December 2, 2013

Does God Lament?

Recently I watched this video by a Calvinist who clearly isn't the sort to engage in intellectual discourse. In order to show the incomprehensibility of Arminianism, he performs a scene which he believes typifies God's perspective towards the world if Arminianism was true. Here is how it went:

There are a couple of things here that I would immediately object to. First of all, he attempts to make God sound impotent, which is of course incorrect in Arminian theology. God is constantly active and involved in each person's life. Second, he makes God sound whiny, which is clearly off. The reference to Jesus knocking is somewhat interesting, since the idea that He knocks is a biblical reference, so I don't really know what he is trying to get at there.

But more to the point, I think he is criticizing the Arminian position for giving God cause to lament: to be sorrowful that things don't happen the way He wants them to happen. Now I can understand that such a thing is impossible within the Calvinist position, but I fail to understand what the actual problem is, either biblically or theologically.

Well I guess maybe they have a point. Can you imagine God saying something like, "How long will they reject me? Even after everything I have to done to show to them that I am here and will care for them?" or perhaps, "What more could I have done? Why is it when I worked to see my people do good, that they have done evil?" Except the first is a paraphrase from Numbers 14:11, and the second from Isaiah 5:4.

The Bible is actually full of divine laments, such as Matthew 23:37 or Jeremiah 7:31. This idea that God gets whatever He wants just isn't there. Therefore there seems to be good biblical grounds to merely except this "criticism" (that is that God would be able to lament) to be biblically accurate, which raises the question, why does the Calvinist reject it?

But then there is the theological question: why is this even a problem? Clearly, the Calvinist feels that it would make God weak. But this seems to be mostly a human concern. Even if God isn't as "strong" as a Calvinist wants, He is still stronger than anything else. Indeed, why would an omnipotent being be concerned that he is seen as strong? Doesn't that sound more like insecurity than true strength?

Of course, the assessment is also completely inaccurate. Arminianism still teaches that God is omnipotent, however it is certainly true that God doesn't use His full power. I mean, I certainly believe that God is gentle, but that doesn't necessarily lead to the idea that he is weak. When I lament that my son disobeys me, is it because I lack the power to force him to do what I ask? No of course not. It is because the level of force necessary for me to get my way will break him. He's delicate. Indeed it takes strength for me to be gentle with him.

Thus, I don't see God not getting His way as a sign of His weakness, but our delicacy. And I recognize that as a loving Father, He is gentle with us, even when we disobey. After all, which is more important? Affirming that God is strong, or that He is good? Sacrificing goodness for a clearer demonstration of strength feels more like a high school jock than a good shepherd.


drwayman said...

Jc Freak - I think it was this Calvinist's attempt at humor but came off badly. I think that mocking is poor way of conveying important theological truths.

Regarding lamenting, I really enjoyed a book (with study guide) that Michael Card published in 2005, called A SACRED SORROW. It posits that the church needs to engage in more lament, especially in communication with God.

As you point out, God laments, the Bible is full of laments; hence, it is appropriate :)

Jc_Freak: said...

I just had a conversation with my family about this over Thanksgiving. Because humor can be a great communication tool, one should be able to joke about anything. But if you are going to joke about something sensitive, you have an obligation to actually be funny. This guy failed to meet that obligation.

Kevin Jackson said...

Whatever attempt that video was, it wasn't funny. Cool bagpipes of "Amazing Grace" though. :) I like your analogy of lamenting for your son as being a type of strength.