He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: A response to the two wills of God

Posted: March 25, 2013 in Theology

Love

I recently blogged about the difficulty Calvinists have in being able to say that God truly loves everyone. You can read my comments about that topic here: Does God Love Everyone?. The gist of that argument was this.

  1. If God loves everyone, then he would want the best for them.
  2. The best for them is being in a relationship with God.
  3. On the Calvinist view, God must cause someone to be in relationship with him.
  4. Not all are in relationship with God.
  5. Therefore, on the Calvinist view, God does not love all.

In the post, I tried to overcome objections that may be raised, specifically the one about God showing different kinds of love to different people.

A short time later, a facebook friend raised another objection that I had not considered – the two wills of God. The objection basically says this: God has more than one will. He has a precretive or moral will and he has a decretive or sovereign will. What was argued was that God truly loves people, but he has an overarching will that glorifies him more, a will that causes him not to express love to some and justly send them to hell for their sins. Here are some excerpts of the objection.

The Objection

“[God] may love one thing (like a person), and yet love a second thing MORE (like his glory) such that it forces him to choose to NOT show love toward the first thing. When you insert a competing love, that may make God NOT love someone that he would have otherwise loved, had that competing desire not been introduced. God’s emotions are complex and can result in God both feeling love for someone and yet choosing to act in such a way that His love for them is suspended, being constrained by a competing desire. In this way, He can both love AND hate the reprobate. God may very well desire that you repent, come to Him, be saved, enjoy everlasting life, etc, AND desire that you NOT do any of those things at the exact same time, with the latter desire winning out (not to the complete elimination of Him continuing to feel the former). I may love chocolate, but I may love not getting fat MORE and decide to not eat the chocolate. In one sense I want it, and in another sense I don’t. My love for chocolate hasn’t gone away, it’s just been constrained by a greater, competing desire. It’s like that with God…He can both desire one’s everlasting good, benefit, wellbeing, flourishing, relationship with Him, etc. AND desire to not act on that (for some) because of a greater love – namely, the love he has for manifesting His own glory. Perhaps the saving of some and the destruction of others brings Him more glory than would the salvation of all, and therefore the destruction of some would come to pass in spite of His love for them due to His greater governing desire to glorify Himself.”

Although I am still wrestling with this topic, here are my initial thoughts regarding this objection.

Response

My understanding of the two wills of God has been similar to what is described above. He has a moral or perceptive will and a decretive or sovereign will. His moral will is the laws and precepts that he desires/wills based up his good and perfect moral character. He decretive will is the will that ultimately gets carried out (what comes to pass in reality). This will brings about the greatest good and glory for God. A perfect example is the death of Jesus. Sinful acts carried out by men and abhorred by God were in God’s very plan to bring about salvation. The moral will was placed subject to (at least temporarily) the decretive will to bring about the greatest good.  But I see two problems with this “two wills” approach as we try to apply it to this specific problem of God’s love for all.

First, in the examples used to show the tension between these two wills, it is always evil or suffering that is permitted. The carrying out of his moral will is what is always suspended – people are allowed to act contrary to what God commands for a time. But trying to apply this to the “does God love everyone” question seems to imply that God is able to act contrary to his moral will by personally not doing something his moral will would require. But this CERTAINLY is not the case, for he always acts consistent with his character. For if God is loving, he can’t not be loving. If God is just, he can’t not be just, etc. At least on the surface, this seems to pit God against himself.

Second, when we look at the two wills of God, the moral will is always subject to the decretive will ONLY for a temporary time. God allows evil and suffering, but only temporarily. So it’s not as though God chooses to always allow evil so that he receives greater glory – for never dealing with evil would be against his character. But rather, God allows evil only for a temporary period before he deals with it decisively. His justice is only suspended a short time. It is not eternally playing second fiddle to his glory. But if we apply this two wills approach to his love for all, then it seems like he is eternally suspending what is good and essential to his character, namely his love, to manifest his glory to a greater degree. For a temporary time we can understand and make sense of this (e.g. when suffering strikes for a time that brings us closer to God), but eternally suspending his love? Eternally loving yet not ever showing love? How can this be?

Finally, I want to respond to something said in the quote above. It was stated: “He may love one thing (like a person), and yet love a second thing MORE (like his glory) such that it forces him to choose to NOT show love toward the first thing. When you insert a competing love, that may make God NOT love someone that he would have otherwise loved, had that competing desire not been introduced.” As the old cliché saying goes, love is a verb. I think this is true. Love is an action as illustrated by 1 Cor. 13:4-7. So to say that God can love someone void of any action seems contradictory to the Biblical understanding of love (unless one means it in the “common grace” sense that I pointed out in the previous post). In this same quote, it is said that the competing desire may make God NOT love someone that he would have otherwise loved. I think this confirms my point. On the Calvinist view, God seems to choose to NOT love some, and withholding love, in my mind, seems to be the same thing as not loving.

