Tom and Ashley are on a date and walking down the street. Tom, feeling romantically and sexually attracted, timidly reaches out to hold Ashley’s hand and feels a thrill as their hands touch. Ashley does nothing, but six months later files a criminal complaint. Tom is guilty of “Criminal Sexual Contact.”
“Impossible!!” you say?!!
This “Tom and Ashley” scenario illustrates the level of legal involvement being considered by the American Law Institute. Right now, policy makers continue debating policies surrounding affirmative consent – the “yes means yes” rule. And, right now, they define criminal sexual contact as the touching of any body part, clothed or unclothed, with sexual gratification in mind (click here for newspaper article). All of this flows from trends to protect women from date rape — trends seen not only on college and university campuses, but also in the courts.
What’s their foundational assumption? That permission precedes any intimacy. That without this permission any attempt at intimacy becomes forced. That ALL people resist forced relationships! And especially forced intimate relationships!!
What if this “Tom and Ashley” scenario were extended to us and God? Without our free will — our permission — would not any relationship that we might have with God be a forced relationship?
In this blog I intend to explore issues of spiritual intimacy and to demonstrate the failure of predestination to explain why God must not be charged with spiritual rape.
An episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation captures the problems with an intimate relationship being forced upon another. In the episode, Liaisons (aired September 27, 1993), the Enterprise welcomes two alien ambassadors in a “cultural exchange” that will also send Captain Picard to their planet with Voval, the Iyaaran shuttle pilot, who is gruff and uncommunicative.
Their awkward silence is disrupted by a malfunction aboard their ship. Crashing on an unknown planet, Voval receives a concussion, but Picard is seemingly unhurt. He decides to seek help outside, but falls to the ground trying to traverse the planet’s stormy surface. While he lies unconscious, a human female silently drags him away.
Picard awakens on the distant planet in a small, dimly-lit cargo cabin. He learns that the woman’s name is Anna and that she is the sole survivor of a Terellian cargo freighter crash that occurred seven years before. Anna informs Picard that Voval did not survive the crash.
As this 10 minute video segment begins, Picard begins to realize that he is being held against his will.
At the conclusion of his ordeal, Captain Picard informed Ambassador Voval that what he did to Picard would be considered a crime on Earth. All of this puzzled the Ambassador greatly. Like any good “social scientist,” Voval attempted to replicate the original “experiment” by following the original circumstances as closely as possible — placing Picard into an equal context. But the experiment failed. And the experiment failed because Ambassador Voval misjudged the place of honesty and trust, permission and free will, and common values in healthy, intimate relationships.
Ambassador Vival needs a crash course on intimacy!
Intimacy refers to very close association, familiarity, contact. People experience intimacy whenever they feel safe emotionally while revealing deep personal thoughts or actions. However, feeling safe disappears quickly when choice (free will) disappears. No one can demand or control or manipulate intimacy because intimacy is voluntary and reciprocal.
What would intimacy with God look like? In his book Spiritual Intimacy, Richard Mayhue identified three biblical analogies that help us grasp what close association with God looks like:
- Shepherd with sheep
Jesus described how sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd and how they willingly follow that voice. In fact, good shepherds become so close to their sheep that they would risk their lives to keep their sheep safe. Jesus clearly identified himself as this kind of “shepherd” (John 10:1-18).
- Husband and wife
Most of us have no idea of the closeness experienced between a shepherd and sheep — relevant for those listening to Jesus, but not a part of our culture. For us, marriage works as a better analogy of intimacy. Scripture portrayed God as the husband of Israel (Isaiah 54:5 and Jeremiah 31:32) and Christ as the groom of the church (Ephesians 5:25-32).
- The parent-child relationship
The Apostle Paul linked us to God in the very intimate parent/child relationship when he used, “Abba” (Aramaic for “Daddy”), in the following verses:
God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6 NIV) and
You received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15 NIV).
When the Apostle Paul wrote (extensively) about “Christ in us” or “We in Christ,” he created the mystical foundation that would fascinate followers of Jesus who longed for spiritual intimacy. Throughout church history we encounter people that sought this special intimacy with God. For example, in his book Seeking Spiritual Intimacy, Glenn E. Myers described a journey toward a deeper life guided by medieval women of faith. Early in the thirteenth century throughout Belgium and Germany, the Beguine movement resulted in thousands of women living in small communities of a dozen women. “The Beguines were ardently in love with the Lord, and rather than using the term ‘personal relationship’ as we might today, they employed the language of intimacy, viewing themselves as brides of Christ” (page 25) — often quoting from the Song of Solomon to express this love of Jesus. Today, “spiritual formation” represents the intentional path of seminarians and pastors toward spiritual intimacy with God.
