Tuesday, January 29, 2008


by Matt Perman

In the last article, "The Sovereignty of God Over Evil," we saw how it can be that God from all eternity ordained "whatsoever comes to pass" and yet is not "the author of sin" (Westminster Confession of Faith, 3.1). Having shown this, the issue that we will focus on in this article is how God's control over all things does not destroy human accountability. As the Westminster confession of faith goes on to say, God's sovereignty does not do violence "to the will of the creatures."

Many things that we saw in the last article shed light on this issue of human accountability under the providence of God. For example, the fact that sin is not a result of God injecting evil into someone's heart, but more a matter of Him withholding the grace that would have prevented the person from sinning, is one thing that preserves our moral accountability and makes clear that God is not the author of sin. We will now look more closely at how God determines the will, which will primarily show why His sovereignty does not destroy our moral accountability, and secondarily give further vindication of the fact that God is not the author of sin.

To be specific, this analysis will answer two questions for us. First, how can we be held responsible for our sinful actions when they are all predetermined by God? Second, how can our good choices be genuine when they have all been predetermined and brought about by God?

The teaching of the Scriptures
The first thing that I wish to point out is that the Scriptures see divine sovereignty as consistent with moral accountability. They teach both that we are accountable for our actions and that God ultimately determines our choices. As we will see in a little bit, this gives us a principle that is essential for solving the mystery.

In Exodus 7:2-4 God says to Moses, "You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh's heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh will not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt, and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments." This is an amazing passage! In verse 2, God says that Moses and Aaron are, in God's authority, to command Pharaoh to let Israel go. But in verse 3, God says that He will harden Pharaoh's heart so that Pharaoh will not let Israel go. In verse 4, we read that God is going to judge Pharaoh and Egypt for this disobedience. Thus, the Scriptures do not see God's sovereignty over Pharaoh in hardening his heart as destroying Pharaoh's moral accountability, for God judges Pharaoh for his disobedience. We know that Pharaoh deserves this judgment because all of God's judgments and ways are just: "all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He" (Deuteronomy 32:4). In fact, later on in the story, Pharaoh himself acknowledges his guilt: "I have sinned this time; the Lord is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones" (Exodus 9:27).

Likewise, in the book of Acts we read that the sinful acts of the Jews, Gentiles, Herod and Pontius Pilate that resulted in Christ's crucifixion, had all been predestined by God (Acts 4:28). Yet, they are considered to be morally guilty for these sins (Acts 2:23; 7:52). Jesus seems to affirm in the same sentence the sovereignty of God over His betrayal and the moral guilt of the one who betrayed Him: "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22). In 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 we read of a time when, to those who reject the Gospel, "God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness." Many more instances could be given, but this is sufficient to show that the Scriptures teach that God's sovereignty is consistent with the fact that He holds us all accountable for our sins.

The Scriptures also believe that our good choices are genuine, even though they are brought about by God. In 2 Corinthians 8:16, Paul says that Titus's love and earnestness for the Corinthians was put in his heart by God. Yet, Paul considers Titus' earnestness as being genuine, saying "he has gone to you of his own accord" (v. 17). Ezekiel 33:27 teaches that the obedience of Christians is caused by the Spirit of God: "And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes..." Yet, who would dare say that our obedience is not genuine! Likewise, faith is said to be given to us from God (Philippians 1:29), yet our faith pleases God (Hebrews 11:6).

The Scriptures seem to outright deny the common belief that humans ultimately determine their own choices ("free-will"). Jeremiah 10:23 says, "I know, O Lord, that a man's way is not in himself; nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps."

From all of this, we must conclude that according to Scripture, God's control does not destroy moral accountability in regards to our sinful choices, and neither does it destroy the genuineness of the good choices Christians make. Since the Scriptures teach this, we should believe it even if we can't understand how it fits together logically. In other words, we should believe that God's sovereignty is consistent with our moral agency simply because God says that it is, and God always speaks the truth.

There are some who stop after this point, saying that it is a mystery to understand how these things are consistent. That is perfectly fine. It seems to me, however, that simple reflection reveals that the Scriptures resolve much of the mystery. How so? It seems to me in this way: the fact that the Scriptures teach that we are justly held accountable for what God ultimately causes us to do teaches us that free-will is not a prerequisite for moral accountability. In other words, you don't need to have the power of ultimate self-determination ("free-will") in order to be held accountable for your choices.

You see, the reason that we might think that the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery is because of a certain presupposition we have: that moral accountability requires that we have ultimate self-determination - that we have the final say over what we will do. But since the Scriptures show that God ultimately determines what we will do and yet we are still accountable for our actions, we must conclude that the common belief that moral accountability requires human free-will is false. Therefore, moral accountability is established by something other than freedom from divine determination.

What about all of the "choice" verses?
Before looking at what it is that makes us accountable for our choices, there is one thing that is important to understand at this point. Very often, people try to refute the sovereignty of God by pointing to the many passages where humans are told to make choices. The argument goes like this: "Look at all of these verse that tell us to make choices. For example, John 3:36 says that whoever believes in Christ will have eternal life. This means that God has given us the power to ultimately decide what we will do. He doesn't control everything because He has left many things up to us."

But this argument reads too much into those texts. Those who believe in God's control over all things acknowledge that we make choices. I repeat: humans make choices. That is not the issue which is up for debate. The issue is this: Why do we make the choices that we do? How do we come to make our choices? Is God perhaps the one who ultimately causes us to choose what we do? The many passages in the Bible where we are told to choose certain things do not address this issue. For they do not say how it is that we come to make the choices that we do. All that they say is that we make choices. With this, predestination agrees. But the texts do not say that we have ultimate self-determination. They don't deal with the issue of whether or not God is ultimately behind our choices. For that issue, we must turn to other Scriptures, which clearly teach God's control over all things. Thus, we must conclude that humans do make real, genuine choices. But God is ultimately the one who determines what we will choose.

With this understood, we will now examine the view called compatibilism, which endeavors to explain how divine sovereignty is consistent with human responsibility. Perhaps the best defense of this view, and which influenced this article to a large extent, is the work by Jonathan Edwards called On the Freedom of the Will.

After giving evidence for compatibilism and showing how it is consistent with common sense (and, as we saw above, that it is assumed by the Scriptures), we will then see how the opposing view of freedom, called Arminianism (which believes that humans have the power of ultimate self-determination), is contradictory and impossible.

Everything that happens has a cause
A cause is the thing that makes something the way that it is. X is the cause of Y if X is the reason that Y happened. Further, causes are necessarily connected to their effects. In other words, if X makes it certain that Y will occur, X is said to be the cause of Y. If the occurrence of X does not make certain the occurrence of Y, we do not say that X caused Y. Rather, we would merely say that X made Y possible.[1]

We all know that everything that happens has a cause. We live life based upon this assumption, and without it we could not make sense of the world. If your car won't start, you try to find out why. If you get extremely sick, you go to the doctor to find out what is causing your illness. And nobody expects a raging tiger to come into existence in the middle of the room for no reason at all. It is utterly opposed to common sense to think that something can come to be without any reason behind it at all.

Another good argument is that "If a happening has no cause, then it could have been different in the way it happened, even if everything just prior to it were exactly the same. Since observation shows that whenever there are differences in the way things usually happen, there are also differences in the prior conditions, we can conclude, that all happenings have causes."[2]

All of our choices have a cause--that is, they are made for a reason
If everything has a cause, then it is clear that our choices must have causes as well. They do not happen without reason. This is, in fact, the assumption that we all have. Often times we say to one another, "Why did you do that?" This is the same as saying, "What is the reason behind your choice? What caused you to act in that way?" The person will often respond, "I did that because of x, y, and z."[3]

To say that our choices have a cause is simply to say that we make our all of our decisions with a definite end in view. That is, we act with a purpose. This purpose that we have in view functions as the reason that we make the choice that we make. Thus, the reasons we have for acting serve as the cause of our choices because they move us to act and explain why we acted the way that we did. And we know that all of our choices must be made for a reason because otherwise we would be acting without a cause, and we have already seen that it is impossible for anything to happen without a cause.

