Friday, April 18, 2008

There's glory for you

One of the difficult aspects of Calvinist theology, for me, is what happens to certain terms. For me meanings of terms arise from ordinary usage. Otherwise, we get something like this, from Alice in Wonderland;

And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'
`I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'
`But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.
`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'
`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. `They've a temper, some of them -- particularly verbs: they're the proudest -- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -- however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'
`Would you tell me please,' said Alice, `what that means?'
`Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. `I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'
`That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.'
`Oh!' said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.
`Ah, you should see 'em come round me of a Saturday night,' Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side, `for to get their wages, you know.'
(Alice didn't venture to ask what he paid them with; and so you see I can't tell you.)

One of the things that has puzzled me about Calvinists is their frequent claim that God reprobates the lost for his own glory. This has always seemed to me like the ballhog basketball star who pads his own statistics for his own glory, even if it costs the team games. Bnonn presents an account of glory which he takes to be biblical:

Now it seems to me that the Bible talks about glory in a number of ways, but when it speaks of God glorifying himself it ultimately is referring to his manifesting his divine attributes. This is an intrinsically good thing, since God is good, in every way, in and of himself. Thus, when he uses Pharaoh and the Egyptians as instruments in whom to manifest his wrath and power (that is, to glorify himself; cf Exodus 14:17-18), it is good that he does so. And how could he glorify these attributes if he did not have sinful vessels in which to do it? Therefore, even on a superficial analysis, it seems quite evidently false that God is deprived of glory by eternally reprobating sinners instead of saving them. Such a view presupposes that God can only obtain glory by being merciful or “loving” (but I’ve shown that even then that would not be genuine love). Now even on its own terms this might well fail, since an argument can be made that God would be less merciful to the elect if there was no actualized punishment from which they were delivered.

Now here's the actual passage from Exodus:

15 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen."

Now manifesting something, I take it, is manifesting something to someone. It doesn't seem to be the simple exercise of divine attibutes, it is a matter of making the Hebrews aware that God had the power to deliver them in spite of the opposition of the greatest superpower in the world of the time, the Egyptians. In the same way, we might say that Amare Stoudemire gains glory by dunkin over Duncan. Why? Because people see Amare's greatness in scoring against such a renowned defender.

So if people are reprobated and sent to hell by decree, instead of saved, and this is for God's glory, I take it it is to show the elect that God has the power to inflict everlasting punishment. But surely, the elect, who are in God's presence forever, need no such demonstration. I can see how God might need to be glorified by a demonstration of wrath in the eyes of the stiff-necked Hebrews. It is not as if people in heaven forget every so often that God had the power to damn them, and so have to be reminded by being given an occasional glimpse of the Black Pit.

So I can't make sense of the idea that God reprobates for his own glory. I'm not even saying here that we must reject the idea, but what I am saying is that this analysis doesn't make sense of it. It seems to me that God could acquire this glory in the eyes of the elect in ways that are not nearly so painful to others.


Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Victor, two things:

1. Are you saying that God, the author of language, cannot redefine the ordinary usage of a word which already partially reflects what he intends to say?

2. Why are you precluding God himself as a party to whom glory can be manifested? Indeed, is God not the most important party in this particular situation? True, he may reveal something to his creation for the creation's sake, but does he not also simply do things for his sake? To approach you on your own turf, consider a great artist. Does he create art simply to show it to others? Does he desire to explore all of his artistic abilities simply so that other people can laud them (I speak in a human way)? Of course not. He finds these things worth doing in and of themselves.


Victor Reppert said...

What you have in mind is some kind of self-actualization view. Which is one way to go, but is that what is reflected in the use of the term "glory" in the passage? And if not in that passage, in what passage?