Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast, and welcome back Pastor John. We have a question in from a listener named Tuck Warner in Coldstream in Canada: “Dear Pastor John, although I see that the Bible supports a predestination concept, I am still having trouble reconciling the fact that a perfectly loving God would in essence ‘force’ us to love him and leave us no other option. If his love is perfect, then how can he not allow us the freedom to accept or reject it?” How would you respond?
I have three responses and mainly these are responses to the way the question is asked. But I think I can help get at the underlying issues he is concerned about. The first response has to do with assuming that we know what it means for God to be perfectly loving before we actually see from the Bible how he loved. Second is a response that has to do with the word “force” when he asks, “Would God force us to love him?” I want to say a word about “force.” And third is a response to God allowing us freedom to accept or reject his love. So those are my three things I want to say a word about.
When Tuck asks how a perfectly loving God could do this or that, it seems to suggest — and I could be wrong — that he has in mind the way a perfectly loving God must act. But we humans are not in a very good position to define what perfect love in the Creator of the universe must look like. We are too sinful, too finite, too culturally bound.
For example, this is right off my front burner: I think that if the federal government of Norway were to vote on what a loving God must or may not do, they wouldn’t allow him to spank his children. This has been very much in the news recently because Norway has become increasingly, it seems, heavy-handed — I would say that anyway — in removing children from their parents who don’t measure up precisely to the ideas of what parental love looks like to the government. Whoa, government.
Well, it is as plain as the nose on your face that God spanks his children. God takes the life of his children in 1 Corinthians 11:27–30 over the Lord’s Supper, and he spanks them in Hebrews 12:4–7,
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
Now, don’t distort this passage by saying Christian parents have a right to take the life of their children. God forbid that anybody would interpret me that way. But God does. God has that right. I am not talking about how to discipline children in this podcast. We can do that another time. I am talking about the cultural limitations on defining what God can do as a loving God. If you start with the cultural assumption that God cannot do something hurtful to his children, you have canceled out Scriptures. We need to learn from Scripture what love is going to look like. So that is all I am saying is that we bring to the Bible assumptions that may or may not be true in regard to what the love of God must do. Let’s let the Bible define God’s love. That is my first response.
My second response is to the word “force” when Tuck says he has trouble reconciling the fact that a perfectly loving God would, in essence, force us to love him and leave us no other option. Now the problem I have with that is that it creates a picture in our minds that is not accurate. Anyone who loves God genuinely loves God freely. He does. He loves God freely. Anyone who loves God genuinely loves God freely. That is, he loves God because he wants to love God. That is what it means to love God. To love God is to see God as infinitely worthy of being loved. To love God is to see God as beautiful and worthy and satisfying.
And thus, seeing God, our hearts are drawn out to delight in him and enjoy him and be satisfied in him and treasure him above all things. Forced enjoyment is an oxymoron. It can’t be done. You can’t force people to make their heart love what they don’t love. You can force people to make physical movements they don’t like to make, but you can’t force them to like what they don’t like. You can’t force them to love what they don’t love. So, this picture that somehow we are loving God with our arm twisted behind our back in a painful action as God is forcing us to love him is ridiculous.
It is not only ridiculous and wrong, but it is inconceivable, because that is not what love is. When God brings about love — and yes, he does — when God brings about love for himself in a heart where it didn’t exist before, he does it by opening the eyes of the blind to see the irresistible beauties of Christ so that we freely delight in him.
There isn’t any other kind of love, but that kind of free love, which brings us now to the third response that might help him understand the second. He says, “How can God not allow us the freedom to accept or reject his love?” And the answer is that God does, in fact, leave many people the freedom to accept or reject his love. And this is called judgment, because nobody left to themselves will accept the love of God. Nobody will accept the love of God. If God leaves us to our own so-called free will, the result will be rebellion and, with it, damnation.
So all of us, including Tuck, need to seriously consider that we are not neutral. Tuck is creating the suggestion that maybe we are like a pendulum hanging straight down, not to the right, not to the left. We are neutral, ready to tilt to God or tilt to the devil. That is not true. The Bible from cover to cover says we are already tilted. We come into the world tilted, tilted to the rejection of the love of God with such a firm inclination that the Bible calls it slavery, bondage to sin. And the only hope for us is not for God to leave us in our bondage to sin and watch what our free will will do, but to overcome our bondage and enable us to fulfill every inclination we have to worship him or obey him because we have seen the irresistible beauty of Christ.
I am recording this just a few days after being at Together for the Gospel 2016 where I preached on this issue. And the title of the message was, “The Bondage of the Will, the Sovereignty of Grace, and the Glory of God.” And I would encourage Tuck to listen to my T4G message — I think they will be up in a matter of days — and listen to my argument there. Let me give it to you in one minute.
The Bible talks in at least five, maybe more, ways about how enslaved or in bondage my will is. It does not talk about me having a free will to do good. We are not free when bondage holds us this way.
- John 3:19–20 — We are in bondage to the love of darkness.
- John 5:43–44 — We are in bondage to the love of self-glorification. How can you believe when you love the glory of man and not the glory of God?
- Romans 8:6–8 — We are in bondage to the mind of the flesh that is hostile to God. Everybody apart from the Holy Spirit is hostile to God. We don’t submit to God’s law, indeed, we cannot.
- Ephesians 2:1–3 — We are in bondage to spiritual deadness — deadness.
- 1 Corinthians 2:13–14 — We are in bondage to the natural man’s mockery of spiritual things. We can’t understand them because we think they are foolish to us.
- 2 Corinthians 4:4 — We are in bondage to blindness, to the gospel of the glory of Christ.
So Tuck, if God leaves us to our free will, we will perish, because we are only free to do what we love to do. And what we love to do by nature is exalt ourselves, not God. And the only possibility is to be set free by an act of sovereign grace. Only the preciousness and beauty of sovereign grace by which he breaks into our deadness and blindness and rebellion and reveals to us the beauty of Christ can we be set free to freely love him.