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May 4th, 2012 @ 11:09 pm by Kevin
In a blog post written last summer (but recently dredged up by Nick Ahern), Baptist theologian Roger Olson asks how serious a heresy universalism is. He goes on to unpack different kinds of universalism, arguing that some forms of universalism are an egregious error, while other forms are simple errors–and that everyone has some sort of simple errors in their theology. I’ll let you sort that out for yourself. What I want to address is something else he says toward the beginning of the piece:
I would have to wonder how a God of love can enjoy love from creatures that is not given freely. Of course, someone might argue that, in the end, every creature will freely offer love to God and be saved (e.g., Moltmann). I would just call that optimism. There’s no way to believe that true other than a leap of optimistic hope.
Olson is giving voice to a view held by many Christians, particularly in the Arminian camp. Namely, that love is a decision. Therefore, it requires freedom, because any decision made under compulsion is not a free choice. Leaving aside the obvious objection that any decision made under the compulsion of eternity in hell could hardly be considered free, I have some other reservations about this way of thinking.
First of all, rather than a feeling that compels your affection toward a particular person, this statement seems to turn love into a logical proposition that you can either accept or reject. The problem is, in my experience love isn’t something you decide to do; it’s something you feel. We make decisions based on our feelings, but rarely do we decide how we feel. So it seems like this statement is premised on a misunderstanding (or at least a disagreement) about what love actually is. Of course, I understand there are different kinds of love, and that loving your neighbor as yourself and loving your enemy is a choice you must make in the face of your own selfishness and/or desire for revenge. But that’s quite different from the kind of love that children have for their father
Which brings me to my second point: Olson’s statement doesn’t square with experience. Jesus instructed us to view God as Father, so that seems to indicate we can learn something about our relationship with God by examining our own father-child relationships.
It just so happens that I’m the father of four children. If you asked any of them when they chose to love me, they would give you a funny look. Choose to love me? They’ve always loved me, because I’m their dad. Choice has nothing to do with it. It’s like they’re hardwired to feel affection toward me and to expect the same in return. They couldn’t choose not to love me no matter how hard they tried. It would be like me trying to choose not to like chocolate cake.
And if my children ever did reach a point where they hated me, that wouldn’t be the result of a free decision. It would be the result of an emotional experience where I betrayed their love through abuse or neglect (or perhaps someone deceived them into believing I’d done so). But I’m willing to bet the depth of their hatred would be matched only by the strength of their desire to see our relationship restored. So even if they devoted the rest of their lives to actively seeking my destruction, the source of their hatred would not be a free choice made in response to my love. It would be the symptom of a deep, inner pain caused by a love that had never been accepted or returned.
If a father-child relationship is the correct frame for our relationship with God, then I can’t help but think the same forces are at work. If we are God’s children, wouldn’t we be naturally inclined to love God and to seek his love in return? If so, could the decision to reject God ever be called free? It seems far more likely that people reject God as the result of a negative emotional experience that they attribute to God or to the church that bears his name. Listen carefully to those who devote their lives to denying God’s existence. Beneath it all I think you’ll find a person who is angry that God didn’t measure up to who they expected him to be–which could be a way of saying those who call themselves the people of God didn’t measure up. So in the end, their atheism is driven more by emotion than logic no matter how many arguments they trot out in defense of their views.
Therefore, I have to side with Moltmann here. When all that is painful and false disappears, and only God is left, who wouldn’t choose him? But even then, I don’t think you will be able to call it a choice. It will be more like a mad rush to embrace the one for whom we’ve been searching all along.