Thursday, October 15, 2009

God... author of sin?

Knee jerk reaction - what was yours? If you feel in any way similar to how I did several months ago, you're probably thinking that I'd be a radical "Christian" for even suggesting it as possible (let alone asserting it as fact). But before we go there, let's at least define our terms and take as a working definition "the ultimate cause of sin."

We must consider what would be a valid and sound objection to God being the author of sin. Only an objection grounded in a sound epistemology can even attempt answer whether or not God is the author of sin. For the purposes of this discussion, I will bypass the tangential topic [for example: obviously, the objection cannot be grounded in subjective intuition, as in doing so you implicitly admit I may do the same; one of us is intuiting via our sinful nature - i.e. illogically - and intuition in no way resolves this dilemma] of epistemology (although I do at some point hope to address this) and assume that the people who are reading this note are the people I have consistently spoken to about the subject matter of this note, i.e. people who affirm Sola Scriptura.

So then, in order for one to validly and soundly object to God as the author of sin, he must demonstrate that it is inconsistent with what God Himself has revealed. This is what I intend to demonstrate is not only impossible, but also it is contradictory to the content of Scripture. Scripture is not simply silent on the issue: it decidedly affirms that God indeed authors sin.

Let's first set up some elementary, relevant definitions which I believe Scripture, our authority, establishes:

sin - a transgression of God's law
author - first [or ultimate] cause; source of origin

We know that sin is a transgression of the law since we know that it is by the law that knowledge of sin comes about (Romans 7, 3:9-23) as well as explicit testimony of Scripture (James 2:9, 1 John 3:4).

We know that author is the first [or ultimate] cause or source of origin by passages like Hebrews 12:2 and colloquial references to God as the "author of Scripture." When we say these things, it is not as though God has faith for us or God physically picked up a pen and wrote His Word; rather, He is the cause or origin of our:

- faith, in that it is only by His regenerating us through our preaching of His Word, His Spirit, and preserving us unto perseverance that we can come to and stay in faith.

- Scripture, in that He breathed out the speech and writing of the prophets and apostles.

So we see that firstly, the objection that God as author of sin ipso facto makes Him a sinner is false. Secondly, we see that as the author, God can use intermediate means (such as His creation) to accomplish His purpose. Romans 10 and the Great Commission make it quite clear preachers are the means by which God brings His people to faith. Using "secondary causes" does not mean God's will is any less divinely efficient, as it is His will which directly causes our inclinations to do good (Philippians 2:13) by preaching et. al. which lays the ground work for His application of redemption. Nonetheless, He is using secondary causes as the author of our faith; hence, an argument predicated on James 1:13-14 is either a straw man or misunderstanding of the relation between what the passage is, in context, speaking about, and what it means for God to be the author of sin.

What we can learn from this is that, dealing with the question at hand negatively (Why being the author of sin does not necessarily contradict Scripture), a valid and sound objection must demonstrate that in God's willing sin through means of secondary causes (creation, dispositions) is sinful, i.e. in willing sin through means of secondary causes, God transgresses His own law. I contend no one can do this.

I will go further, however, and address the question positively (why God is, in fact, the author of sin), not only because it's absurd to imply one can expect anyone to accept such a speculation (especially given the seeming controversial nature) on the basis of absence to the contrary but also because I do think that Scripture addresses the issue. To stay silent, then, is to deny God His full revelation.

Romans 9:18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”
20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”
21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory

Some of you probably expected this passage. Oh well, I'll go over it anyways. Notice that the context of verse 18 (in which I had several people suggesting the hardening was rather passive) is verse 19-20, in which Paul props up an objector who asks God why He finds fault for Him **making** him a certain way. Regardless of how one wants to perceive verse 18, the fact is that a person is a sinner or is righteous by their determined actions (for which they are responsible due to the relationship between a pot and the Potter, the creation and the Creator). Paul doesn't evade the argument, he throws it back in the objectors face, putting him in his rightful place: one of submission to God and His purposes, whatever they may be. Paul even goes on to provide an explanation for God's purposing some pots to dishonor (wrath unto destruction): to make known the riches of His glory to the elect. Amazing!

Proverbs 16:9 A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD determines his steps.
Proverbs 20:24 A man’s steps are of the LORD; How then can a man understand his own way?
Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.

By a show of hands: who is willing to suggest that God controls only the steps that are good? How is man able to take "bad" steps apart from God anyways? I deal with this more fully below.