All of our choices are made according to the reasons that we think are best
But aren't there often times many reasons in favor of various choices? For example, what about when you are torn between doing work and getting together with friends? How then do we decide? The answer is that in every choice we always choose the thing that is most appealing to us. In other words, our choices are not only made for a reason, they are made according to the reason that we think is best. Now, this doesn't mean that we always choose what is most logical. Our emotions as well as our logic enter into our decisions. Thus, it is perhaps better to word it this way: we always choose the option that we have the greatest preference for. Two other ways to express this are that we choose according to our greatest desire, or that we always choose what we think is best. But it seems that the clearest way to express this truth is by saying "greatest preference" because this seems to most clearly convey the fact that there is a combination of logical and emotional factors in the reasons for our choices.[4]

I will give three reasons supporting the fact that we always choose what we most prefer. First, it is self-evident, for to deny it is to run into absurdities. The alternatives would be "we often choose what we think is worst," or "we often choose what we don't want." Second, if we could choose contrary to our greatest preference, then that would mean that a weaker influence could overpower the stronger influence--which is a contradiction.[5] Third, choosing contrary to your greatest preference would be equal to choosing without reason (which we have seen to be impossible). Why is this? Because then there is no explanation why the person came to choose what they did. Let me phrase the dilemma this way: If you could choose contrary to your greatest preference, you would either have a reason for acting this way, or you wouldn't. If there is a reason for your acting this way, then this means that you are actually making the choice because it was more reasonable than the other one. But this is the same as saying that you choose according to your greatest preference--your greatest preference being the thing that was most reasonable. But if there were no reasons for this choice that was contrary to your greatest preference, then the choice was essentially made without cause because no reason could be given for why you chose one thing over another. In this situation, you would be inclined to a certain choice, and yet for no reason at all choose something else. As we saw earlier, it is impossible to make a choice without a cause.

But what about, for example, when someone chooses to study for a test when they really would have found greater enjoyment in going to a movie? In that case, the person desired the long-range benefits of the good grade that studying would bring more than the short term enjoyment a good movie would have brought. In and of itself, the movie would have been most enjoyable. But all things considered, studying was more preferable.

How our choices are determined
Since we always choose the option that we find most preferable, then it is clear that our choices are determined--they are determined by our greatest preference. But since this is a determination to choose the option that we want the most, it in no way destroys our moral agency.

Having understood this, it is not hard to see how God can control all things without violating our moral agency. He simply arranges the situation so that the option which we find most appealing is the choice that He has ordained for us to make. In other words, if God wants us to choose option A instead of option B, He works things out so that option A is the one that we find most preferable. Thus, God is in sovereign control, yet we are choosing what we want most and are therefore making real, genuine choices.

But some people object at this point: "Wait a minute. Since we don't ultimately determine our preferences, how can we be held accountable for the choices that necessarily flow from them?"

This is a good question because it allows us to clarify an important point: It doesn't matter that we don't ultimately determine our preferences. All that matters is that we are choosing the things that we want the most. In other words, moral accountability does not depend upon whether our choices are determined (caused), but on how our choices are determined. That is a very important point, so let me repeat in slightly different words: ultimate self-determination is not necessary for us to be justly accountable for our bad choices and it is not necessary to make our good choices genuine. What these things arise from is that we are choosing the things that we want.

This fact is what we saw in the Scriptures above. For according to the Scriptures, God is the ultimate cause of all of our choices, and yet He holds us accountable for our choices. Thus, determinism does not destroy moral accountability. One does not need the power of ultimate self-determination in order to be morally accountable for his actions. Rather, the Scriptures teach compatibilism, which argues that our choices are genuine simply because we are doing what is agreeable to us.

Not only is compatibilism assumed and taught in the Scriptures, it is also consistent with common sense. Our own common sense shows that as long as we are choosing according to our greatest preferences, our moral agency is not destroyed to any degree. Who could ever honestly say, "My choice to give money to the poor wasn't genuine because I was doing the option that I had the greatest preference for"?! Would a judge really excuse the criminal who said, "You can't hold me accountable for my crime because I wanted to do it! In fact, I wanted to do it so much that I could not have done otherwise"? Of course not! The criminal would actually be compounding his guilt by the fact that he wanted to do it so much, not excusing it!

Therefore it is in perfect agreement with common sense that, even though all of our choices have been predetermined, they are genuine and we can be held responsible for them because they are the choices that we considered most reasonable to make. It is important to recognize, however, that God does not cause a sinful choice to be reasonable in the same way that He causes a good choice to be reasonable. God causes good by means of positive causation, but is behind evil by means of negative causation. What is the difference?

The sun causes day on the earth by producing light. This is what I mean by positive cause. God causes good by producing goodness in one's heart, and thus is its positive cause. But just as the darkness of the night is not something that is produced by the suns rays--but rather is caused by their absence--so also God directs the evil desires in people's hearts by means of withholding His restraining grace to the extent that they desire to do the thing that He has ordained. We must strongly affirm that God "does not tempt anyone" (James 1:13) because He does not produce the sinful desires in people's hearts, but determines and controls them by means of circumstances and the degree to which He withholds His grace upon their hearts. Further, humans are all born sinful. So the negative causation God exercises is simply making us act according to our own natures. Thus, God cannot be blamed for sin because He controls evil by means of negative causation--He directs it by the absence of goodness rather, not by producing evil.

John Piper gives good insight into the way God brings about preferences (motives) to cause people to act: "always keep in mind that everything God does toward men--His commanding, His calling, His warning, His promising, His weeping over Jerusalem--everything is His means of creating situations which function as motives to illicit the acts of will which He has ordained to come to pass. In this way He ultimately determines all acts of volition (though not all in the same way) and yet holds man accountable only for those acts which they want most to do."[14]

To sum up, moral accountability does not depend upon whether our choices are determined, it depends upon how they are determined. As long as our choices are caused by our desires and reasonable motives, they are responsible acts. And since God controls our choices by controlling our preferences, His sovereignty does not violate our moral agency. Further, while God is the ultimate cause of all things, He is behind good and evil in different ways. God regulates circumstances and the degree of His grace to bring about the preferences which will illicit the choices that He has ordained. The fallacy of Arminianism is in thinking that one cannot be held responsible for something unless it is an entirely free and undetermined act.

Some objections considered
Do we choose our preferences? Perhaps an Arminian will admit that we choose according to our greatest preference, but then object that those preferences are themselves a result of our choice. This objection, however, is illogical. Preferences must ultimately be given and not chosen. Why? Because if we could choose our own preferences, we would then have to ask "How did we come to chose those particular preferences and not others?" If it was by an act of choice, this only backs it up a step further: Wouldn't that choice itself have to be based upon preferences as well? And then wouldn't those preferences also have had to have been chosen? And wouldn't they have to have been chosen based upon other preferences? As you can see, this would result in us going back forever, without ever encountering a first cause.

On the other hand, if we do not obtain our desires by an act of choice, then either those preferences had no cause (which we have already seen to be impossible), or else they are ultimately a result of God's predestining plan--which brings us right back to the compatibilist view.

Therefore, it is important to understand that we do not make something preferable to us. We do not choose our preferences. Rather, they are ultimately brought about by God by means of circumstances, our character, and other things. For example, I studied for a test a few weeks ago because it was more reasonable to me than not studying. Now, I did not make studying the most reasonable thing. Rather, I considered the situation and recognized that studying was the most appealing thing to my mind. As a result, I chose to study. Clearly this was a genuine choice. Yet, it was also causally determined (and thus could not have been otherwise) because I necessarily chose the option that I found most reasonable. So both determinism and moral responsibility are therefore compatible.

What role do our character and circumstances have in our choices? As we saw earlier in the John Piper quote, the answer seems to be that God uses them to bring about our preferences. Thus, on a secondary level our preferences are a result of our character and present circumstances. In other words, the kind of things that we find preferable depends upon the kind of person that we are. Because our preferences are in accordance with who we are, they are genuinely our preferences.

Do we choose our characters? If one objects that we choose our character (and thus ultimately our desires), I respond that while we can and do affect our character by our choices, it is hopelessly contradictory to think of our wills as the ultimate cause of our character. Our character is not something that exists independent from us, it is us! Therefore, in order to choose our own characters we would need to exist before we actually exist!

This brings us to another important truth. By creating you, God determined your character. Since our character to a large extent determines the preferences we have, God to a large extent determined the things we would choose because He ultimately designed our character. Someone may say that God brings us into existence but in doing so He does not determine our characters. But "how can God bring X into existence without thereby defining the nature of X, which will be determinative of how it will function and behave? If God has not defined its controlling nature, in what sense is it X that God has brought into existence (rather than not-X)?"[6]

The possibility that God often directs our desires by directing our character should also help us to further see the consistency between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. As we saw earlier, your character is not something that exists separate from you. It is not a grid that is forced upon your behavior. Rather, it is you. Obviously, you cannot be free from yourself. Your preferences (and thus choices) are truly yours and are genuine because they are in accordance with who you are. God's sovereignty does not in the least change that, but rather seems to work by means of it and thus preserves moral accountability. The only way to escape the sovereignty of God would be to escape being a creature. God the creator is always sovereign over what He creates because, in creating, He determines the design and mode of its working.

