Love and the God of Reformed Theology

In the years leading up to my transition to Reformed doctrine and in the years I’ve spent formally studying non-Reformed theology since then, one interesting objection to Calvinism has come up over and over, and I just cannot leave it alone any longer. It goes something like this: “Calvinism cannot be true . . . I refuse to believe it is true . . . because the God of Scripture is a loving God, not a tyrant who decides everything that will happen and who only redeems certain people without saving others.”

As is true of most uncivil divisions within the church, objections like this are rooted in straw-man misunderstandings. I was guilty of these fallacies for a long time before I began to study this theological tradition for myself and admit that my treatment of Scripture, church history, and personal spirituality was colored by fear rather than abandon. I was afraid of losing the version of God I had always known, even if it meant seeing the true God. This fear manifested in blind allegiance to the beliefs I had always been taught. It prevented me from taking a true leap of faith. And there came a time when I had to trust that this leap . . . this examination of why I was rejecting or accepting certain ideas . . . would be worth that moment of panic where my stomach drops and I wonder just what exactly I’ve gotten myself into.

We will never value truth about a transcendent and holy God who exists apart from us if we refuse to push through discomfort to question our preconceptions about God – who He is, how He should act, what His primary concerns should be, and how He reveals Himself.

Of course, I am not implying that anyone who rejects Calvinism does so out of fear rather than personal study. This is not an article about why you should be a Calvinist. This is an article about the real, full, incredible love demonstrated by the God who is proclaimed in Calvinist doctrine (and in Scripture).

With that said . . .

I came across an article the other day titled Why Calvinism Makes Me CryTo be fair, it’s almost a decade old. But according to what I’ve seen from its author since then it is safe to say that they still harbor these kinds of animosities (not only toward Calvinism, but toward evangelical Christianity as a whole, which is very telling). Here is a key quote from the article about the implications of Calvinism: “It means that God does not love the world; he hates it. . . it means that if that dying little girl that you held in your arms in India was not among the elect, then God did not love her. He never had any intention of loving her. She was nothing to Him. In fact, he would delight and find glory in her eternal torture in hell.

Where do I even start with this mess of baseless, twisted, slanderous accusations?

It isn’t surprising that these arguments have nothing to do with Scripture. Biblical exposition has no place whatsoever in the article, even in a vague reference. Each of these grievances, which the author explicitly admits are rooted in fear regarding “the nature of God’s love,” is leveled according to sentimental presuppositions about what God’s love must be defined by and what it must look like. This is why “God is loving” is not a valid argument against the God of Reformed theology – not unless our definition of “love” hinges on human patterns of relationship and goodwill.

It does not matter whether or not you affirm Reformed doctrines. That is not my concern here, truly. But surely it should be recognized that it demonstrates poor faith and inconsistent thinking to believe God can only be called loving when He acts in ways that are comfortable or comprehensible from the human perspective of love.

A God who sovereignly works all things together. . . according to His secret will . . . for the good of His people and the demonstration of His glory (Rom. 8:28) . . . is not less loving than a God who refuses to intervene in or hinder humanity’s freedom, even if this refusal (this “sovereign limitation of sovereignty”) means that people who could be saved end up destroying themselves forever in spite of Christ’s infinitely powerful sacrifice. A God who lets people wreck themselves in this way, even though they are ripe for redemption, is not a truly loving God outside of a limited, sentimentality-driven, human understanding of what it means to love. You can search the Scriptures all you want, and you will never find, “Love for God is not real unless you are allowed to choose it without His interference.” Yet we find this is many (dare I say most) refusals of Reformed doctrine.

In contrast, the only time I have ever felt truly secure and encouraged in the knowledge of God’s love is when I was hit by the force of verses such as these:

“He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love he predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.” (Eph. 1:4-5) [emphasis mine]

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him.” (Col. 2:13)

“. . . as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved . . .” (Col. 3:12)

God has loved me enough to push through my ignorance, my resistance, my stubbornness, and my bondage to sin. He did not merely offer me the greatest deliverance I will ever know – the only remedy for my greatest need – and then leave me to my own devices in hopes that I would muster up some scrap of goodness and ability left in my sick heart in order to find and grab hold of Him. His greatest concern is not preserving my personal sense of liberty and self-determination; His concern is in showing me the depths of my need for Him and the heights of His glorious power. And for this, I am inexplicably grateful.

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