Monday, October 3, 2011

One more for the Arminians and Hypers alike

Introduction 
I'd like to respond to something Mr. Manata brought up, not because it serves to advance a discussion with him, but because it may help the some of the Arminian friends I have think more clearly about the notion of determinism.
There are two sink holes to fall into regarding the idea of a God who is so sovereign that He determines all things ahead of time:
      1. Denying His sovereignty like the Arminian,
      2. Denying His goodness, like the Hyper Calvinist.

Let's start with Mr. Manata and the Hypers position, in my very-silly-mostly-fuff-post I took a lot of time to basically say that the elect and reprobate have their fates "determined" or "decreed" differently.  Manata raises the serious (and justifiable) objection with some humor:
"God doesn’t “determine” the fate of the reprobate “as he” determines the fate of the elect. Okay, so does he determine it in another way?...If God decreed from the foundation of the world that Bob will never come to God, can Bob still come to God given identical decrees? Or, is Phil saying tha[t] God never decreed that Bob would not seek him?"
If we say He doesn't determine the fate of the reprobate then He's not sovereign. If He has plotted from all eternity past to use them merely for hell's fuel then he's not all good.  So let's answer this by going back to square one.

God is incapable of creating evil
When God uses His power for (what I'm calling) a 'positive' decree, (ex: Lazaraus come forth" creation ex nihilo) it's always very good (Gen 1:31, James 1:17, Ecc 7:29, 1 Tim 4:4, 3 John 1:11), because God Himself is good (Ps 143:10). Jesus uses His power to heal the sick, misery, sin, and this is all good.  The character, ability, and nature of God, is such that He can only be Himself, and that is only pure.
Now consider that if God really is completely Good, Pure, and Holy then He cannot at the same time be impure, unholy, or evil, nor can He do certain things inconsistent with His character. For example, He is unable to tempt (James 1:13), or lie (Heb 6:18). We agree then with our Arimian brothers who point out that if God has the ability to create evil, and make it, and send it out like He made man and commissioned him then He is a wicked terror, not a savior.
How does evil exist, if God is both Good and sovereign (Is 45:7) and unable to create evil? Because He causes evil to exist by the absence of His presence. In Edwards analogy God is like the sun- when the sun shines it heats the world up, when it goes away the world cools. The sun is not actively sending out bitter ice showers to make things colder, it's simply not shining its golden rays.

As seen in scriptures 
Job 1:10-12 testifies to this as well. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD." When God blesses Job He is acting from His own positive decrees, when He moves to strike Job He takes away the hedge, which allows Satan to run roughshod over Job.
So also Isaiah 5:5 "And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down." The removal of God's protection results in a ruin, not the presence of God ruining people.
Acts 7:42 "But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: "'Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices, during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?"  When Israel was punished and began to sin how did it happen? God gave them up. A negative act as it were, an absence of His power and might and goodness. This is what Paul states in Romans 1:24,26 "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves...For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature."
There are of course more verses, but that's enough to prove the case that by definition God cannot be actively creating evil, instead to cause evil or sin He simply stops sending out His goodness.

Proven by Reason as Well
A moments thought will show that this must be the case when we consider evil itself. Evil is a ruination, a sickness that can only exist on top of the good. Cancer, for example, can only exist if there is a preexisting healthy body with cells, and the normal ability of the cells to replicate. 
Sin is an absence of Gods goodness, not some positive added quality of badness.
The thinkers we admire reached the same conclusion, that God can do good by nature, but cannot do bad, therefore to cause ruin, or disaster, or evil He must withdraw His presence not send it out. C.S. Lewis grasped this when he wrote in Mere Christianity "In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness." Everyone's hero, Augustine argues the same, that evil has no existence except as a privation of good.

