Sometimes People Get Sick and Die. For God's Glory Alone?

I’m an Arminian. Well, I guess that’s not super accurate. Mostly I’m using the term “Arminian” to just mean “not a Calvinist”. At least not a Calvinist in the TULIP sense of the word. Down through the last...oh...20 or so years of my life, I’ve had the great misfortune of discussing theology with lots of TULIP-Calvinists. Here’s a sample dialogue of how those conversations go:

Me: The God of Calvinism is both arbitrary and capricious in how he chooses between the saved and the damned.

C: His choices are made for His glory alone. Who are you to question the choices God makes in his infinite wisdom?

Me: Well, I’m a Christian, so I tend to believe what the Bible says about right and wrong. It seems like it would be a sin to punish someone eternally for something that person couldn’t have avoided. I don’t like the idea of a God who sins, so I can’t be a Calvinist.

C: But that person sinned and it would be an affront to God’s glory if that sin went unpunished.

Me: True, they sinned...but on your view they couldn’t have chosen differently. God MADE them sin.

C: They chose to sin. God may have determined their will, but it was nevertheless their will that chose to sin.

Me: Right...but God’s will determined the sinner’s will...which means the sinner’s will couldn’t have been different. How can that sinner be held accountable for what God willed? Shouldn’t God be the one held accountable for it?

C: How dare you impugn God’s glory?!? Heretic!

Me: You’re such a douche.

C: You’re going to be burned at the stake! Guards! Take him away!

 

Ok, those last three lines don’t usually happen...but they may have were I having the discussion with Calvin, himself.

Anyway, I thought about having a big discussion of free will and reasoning through why Christians shouldn’t be fatalists and why compatibilism makes no sense, but I just kept coming back to this whole thing about “God’s Glory”. It occurs to me that every Calvinist I’ve ever known has LOVED to reference the glory of God, as if that term has some obvious definition that somehow includes causing the innocent to sin and then sending them to hell for it. Not to mention all the suffering included in “God’s glory”.I mean seriously...look at that screenshot I posted above. This screenshot was from a Facebook group full of Calvinists talking about the awesomeness of Calvinism. So...just remember folks, next time your friend loses her three month old child to cancer, run in and boldly sing, “to God be the glory, great things he hath done!”

Anyway, I thought it’d be fun to see actual definitions of God’s glory given by real Calvinists. Turns out there’s some confusion in the Calvinist crowd. John MacArthur has this to say: “the reason God did not choose to love everyone savingly is because the love of God is qualified and controlled by His glory.” So according to MacArthur, one of the premier Calvinists of the 20th Century, God’s glory is logically prior to His love.

John Piper disagrees with MacArthur. In this sermon from 2014, Piper argues the exact opposite. He uses Isaiah 6:3 and Leviticus 10:3 to argue that “the glory of God is the manifest beauty of his holiness.” He says, “The Glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of God’s manifold perfections.” Essentially Piper argues that because God is holy, he possesses glory. So God’s holiness is logically prior to his glory. Piper, though, defines God’s holiness as, “being in a class by himself in his perfection and greatness and worth.” He talks about God’s “infinite perfections.” What are God’s infinite/manifold perfections? Well, that would have to be His divine attributes. Things like omnipotence (perfect power), omniscience (perfect knowledge), and omnibenevolence (perfect love). Well, if God’s perfect love is logically prior to His glory, then contra MacArthur, God’s love is not qualified and controlled by His glory.

Piper is definitely closer on this point and MacArthur is just dead wrong. Piper is correct that God’s glory is rooted in His holiness, but he’s wrong that in order for it to be “glory” it must be “manifest”. There are plenty of texts where God’s Glory is not manifest. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology says:

An important passage...is Exodus 33:18-23, which shows that, while there are aspects of God's nature that are revealed to Moses (his name, "back"), there are other aspects that are not manifested (his glory, "face"). Thus, God's glory exists prior to and apart from any manifestation of it. The same teaching is implied in John 17:5, when Christ refers to the glory that he had with the Father before the world was. And in Proverbs 25:2, the glory of God is in concealing, rather than in manifesting. Moreover, the titles of God as the Glorious One (Psalm 3:3) and the Majesty on High (Heb 1:3 ; 8:1) point to the same conclusion, that God's glory is fundamentally independent of external manifestation.”

 

So God’s glory need not be manifest in order to exist, but it still must flow from His holiness. That holiness includes the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence.

