How Calvinism and Pantheism redefine Good and Evil


In a Calvinistic worldview, everything is as God wills it to be. For the sake of consistency, those with Reformed positions have to believe the world exists the way it does because God wills it to bring himself as much glory as possible. Therefore, in this system, the definition of “good” is relegated to whatever is because whatever is somehow brings glory to God. This is something Calvin argues in the Institutes. A pantheist has similar struggles to derive a definition of good.

A concrete example illustrates this principal. To a pantheist, things like a disease outbreak or a natural disaster which leads to mass causalities cannot be objectivelybad. It can be painful from a subjective perspective but there is no basis for it to be characterized as unequivocally evil. This is because the bacteria which carry the disease or the physical elements involved in the natural disaster are just as much an expression of God as a person, a tree, or a “beautiful” sunset. In a similar manner, the Calvinist cannot say disease or natural disasters are objectively bad because they are an expression of God’s will, designed to bring him the most glory possible.

This problem is exemplified in Calvin’s own writing. While he attempts to shield God from any moral culpability for sin and evil, he also admits, “What Satan does, Scripture affirms to be from another point of view the work of God.” Works and events which seem antithetical to God’s commands and nature are automatically grafted into his will.

In fact, Calvinism’s framework bears a striking semblance to the yin and yang. This Chinese symbol is meant to show that everything is interdependent and complimentary. This concept is “Christianized” by Edwards when he argued, “There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from.” Both extremes are necessary for God to receive his due glory.

In this respect, Calvinism and pantheism each create a similar impact: they upend any stable, objective definition of good and make the reality of evil illusory. Through this disruption of the definition of evil, the definition of good becomes arbitrary and fluid.

The alternative to this problem created by these worldviews is to recognize evil as the logical consequence of sin. It is entirely separate from God on an ontological level. The opportunity to sin is a necessary condition for a meaningful relationship grounded in mutual love. The responsibility for sin lies with one who committed it and the consequences of sin are separation from God.

Calvinists and pantheists are stuck describing “good,” resigning to define what  merely “is.” In reality, the meaning of good needs to be anchored in the very nature of God.

In response to this, the Calvinist stresses an epistemic break between humanity and God, stating that we, as humans, cannot begin to understand his nature. However, this is not an accurate distinction. Out of his immense love for creation and his desire for reconciliation and intimacy he revealed himself to the world through nature, Holy Scripture, and ultimately his Son.

In order to truly and accurately begin to understand and define what is good, one must begin with the nature of God as the ultimate standard. To make moral determinations about the world, one must meticulously compare situations and events with the character of God.


source: Wesley Walker in Scot McKnight, “Calvinism and Pantheism and the Good” (patheos).


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