Arminian freedom is impossible
Having seen that compatibilism succeeds in showing the consistency of divine sovereignty and human accountability, we will now show the unreasonableness of the opposing view of Arminianism. In fact, I hope to show that the Arminian form of freedom is not only impossible, but would actually destroy moral accountability. There are three main claims of Arminian freedom which we will briefly examine:

1. We have an ultimate self-determining power wherein we determine our own choices.
2. Previous to the act of choice our mind is in a state of indifference--that is, there is nothing necessarily biasing the mind in either direction.
3. Our choices are contingent--they are not the necessary results of previous causal connections. In other words, for any given situation, we could have chosen otherwise. This is the logical outcome of #2…that our choices are made from a state of indifference. [7]

The power of ultimate self-determination is impossible
In regards to the first supposition, is it possible for the human will to be self-determined? I don't think so. We saw earlier that all of our choices have a cause. Some Arminians might argue that our choices do have a cause--they are caused by the agent. But, they will say, there is nothing which causes the agent to act. Thus, his choices are fully self-determined. Without being caused by anything else, the agent causes his own choices. The things that we have seen above in arguing for compatibilism are sufficient to refute the Arminian belief of self-determination.

First, they are only pushing the problem back one step. Sure, the choice had a cause. But they are saying that the agent who made the choice was not caused to make it. As we saw earlier, this is impossible because everything that happens must have a cause. Second, isn't this act of the agent to cause his own choice itself a choice--the choice to make a choice? If so, this means that He is making a choice before He makes His choice! Third, the Arminian view contradicts all of the evidence we have seen which shows that our choices are not self-determined, but are determined by our preferences. Fourth, if it is claimed that the agent causes his own choice by determining his own preferences, the inconsistency of that belief has also been shown above.

In other words, the essential objection to the belief that we posses ultimate self-determination is similar to the objection we earlier gave to the idea that we choose our own desires. On the Arminian view, we must ask the question: Why did the agent choose to make the choice that he did? Was that a result of his choice as well? If not, then the act was not self-determined and thus is not consistent with moral agency on the Arminian's view. If it was a result of choice, then this only backs the problem up a step. For, why did he choose to make the choice that he did? Was that choice also a result of previous choice? As should be clear by now, this problem keeps going back and back forever. There can be no end to it, but instead it results in the absurdity of an infinite regress--a chain of causes that has no beginning.

Often times one holding the Arminian view will try to evade this reasoning by saying that the agent "just chooses." But this is begging the question, for it is simply repeating the difficulty and therefore leaves the whole objection unaddressed. The issue is not whether the agent chooses, but how does the agent come to chose? Further, the statement that the agent "just chooses" is equivalent to saying that he acts without a cause. But, as we saw earlier, it is impossible for anything to happen without a cause.

Choosing from a state of indifference is impossible
The next supposition of Arminian freedom is that in any decision, the will is neutral enough to go either way. Therefore for any decision made, we could have chosen otherwise (which is then the third supposition of Arminian freedom). Because the second and third suppositions are so closely related, refuting one will necessarily refute the other. First, we will now see that it is impossible for the mind to choose out of a state of indifference.

While the Arminian view does acknowledge that reasons surround our acts of will, they deny that these reasons are ever strong enough to "incline the will decisively in one way or another. Instead, the will, despite its inclination, is neutral enough so that it can and sometimes does choose contrary to the direction the causes incline it."[8]

The first problem with this is that it contradicts the truth that we make our choices with a definite end in view. That is, we act with a purpose. But if you have a purpose for your action, you are not choosing from a state of indifference.

Second, being indifferent to your choice is not regarded by common sense to be a good thing - it is bad for someone (in moral situations) not to care (that is, to be indifferent about) what they are going to choose.

Third, if the will has no decisive preference that determines it to select option A instead of option B, then the person simply could not act. It is the proverbial situation of the donkey stuck between two bails of hay that he has an equal desire for, and so he ends up starving to death because he was unable to make a choice. The very choice of option A instead of option B is the act of stating your preference for A instead of B. But if your choice is from a state of neutrality, there is no preference to state and thus no choice can be made.

Fourth, for a person to act from a state of indifference would be the same as the person acting without a cause. Why? Because there is nothing that is necessarily bringing about the choice. Instead, it can go either way. But a cause, by definition, is something that necessarily brings about an effect. If there is nothing that necessarily results in you choosing a particular choice, then there is, by definition, no cause to that choice. This makes indifference impossible because, as we saw earlier, nothing can happen without a cause.

It is Arminianism, not compatibilism that destroys moral accountability. At this point we are able to see that Arminian freedom destroys moral accountability. Why? Because if our choices happen without a cause, that is the same as them happening at random. Causeless events are by definition random events. As philosopher Moritz Sclicke has said, there is "no other opposite to causality" other than chance.[9] But if our choices are chance events, then how could we ever be held responsible for them? If our choices are merely random "accidents" occurring without any cause, criminals could get off the hook because they didn't mean to break the law - it just happened for no reason. As one philosopher has said, "if a decision is uncaused, it would be entirely unconnected to our character traits and personality patters...how can we be responsible for a decision that is disassociated from ourselves in this way?"[10] "A causeless happening is identical with a chance happening, and consequently an [uncaused] will destroys all responsibility."[11]

Granted, the Arminian will deny that they believe that choices are random. But then the dilemma amounts to this: "How is it that someone comes to act? If there is no sufficient condition [cause], she will not act, or if she does, the act is random. If there is a sufficient condition, then she will act, but the act will be causally determined. Either way, indeterminism [Arminianism] is in trouble. Indeterminists often say the agent `just acts.' However, this claim simply repeats their view; it does not explain how the agent comes to act without being causally determined or without making a random choice, neither of which is incompatibilistic freedom."[12]

Ability to do otherwise - The inconsistency of Arminianism
Last of all, indeterminism argues that a necessary ingredient to moral responsibility is that the agent could have done otherwise. In order to be accountable for an action, you must have the ability to go either way. If there is anything making a certain decision inevitable, your choice is no longer free.

It should be apparent from above that ability to do otherwise is impossible in any choice. For the only way we could do otherwise would be to either choose contrary to our greatest preference or to choose from a state of indifference - both of which we have seen to be false. Second, the ability to do otherwise would mean the ability to make choices without a cause: "Saying that an occurrence can be different even if all of the immediately prior conditions are the same is identical with saying that the occurrence is uncaused."[13] As we saw earlier, it is impossible for anything to happen without a cause. Thus, the ability to do otherwise is not even possible.

Further, we saw in our analysis of compatibilism that ability to do otherwise is not necessary to have moral accountability. All that is needed for moral accountability is that you are doing what you want, apart from any external compulsion (that is, force). Freedom is the ability to make an unforced decision that is in accordance with your greatest preferences.

Moral inability and natural inability.
At this point, a distinction made by Jonathan Edwards (and many other compatibilists, but Edward's seems to be the most clear and in-depth) will further show the consistency between divine sovereignty and human accountability. The distinction is between moral inability and natural inability. Moral inability means the lack of desire to do something. An example would be if I was so content in the library that I just couldn't bring myself to get up and go to class. I had no desire to attend class and therefore was morally unable to go. Natural inability would be if I was physically hindered from going to class. It would be if I was tied to a chair and thus was unable to get to class even if I wanted to.

The point is that natural inability excuses us from responsibility, but moral inability does not. I could not successfully argue that because I didn't have any desire to go to class, I am not morally accountable for skipping. But I could successfully argue that because I was tied to a chair I am not morally accountable for skipping.

The fact that moral inability does not excuse us from blame "conforms with an almost universal human judgment, for the stronger a man's desire is to do evil the more unable he is to do good and yet the more wicked he is judged to be by men. If men really believed that moral inability excused a man from guilt, then a man's wickedness would decrease in proportion to the intensity of his love of evil. But this is contrary to the moral sensibilities of almost all men."[14]

Thus, compatibilism does acknowledge that one must be able to do otherwise in order to be morally accountable. But it is only a natural ability to do otherwise that is necessary, not a moral ability to do otherwise. We never have the moral ability to choose other than what we do, yet (as we saw) that does not remove accountability. All of our choices are made by moral necessity because they are caused by our greatest preference.

This leads us to the next distinction: moral necessity and natural necessity. They are the other side of the coin. Something is morally necessary if it is my greatest preference. I cannot do other than choose what I want the most. Something is naturally necessary if I am forced to do it. Puppets, for example, are controlled by a natural necessity. The operator simply manipulates the strings that are attached to them and by means of physical forces makes them act. If we do something out of natural necessity, we are not accountable for it. But moral necessity does not remove accountability.

