Do Calvinists Put God in a Box? Of Course We Do, But So Do You!

If you have held Calvinistic positions on anything concerning Scripture for more than a minute, you know that the moment you voice such convictions, it will not take long for someone to make the claim that they disagree with you and “will not put God in a box.”

The irony is that the moment they say they will not put God in a box, is the moment they do. The problem with their box is that it is much worse than the box used by Calvinists because their feelings and emotions define the box they use, as opposed to the box used by Calvinists, which is scripture.

The reality is that whenever we think about God at all, we put Him in a box. We can’t help it. We are finite beings trying to think and describe that which is infinite. We are sinful and fallen trying to grasp that which is sinless, holy, perfect and blameless. Therefore it behooves us to think about Him with the guidance of Scripture. It is the only way we can think about Him properly and without error. What the Bible tells us about God is what we are to believe about Him. What our hearts tell us about Him, should be highly suspect, especially when our hearts are telling us that He is love in the sense that we want Him to be, and not love as defined in Scripture. This debate really is another form of the Calvinist/Arminian debate that started so many years ago.

Just a side note before we go on: please realize that Calvinists do not follow Calvin. What we are saying when we say we are Calvinist is that we are in agreement with what Calvin wrote about salvation, God, and man, and what Augustine wrote about salvation, God, and man, because both men held to what Paul and the New Testament wrote about salvation, God, and man. Don’t expect us to quote Calvin when we are teaching theology or (heaven forbid) debating theology. You can expect Lutherans to quote Luther, but Calvinists quote Scripture, not Calvin. This is why Calvinism won’t go away. It’s rooted in Scripture and the truth found therein. I also concede that the antithesis of Calvinism, Arminianism won’t go away either because it’s rooted in fallen human nature and the desire of man to be “like God” (Genesis 3:5). But this truth is for another blog post.

The reason I point out that we are quoting Scripture as Calvinists is because we make our case using God’s word about Him, about us, and about salvation for our understanding of how things are. We don’t rely on man’s opinion. We rely on what God’s word says about who He is, and who we are. This is really important when it comes to understanding what we believe because these issues we debate are of an eternal nature.

Let’s play Pascal’s wager on this one. If the Calvinist is wrong in his view of God and the fallen nature of man, and the Rob Bell’s of the world are right, then what difference does it make? If God, who according to Bell & Company, is just a big Teddy Bear in the sky, loving us with a gooey elixir of love, then it matters not. Why do people get so upset with Calvinists if this is the case?

However, if God is actually holy, just, righteous, and a hater of iniquity, then perhaps we should take what Scripture says about Him and us more seriously. It would be nice if we could just cover every sin of mankind in some coating of love conjured up by men if Scripture actually supported such a view. But we cannot. The word of God is the authority on God and who He is, not our fickle feelings or desires.

I think Calvinists get the most grief when we point out that God’s wrath rests upon the unbeliever. I did this in a recent post and it caught the attention of some friends who did not like that I pointed this out. Their problem wasn’t with what Scripture said which would have been a far more worthy debate, but with the fact that I pointed this out without mentioning the love of God. I didn’t mention the love of God because that was not the issue being addressed. That would be like asking me how to make a chocolate cake and then accusing me of putting the cake “in a box” because I didn’t mention how to make green beans.

I do admit that I don’t mention the love of God that much. I don’t mention it on purpose. There are so many preachers proclaiming nothing but the love of God that people are living in all manner of sin without regards to holiness because they are convinced that it doesn’t matter what they do, God loves them just the way they are. This is what happens when you start preaching that God loves unconditionally.

The reality is that God doesn’t love every fallen sinner. The idea of “unconditional” love  is a view of love that was constructed in the counseling halls of academia and is not found in Scripture. If God loves us, it is because of the sacrifice of His Son first. Yes, I know the word says: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… This is an absolutely wonderful passage and a reminder to us that God’s love for us is not dependent upon our ability to live perfect lives. We are still sinners, saved by grace and we still fall into sin. We need the reminder that His love was upon us long before we committed our first sin. But to say that this same love is upon those who are not in Christ by faith, and through grace, is saying too much. To say this love extends to the wicked sinner, or worse, the moralistically self-righteous, is abusing the truth. Romans is written to believers, beloved of God, called(the elect) to be saints… and says nothing encouraging for the unrepentant rejector of truth, be they those who have heard the gospel or have not heard the gospel.