Lamentations 3:37 Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed?

Isaiah 45:7 I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.’

Does peace only refer to "natural" peace over against "moral" peace? If not, then how shall we deny "calamity" a parallel meaning?

2 Samuel 24:1 Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”
2 Chronicles 21:1 Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.

Referring to the same census, we read that Satan tempted David into taking a census... by what means? God's movement. Take the time to read 2 Samuel 24:10-14 and ask yourself: "is that how I am responding right now?"

Answers to questions and comments I've received:

"If God is the positive author of good and evil then good and evil are meaningless."

On the contrary, if God is NOT the author of good and evil, God is reactionary and consequently has NO purpose for either. Not only this, but it undermines the very sovereignty of God. How exactly does evil come about? Permission? Nonsense. As though our very being is not dependent upon God, let alone our inherent dispositions! What exactly does the objector purport is the object of God's "permitting," and how exactly has the occasion arisen apart from the will of God? Only when we recognize that it is God who has decreed evil for His purposes - to His praise and glory - can we understand why and how evil exists.

"Historic Calvinism explains that calamity and hardening come from God's negative positive attributes, like the absence of His blessing, NOT because the positive presence of His negative qualities like evil.

It is not to historic Calvinism that our pledge is due. Also, as historic Calvinism teaches that it is in fact God who has decreed the Fall of man such that everyone's nature is - and always will be, apart from grace and mercy - totally corrupted, what exactly does the objector believe he escapes from in suggesting that the hardening of one's heart is merely a withdrawal of the grace and mercy necessary to overcome the corrupt nature that God Himself decreed should be imputed to him???

"1 Kings 22:19-23 proves exactly the opposite of Cheung's point. Read it again, God allows an evil spirit to do the evil work. *nowhere* does it say that God directly caused the evil. God is only ever the permissive author of evil."

The passage in question reads:

19 Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left.
20 And the LORD said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner.
21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’
22 The LORD said to him, ‘In what way?’ So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And the LORD said, ‘You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.’
23 Therefore look! The LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the LORD has declared disaster against you.”

Where exactly does the word "allow" appear in the text? It is God who brings up the question as to who will persuade Ahab to go up THAT HE MAY FALL. Notice that there appears to be an unbiblical view of God's sovereignty smuggled into the answer, as though the spirit somehow self-determined (is autonomous, as it were) this solution. This of course raises a point I might have brought up above: how is God omniscient from eternity if He has to "permit" certain occasions to happen? That is, how have these occasions arisen in the mind of God apart from His causality? It smells like middle knowledge. In any case, none of this lessens the fact that God has not only permitted evil but given His full consent as to the secondary causes for the achieving thereof!

It is not as though this is the only passage in which God uses spirits to effect evil (cf. Judges 9:23, 1 Samuel 16:14-23, 18:10, 19:9). There are no such equivocations in these passages as to who is the one doing the decreeing (not mere permitting).

"I just dislike the terminology of calling God the author of sin"

Call it what you wish. God is the ultimate and efficient cause of sin. That which He purposes, He does. He works all things according to the counsel of His will. He has even, for His purposes, made the wicked for the day of destruction.

"I don't know if we have enough information to be able to define his relationship to evil in the sense of resolving the ontology and origin of evil. Specific calamities I am willing to grant..."

Of what are these "calamities" comprised? Might they include, say, the "predestining" of men to crucify Jesus? Surely sin is involved. Or Assyrian wars committed, perhaps, for sinful reasons? What about specific events, like individual murders and rapes?

It's not obviously not a topic people like to talk about. I get it. But if it's true, it's true. It's better to be up front about it and glory all the more in God's mercy and grace to ourselves.

"...how does this work epistemologically? How are we in any sense different from the atheist who calls Auschwitz bad, but in reality is (in his worldview) merely describing his preference. Does good and evil not have any objective basis, or are we stuck in a kind of monotheistic dualism - Allah, in a sense, who is so transcendent he transcends categories of good and evil? I don't disagree that God is sovereign over evil, but it seems to me to bring up more problems than it solves to define it so glibly as I feel Cheung has done. He 'proves' his point as far as semantics go, but I am left wondering how this translates into actually helping us conceive of God."

As I understand it, Cheung, a Clarkian, would use Clark's (and Calvin's; cf. link) argument, i.e.

