The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #6: Is God Cruel If He Lets a Believer Fall Away?

Related Fallacies:
Special Pleading (Double Standard)
Straw man

“Of course, this raises the question, why does their God save a person to damn him? Why not simply leave him in his unsaved state?” – Steve Hays, Tender Mercies

To get a better view of this fallacy, let’s examine the author’s argument more fully from the analogy he gives:

Suppose there’s a new student in high school. His family moved into the area a few weeks ago. Because he’s feeling lonely and out of place, suppose I appear to befriend him by inviting him to take a fishing trip with me and two of my high school buddies. He’s overjoyed to make some new friends. On the first day out, he falls into the water. Unfortunately, he can’t swim. Fortunately, I jump in to save him. He hugs me and thanks me profusely for saving his life. He tells us how much he’s looking forward to the life ahead of him. I nod and smile. The next day he falls into the water again. Only this time I don’t rescue him. I let him drown. What is more, I had premonition that this would happen before I ever invited him to join us on the fishing trip. I knew that when I saved him the day before, I’d let him die the day after. I knew all along, as he was hugging me and thanking me for saving his life, that I’d let him die the very next day. Why rescue him in the first place, only to let him drown a day later? Isn’t that cruel? …

Problems with this logic

This critical failure at critical thinking can be easily answered with a simple scriptural example:

“Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5)

How each systematic theology interprets the events of Israel’s fall in the wilderness reveals much.

Arminian Calvinist
Did many of the children of Israel rebel against God? Yes Yes
Were they destroyed in the wilderness because of their rebellion? Yes Yes
Did God know beforehand that they would rebel, and yet permit it to occur? Yes Yes
Did God deliver them from Pharaoh's army anyway? Yes Yes
Did God not only permit their rebellion, but actually want them to fall? No Yes
Could those who fell have chosen to be faithful instead of rebel? Yes No
Did God permit them to choose either obedience unto life or rebellion unto death, or did He permit only that they choose rebellion unto death? God permitted them to choose either God permitted them only to choose rebellion unto death
What was the ultimate cause of their rebellious acts? The rebels' independent free will God's decree

These answers are particularly ironic when the rest of the spiel is considered:

I know something he doesn’t. I know that he is doomed. But I allow him to entertain a tremendous sense of relief after his brush with death, even though, unbeknownst to him, that’s a temporary reprieve which is just a set-up for his untimely demise. How is that so very different than a serial killer who orchestrates the death of his victim by befriending the victim to gain his trust, so that he can toy with the victim before he delivers the coup de grâce?

“A set-up for his untimely demise”? Per the table above, if the Arminian view is that God didn’t want the children of Israel to fall, but the Calvinist view is that their fall was His perfect will, who then is framing God as setting them up for their demise?

“A serial killer who orchestrates the death of his victim…[toys] with the victim before he delivers the coup de grâce”? From where did their rebellious downfall ultimately originate? Note again that in the Arminian view, this was the Israelites’ own doing and not necessitated by the will of God; in the Calvinist view their rebellion was necessary due to God’s decree. So who then is portraying God as orchestrating the downfall of the people He had saved?

Who then portrays God acting cruelly?

Is it cruel of God to save people from destruction and give them a genuine opportunity to obtain the promise, even though He knows they will ultimately die in a self-started rebellion?

Or is it cruel for God to save people from destruction only to lead them out into the desert to die in a rebellion that He Himself inescapably decreed they commit?

The fact that God shows His continued kindness to men on a conditional basis is well-established in scripture (e.g. 2 Chronicles 16:6-9). So the logic of this argument then breaks down to the ridiculous position of condemning God as ‘cruel’ if He saves someone, but later lets him suffer the destructive consequences of his own free choices; and at the same time lauding Him as good and just if He saves someone, then later destroys him for choices that God decreed he make! That’s special pleading at its most absurd. Further, the author confuses and equivocates God merely allowing the evil to occur (the Arminian view) with God ‘setting up’ and ‘orchestrating’ the event (which better reflects his own exhaustively deterministic views). The comparison of God to a serial killer in that He’s eager to deliver the death blow is also a complete mischaracterization, since He doesn’t take pleasure in the death of the wicked (or their wickedness for that matter).