For example, when Martin Luther stood and was told by the Roman Catholic Church to recant of his teachings, he said that he would not recant and that he could do no otherwise. He believed so strongly in what he was teaching that he necessarily refused to recant. Surely it would be unreasonable to argue that therefore Luther was not making a genuine choice!

The point is this: "In order to see how God's sovereignty and man's responsibility perfectly cohere, one need only realize that the way God works in the world is not by imposing natural necessity on men and then holding them accountable for what they can't do even though they will to do it. But rather God so disposes all things (Ephesians 1:11) so that in accordance with moral necessity all men take only those choices ordained by God from all eternity."[15]

Conclusion and applications
In conclusion, I am not claiming to understand all (or even most) of the way God works in this area. Our knowledge is very, very small. But I believe that God has made enough information available to us to at least see how His sovereignty is consistent with moral accountability. We have seen that compatibilism succeeds in showing their consistency. We have also seen how the view that denies God's absolute sovereignty and tries to preserve in humans a free-will is not only impossible, but seems to actually destroy human accountability.

It is always important to apply what we know. The things that we have seen here should enable us to marvel at the amazing wisdom God has, by which He can determine all things without doing violence to the will of His creatures. It should make us cast ourselves upon God, through Christ, in greater trust, for we are entirely dependant upon Him for all good. This information should also help us to hold to the great truth of God's sovereignty with greater confidence, and I pray that it will help set many minds at rest that have a hard time resting in both the truth of God's absolute sovereignty and human accountability. It is a truly glorious thing that God's Sovereign Kingship is not inconsistent with His moral government of His creatures.

Before ending, we are in a good position to use what we have learned to answer one of the most frequent questions about the sovereignty of God over all things: Why doesn't God's sovereignty make us puppets? I offer nine reasons why we are not puppets (though there are many more):

1. Humans are self-aware, puppets are not.
2. Humans make choices, puppets do not.
3. Humans use logic, puppets do not.
4. Humans have emotions, puppets do not.
5. Humans have preferences, puppets do not.
6. Humans act in accordance with their preferences, puppets do not.
7. Humans consciously do what is determined for them, puppets unconsciously do what is determined for them.
8. Humans understand why they are doing what they are doing - they act for a reason; puppets do not.
9. Puppets are determined by physical necessity, humans by moral necessity.

The most convincing and thorough treatment of this issue that I have read the book by Jonathan Edwards called, "A Careful and Strict Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of Will, which is supposed to be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame," found in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Banner of Truth, 1995 reprint), volume I, pp. 3-93. This article uses many of his arguments, but does not do any justice to the probing analysis given by Edwards. I suggest that anybody who seriously wishes to go in greater depth on this issue, and is willing to put in lots of hard work, read Edwards.

1. Jonathan Edwards, considered by many to be the greatest theologian America has ever seen, said something very important about how it is inconsistent to say that X caused Y if X did not make it certain that Y would occur. In other words, if upon the occurrence of X, event Y may or may not happen, then it would be improper to say that X was the cause of Y. "For an event to have a cause and ground of its existence, and yet not to be connected with its cause, is an inconsistence. For if the event be not connected with the cause, it is not dependent on the cause; its existence is as it were loose from its influence, and may attend it, or may not; it being a mere contingence, whether it follows or attends the influence of the cause, or not: and that is the same thing as not to be dependent on it. And to say, the event is not dependant on its cause, is absurd; it is the same as to say, it is not its cause, nor the event the effect of it; for dependence on the influence of a cause is the very notion of an effect....If we say, the connexion and dependence is not total, but partial, and that the effect, though it has some connexion and dependence, yet is not entirely dependent on it; that is the same thing as to say, that not all that is in the event is an effect of that cause, but that only part of it arises from thence, and part some other way" (Freedom of the Will, p. 24). For those interested in being as precise as can be, the technical name for what Edwards is speaking of is efficient cause. When I proceed to argue in the article that every event has a cause, I am speaking of efficient causes. I argue that everything which happens has an efficient cause, and nothing can happen without an efficient cause.

2. Clifford Williams, Free-will and determinism: A Dialogue, (Hackett Publishing Company, 1980), p. 59.

3. Sometimes one may say, "I don't know." But that doesn't mean there was no cause, just that he was unaware of the cause.

4. It is important to understand that this does not mean that we always choose what really is most preferable. Rather, we choose what appears most preferable to us. But our perspective may be wrong. Thus, the thing that we have the greatest preference for may not necessarily be the option that really is best. I may prefer the chocolate cake, but when I bite into it discover that it would have been better to have the white cake.

5. I hope that nobody will think that I am ignoring an obvious objection to the fact that the weaker cannot overpower the stronger. I am aware that sometimes weaker things do overcome more powerful things. For example, weaker armies have sometimes beaten stronger armies in wars. But examples like that do not disprove the fact that the weaker cannot overpower the stronger. For the reason the weaker army won is because the stronger army was prevented from exerting all of its strength such that the weaker army was exerting more strength than the stronger. The army that was objectively stronger lost because it exerted less power than the other army. If the stronger army had exerted all of its power, then it would have won. Perhaps the best example which proves the truth the greater always overcomes the lesser is that when you put 100 pounds on one side of the balance and 50 pounds on the other side of the balance, the 100 pounds will always make its side drop because it is stronger.

6. J.A. Crabtree, "Does Middle Knowledge Solve the Problem of Divine Sovereignty?" in The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995), edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, p. 444. The fact that all people are born sinners because of Adam's sin is an important truth to keep in mind so that we have a proper view of why we are all born sinful when God determines our characters. God cannot be blamed for our sinful natures because He originally created humans entirely good and without sin. By our own accord we fell in Adam. While this was according to God's plan, it was nevertheless our fault. The fact that all people are born sinners is a result of our sin in Adam--God is simply letting the human race continue according to the ruin that we brought upon ourselves. There is great hope, however, in that God is active to change lives through Jesus Christ. He does not leave everybody to let them continue in their sin. He commands all to repent, and through the power of His Spirit and word, He changes the hearts of His chosen people and brings them to faith in Christ. In Christ we are saved from the penalty of our sins, and God progressively works in our lives to make us more and more holy. Humans by nature are on a downward spiral because of their sins. But by His grace, God has put Christians on an upward climb to less and less sin and greater holiness. At death the Christian is totally purified from sin. One day God will condemn all unbelievers and renew the heavens and earth for His elect to live in forever, making it so that sin never again enters creation.

7. This organization is taken from Edward's Freedom of the Will, p. 12.

8. John Feinberg, "God, Freedom, and Evil in Calvinist Thinking," in The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, p. 469.

9. "The Free-Will Determinism Issue is a Pseudo-problem," in Philosophy: An Introduction Through Literature, p. 592.

10. Williams, p. 56.

11. Philosophy: An Introduction Through Literature, p. 596.

12. Feinberg, pp. 469-470.

13. Williams, p. 51.

14. John Piper, "A Response to J.I. Packer on the So-Called Antinomy Between The sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility," unpublished article, March 1976, p. 3.

15. Piper, p. 3.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What Are The Darwinists Afraid Of?

Watch Ben Stein's trailer for his new movie "Expelled, No Room For Intelligence"

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Sovereignty of God Over Evil - Part 3

by Matt Perman

God cannot be blamed for sin.
Because of these things, it should be clear that God cannot be blamed for our sins. They are our own fault because we are the ones who do them, God is not forcing us to do them but simply making use of the evil that we are by nature, and because God is behind good and evil in different ways. He is the ultimate cause of sin, but not the morally guilty cause of it.

Another thing is that if God, as Sovereign King of the universe, has the power to control all things, surely we must also ascribe to Him the wisdom to control things in such a way that the guilt falls upon the creatures for their sins and as Moral Governor of the universe He can justly hold them accountable for their sins. In other words, God's creative, sovereign power is not simply something that brings about your choices, but is also able to establish it as your choice in such a way that responsibility lies with you and not Him.

These things, together with one more thing that we are going to examine in Part II of this article, are very helpful to my mind in showing how it is consistent that God controls sin, yet is never guilty of sin. But even if they don't fully appeal to your mind, it would still be wrong to blame God for sin. This is because Scripture rejects such a terrible conclusion. According to Scripture, it is our own fault when we sin and we are justly held responsible for them. We must accept what Scripture teaches even if we cannot fully understand how it fits together. The long and the short of it is this: we are accountable for our actions because God says we are. Since God always speaks the truth, this then it is just for Him to hold us accountable for all that we do.

