God the Bully and Other Myths

bully-1In a poignant scene in the 1981 Academy Award winning movie “Chariots of Fire” two of the main characters are walking out of a Scottish church on a Sunday morning. They are discussing the sermon.. The skeptic makes this observation: “So, your description of God is that he is a dictator.” The other person, an older saint–a retired missionary–says “Aye, he is. But a benign, loving dictator.” They go on their way, both satisfied with that answer.

It is a good Reformed church answer. And for several hundred years, it has satisfied those who sometimes refer to themselves as Calvinists. Even those Christians who do not believe in the concept of God as “dictator” acknowledge that this position is at least tenable and plausible.

But enter the Calvinists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. No longer do they believe in a God who is gentle and benign. They still believe God is a dictator, but now God is the other type: Virile, cruel and capricious. In essence, to the neo-Calvinist, God is The Bully.

John Piper, long the banner-waver for this doctrine, recently said this about the killing of schoolchildren and other innocents:

“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die. God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand.”

He is claiming that God wanted every one of these children dead. Look at his statement for a second. He admitted in his question/answer session  that most people would struggle with his teaching. But he reminded his listeners that if you accept the absolute sovereignty of God, then you have to accept that God wanted those children dead. Nothing happens in this world, according to the neo-Calvinist, that God does not actively desire. God’s desires are always done, they claim.

In essence, if children died, God wanted that to happen. The old Calvinists would say that God permitted it to happen but did not actively desire it. Today’s Calvinists find that position to be weak and namby-pamby. If you’re going to have a sovereign God, they claim, then God needs to be sovereign over all things.

I could give many, many examples of how R. C. Sproule, C. J. Mahaney, John Piper, Mark Driscoll and others present God as a dictator, as a sovereign ruler who controls and orders all things to happen as God wants. They paint a picture of God whose will is never thwarted, whose plans always go forth, whose every whim and dictate is law.

My contention is that if all of this is true, then God is the author of sin, the author of lies and the author of murder. But the neo-Calvinist has a ready answer for this. They would claim that, as God, He can do whatever He wants, and when God does it, it is righteous. Everything God does is right; therefore, if God does it, it cannot be wrong. God does whatever He wants, and no person can say anything about it.

They are adamant about this. What they don’t realize–or perhaps they do, I can’t decide–is that God is a Bully. Since no one can stand against God, and God can do anything he wants to us, and because God is so powerful that no one can stand against him…well, that is the classic definition of a bully. A person who uses their power and authority to take away all power from others. After all, if all things are determined and we cannot make a decision that goes against God’s will, then God always gets his way and no one is strong enough to stand against Him

That is a bully.

What is not surprising is that those who espouse this position often become bullies themselves. Mahaney and Driscoll have both been removed from their pulpits because they bullied staff and congregation members at will (yes, I know both of them resigned, but it was only after they realized they couldn’t keep doing what they were doing without being fired or punished).  Piper was put on a leave of absence two years ago for the same reason. Each of them has a unique way of teaching neo-Calvinist doctrine, but all of them used their positions of authority to bully others.

In this, they are mirroring their own view of God.

This has always been the case. If we view God as the bully, we become bullies. If we view God as meek and lowly of heart, that is what we will be. If we see God as a God of vengeance, it is easy to forget that this is forbidden territory to us and we will then strive to get even with others. If we view God as gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness, that is now we will act.

As Arminians, we recognize God’s sovereignty. God can do anything God wants. But we also believe that God is Self-Limiting. What that means is that no one can limit or place restrictions on God. But God can and does place restrictions on Himself. God cannot sin. God will not be involved with injustice. God won’t violate our freedom of choice. God chooses to forgive even before we ask (just as God asked us to do).

If you are a neo-Calvinist, look at your view of God. Put down the rhetoric and the arguments for a second and look at the logical conclusion of your belief system.

Can you really love and follow God the Bully any longer?