Seeming Not to Care

I would like to move one of the comments from my last post on Hart to the top of this post.

“The reason I think I have more ground to stand on in rejecting an evil God for a seemingly “weak” one, is that I think this the more scriptural route. God will show us that what looks like weakness – what might strike some as lacking in sovereignty – is the truest form of sovereignty of all. So he appeals to us to have faith, and shows strength in weakness. But he always shows himself to be good, and the sort of conclusions I see you drawing, taken to their logical and practical conclusions, undermine the goodness of God itself. He doesn’t say “my grace is sufficient for you, for my good is made perfect in evil”, or “when I am evil, then I am good”, or “the evil of God is more righteous than the goodness of man”, or “God chose what is evil in the world to shame the good.” We are justified in looking for God’s strength in apparent weakness, but we are never justified in embracing apparent evil.”

But of course, the choice is not between an evil God for a seemingly “weak” one. The choice is between a seemingly evil God and a seemingly weak one. My interlocutor and I agree that God is not genuinely feeble — He is omnipotent. But the most powerful thing He ever did in this world was to die on the cross. We should also be able to agree that when the heavens seem like brass and out prayers can’t get out, and God acts like He does not care, this is not the way it really is. The breakers and waves of Yahweh really do go over David’s head (Ps. 42:7), but to conclude from the appearances that God absolutely does not care would be a false inference. But at the same time the Psalms are full of the God who appears to have run off; the God who doesn’t give a rip (Ps. 42:9). Perhaps the most striking example of this is Psalm 88. And this is not just in the Psalms — the disciples are exasperated with Jesus in a storm at sea. “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38). Jesus Christ reveals a God who dies on the cross for us. He also reveals a God who doesn’t deliver us on our timetables, and who as a consequence can quite easily appear not to care. Scripture is jammed full of references to a God who seems not to care. It cannot therefore be a scriptural objection to Calvinism that it paints a portrait of a God who seems not to care.

Now it is quite true that in the places cited above, God does not say that “the evil of God is more righteous than the goodness of man.” That is true because in those places wisdom and folly are being contrasted, along with strength and weakness. But in other places, the very kind thing that is assumed to be missing from Scripture is stated overtly.”With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward” (Ps. 18:26). We are not just bound to Scripture, we are bound to all of Scripture. Tota et sola Scriptura.

I believe that Hart more than half knows that he has not come off well in how he has engaged with Calvinism.

“It may seem, especially at the end of my reflections, that I have made Calvinism into my particular bete noire, thought that was never my intention” (p. 93).

I certainly accept this, acknowledging that it wasn’t his intention. And I don’t even mind that Calvinism might have become his bete noire. My problem is that his bete noire (at least as he describes it) isn’t Calvinism, although he plainly thinks it is. Because Hart is a highly trained theologian, he ought not to take his understanding of such things from Internet food fights. That would be like me dismissing Eastern Orthodoxy because of all that interesting stuff I learned from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. So Hart had a run-in with “Calvinists of a particularly rigorist persuasion” (p. 94). And from this he concludes that “between Eastern Orthodoxy and Reformed theology there are some differences so vast that no reconciliation is possible” (p. 94). He says that in the themes of John Calvin “there is something in my view terribly amiss and extremely remote from the genuine theology of the New Testament” (p. 94). This is methodological sloppiness in excelsis.

Hart also acknowledges in a couple that he looks like a secret sympathizer with Gnosticism. “Any Christian who has not felt at least an occasional stirring of the pathos of Gnosticism . . .” (p. 95). “What looks like a sympathy for Gnosticism in these pages, then, is more truly . . . (p. 96). This is more than a little bit interesting.

And Hart tells the story of a Sri Lankan man who had lost five children, and says that only a cretin would, at the moment of that man’s loss, attempt to soothe his anguish by saying that his “children had died as a result of God’s eternal, inscrutable, and righteous counsels.” This is quite right — only a cretin would do that. But Hart builds on this.

“And this should tell us something. For if we would think it shamefully foolish and cruel to say such things in the moment when another’s sorrow is most real and irresistably painful, then we ought never to say them” (p. 100).

But of course, in that man’s moment of anguish, I wouldn’t read Hart’s book to him either. Should the book never have been published then? But Hart then goes on and says something astonishing. He says that we shouldn’t do such a thing, not just because it would be words “spoken out of season,” but also because they would be a comforting lie (p. 100). In other words, his real objection to Calvinism is not that we have harsh and austere Calvinists out there on the Internet who can kill rats with their teeth. His real objection is that he realizes how comforting our message is, and because he believes it to be a false comfort, he objects. Believing this, he is right of course to object — but we must note for the record that he is objecting to the solace we offer to all who suffer, not the austerity that afflicts some of our cranky backbenchers.

“As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child, I do not see the face of God but the face of his enemy” (pp. 103-104).

Right. An enemy who appears to be winning. Is he really winning? Or does God have a plan?

“Our faith is in a God who has come to rescue his creation from the absurdity of sin, the emptiness and waste of death, the forces — whether calculating malevolence or imbecile chance — that shatter living souls; and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred” (p. 101).

Fine sounding words. But the God who comes to “rescue” us is late. People are already dead, wounded, lost, mangled. All that happened before He got here. Why didn’t He get here earlier and prevent this from happening? When some lunatic opens fire at an elementary school, I don’t want grief counselors three days later. I want cops now, with full clips and a disposition to act. Now either God is late because He couldn’t get here earlier, despite His best efforts, or He is late because He has a higher purpose in being late. Jesus delayed coming to His sick friend Lazarus for a reason. So these are the choices: 1. God actually is a weak sister, or 2. Welcome to Calvinism.

One last comment, and I am done with this review. Robert Letham points out in his great book on the Trinity (in his discussion of the filioque) that one of the great differences between the East and West is the view taken of the central enemy. In the East, the great enemy is death. In the West, the great enemy is sin. That difference comes in out stark ways throughout this book. This book is a book about death, which is for Hart the thing that must be dealt with. For us in the West, we die because we deserve to die. We die because of sin. “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.” It is the difference between terrible injustice and terrible justice.

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