God does not approve of sin. He hates it and justly punishes it.
The fourth thing it means for God to not be the author of sin is that God does not approve of sin. In other words, we should not conclude from God's sovereignty that He is pleased with sin or that it is not wrong. Habakkuk 1:13 says "Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor." Luke 22:22 says "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" But why does God ordain sin if He does not approve of it? This brings us to our last point.

God does not ordain sin for its own sake
When God ordains a sinful action, it is not for the sake of the sin itself. Rather, it is for the sake of bringing about a greater good. This is important for a proper understanding of God's sovereignty: when God ordains evil it is always for the sake of bringing about a greater good.

When humans sin, we do it because we delight in the sin. Our intentions are for evil. But God does not ordain sin because He delights in it. Rather, His intentions are for good. He ordains evil because He delights in the good that He plans to bring out of it. We see this, for example, in the life of Joseph. His brothers, out of hatred, had beat him up and sold him into slavery. But many years later, when Joseph saw his brothers again, he said "And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive" (Genesis 50:20).

Let me give an example. If somebody were to, out of the blue, take a knife and cut open your stomach, they would be doing wrong. But if you are in the hospital and a doctor takes a knife and cuts you open, he has done nothing wrong. In both cases, the person is doing the same thing--cutting open your stomach. And in both cases, they are doing something that causes pain. But the first person is sinning and the doctor is not. The reason for this lies in their intentions. The first person is committing sin because He doesn't have good reason for what he is doing--he has evil intentions. But the doctor is doing good because his intentions are to save your life by removing a cancerous tumor from your stomach. It is the same way with God's control of evil. Since His purposes are for good, He is not doing anything wrong.

To expand upon the illustration, imagine that the knife the surgeon uses is "alive." The knife knows what it is doing, and has evil intentions. It takes pleasure in cutting upon your stomach, not because it wants you to be made well, but simply because it delights in causing pain. The knife's involvement in this situation would be evil. But that would not make the surgeon's involvement evil, because his intentions are still good. We would not blame the surgeon for the evil intentions of its knife. In the same way, God often uses evil people to accomplish His good purposes. But God cannot be blamed for their sin anymore than the surgeon could be blamed for the sinfulness of its knife.

This brings us to the distinction between God's moral will and His sovereign will. God's moral will is what He wants in and of itself. It is what is agreeable to His nature, and thus pleases Him. It is recorded in the Bible, such as the Ten Commandments, and we are required to obey it. Do not kill, do not lie, do not steal, etc., are all expressions of God's moral will.

God's sovereign will, on the other hand, is what He brings to pass in history. It is what He wants to occur, all things considered. God's moral will only involves good things, whereas God's sovereign will includes evil as part of His plan. While God often allows His moral will to be resisted, His sovereign will cannot be resisted. It is always accomplished.

Perhaps the best example is the crucifixion of Christ. God's moral will says "Do not kill." Yet, the crucifixion could not occur without sinful people violating this command and murdering the innocent Son of God. As we saw earlier, the crucifixion had been ordained by God from all eternity. Thus, God's moral will was "do not kill," but his sovereign will was that they would crucify Christ.

John Piper gives a helpful illustration here. God has the capacity to look at any event through two lenses, a wide angle lens and a narrow angle lens. When God looks at an evil act through the narrow lens, He sees it for what it is in itself and abhors it. This is His moral will. But when God steps back and looks at that event in the wide angle lens, He sees it in relation to all the events flowing up to it and flowing out from it. He sees it in relation to the good that He plans to bring out of it and its overall place in His wise plan. This is His sovereign will. It is in this sense that He wants it to occur and thus ordains it.

Thus, while evil is bad, it is a good thing that God ordains it to occur. As Jonathan Edwards wrote, "Evil is an evil thing, and yet it may be a good thing that evil should be in the world...as for instance, it might be an evil thing to crucify Christ, but yet it was a good thing that the crucifying of Christ came to pass. As men's act, it was evil, but as God ordered it, it was good."[10]

Having seen what is meant by the phrases "ordain" and "author of sin," we should now have a more accurate understanding of God's sovereignty. Further, our examination of this truth has also shown that it is logically consistent to affirm that God sovereignly controls all things, yet is not the author of sin. I do not claim to have said everything that could be said, nor do I deny that many things that would help us understand the issue more are not in our grasp while we are on earth. But I propose these insights for the sake of promoting greater understanding, consistency, and thought on this issue. Finally, we must remember that the goal of this article is not to cause an unbalanced focus on this issue, but to clear away obstacles and possible misunderstandings so that people who have problems accepting the sovereignty of God over evil will come to accept it, and that people who do believe it can have a more accurate understanding. The end of this all is that God be glorified as we apply the great truths of His sovereignty.[11]

God controls all things without being the author of sin.

1. Westminister Confession of Faith, 3.1. Reproduced in full in Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Intervarsity Press and Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), pp. 1179-1196).

2. John Feinberg, "God, Freedom, and Evil in Calvinist Thinking," in The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, volume 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995), p. 465.

3. I wish to make a quick comment here about the position which affirms that God is control, yet also affirms that He does not determine everything that happens. This view tries to say that God is in control, yet many things happen that He does not ultimately want, all things considered (I say all things considered because I am speaking of God's sovereign will, not His moral will. This is an important distinction, which I deal with under the heading "God does not ordain sin for its own sake," above). This position is not only contrary to the Scriptures we have just seen, it is also inconsistent with itself. To say that A is in control of B is to say that Adecides what B will do and causes it to do those things. To the extent B does things that A does not want it to do, A's control is frustrated. Thus, if B does things that A does not want it to it, to that extent it is not in control. Applying this to the sovereignty of God, we see this: to the extent that creation does what God does not, all things considered, want it to do, to that extent His control is frustrated. Thus, if God does not determine everything that happens, we cannot speak of Him as being in control because His control would very often be frustrated. We can only affirm that He is completely in control if we affirm that He ordains everything that will happen.

The Scriptures we have seen above very clearly show that God determines all things. An especially relevant text which shows that God has in no way limited His control is Psalm 135:6, which says "Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps." If God wants to do something, He does it. "Whatever the Lord pleases, He does." Thus, for anything that happens, if God had not wanted it to occur, all things considered, He would have prevented it. We see this also in Isaiah 46:10, where God says that "I will accomplish all My good pleasure." There is therefore nothing that God wants to happen, all things considered, that will be left undone.

4. This is only a small sampling of the Scriptures that teach God's control over evil. For a collection of many others, see the list I have made, The Sovereignty of God, or my article The Amazing Providence of God.

5. Gordon Clark, God and Evil: The Problem Solved, (Hobbs, NM: The Trinity Foundation, 1996), p. 53.

6. D.A. Carson, Reflections About Suffering and Evil: How Long, O Lord? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990), p. 213.

6. Here is a relevant quote by Edwards: "It would be strange arguing, indeed, because men never commit sin, but only when God leaves them to themselves, and necessarily sin when he does so, that therefore their sin is not from themselves, but from God; and so, that God must be a sinful being: as strange as it would be to argue, because it is always dark when the sun is gone, and never dark when the sun is present, that therefore all darkness is from the sun, and that his disk and beams must needs be black" (from On the Freedom of the Will, part IV section IX).

8. The gist of this section is that the potentiality and source of sin lies in the human heart, but the determination of how this source manifests itself in actuality is by God. A closer look at the means in which God shapes the way the human heart exereses itself will be covered in part II of this article. That article will also cover God's sovereignty over our good choices more in-depth. At this point one may wonder about why Christians sin, for they have had their hearts changed to become good. However, while our hearts have been made new, they are not yet perfectly new. We still have remnants of sin left in us. God continually is working in our lives to cause us to overcome the sin that is left in us and make us more holy. But we will not have perfectly holy hearts until we die and God removes the final remnants of original sin.

9. While not directly related to our task of trying to show the consistency between God's sovereignty and human responsibility, it is important to understand the difference between general permission and specific permission in order to have a more accurate view of God's sovereignty. Specific permission means that God could have prevented the particular thing that happened, but He willingly chose to let it happen in order to fulfill a greater purpose. Thus, each and every thing that God permits is permitted because it is part of His plan--because He wants that specific event to happen. Specific permission, in other words, means that if God permits something, it is because He wants it to occur, all things considered. God only permits what He has purposed, and everything that God permits in this sense happens.

