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Does God hate the sin but love the sinner?

In the comment thread of ‘What happens to those who haven’t heard the gospel?’, I told a commenter, Elizabeth, that God does not love sinners in hell. Stuart disagreed, saying:

I disagree with Bnonn on the idea that God does not love those he has to punish. The wrath and hatred of God is reserved only for sin, and humans are caught up and are complicit in it, for which they suffer the consequence on the merit of their own choices. Therfore, God may still love the people in hell.

This is a pretty important topic, because it has huge consequences for what we tell unbelievers in apologetics and evangelism—so I want to bring it out of the comments and respond in a new post.

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Southgate’s “only way” the Wrong Way: God’s Omnipotence and Benevolence in the Problem of Natural Evil

The Problem of Evil

Christopher Southgate, author of The Groaning of Creation, denies a cosmic fall on the grounds that suffering, pain, predation, extinction, etc., (P) is instrumental in the Darwinian process for producing values, such as consciousness, rationality and the “range, beauty, complexity, and diversity of creatures the Earth has produced.”[1] Here is where the major plank in his compound evolutionary theodicy enters the picture: his “only way” argument–really just an assertion.[2] It is that for God, the P intrinsic to the Darwinian process was the only way in which God could bring about the many good values that have arisen in nature. In the Problem of Evil: Part Two, I offered three reasons why this major plank in Southgate’s argument is rotten. First, it presupposes natural evil is morally evil.[3] Second, a world without P may indeed be unimaginable, but that does not make P untenable. Third, his solution is successful in protecting God’s benevolence, but unfortunately at the expense of divine omnipotence.

On this third criticism Southgate does note Michael Lloyd’s unwillingness to accept such a solution specifically because it limits the power of God. All he offers is an assertion that fails to address the point. He states,

“I fully accept that we can never be sure that this was God’s only way to give rise to creatures such as stem from the 3.8-billion-year-long evolution of the Earth’s biosphere. We can only say that given what we know about creatures, especially what we know about the role of evolution in refining their characteristics, and the sheer length of time the process has required to give rise to sophisticated sentience, it is eminently plausible and coherent to suppose that this was the only way open to God.”[4]

But if God is omnipotent (can do anything that is logically possible), it is incoherent to suggest he could not have achieved the same values that have arisen by acting in such a way as to avoid the disvalues of P.  Hence Southgate’s solution to the problem of evil then is to favour a benevolent God to an omnipotent one.

To preserve God’s omnipotence a preferable argument would be that the actual world was the only feasible world for God to actualize given specific purposes, such as to bring a maximal amount of free creatures into relationship with him. Such a world may be filled with all types of natural and moral evil, even in the animal world. Since it is logically impossible to make someone freely do something, this does not subvert the traditional understanding of divine omnipotence. Southgate acknowledges creaturely freedom may be one of God’s purposes that could explain all the natural evil in the world, but shies away from saying this purpose is the reason why P characterizes the actual world.

Different divine purposes could apply in other specific situations. For instance, the spread of the gospel is in large part dependant on the fossil fuels that resulted from mass extinction events.


Footnotes

[1] Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation; God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil (Louisville, KE.; Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 29.

[2] Ibid., 16.

[3] I have argued in The Problem of Evil: Part Two that this is dubious with three reasons that could assume animal suffering is similar in type and intensity to human suffering, and with one reason that argues animal suffering is not similar.

[4] Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 30.

Does God hate the sin but love the sinner?

“There is a small element of truth in these words: God has nothing but hate for the sin, but it would be wrong to conclude that God has nothing but hate for the sinner. A difference must be maintained between God’s view of sin and his view of the sinner. Nevertheless the cliché (God hates the sin but loves the sinner) is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner, his wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Rom. 1:18ff.) and on the sinner (John 3:36).

Our problem, in part, is that in human experience wrath and love normally abide in mutually exclusive compartments. Love drives wrath out, or wrath drives love out. We come closest to bringing them together, perhaps, in our responses to a wayward act by one of our children, but normally we do not think that a wrathful person is loving.

But this is not the way it is with God. God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against his holiness. But his love … wells up amidst his perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in his perfections must be wrathful against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended him; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is that kind of God.”

D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (2000 Crossway books), page 68-69.