In their book The God of Intimacy and Action, Tony Compolo and Mary Albert Darling describe how this kind of spiritual intimacy promotes the church’s mission of justice and evangelism. Darling explained that “there is a world of difference between studying about what makes for a good relationship and actually experiencing one.”
“Meditating on Scripture creates opportunities for us to come to Jesus in more intimate, mystical ways than ordinary study ever could. Perhaps the biggest lie in Christianity is that we can in fact be Christian without developing that kind of intimacy with Christ” (page 118).
Scripture repeatedly reported God’s frustration with generations of people that ought to value and enjoy close association with God, but instead choose other relationships — idols! For example, God became jealous and angry when Israel pursued the Baal of Peor (the god of the Moabite mountains) through sexual contact inherit in the rituals of that pagan cult (Numbers 25; Deuteronomy 4:3; Psalm 106:28-31; Hosea 9:10). These feelings of betrayal would be normal in any intimate relationship.
However, what kind of relationship can God enjoy with us if our free will disappears?
And there are plenty of verses in the Bible that seem to teach that God must override our free will so that we can enter into a personal relationship with God. Such as:
“No one can come to me (Jesus) unless the Father who sent me draws them…” [Jesus] went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them” (John 6:44 & 65 NIV).
Then he (Jesus) opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45 NIV).
Many scriptures reveal the relational distance between humanity and God is so great that we cannot enjoy this relationship without God’s assistance. For example:
The LORD looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:2-3 NIV).
The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:6-8 NIV).
Within these Bible verses, Calvinism sees “total depravity” in people. Our sin contaminates every aspect of our lives so much, that we cannot do anything to move into a right relationship with God. God must take the initiative and give us the desire to even want this relationship with God! Calvinists call this gift from God, irresistible grace (or the “softer” term, effectual grace).
Now, we must deal with some definitions:
Irresistible Grace (or efficacious grace) is a doctrine in Christian theology particularly associated with Calvinism, which teaches that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (the elect) and, in God’s timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to faith in Christ (click here for reference).
Irresistible grace (Lat. gratia irresistibilis) A view stressed in Reformed theology that God’s grace as it works for the salvation of an individual will accomplish its purpose and will not be thwarted. It was one of the five canons of the Calvinistic Synod of Dort and part of TULIP (click here for reference).
Immanence and Transcendence. Theologians refer to the near presence of God as God’s immanence and the otherness or holiness or difference of God as God’s transcendence. Immanence and transcendence both describe God’s activity toward what is created and they must never be considered alone (immanence alone becomes pantheism and transcendence alone becomes deism). “As immanent, God energizes the wills of human beings by his Holy Spirit; as transcendent he is never to be equated with the world, the ”All,” or his creatures, and his Spirit is holy” (The Thiselton Companion to Christian Theology, 2015).
Did you catch the language in these three definitions?
- “overcomes their resistance”
- “will not be thwarted”
- “God energizes the wills of human beings by his Holy Spirit”
These definitions deny people their free will in any relationship with God! And this is a big problem for those who do not see predestination in terms of perspective (see my blog, Predestination is only a matter of perspective). Any other understanding of predestination exhibits varying degrees of God influencing us, even cajoling us, toward spiritual intimacy with God. Exactly how can this kind of spiritual intimacy with God be different from Tom’s attempt to connect with Ashley? In this comparison, both Tom and God would be guilty of initiating an intimate relationship without first securing permission. Or, as Captain Picard informed Ambassador Voval, what he did to Picard would be considered a crime on Earth. In effect, God would be guilty of “criminal spiritual contact!”
In his book Chosen But Free, Norman Geisler identified two theological positions within Reformed theology — extreme Calvinism and moderate Calvinsim. In the extreme Calvinist understanding of predestination, God operates with such unapproachable sovereignty that God’s choices are made with total disregard for the choices of people (page 47). Yet even moderate Calvinists view predestination in terms of foreknowledge — that God knows beforehand who would freely accept God’s unconditional grace (pages 185-186). However, the moderate Calvinist position cannot explain away this contradiction..
If God foresees those who will freely respond, then they have done something to catch God’s attention! And if they have done something, then grace is no longer unconditional.
This “nonresolvable” contradiction continues after centuries of debate (another future blog). Hopefully, my view of predestination in terms of perspective will end this fruitless discussion. However, both views of predestination (i.e. within both extreme Calvinism and moderate Calvinism) fail to explain why God should NOT be charge with spiritual rape!
Yet even after centuries of debate, no one seems to write about spiritual intimacy as a problem for those holding to either view of predestination — extreme or even moderate Calvinism. We should expect some discussion from theologians when they address issues of God’s immanence. However, linkage between predestination and spiritual intimacy appears nowhere in the literature. Perhaps this blog will get this needed discussion started! If I have missed any of these issues in the literature, then I apologize for my lack of thoroughness. Please draw my attention to all relevant sources.
If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were (source).