General permission, on the other hand, would mean that disobedient actions are not specifically permitted because God planned them to occur; instead, He permits disobedience in the sense that He gave us the free choice and made it possible for us to disobey. But, on this view, no specific disobedient actions were part of God's plan. Rather, they are simply the unfortunate consequence of free will, and not a part of a plan that God is enacting to bring the greatest glory to Himself. Obviously, the Scriptures teach specific permission. When God permits something, it is a specific--directive--permission.

10. Jonathan Edwards, "Concerning the Divine Decrees in General and Election in Particular," in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, volume II, (Banner of Truth, 1995 reprint), pp. 525-543.

11. See my article The Importance of Providence.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Sovereignty of God Over Evil - Part 2

by Matt Perman

The correct view seems to be that God is the ultimate cause of sin, but He is not the positive cause of sin. Therefore, He cannot be blamed for sin. In other words, God causes sin by withholding goodness, rather than by injecting evil. God does not produce the sin in people's hearts. Rather, it proceeds from their own hearts. God simply withholds the grace that would change the hearts, and thus is the ultimate cause but not the positive, or morally guilty, cause.

Let me give an example from Jonathan Edwards. The day occurs because the sun produces its light and bathes the earth in it. The light is directly produced and given by the sun. Thus, the sun is the positive cause of the day. Now imagine that for reasons of its own, the sun suddenly transferred to another solar system. Darkness would result on the earth. The sun would not be the positive cause of the darkness, but the negative cause, because the darkness is not something that was produced by the sun and imposed upon the earth, but was rather the result of the earth being left to its own nature. Thus, the sun could not be considered the morally guilty cause of the darkness. The sun would be, however, the ultimate cause of this darkness, because its actions determined whether the earth would be light or dark. The sun could have chosen to stay, and daylight would have remained. By choosing to leave, darkness resulted.

Likewise, God is the ultimate cause of evil, but not the morally guilty cause. Evil results by His withholding the grace that would have prevented it, not by His producing sin. Thus, God gets the credit for the good because He is the positive cause of it--He directly produces the goodness in a Christian's heart that causes him to do good actions. But he gets none of the blame for sin because He does not produce sin in people's hearts, but directs it by means of negative causation.[7]

To further clarify this point, let us continue a little further. We must remember that we are all born sinful. Because of Adam's sin, we all come into the world with sinful hearts. Thus, God doesn't cause sin by taking righteous people and making them do what they don't want to. He does not inject sinful desires into people. Rather, we are already sinful. God simply leaves us to our own natures and makes use of the evil that is already there. Thus, we are responsible for our sinful actions because they proceed from our own heart. The source of sin is in the human heart, not God. What God does is divide, arrange, and direct the sin in the human heart, so that it manifests itself according to His purposes. God is sovereign over it because He arranges and shapes the form in which sin will express itself in. But we are accountable for it because it flows from our own hearts, not God. This helps us to understand the Scriptures which speak of God hardening someone's heart: God causes the heart to be hard not by injecting fresh evil into it, but by withdrawing His restraining grace so that the heart does what comes natural to it--become more rebellious.[8]

As should be clear from this paragraph, when I speak of negative causation I am not saying that God simply leaves a person to their own sinful nature, and that is all there is to it. God also directs the degree of evil in a person's heart by hardening it by means of negative causation or, if He wants to restrain evil, He softens the heart by means of positive causation. It seems that He also directs circumstances in order to insure that the sinful nature will carry out the specific sins that He has planned. For example, we read in 1 Kings 22:19-23 of God sending a deceiving spirit to "entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead." God's action in letting Ahab be deceived was not simply a "hands off" (see also 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). But the truth of negative causation shows us that God is never the fountain, or producer, of sin. God was not the positive cause of Ahab's sin. However, negative causation, as I pointed out in the previous paragraph, does not deny that God makes use of the sin that is already there or that He orchestrates the circumstances in order to direct the expression of the sinful nature.

In other words, negative causation shows that sinfulness is not in a person's heart because God produced it, but because He withheld the grace that would have eliminated the sin. But God does direct the degree of sinfulness in the heart and arrange the form in which the sin of the heart manifests itself by means of negative causation (withdrawing His restraining grace even more and thus hardening the heart), and/or by orchestrating circumstances so that the sin that He has ordained will be carried out.

Finally, the instance in first Kings also shows us the truth of "secondary causation." Simply put, God Himself is not the one who enticed Ahab to sin. Rather, God brought this about through a secondary cause--namely, the lying spirit that was sent. The fact of secondary causes makes it easier to see how God can use circumstances to bring about a sin that He has ordained, and yet not be the positive cause of that sin.

To bring this all together in greater clarity, let me offer this summary: The sin in the human heart is not produced by God. Rather, He is the negative cause of it because He is permitting it to exist when He could change it. Further, it seems that God uses negative causation and secondary causation to specifically direct the course of human sin. But God does this in such a way that He is never the positive cause of sin--that is, he is never the producer of evil in a person's heart. If a person sins or if their heart becomes more evil, it is by means of negative causation and secondary causes. Keep in mind, however, that I am not claiming to be giving--or to know--the full explanation of the way God's sovereignty over evil works.

Someone may object that, since God ultimately allowed us to fall into sin in the first place, sin is not our fault. But this objection does not work. God originally created humans morally good and blameless in Adam. Adam then sinned of His own accord. Yes, it was God's plan and He could have prevented it. Yet God cannot be blamed because He did not force Adam to sin, but withheld the grace that would have prevented it. To be sure, it was not a case of God not doing enough to make it possible for Adam to obey or that God necessarily took away grace from Adam. Rather, it seems God probably withheld the further grace that would have necessarily kept Adam from sinning. Thus, we often say that God permitted Adam to sin.

What is meant when we speak of God permitting something? This distinction between positive and negative causes shows why we sometimes speak of God as "permitting" something. When we speak of divine permission, we are not saying that God gave control of the situation over to the human will to let it do whatever it would. Rather, we are referring to the means that God used to bring about the action he had ordained. We aren't denying that God caused it, but are trying to get across the fact that God is behind good in a different way than He is behind evil. Thus, we speak of God "permitting" something. We mean that He could have prevented it, but deliberately withheld the grace that would have prevented it.

While that last statement has proved very helpful in clarifying my understanding, it is incomplete by itself. As we saw earlier, God's permission doesn't mean that he ceases being involved in the situation. God is still controlling the situation. Permission refers to the means God uses to control the situation. Thus, we must understand that God's permission is a directive permission. This means that God, by means of negative causation, is able to so arrange the situation that the option that He has ordained will necessarily occur.

We saw a glimpse at how God does this in our discussion of negative causation and secondary causes. In the book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Lorainne Boettner, there is an insight that will perhaps shed more light on how God uses negative causation to direct the course of sin: "Our sinful natures will always go to the boundary set by the permission of God. Hence, God's bounding of sin renders certain what and how much will come to pass. Satan could go no farther with Job than God permitted; but it is certain that he would go as far as God allowed." God's permission is like a fence that He puts around sin. He can move the fence to give sin a large area, or a small area, and sin will always go to the boundary permitted by God. Thus, God can determine what sin will do by setting its boundaries at the spots that will bring about what He has ordained. [9]

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Sovereignty of God Over Evil -Part 1

by Matt Perman

The Biblical teaching on the sovereignty of God is summed up well by the Westminister Confession of faith: "God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."[1] The issue I wish to wrestle with in this article is the fact that God has, from all eternity, ordained all things that will happen (which would include evil), and yet is not the author of sin. How is this consistent? I believe that by examining what is meant by the terms "ordain" and "author of sin," we can come a long way in furthering our understanding.

As you read, keep in mind that I do not claim to be saying all that can be said, to know all about the way that God works, or to remove all difficulty and mystery in God's sovereignty. But I do wish to at least help people come to a greater understanding, in their own minds, of the sovereignty of God over moral evil.

What is meant by "ordain"?As we will see in the Scriptures below, God has not given control of history over to human beings or anyone else. He is in control, and this means that He has from all eternity ordained everything that will happen. But what does it mean to say that God has ordained everything that will happen?

First, it means that from all eternity, God decided what would happen in His creation. Without consulting anybody else and without being limited by anything outside of himself, God has decided what will happen--from the big things down to the smallest details. This plan that God has made is, taken as a whole, exactly the way that He wants it. The second thing that is mean by the phrase "ordain" is that God acts to bring about His plan. He does not just sit back and watch his plan be fulfilled by chance. God takes action to bring about what He has planned. In sum, the truth that God has ordained whatever comes to pass means that He (1) decides what will happen and then (2) makes it happen.

