Theology

“Forced Love” Is the Wrong Way to Look at It

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 07/16/2016

I often hear the Calvinist view of salvation (i.e., that God gives spiritual life to those whom He chooses so that they will inevitably love and trust in Him) denigrated as a description of worthless “forced love.” This kind of analogy is a common one: If you were in love with someone who wasn’t in love with you, you wouldn’t want to snap your fingers to force that person to love you, even if you had that capability. As one book I recently read said, “[S]uch forced love is ultimately not worth pursuing.”

But the analogy is all wrong. The situation is actually more like this: Suppose a man who is naturally quite lovable loves a woman who doesn’t love him because her serious mental illness renders her incapable of loving others. In fact, she has no desire to love others and constantly dwells on her hatred for everyone, especially for the man. She will never change her mind, no matter what the man says or does to show her his love. But suppose he is also a doctor and is able to heal her illness. He heals her, and she immediately sees how lovable he is and deeply, freely loves him. When that happens, would anyone characterize what the doctor did as “forcing” her to love him? Would anyone say her love wasn’t real? Would anyone accuse him of not respecting her autonomy? Rather, would they not praise him as a gracious, kind, rescuing physician?

This more accurate analogy (though in an even more accurate analogy, the woman would be dead at the beginning of the story) might bring up other questions—such as, “Why are we responsible for our sin if we didn’t choose our sinful nature?” (a question anticipated in Romans 9:19) or, “Why doesn’t God save everyone?” (asked in Romans 9:14)—but it does show that the love produced by God’s giving undeserved spiritual life to a person who would otherwise have no desire for it is real, not worthless.

We were born children of wrath. What God does for us is not force, nor is it based on the goal of maintaining our autonomy above all. His work is mercy, grace, and healing, and it results in human beings functioning the way they were created to function in relation to their Creator. Without it, we would never choose Him.

If you’re interested in learning more about this view, see here or here. You may still disagree that this is what the Bible teaches (as I know many of you do), but if you want to characterize the view fairly, calling it “forced love” is not an accurate way to describe it.