To say that God’s love extends to everyone without exception is a lie and the most unloving thing we can do. The unbeliever needs to know that God is not happy with him/her in their sin. They must know that they need to repent of their ways and turn to Christ alone for salvation. I believe that pastors who are preaching the unconditional love of God, hoping to win converts, are doing more damage to the church than the haters of Christianity do because they present a false gospel. They present a God who loves us no matter what. But this is not what Scripture tells us. Just look at Psalm 5:4-5 For You are not a God who takes pleasure in the wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with You. The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity. For the average Christian, because they have been taught so poorly about the God who is, this concept of God hating anything at all will throw them into vapor lock.

We may not like what Scripture says about God or us for that matter. But we must trust in the God who reveals Himself through Scripture and reject our own inclinations. To trust our feelings, desires and wants when it is contrary to Scripture is utter foolishness. By that I mean there is no greater fool than the one who rests in his own inclinations especially when Scripture contradicts those inclinations.

Those who merely preach Christ’s love, present a gospel without the cross of Christ and the gruesome nature of His death on behalf of… sinners. Those who preach the full counsel of God, as Paul did, preach of God’s wrath and His Law, so that the sinner can see where they are in relationship to the God who is. It also helps us to see how much God loved us. God’s wrath and His Law give us clarity about who we are, and what we rightfully deserve. It humbles us before Him because we know that if we are not saved by His grace alone, in Christ alone, then there is no true hope for us. There is nothing in us that is lovable and not fully deserving of God’s wrath.

Try telling that to most Christians today and they will respond (correctly): “that is not my god!” I have been told this before. I agree, the God I preach is not their god. For this, I get accused of putting God in a box.

But there is hope. There are some who are beginning to see the truth about who God is. I love that this article popped up on my Facebook account this past week. One of the Duggars, Jessa Seewald, actually came out and said what I’ve labored to say here so many times. She was confronting those who when confronted with sin, scream “don’t judge!” She writes concerning the person who appeals to an all loving god:

“The person speaking this is right — their god is not angry with them,” she said. “He can’t be, because he doesn’t exist. They are not talking about the God of the Bible. They have created a god in their own mind to suit themselves.”

I wish that more Christians would understand this. We must let the word of God define who God is, not our desires or wicked feelings. To do so is to put God in a box of their own making, and not relying on who God has told us He is. We may not like what His word says about us, or Himself. But this is all we have that we can trust. To trust anything other than God’s word is utter foolishness.

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10 thoughts on “Do Calvinists Put God in a Box? Of Course We Do, But So Do You!

  1. Pingback: Do Calvinists Put God in a Box? Of Course We Do, But So Do You! | hatchcreek.com Bible blog

  2. Pingback: Do Calvinists Put God in a Box? Of Course We Do, But So Do You!

  3. G-Bo

    I might be totally wrong, but now I’m really curious! Please help!

    So it seems like you’re making God’s hatred of sin and His love mutually exclusive. But look at how Jesus interacted with sinners. With the Pharisees, He was harsh. But with sinners who were either repentant OR SIMPLY LOST, He was full of compassion. Jesus talks about hell enough for us to begin to understand the severity of sin (I’m not sure, with our finite minds, that we’ll ever fully understand how awful sin is) but He doesn’t withhold love from sinners, even those who haven’t yet humbled themselves. Obviously, He also says “Go and sin no more” which is crucial. But He does that with and in love.

    God weeps for us. He “longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice…”

    I guess my understanding is that God does love us, even before we’re justified. He is merciful. But He’s also just and holy. So while I think He does love us in our sin (again, look at Jesus’ life!), our righteousness and holiness are entirely conditional on Jesus’ sacrifice.

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    1. Hi G-Bo,
      No, the two are not mutually exclusive. My problem with the way the love of God is portrayed and taught is that it is not biblical love, and is expressed over in a way that conveys God’s love for every single person without exception, without mentioning His wrath and hatred for sin. Does God love on some level those that will never believe? We can say at least in the sense that He loves His creation, and more so, in that He loves the glory He receives in dealing with the sinners and wicked. But to say that He loves them, or anyone else, unconditionally, is a falsehood when it comes to Scripture. It paints the picture of a God who loves us for who we are. He doesn’t. He loves us for who we are “in Christ” and no other reason, for there is no good in us.

      The best way to think about this is that unless we preach the wrath of God, we cannot preach the love of God and vice versa. It is against the backdrop of our sinfulness and His righteous anger that we truly understand and see God’s love for what it truly is. Otherwise, it’s just the cheap tawdry love of the romance novel or Hollywood film.
      Blessings

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