The testimony of ScriptureWe see this in many Scriptures. Ephesians 1:11 says "we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will..." First, notice that God works, or in other words "brings about," all things. Everything is brought about by God. Second, notice that God does this according to His own plan, "the counsel of His will." This plan was not governed by anything external to his own will. It is "the counsel of His will." Thus, "God both chooses what will happen and also works it out according to his plan."[2]

In Romans 11:36 we read "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." Thus, all things have their source in God's eternal decrees, all things are brought to pass by God's almighty power, and all things have as their ultimate goal God's glory. In Proverbs 21:1 we read "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes." Daniel 4:35 says "And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, `What hast Thou done?'"[3]

Since God controls all things, this means that evil is also under the control of God. We see this explicitly in many verses. Psalm 105:25, speaking of the Egyptians in the time period of the Exodus, says that God "turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants."
In Isaiah 10:5-15 we read of how God used the wicked nation of Assyria to carry out his judgements upon Israel. In Deuteronomy 2:30 we read "But Sihon king of Heshbon was not willing for us to pass through his land; for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, in order to deliver him into your hand, as he is today." The crucifixion of Christ, which was the most sinful human act in all of history, was said to have been according to "the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God" even though it was "by the hands of godless men" that Christ was put to death (Acts 2:23; see also 4:28).[4]

The sovereignty of God over all things, including evil, is important for many reasons. This truth gives us peace of mind and security in a hostile world, for we know that our good God is sovereign over it all and is working for good. When bad things come to us through the sins of others, we can take comfort that God is working it all for our good. This truth also gives us wonder and awe as we marvel at how God can even use His enemies to accomplish His plans.

Understandably, however, for many people it is hard to be comfortable with this truth because of a pressing question: If God brings about all things, good and evil, why is he not the author of sin? As we saw in the Westminister confession of faith, and as we know from the Bible, a proper view of God's sovereignty believes both that God brings about all things, yet He is not the author of sin. How can this be?

What is meant by "author of sin"?We will come a long way to solving this difficulty if we understand what is meant by saying that God is not the "author of sin." It means at least five things:

1. God never commits sin. 2. God is not the positive cause of sin.3. God cannot be blamed for sin.4. God does not approve of sin. He hates it and justly punishes it.5. God does not ordain sin for its own sake.

God never sinsThe first thing we mean when we say "God is not the author of sin" is that God never commits sin. "I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he" (Deuteronomy 32:3-4, NIV). "There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!" (Romans 9:14).

Thus, an important distinction that we must make is that ordaining sin is not the same as doing sin. It would be entirely false, when speaking of God, to equate ordaining sin with committing sin. God ordains sin without committing sin Himself. Gordon Clark gives some helpful illustrations at this point: "....it should be evident that God no more commits sin than he is writing these words. Although the betrayal of Christ was foreordained from eternity as a means of effecting the atonement, it was Judas, not God, who betrayed Christ. The secondary causes in history are not eliminated by divine causality, but rather they are made certain."[5]

God is not the positive cause of sinGod is behind good and evil in different ways. From the verses we saw above, it is clear that God is the cause of all things. However, we must understand that God is behind evil in a different way than He is behind good. He is behind good in a way that renders Him fully deserving of all of the credit for it, but He is behind evil in such a way that He deserves none of the blame for it. D.A. Carson explains it like this: "To put it bluntly, God stands behind evil in such a way that not even evil takes place outside the bounds of his sovereignty, yet the evil is not morally chargeable to him: it is always chargeable to the secondary agents, to secondary causes [i.e., those who actually do it]. On the other hand, God stands behind good in such a way that it not only takes place within the bounds of his sovereignty, but it is always chargeable to him, and only derivatively to secondary agents...If this sound just a bit too convenient for God, my initial response (though there is more to be said) is that according to the Bible this is the only God there is."[6]

Different kinds of causes. If we understand the differences between the ultimate cause, positive cause, and negative cause, it will help us to see why God deserves all of the credit for good, but none of the blame for evil. The ultimate cause is what brings about the event. Without this cause, the event won't happen. With this cause, the event will happen. Thus, the ultimate cause determines the outcome. But the ultimate cause can bring about the effect in different ways. It can act by means of a positive influence, which means directly influencing the object to make it act. In this case it functions as the positive cause, and would deserve credit for the action brought about. On the other hand, the ultimate cause can act by means of a negative influence, which means withholding certain influences to the extent that the desired result is brought about. In this case the ultimate cause functions as the negative cause.

With this in mind, there are two extremes to avoid. The first would be to deny that God is the ultimate cause of all things. This view would say that sin occurs apart from the plan of God, that God is not the sovereign controller of sin. This error would have to ignore many of the verses we saw above. The other extreme would be to affirm that God is the positive cause of sin. This error would be saying that sin proceeds from God and that he injects fresh evil into people's hearts to make them sin. This error would seem to say that God is the morally guilty cause of sin and would have to ignore verses such as James 1:13 "Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Liturgy and Life

While I am waiting to get the messages from the latest pastor's conference held in Monroe Louisiana on Life & Liturgy, I thought I'd post this little tidbit.

The Intrinsic Connection Between Right Belief (Orthodoxy) and Right Action (Orthopraxy)---by Dr. Bryan Owen

Holding those two together is critically important. And holding to a tradition which affirms that praying shapes believing, the liturgies we use for our worship in the Church are meant to inform, shape, and sustain not only what we believe but also how we live our lives. If we lose the connection between liturgy and life, we run the risk of promoting an escapist theology of worship in which liturgy insulates persons from the joys and sufferings of the world. And if that happens, the Church gives credence to the Marxist charge that religion serves as the opiate of the masses or to the Freudian view of religion as an infantile illusion.

In thinking about the relationship between liturgy and life, worship and ethics, Sunday morning church and the rest of the week, I’ve found the work of Charles Price and Louis Weil helpful. In their book Liturgy for Living, they distinguish between intensive liturgy and extensive liturgy.

Intensive liturgy is what happens in church, especially on Sunday morning. “By its intensive liturgies,” Price and Weil write, “the church encounters Christ as present in Word and Sacraments. Under these forms, Christians appropriate his example and the power which he makes available” [Liturgy for Living (Seabury, 1979), p. 296].

Extensive liturgy is what happens when we bring what we receive in church into the world. “One appropriates an example and its power for a purpose. One leaves the intensive liturgy to live in accordance with the model and in the strength of the grace which it supplies” [Liturgy for Living (Seabury, 1979), p. 296].

Price and Weil continue by highlighting the ways in which intensive and extensive liturgy are mutually dependent:

As our intensive liturgies drive us into the world to do our extensive liturgies, so our extensive liturgies bring us back week by week to the Christian assembly, to seek God’s presence once more under the embodied forms of Word and Sacrament. For the world is stronger than we are. By our own strength, we cannot long live up to Christ’s example, nor can we get along without renewal of spiritual power. Failures are frequent. Discouragement is always close. Need alone would return us to the unfailing source of renewal, given expression and made accessible by the liturgy of the church.

Not only need brings us back, to be sure; thanksgiving also brings us back. Our extensive liturgies are not only the story of failure, although failures are many; they are also the stories of success and triumph. To keep the record straight, and to make sure that we give God the credit due to God alone, we return to give him thanks [Liturgy for Living, (Seabury, 1979), p. 297].

I find it refreshing, and really quite powerful, to think about the things we do during the week – parenting, jobs, recreation, serving food to the homeless, grieving … you name it – as extending the liturgy we participated in when we gathered together with our brothers and sisters in Christ last Sunday. It’s all connected to the thanksgiving and praise we give to God when we gather to hear the Word read and proclaimed and to receive the holy gifts of Christ’s Body and Blood.

A bishop and scholar of the Eastern Orthodox Church nicely summarizes the mutual dependence of intensive and extensive liturgy and the need to safeguard the connections between liturgy and life:

Theology, mysticism, spirituality, moral rules, worship, art: these things must not be kept in separate compartments. Doctrine cannot be understood unless it is prayed: a theologian, said Evagrius, is one who knows how to pray, and he who prays in spirit and in truth is by that very act a theologian. And doctrine, if it is prayed, must also be lived: theology without action, as St Maximus put it, is the theology of demons. The Creed belongs only those who live it. Faith and love, theology and life, are inseparable. In the Byzantine Liturgy, the Creed is introduced with the words, ‘Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Trinity one essence and undivided.’ If we do not love one another, we cannot love God; and if we do not love God, we cannot make a true confession of faith and cannot enter into the inner spirit of Tradition, for there is no other way of knowing God than to love Him [Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church New Edition (Penguin, 1993), p. 207].