So now that we know what “God’s Glory” is, I want to talk about some Calvinist claims about God’s glory that seem to me to be wrongheaded at best, offensive to God at worst. First, I want to address that screenshot from above a little more seriously. Knowing now what God’s glory is, can anyone explain to me just how someone’s getting sick and dying glorifies God (i.e. demonstrates His holiness)? In the spirit of charity, let’s suppose that it means this:

(1) some seemingly bad things that happen are nevertheless a demonstration of God’s sovereign control over everything, which is good and glorifies Him.

But why should we think that anything that merely falls under the umbrella of “subject to God’s sovereignty” glorifies him? According to most versions of Christianity, EVERYTHING is under God’s sovereign control, including the following events:

The fall of man

The rebellion of the angels/demons against God

The Holocaust

The systematic rape and torture of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda

The murder of 20 elementary children at Sandy Hook

Stalin’s elimination of 20 million Russians

A 3 year old being kidnapped and tortured for two days before being killed by his 10 yr old captors

 

So do these events all happen for “God’s glory alone”? I doubt William Doane had this in mind when he wrote “To God be the Glory”. What does the Bible say about stuff like this? Does it indicate that every event, no matter how heinous, points to God’s glory? James says God is neither tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone to evil. David writes that God is not pleased with wickedness. But we also know that God demands to be glorified and is pleased when He is. Now consider response (1) from above again. If this response is to be followed all the way through, then it would follow that that which does not please God in fact pleases God.

Wait, but God has sovereign control over everything, including whether or not people sin, right? So, can we then say that each time someone sins by raping and torturing a child it’s being done for God’s glory alone since He presided over the event?

How about this rationale:

(2) since God has a sovereign plan and, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” we can say that the sickness that *whoever* dies from will eventually glorify God by bringing about His plan.

First, that verse really would only apply to “those who love Him,” so it doesn’t exactly cover the unchurched tribesman in Africa who dies a horrific death by Ebola. Second, even if the sick person is saved, there’s nothing in Romans 8 that implies that whatever evil is experienced actually glorifies God in and of itself. There is an implication that God may later be glorified in the outcome, but not by the evil itself. In fact, v. 21 seems to imply that the current state of creation does not display God’s glory since its current state of “bondage and decay” is contrasted with the future “freedom and glory of the children of God.” How does bondage and decay demonstrate God’s glory? And further, if it does display God’s glory, why would it need to be “liberated” from its current state?

Then there’s this whole issue of hell. Another great Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, says that in order for God’s glory to be upheld, He must sentence people to hell in order to fulfill perfect justice. He further says that one day all the saved will rejoice in God’s judgement to hell of the wicked. Other Calvinist theologians have made this same claim, some pointing at Rev. 19-20 and talking about rejoicing in the destruction of Babylon. A quick response is that these texts seem to be talking about an earthly destruction of the wicked city of Babylon, not a final judgement to hell of all the wicked. The same can be said of other verses used to justify this view like Ps. 58:10 or Prov. 11:10. These texts all refer to physical destruction rather than spiritual destruction and final judgement.

But this gets us to the larger issue: on TULIP-style Calvinism (as is represented in the little dialogue above), God determined our wills at all points prior to the creation of the world. He literally causes us to will to commit whatever sin it is that we will to commit. He then punishes us for that sin and sends most to hell as a result. On The Prosblogion, philosopher Alexander Pruss writes a bit longer dialogue with a Calvinist that sets the stage for my point to follow. Please read it here. Now, with Pruss, I agree that the deterministic nature of God’s imposition on human will, thus causing humans to sin, would constitute a sin for God. Rom. 3:23 notes that “sin” falls short of God’s “glory”. If that’s the case, it must be the case that TULIP-Calvinism cannot be true, since if it were God would fall short of His own glory.

So to summarize: In order for God to possess His own glory, He must not commit sin. In order for God not to commit sin, He must also not cause others to sin. In order for Him to not cause others to sin, He must not cause them to will to sin. In order for Him to not cause them to will to sin, He must allow them the freedom to determine their own wills. In order to allow them the freedom to determine their own wills, He must allow them libertarian free will. Therefore, in order for God to possess His own glory, He must allow His creatures libertarian free will. And therefore, TULIP-Calvinism, which denies that God allows His creatures libertarian free will, is false

Scott Wheeler

Des Moines, IA

I'm Scott Wheeler. I'm a lot of things – Christian, Montanan, conservative, philosophy-lover, amateur theologian, gun-owner, Detroit Lions fan, Spikeball player, owner of a dog named Eleonore. I work at a jail doing things completely unrelated to my interests or qualifications. I love being contrary: if old, stale thought is all the rage, I like to find a new perspective. If new and novel ideas are all the rage, I like to defend more traditional views. I genuinely appreciate disagreement so long as it never strays from civility.