Calvinism and the Wrath of God – Does God’s Attribute of Wrath Imply Calvinism? (Part 2/3)

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Part II – The Philosophical Case Against the Wrath-fulfillment Thesis

A Questionable Presupposition of the Wrath-fulfillment Thesis
The first thing that should be noted in response to the wrath-fulfillment thesis is that it appears depend on a very questionable assumption. It seems to posit wrath as an essential attribute of God. But is this really plausible? As Walls & Dongell point out, such thinking is plausibly taken to be a result of serious confusion:

“For wrath is not an essential aspect of God’s nature like holy love is. Rather, wrath is entirely a contingent matter: Wrath is the form holy love takes in response to sin and evil. If there were no sin and evil, there would be no need for wrath ever to be displayed.”
(Walls & Dongell, 2004, 178-179)

It thus seems more plausible to regard God’s wrath as a relational attribute, rather than an essential one. It is more akin to God’s attribute of being the creator, rather than the attribute of, say, omniscience. But such attributes should be thought of as contingent and derivative from the essential attributes.

The Incompatibility of Divine Independence and the Wrath-fulfillment Thesis
One aspect of traditional Christian doctrine of God that only few have wanted to dispute is the notion that God is an independent being. This means that God is not dependent on anything external to himself. As a logical implication of this view, one should maintain that God was free to either create or not to create a world. God did not lack anything prior to creation, and he could have refrained from creating anything at all. This implication, as well as its root in the doctrine of independence of God, is widely accepted among Christian thinkers. We may provide the following quotations in support of this claim:

“Indeed, it has generally been held that God was perfectly free either to create a world or to refrain from creating”
(Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach & Basinger, 1991, 70)

“Throughout the centuries, it has often been seen as central to the Christian conception of creation to affirm two other propositions about the scope of God’s freedom with respect to the activity and products of creation:
 (1) God was free to refrain from creating any universe at all.
(2) In choosing to create, God was free to create some other universe instead of our universe.”
(Morris, 2002, 145)

Now, it seems clear that Calvinists (being so adamant – and rightly so – in upholding the majesty of God in their theology) are unlikely to dispute that God could have refrained from creating the world without this implying any lack in God. But this seems totally incompatible with the wrath-fulfillment thesis, since according to its premises, there was a need for God’s wrath to be fulfilled by his judgment on the actual sin of some of his creatures, and this was the reason for their reprobation. The conjunction of the doctrine of independence and the wrath-fulfillment thesis thus leads to a consequence that is untenable. God without creation would have to either be wrathful toward himself (which is made impossible by God’s perfect nature) or he would have to be unfulfilled in some way (namely, in the demonstration of his attribute of wrath). But since it is true that in every possible world, God acts according to what is good, and it is good that a perfect being is fulfilled in every respect, this seems to imply that God would create in every possible world (in order to get a chance to fulfill his wrath), which is in contradiction with the doctrine of divine independence. (This argument can also be reformulated in terms of “perfect being theology”. That version of the argument would maintain that the contradiction arises from God’s being a perfect being, and his being unfulfilled in some way.) Therefore, for anyone who holds more firmly to the doctrine of divine independence than to the wrath-fulfillment thesis, this provides a good reason to reject the latter. And for anyone who holds the divine independence doctrine to be at least probably true, this line of reasoning can function as a part in a cumulative case against the wrath-fulfillment thesis.

Continue to Part 3

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