Monday, January 7, 2008

America becoming more charismatic

Chris Ortiz has added a most interesting post on his blog. We have very similar spiritual journeys, and I can say a hearty amen to his analysis:

What the Barna statistics reveal is that this (charismatic) movement is not dissipating, and what it needs most now is what we (Reformed) have to share with them. If they embrace it, as I have, we could possibly witness the greatest revival in Western civilization.

Read the rest here:

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Kind of Christianity That Will Win Muslims!

Christianity Today is running an article about Christianity in Turkey. I found the following VERY interesting!

Engaging Islamic Society
In 1986, Ucal finally started a church. His tiny congregation was allowed to worship for 60 minutes every 15 days inside the Swedish Consulate in Istanbul.

But Turkish newspapers immediately made a big deal out of a Muslim-background pastor starting a Christian church for Muslim-background Turks. His parents hadn't become used to Ucal being a Christian and had no idea he was going to start a church. They were startled when they opened their morning newspaper. "Those years were terrible," Ucal recalls. His parents were frightened for their son. Campus Crusade staff members who were helping Ucal warned, "Turgay, you will die." Yet they stayed with him. Within a year, Ucal had 20 Muslim-background Turks in his church, and stability was emerging.

Ucal's congregation moved toward a charismatic, Vineyard-style form of Christianity. Meanwhile, Ucal served in the army for eight months and received training in ministry in the Philippines and South Korea. After that, Ucal decided to plant a different kind of church based on systematic theological teaching. While in South Korea, he had noticed the parallels between systematic theology and the disciplined Islamic lifestyle and mindset. He wondered if other Muslim-background Turks might respond to a more structured approach than the informal evangelicalism of which he was a part. Ucal found that his Muslim neighbors are attracted to systematic approaches to religious instruction, and are also easily touched emotionally. So Ucal began approaching them with an "emotional Calvinism."

Read the rest here:

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Ultimate Self-Determination is Unnecessary For Moral Accountability

Divine Sovereignty and Human Accountability Briefly Harmonized--by Matt Perman

The two questions at the heart of the matter are this: How can God justly hold one accountable for his sins when God is the one who predestined that the sins come to pass? The question on the other side of the coin is: How can one's good choices be genuine when God is the one who predestined them? For the sake of simplicity, we will focus on the first question since the same principles apply to answering both of the questions.

That the Scriptures teach that God predestines that sin comes to pass and then holds those whom He ordained to sin guilty is clear. Those who crucified Christ did so because God had predestined them to do so (Acts 4:28), yet they are considered morally guilty for their sin (Acts 2:23; 7:52). Judas betrayed Christ according to the divine plan, yet Judas was also justly guilty of sin when he did so (Luke 22:22). Pharaoh refused to obey God's command to let Israel go because God hardened his heart, and yet God responded by judging Pharaoh for his sin (Exodus 7:2-4, etc.). Joseph's brothers sinned in selling him into slavery, and yet God was the one bringing this about all along (Genesis 50:20).

Many teach that harmony of these two truths is a mystery. Without claiming to know everything about the way God works, however, I think that if we take a closer look at the assumption underlying all of these Scriptures we will see that it is not a mystery. This doesn't mean that we can learn everything that there is to learn about this issue; it simply means that we can understand how it is just for God to hold us accountable for sins that He has predestined us to commit (and also how it is that our good choices are genuine when God is the One causing them). Rather than simply saying, "I don't know how God can do that, but He does and He is right in doing so," we can say, "Although I don't know everything there is to know about the issue, now I see how it is that God is able to do that and be right in doing so."

The first step in solving the mystery is to make a simple inference from the Scriptures. We saw above many cases where God sovereignly ordained sin to be committed, and then regarded as morally guilty those whom He ordained to commit the sin. The implication revealed by these Scriptures is clear--a person does not need to have the power of ultimate self determination in order to be held accountable for his sins.

I think that the main reason that we have a tendency to think that the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery is because of a certain presupposition we have: that moral accountability requires that we have the final say (ultimate self-determination, ultimate causation) over our choices. But since the Scriptures show that God ultimately determines what we will do and yet we are still accountable for our actions, we must conclude that the common belief that moral accountability requires ultimate self-determination is false. Ultimate self-determination is unnecessary for moral accountability. Therefore, we see that moral accountability is based upon something other than the power of ultimate self-determination.

To clarify, just step back and ask yourself this question: What is it that makes us morally accountable for what we choose? We have just seen what does not make us morally accountable for our choices--namely, the power of ultimate self-determination. It can't be what makes us morally accountable because of the numerous explicit cases in Scripture where people lacked this and yet were held accountable. On top of this, Jonathan Edwards does an excellent job in his book Freedom of the Will showing that the concept of ultimate human self-determination is philosophically contradictory and thus impossible.

So what, then, does make us morally accountable for our choices? As Jonathan Edwards answered, it is not the cause of our choice that makes us accountable for it, it is the way our choice was caused that makes us accountable for it.

Edwards points out first of all that there is always a cause to our choices. This is simply a universal, axiomatic truth that applies to all things. If something happens, it was caused by something. It is absurd to deny the truth that nothing happens without a cause. But to say that a choice can be made without a cause would be to deny this axiom and say that something can happen without a cause. Second, we must recognize that there are two main ways that a choice can be caused.

First, it can be brought about by physical causes compelling us to act. For example, if I were to touch a hot stove, my hand would automatically remove itself as a reflex. In such a case, my mind tells my hand to remove itself because it is physically wired to do so. So this is an example of a physical cause. Clearly, we cannot be held morally accountable for choices caused by physical causes. Second, however, a choice can be brought about by moral causes. A moral cause is simply the reason or preference moving us to act. For example, if I choose to eat a sandwich instead of meatloaf because I prefer sandwiches over meatloaf, that preference moving me to act is a moral cause.

Edwards demonstrates convincingly that it is always the greatest preference that causes us to act. We always choose according to our strongest preference. So, for example, if I choose a sandwich over meatloaf it is because I preferred the sandwich more than the meatloaf.

Now we come to perhaps the most important thing to grasp: Moral causes do not remove our moral accountability. For example, could anybody honestly say something like, "My choice to give money to the poor wasn't genuine because I was doing the option that I had the greatest preference for"?! Would a judge really excuse the criminal who said, "You can't hold me accountable for my crime because I wanted to do it! In fact, I wanted to do it so much that I couldn't have done otherwise"? Of course not!

What this all boils down to is this: we are morally accountable for choices that God predestined us to make because God brings our choice about through moral causes. Since moral causes do not remove our moral accountability, we can be justly held accountable for our sins even though they are ultimately ordained by God. To put it another way, since moral causes do not remove our moral accountability, the fact that we are being ultimately caused to act by God does not remove our moral accountability as long as God is using moral causes to move us to act. Since moral causes do not remove our moral accountability, the cause of those moral causes does not remove our moral accountability either.

Let me piece this all together with a simple example. Think of a time where you've had two pieces of cake to choose from--one white, and one chocolate. Now, you did not make the choice by deciding to prefer chocolate that day and then choosing accordingly. Rather, you recognized within yourself a preference for the chocolate over the white (for whatever reasons--diet, flavor, appearance) and then chose the chocolate because it is what you preferred most. And you would certainly not argue that your choice was not genuine simply because you were choosing what you most preferred!

So it is with the way God brings about His decree concerning what we will do. If He ordains that you will do something and be accountable for it, then He brings things about such that the option that He has ordained for you to choose is the option which you most prefer. Since you are choosing it because you prefer it the most, the fact that God had ordained you to choose it does not remove your moral agency.

Finally, let me address one objection. Often people will respond, "But I didn't choose what my greatest preference would be, and therefore I still can't be held accountable even though I am choosing in accordance with that greatest preference." But this objection can be put to rest by understanding more clearly what we have already seen--namely, that it doesn't matter that the choice wasn't ultimately caused by you, for that is not what makes one morally accountable. Rather, one is morally accountable simply because he is acting from moral causes. It doesn't matter that there was a cause, what matters is the nature of the cause. As long as the nature of the cause is moral rather than physical, one is justly accountable. This agrees with our judicial sentiments. As we saw in the example above, a criminal could never be resolved from his guilty by stating that he was only doing what seemed most preferable to him!

Jonathan Edwards said (at least) one other very helpful thing concerning this objection in The Freedom of the Will. He said, "The Essence of the virtue and vice of dispositions of the heart, and acts of the will, lies not in their cause, but in their nature." As he goes on to explain, "Thus, for instance, ingratitude is hateful and worthy of dispraise, according to common sense; not because something as bad, or worse than ingratitude, was the Cause that produced it; but because it is hateful in itself, by its own inherent deformity" (in Works, Vol. I, p. 59).