//...the will of God is the highest rule of justice; so that what He wills must be considered just, for this very reason, because He wills it. When it is inquired, therefore, why the Lord did so, the answer must be, because He would. But if you go further, and ask why He so determined, you are in search of something greater and higher than the will of God, which can never be found.//

Epistemologically (more so objectively than subjectively), we know this because it is what the Bible teaches: God swears by whom? Himself. There is no higher law.

Experientially (more so subjectively than objectively), God has proved it in Himself: Jesus.

Epistemologically, the atheist and Islamist has no ground upon which to base a definition of good/bad, because both of their epistemic foundations are flawed. Hence, while they might THINK they have experiential ground, they don't even have that. You'll find, especially with atheists, that moral relativism is a virtual necessity (by their own admission, I might add). Many have no problem accepting the logical consequence of their position, that good and evil in their world view cannot exist, even if they subsequently act inconsistently by trying to impose their subjective principles.

"Obviously God uses means, but in a sense by withholding blessing and protection he is still *authoring* evil because he intentionally withholds his blessing in order to achieve his intended end. Do you think that part of the problem might be a too-wide usage of the word 'evil'?"

I have for purposes of this discussion narrowed the definition to refer to moral evil (sin), so you'll have to let me know. I addressed the issue of God's hardening "passively" above.

One final note. Berkhof writes:

"By His decree God rendered the sinful actions of man infallibly certain without deciding to effectuate them by acting immediately upon and in the finite will. This means that God does not positively work in man "both to will and to do," when man goes contrary to His revealed will. It should be carefully noted, however, that this permissive decree does not imply a passive permission of something which is not under the control of the divine will. It is a decree which renders the future sinful act absolutely certain, but in which God determines (a) not to hinder the sinful self-determination of the finite will; and (b) to regulate and control the result of this sinful self-determination. Ps. 78:29; 106:15; Acts 14:16; 17:30."

I want to make it clear that I am not asserting God HIMSELF tempts us. Instead, He has decreed to use secondary causes. In what way? Sending evil spirits of delusion (2 Thess. 2:11), treachery (Judges 9:23), terror (1 Samuel 16:14), and deceit (1 Kings 22:19-23). Berkhof seems to regard efficiency in terms of God tempting, whereas I qualify God's being the author of sin by effecting the hardening of our hearts (and subsequent sin) through the aforementioned intermediate causes (among others, possibly).

I am also not suggesting our will is coerced - that is a contradiction in terms. I happen to agree with a) and b) above (if understood in a certain sense, which, unfortunately, I doubt is the sense which Berkhof means to convey). Instead, I affirm that we, of necessity, sin because God has decreed for us to sin (Acts 4:27-28). I reject the idea, however, of a "passive" decree, if by that Berkhof means to attempt to "extract" God from having effected sin by decreeing the secondary causes by which we come to desire sin. One wonders exactly how God is, from eternity, aware of the object of His "permission" if He is not the ultimate cause and, more importantly, how sinful desire ever arose in the first place with such an understanding of God's decree in relation to sin. I can only conclude that it is in this sense Berkhof intends to portray a "passive" decree, as he goes on to say God's relation to sin is an "insoluble mystery." Would he say this if he had an answer to my questions? I don't know. Berkhof's conciseness, though to be treasured in general, is unhelpful here.

4 comments:

Pieter said...

Ryan, feel free to visit my blog to see my view on Romans 9 and please comment. http://aransomforall.blogspot.com

Ryan said...

Pieter, after reading your long-winded post on unconditional election, I can see you do not really understand Calvinism. I will, however, post a brief response.

Anonymous said...

I believe the vast majority of people would hold that to say God is the author of sin is blasphemous, to say the least.

If I create a building knowing that the building will collapse and kill a thousand people, and knowing it because I planned it (decreed it), then am I not the author of those deaths?

If God had not created anything, absolutely nothing, then sin would not be possible.

Not only did God create, he decreed sin into the world. He decreed that Adam would fall. Adam could not have done any differently.

Doesn't that make God the author of sin? Secondary causes, permission, whatever word game one wants to use, the fact is God did what he did because it pleased him to do it.

I'm not judging God or even questioning him, because THAT would be blasphemous.

How can you get around the fact that if God had not created anything, there would no sin?

But he did and there is.

He created Angels, preserving some from sin, but not the others. The others fell because God decided not to preserve them, so doesn't that make God the author of their fall?

Ryan said...

Yup.