we’re not nearly as free as we like to think. All sorts of external factors — where we were born, what kind of environment we grew up in, etc. — limit our freedom in a thousand different ways.

Then again, this isn’t really about free will.

It’s about God. It’s about what kind of God we believe in.

If we agree with the apostle John that “God is love,” and if we believe the same rules of love apply to him (because God made them in the first place), then it’s impossible to conceive of God determining that a select few would be saved — willing or not — while the rest are predestined to eternal damnation.

God cannot make you love him, as Rob Bell once said, because love by its very nature doesn’t force itself on the unwilling.

Part 9 (the final part) of this series can be found here.

4 thoughts on “The day the tulip died, part 8

  1. Some, including Mark Driscoll, have offered the following hypothetical scenario (or in Driscoll’s case, not so hypothetical) to make their point: “If your child ran into oncoming traffic, would you just stand there and watch because you don’t believe in coercive love?”

    Pulling a child out of traffic does not guarantee that he will love you or even be thankful, so Mark’s illustration is not really an example of “coerced love.” The child might be extremely ungrateful and still despise the parent. If Mark really needs an example of coerced love, then he might be able to find one in the realm of drugs, lobotomy, or abusive mind-control conditioning.

    As a point in question, do you think that Mark consider the ending of the famous George Orwell novel “1984” as a successful example of “coerced love?”


    1. Good question.

      The other reason Mark’s illustration doesn’t work is b/c OF COURSE he had to intervene the way he did. His daughter was TWO at the time. A two-year-old doesn’t know any better. She doesn’t understand the dangers involved. She has no concept of getting hit by a truck and being killed. In other words, she’s not yet capable of taking responsibility for her own actions.

      Love demands different things for different people at different stages. Yeah, if my 16-month-old tries to do something stupid or dangerous, I’m not going to let her. I’m going to “save” her from her own actions, even if that means overriding her will. But as she gets older and becomes more responsible for her actions (and more aware of their consequences), I’m going to have to give her progressively more freedom to make her own choices.


  2. Well Ben. Quite a bit of conversation…on your part…but not succinct scripture to put “election/selection” out of the realm of obscurity. I so very much want to believe in “whosever will may come” but the very fact that GOD is sovereign leads to whatsoever HIS will “is.” The whole fact of sovereignty may well be the issue; not election/selection isolated. HIS sovereignty override everything? Of course. Otherwise not sovereignty at all. So why the bit about election/selection at all written in scripture? It confuses, conflicts, discourages, and obscures the issue of “whosoever believeth.” Is believe the be all end all. I have stood on belief in Jesus as GOD and my personal savior all of my 72 years. But with dealing with the predestination issue, I am confounded. Not for my own personal beliefs but because I cannot fathom bringing children into this world that GOD’s sovereignty could/would determine hate. Why would such strong word as “hate” be scriptural in light of Jacob and Esau.? Why Judas Iscariot? Why not just enough with “the people” who some of which were HIS believers betray him?


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