Sorry Calvinists, God Can’t Do Whatever God Wants

Jason Micheli —  July 29, 2014 — 8 Comments

Untitled1011I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the earlier installments here.

Here are questions 22-24

I. The Father

 

22. If God is All-powerful can God do whatever God wants?

No.

 

The categories we call Truth, Beauty or Goodness exist outside of our minds, cultures and languages. They are not merely relative concepts or words we attach to things with no reality beyond this world.

Instead they derive from the universal, eternal nature of God.

What we call ‘Goodness’ derives from the eternal, unchanging nature of God, whose Being is Absolute Goodness. In addition, God does not change.

So:

If God is Perfect, Immutable Love then God cannot do something that is unloving.

If God is Perfect, Immutable Goodness then God cannot do something that is not good.

Not even God, the ancient Christians believed, can violate his eternal, unchanging nature. God cannot, say, use his omnipotence to will evil, for to do so would contradict God’s very nature.

For God to be free, then, is for God to act unhindered according to God’s nature. 

“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

- 1 John 4.8

23. If God is all-knowing, does God have a plan the world?

Yes.

God’s will, revealed through Abraham, Christ and the Spirit’s sending of the Church, is that all of creation be renewed, redeemed and resurrection; so that what was originally ‘very good’ will be so eternally with Heaven joining Earth, God dwelling with his creatures and mourning, pain and crying no more.

“Look at the stars in the sky. Count them if you are able. So shall your future be…” – Genesis 22.17

 

24. If God is all-knowing, does God have a plan for my life?

No.

God has a desire for your life: that you become as fully human as Jesus, and like Jesus, become friends with God.

How you fulfill that desire, with the gifts and freedom God has given you, is the adventure you call your life.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” – Romans 8.29

 

 

 

Jason Micheli

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8 responses to Sorry Calvinists, God Can’t Do Whatever God Wants

  1. Bobby Ray Hurd July 29, 2014 at 10:44 AM

    That’s a straw man argument against Calvinism, J, if I’ve ever seen one. I’m a Calvinist (German pietist probably) but the supreme freedom of God is not an abstract theology. I know a lot of the Calvinist world seems to behave as if this is what they believe, but it’s just modalism.

    Of course God can do what God wants. But the question is, what does God want? God wants Christ. God does not want what God does not want; thus God does not do that which God does not want; thus, God always does what God wants because God does not go against that which God wants. God is self-limiting. I’m Scottish Reformed out the ass and I would never do that kind of dualistic clap trap…because modalism.

  2. Bobby Ray Hurd July 29, 2014 at 10:47 AM

    Self-limitation is part of sovereignty. What, you think my peeps were libertarians or something!? (Wink)

  3. This is a repeat of the Descartes-Leibniz debate on eternal verities. So, e.g., the law of contradiction, A does not equal non-A: Descartes would say that such a law (an eternal truth) is invented/created/caused-by God. The upside is that God is free. The downside is that things we imagine to be universally, eternally to be the case are rather a product of a will (and therefore, in essence, arbitrary). Leibniz takes the other side, making the claim that even God cannot (and does not) violate such “eternal truths’.

    Now Jason takes it a bit farther with the rather Platonic notions (Ideas) of Truth, Goodness and Beauty, with a neo-Platonic twist. These “ideas”, apparently for Jason, are abstract, existing objects to which God is subject to. Suggesting a realism for these objects is fine until the rubber meets the road and one has to enforce the content and implications of such broad notions. Tyranny follows quickly.

    Both sides have huge downsides, though a proper Reformed Christian normally (after say, reading Barth) would rather opt for Descartes (in this case only) rather than Leibniz because if one posits anything over and against God, then of course, that which obliges God is greater than God. The sophistry of humanly apprehended “truths” is that they can never rise to a divinely objective level (well, maybe for the Evangelical mind they do). There is an indicative nature to such talk, contrary to one word answers like, “No.” There is, on the other hand, an implied ontology within the Gospel, but to turn that on its head and make that ontology normatively binding on God Himself… well, this is where even God has a good chuckle.

    In the end there is a good case to be made that Christian theology itself spawned much of modern skepticism by way of debates like this (cf. Richard Popkin’s interesting work), which entirely misses the point of the Gospel (and the Scriptures in general) and instead plays an intellectual game by other-than-theology’s rules. I believe Barth might call such musings, demonic. But that’s Barth, not me.

    • I wouldn’t say that, say, Goodness exists apart from God but that what’s revealed to us/apprehended by us as the Good corresponds to God’s essential character. I also resist any notion of God’s ‘freedom’ that includes God trucking in evil.

  4. Bobby Ray Hurd July 29, 2014 at 11:50 AM

    J, for sure. I backed into a renewed understanding of sovereignty because so much of the teaching on that is so esoteric that it took me a while to get comfortable with it. I think it’s a small wonder why when that gets out of control that the same people making those kind of baseless claims are the most libertarian in their politics. Think about that.

    I like to emphasize God’s sovereignty because to say that is to say with the same breath God also self limits himself in Christ. Self-limitation is part of sovereignty. Make a political ethic with that!

  5. Bobby Ray Hurd July 29, 2014 at 5:18 PM

    Oh and I have no clue why I used the word modalism. Nominalism was what I was thinking of; even though it’s probably still modalism.

  6. Jason, as a Presbyterian, I am naturally going to take issue sometimes when you go up against ol John Calvin. While I do believe God is love, I do not believe you can take a few verses from 1st John and use them to dismiss many other parts of Scripture. You assert that God only is free only to do “good.” Perhaps that is true if you and I are a bit flexible in what we would call “good.” Was calling Jesus to be crucified “good”? Was killing every firstborn in Egypt “good”? Was flooding the earth “good”? Calvinists maintain God is free and does what is best for us. If we lock God into our limited and morally fallible definition of what is “good” we truly are putting God in a box.

    Also, I would not limit God so much as to say he does not have specific desires for our personal lives. Would he have been just as happy for Beethoven to be a plumber, Abraham Lincoln as a farmer, or Mother Teresa as a shop clerk? I think God puts specific people, with specific gifts, into specific situations and calls on us to act. God is dynamic though and if we don’t, God has innumerable and dynamic fall back plans. But I believe, for example, God fully intended for you to be a theologian and a writer! You have a gift. I don’t think you do what you do only because you decided all alone that it suited you.

    Just some food for thought.

    All the best,

    Tom

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