A Defense of the Well-Meant Offer: God “Can’t Get No Satisfaction”?
Most opponents to the well-meant offer of the gospel admit that a straightforward reading of certain texts would lead to the conclusion that God desires some objectives that he hasn’t decreed (e.g., Deut 5:29). They retort, however, by insisting that such a conclusion is logically inconsistent and theologically impossible. Having debunked the charge of logical inconsistency in an earlier post, we began to address the alleged theological problem in our last post, arguing that God’s “preceptive will” reveals not only what God commands us to do but what he really wants us to do. Now we turn to another theological objection, i.e., the well-meant offer and God’s self-sufficiency.
He Can’t Get No Satisfaction
Opponents of the well-meant offer also object to the doctrine because it predicates unfulfilled desires of God, which signify a kind of emotion. Such emotion, they argue, cannot be predicated of God since it is inconsistent with God’s sufficiency and immutability. In the words of the authors of the “Minority Report,”
Desire suggests a want or lack in the one who desires which can be fulfilled only by the gratifying of the desire. This is incompatible with the self-sufficiency of God. Desire is something weaker than the firm determination of the will. No such weak wishing can properly be ascribed to God whose will is firmly fixed and fixes all things. God has not a will that can be frustrated as well as one that cannot be.1
To ascribe to God “unfulfilled” or “frustrated” desires would seem to imply not only that God does not get what he wants but also that he cannot get what he needs.
God Always Gets What He Ultimately Wants
In my estimation, opponents of the well-meant offer misconstrue God’s self-sufficiency. As a matter of fact, advocates of the well-meant offer affirm God’s self-sufficiency, also known as his independence or aseity.2 This doctrine, as Wayne Grudem defines it, asserts,
God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy.3
In other words, God did not create the universe and humans because he was lonely or felt some unmet need (see Job 41:11; Psa 50:10-12; Acts 17:24-25; John 17:5, 24). Hence, none of God’s desires–whether decretive, dispositional, or emotional–are “need-based” in the absolute sense. We may, I think, view the objects of God’s desires as “need-based” in a contingent or consequent sense. For example, God needed to bring the world into existence as a consequence of his decree.
God Always Wants What Is Intrinsically Good
Likewise, I would argue that God needs to desire whatever is good and detest whatever is evil (whether intrinsically or teleologically) as a consequence of his nature and relationship to the world he created. Ultimately, God freely desired to create the world and humans as his image. Moreover, God is free and able to contemplate a myriad of states of affairs, whether decreed or non-decreed, and to evaluate each as desirable or non-desirable in keeping with his moral perfection and in consistency with the circumstances in which each particular state of affairs is situated.
For example, God’s evaluation of the pre-Fall world contrasts with his evaluation of the post-Fall world. He assesses the former as very good (Gen 1:31) and the latter as very bad (Gen 6:5). Viewed intrinsically, God viewed human sin and misery as undesirable. What Jesus said of Judas Iscariot (Matt 26:24) could be said of the fallen world–it would have been better had such a state of affairs not come into existence (Gen 6:6-7). On the other hand, what Satan and rebellious humans intended for evil, God ultimately intended for good (cf. Gen 50:20). Viewing the fall and spread of sin teleologically, we may affirm that God evaluates the Fall and consequent spread of human sin, which he ordained, as desirable (Psa 115:3; Rom 11:33-36).
In the end, God always gets what he ultimately wants. Furthermore, those desirable states of affairs that God chooses not to bring into existence remain “unfulfilled” because God himself freely and sovereignly chooses not to fulfill them and not because some autonomous entity or random event outside of God has thwarted his ultimate design. Consequently, it may be misleading to speak of God’s will being “frustrated” since that expression can imply a denial of God’s absolute sovereignty.4 It’s more accurate to say that God has chosen not to actualize certain desirable states of affairs because they don’t fit into his ultimately good and wise teleological design for the world and his own declarative glory.5 This is the same as saying God ultimately gets what he wants.
God’s Always Satisfied With His Own Goodness
But how can an absolutely sovereign and all-sufficient God be happy if he doesn’t get every conceivable state of affairs he might want? Doesn’t the predication of non-decretive desires in God deprive him of self-gratification?
Simply put, No. Quite the contrary! God himself is the sum of all goodness. As such, he not only takes supreme delight in himself, but desires every creature made in his image to do the same. And while God’s self-gratification doesn’t depend on the actual devotion of his creatures, it would be incomplete if God wasn’t free to desire and be affectionally inclined toward whatever was agreeable with his nature. Since universal human obedience as such is agreeable with God’s nature, it follows that God finds gratification in desiring it even if he doesn’t decree it.
In the next post we’ll argue that it’s appropriate to view God’s desire for the salvation of sinners–including the non-elect–as an affection or emotion, analogous to human affections and emotions.
- “The Free Offer of the Gospel” (accessed April 20, 2012). See also David Engelsma who asserts, “It is incontrovertible that the offer teaches – does not imply, but teaches – that God’s grace in the preaching is resistible, and resisted, and that God’s will for the salvation of sinners is frustated. Many towards whom grace is directed in the preaching successfully refuse it; and many whom God desires to save perish.” Emphasis his; “Is the Denial of the ‘Well-Meant Offer’ Hyper-Calvinism?” (accessed April 20, 2012). [↩]
- The term “aseity” is based on the Latin expression a se, meaning “from himself.” [↩]
- Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 160. [↩]
- Once again, distinctions are important. Fallen men may resist God’s revealed will but not his decretive will. The same is true with respect to God’s general call (which is resistible) and his effectual call (which is irresistible), his common grace (which is resistible) and his saving grace (which is irresistible). [↩]
- Some argue that the language of Psalm 115:3, which reads, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases,” implies that only actualized or decretive desires may be predicated of God. But the language itself doesn’t preclude non-actualized desires (compare 1 Kings 9:1). Besides, even opponents of the well-meant offer usually concede in light of passages like Hosea 6:6 that God desires human devotion and obedience in the abstract, which cannot be properly termed an actuated desire. Therefore, the language of Psalm 115:3 (cf. Psa 135:6) only requires that God brings into realization every desire he purposes to bring into realization. [↩]