I have not explored this topic in great detail, so there may be stones yet unturned. But as it stands, its seems a Calvinist will find it impossible to affirm – in a meaningful sense – that God loves everyone. As a person sympathetic with much of reformed doctrine, this troubles me and has left me with more questions than answers. But I do know this: God is good and his truth will satisfy. Therefore, I encourage you to wrestle with me on these matters in an effort to know the truth. I look forward to your comments.

Jordan

Comments
  1. Johnny Midkiff says:

    I don’t think God loves everyone.Think of all the unreached people groups,who have never heard the Gospel.The Bible says you must be born again to enter the Kingdom.So what about all the people who never had a chance to turn to the Lord?

  2. Landon says:

    The line of argument in the objection seems to imply that that God is more glorified when he does not love us to the point of electing us than He is when he does love us. If this were the case, would God not choose his glory every time? God is glorified in His justice when a sinner is punished in eternal Hell, but he is equally glorified in his justice when a sinner whose sins are atoned for go to Heaven because the debt has been completely paid. 2 Timothy 2:4 says that God deaires that all would be saved. I dont think this desire competes with his desire for glory.

  3. Natalie says:

    I found this post randomly whilst searching for something else in google. I really appreciate the clarity and brevity of your point. My husband and I attend a 4-point Calvinist church (although I personally cannot fully embrace Calvinist interpretations–they keep me up at night and the implications distort many of my views of God), but my husband is more ambivalent, and I often jokingly ask him if he is going to tell our young daughter that Jesus loves her or not. If I do finally decide that scripture undoubtably teaches TULIP, I plan on telling her that Jesus may love her, but I cannot be fully certain. I suppose I can at least comfort her by telling her that I at least love her! I can’t see doing otherwise without compromising my integrity. I did read once that Calvin taught that the children of the Elect are themselves elect, although I can’t locate the source.

    • Jordan Tong says:

      Natalie, thanks for your comment. I continue to struggle with this issue. I too attend a “Calvinist” church, but not an overly dogmatic one – there is room to struggle. To be completely honest, I don’t think one could label me a 5 point calvinist. This is one issue that hinders me from taking that step, as it seems clear from Scripture that God does have a genuine love for all. As I tell friends, I am a calvinist 3 days a week and a molinist the other days. Thanks again for your thoughts.
      Jordan

      • Deborah says:

        Hi Jordan,
        Are you still checking this blog? Looks like it’s been a couple years now. If you are checking, I want you to know that I went through this same struggle after having considered myself a Calvinist for many years. (I was raised Calvinist.) It’s a comfort to me to see that I am not the only one who has struggled with this question. And I agree with you that a Calvinist must conclude that God doesn’t love everybody. But even the smallest child (I have 4 young girls) will understand from even a basic exposure to Jesus that He loves every child born into this world. It makes me sad that Calvin’s theology has become so entrenched into our minds that we would even have a doubt that God loves everybody and wants all to be saved. But here’s what I really wanted to write: I’ve thought about the “two wills” idea. Piper has a good article on the subject at the end of one of his books (The Pleasures of God, I think). And I used to think it was great. Bu I’ve changed my mind. When it comes to God’s desire to glorify Himself, we have to remember that Jesus glorified the Father through the Cross, and the Cross is the place where the Bible declares that both God’s justice AND His mercy were perfectly united. His justice was satisfied on the Cross, and His mercy was given through that same Cross. So I think that His “two wills” were BOTH fulfilled through the Cross. This leaves us with the question as to why some people still end up in hell. And I think the answer is that people go to hell only by rejecting God’s grace (which comes to mankind through the cross, either back in time or forward in time). Since God’s justice has been satisfied through the Cross for the sins of the whole world, it can only be true that people are condemned if they reject God’s offer of grace. I do not know how this can work for people who have never heard of Christ. But I can trust the heart of a God who loves all men and wants everyone to come to repentance, who came to this earth not to condemn people but to save them, that He would never cast anybody into hell unless they had been given a chance to accept His grace. I cannot draw near to Calvin’s idea of God. And I’m grateful to finally be able to tell my little children with full conviction that God absolutely loves them and want them to be saved.

      • Jordan Tong says:

        Deborah, thank you very much for your comments. I still do blog occasionally. Life is pretty hectic right now, and blogging usually takes a back seat. My wife just had twins (which makes #4 and #5 for us), so sleep is my #1 priority right now! LOL!

        I appreciate your comments and understand completely your evolution of thought. I would say that my own theology runs very close to yours. While my greatest heroes of the faith are typically Calvinists (Piper, Edwards, John Bunyan, Tim Keller, Greg Bahnsen, etc.), I do find myself disagreeing with them on some of the points of Calvinist theology. I would probably consider myself a Molinist more than a Calvinist.

        Thanks again. Feel free to sign up for email updates for the blog.

        Jordan

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