The missing piece

Back to the question of apostasy. Just as Israel fell in the wilderness after being saved from the wrath of Pharaoh, so the scriptures warn us against likewise incurring God’s judgment after He has shown us His goodness.

“See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven…” (Hebrews 12:25)

“Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11)

“Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.” (Romans 11:22)

God wouldn’t be any more cruel for punishing such an apostate than He was for punishing the Israelites for their rebellion. Missing from the weak and badly misplaced ‘fishing trip’ analogy is any reference to the factor of willful rebellion against the Savior. Apostasy isn’t something that people suddenly just fall into by accident and without warning. The apostate isn’t some poor kid flailing in the water and crying for help to an uncaring and indifferent God. He’s the one who walked once, but is now an enemy of the cross (Philippians 3:18). He’s the false teacher who knew Christ, but turned away (2 Peter 2:20). He’s the servant who repays his king’s forgiveness with cruelty to his fellow servants (Matthew 18:23-35), and before the just Judge of all the earth, his sentence is the same as all who do not love our Lord Jesus Christ.

11 thoughts on “The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #6: Is God Cruel If He Lets a Believer Fall Away?

  1. Very nice. From the comments on Hays’ post, you would think this is one of the most amazing arguments ever. That kind of praise is unhealthy as it just encourages his constant stream of fallacious reasoning.

  2. Also, I would accuse Hays of the appeal to pity fallacy, as he is trying to say Arminians are wrong because their theology has God allowing people to come into such pitiable states. This would be hilarious if he weren’t so utterly serious about the argument, because all we have to say is, “Hays, your theology has God irresistibly decreeing and actively causing all of this!” Ya know, if we were appealing to pity.

  3. Bethyada, good catch. I’d say per 2 Peter 2:20 that you’re exactly right.

    Brennon, the only way one would be able to use such an appeal effectively is to show that the behavior would violate God’s nature as He’s revealed in the Bible. To be sure, God isn’t cruel in any objective sense, but it’s beyond argument from scripture that He’s very harsh with those who turn against Him. Hays’ argument consists of taking God’s severity against people who rebel despite His goodness (and are thus more deserving of condemnation), then framing Him as being cruel for it. For his caricature, he might also be charged with oversimplification since his fishing trip example altogether excludes the main reason God condemns the apostate.

  4. That argument just highlights the problem of human analogies. It may make sense to us, but it is not truth from God. If your theology is based on logical tricks of your own devising, be careful.

    Great article, using scripture.

  5. Excellent argument. The fact that the apostate willfully rejects the Lord’s commandments and lives for himself is totally absent from the analogy, and this makes all the difference. Calvinists beleive that “no one can ever pluck them out of the Lords’s hand”, but that does not account for those who willingful wonder off on their own.

    I rejected Calvinism initially becuase God, according to the Calvinists, indeed does not seem just, as I’ve discussed on some of my blog posts. I know–it says athiesm vs. faith. I used to be conceneed about the New Atheists, but it seems what is going on within modern Christianity is far more damaging. Such as the idea that all one has to do to be saved is beleive in the historical facts of Christ’s resurection, recite a few words and that’s it.

  6. Pingback: Fallacy 6 Revisited (and Wrong as Ever) « Arminian Perspectives

  7. J.C.

    Your chart comparing Arminianism and Calvinism is inaccurate in a couple of areas. For one, most Calvinists do not hold that the ultimate cause of rebellion is God’s decree, but rather the sinner’s stubborn will.

    Second, did God want Israel to fall. In a sense ‘no’ and in a sense ‘yes.’ The same can be said for the death of Christ. Was this God’s will to happen? Yes. But didn’t those men who carried out this murder violate God’s commands? Yes. So how can God will that they violate his commands by killing his Son? Did he want them to? In a sense ‘no’ and in a sense ‘yes.’ (cf. Acts 4:25-28)

  8. Jason, my chart is quite accurate. Most Calvinists believe in exhaustive determinism, and if asked why they were stubborn and committed rebellion, it ultimately goes to back to God decreeing they be so. There’s really no other alternative if you rule out free will.

    “Did he want them to? In a sense ‘no’ and in a sense ‘yes.’ (cf. Acts 4:25-28)”

    He wanted His Son offered up for our sins, and used His enemies’ own wickedness to accomplish it. That God didn’t unconditionally desire that Israel fall was what I was getting at.

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