Point of Application 
And with that we're ready to address Mr. Manata's question: if God has foreordained that Mr. Bob would spend eternity in Hell, then how can He make a genuine offer of salvation to Bob? The answer is easily found: God happens to know that man left alone will choose hell, but even so He is not condemning man to hell with His positive decrees, he can't because He's all good.  Man is given the empty space to make His own decision, and chooses himself.
An analogy might help. Both my neighbor and I have this species of terrible weed in our front lawns.  When I go out to fight it I don't weed my neighbors lawn, just my own (my positive action), but neither am I the one causing weeds to spring up in his lawn- the ground does that.  Do I want my neighbors lawn to be overcome with weeds? No. Am I willing to pull them myself? No.  Is that contradictory? Not in the least.
It may be argued that since I'm God here, I must want weeds in my neighbors lawn, but this is not necessarily the case. It may be that I do want the weeds to appear in my own lawn, and I want everyone of my neighbors to see it. I further want the process of life to happen, from seed to plant, and I want that to apply to all things that grow universally.  I am then going to pull all my weeds to show everyone that I am a tender and compassionate homeowner, and I give my neighbor the option of letting him demonstrate the same. He doesn't. But that's not because I'm forcing him to be lazy and watch TV. His weeds are a by product of my decrees, they are not because of my decrees.

The Arminian wonders the same thing the hyper does, if God has predetermined everything ahead of time then how can man have free will? But clearly there is a misunderstanding of God's sovereignty, God doesn't force men to do anything, they are free to choose their own fate.  It's not like He has a divine gun to their head demanding they sin, He's just allowing them to make their own decision of their own will.  The elect have their wills renewed by a positive action of God (I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy) and freely desire God, but the non-elect are simply that: non-elect. Not damned before the foundation of the world, just non-elect. And it's worth remembering that non-elect may always lead to damnation, but non-elect is not equal to damnation.  They can always turn and repent, they have the abilities, they have no coercive force applied against them, they have the, for lack of a better word, empty-space the Lord has allowed for them to do the right thing in. The fault is theirs alone, just as if they are saved it will be by God's grace alone.
It may be argued here that unless man has not only a free natural will (as I have been asserting) but a free moral will (what I deny) then he is not in any sense free. Aside from the fact that man's moral ruin is his own fault (like a servant who gets drunk and then is unable to do his job) this is to argue for total madness. Unless I can desire or love whatever I want, whenever I want there is no such thing as desire or love. There is no anchor point to anything.  Unless I desire to be a woman I cannot desire to be a man. I cannot love ice cream unless I can immediately switch to loving dog poop soup just as much. 

 Point of Clarity
Mr. Tennant points out that I have broken away from the Westminster Confession of Faith in asserting things this way. That tells me I have not done a good job explaining it.  Am I stating God does not determine the fate of the reprobate? No. Do I believe the following: "God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass ... By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death." Yes, this is all true, that's what sovereignty means, after all.
But let me assert again that the foreordaination to death is not the same as the foreordaination to life.  Ordaining to life is a positive action of His nature, ordaining to death is an absence of it. Perhaps an analogy may help.  The architect of a skyscraper building foreordains the superstructure, the pillars, the piping, the floor materials, the electrical wires.  Then he puts them in by his positive actions.  Yet he also plans the space between the floors ahead of time as an "absence" of his work.  He has decreed the whole building from top to bottom, but he has not equally in all ways decreed it.  Or as I have said elsewhere, a composer foreordains the silence in his piece as well as the musical notes, yet the music notes are not written in in the same way.  The whole thing is his music, and the silence exists to further it's glory, but it and the notes may not be equated. Sovereign? Yes. Good yes.  This seems to me to be the only way to hold to both together.

8 comments:

David said...

Hey Phil,

Yeah its pretty standard, dating back to Augustine: God does not will sin directly. Or stated another way, sin is not the direct object of the divine volition.

The Clarkians and the Hoeksemians were the first in modern terms to deny permissive causation and permissive decree.

From the C&C site Ive got three sources which speak to this idea directly, Bavinck, Weeks, and Turretin.


Herman Bavinck on the Will of God for the Salvation of All Men

William R. Weeks on the Will and Desire of God for the Salvation of All Men

Turretin on God’s Providence Over Sin

Thanks,
David

THEOparadox said...

I really like the way Augustine explains this in his Enchiridion. That turned the lights on. When we start to grasp the mysterious wisdom of God's sovereign goodness, it's liberating. The alternative is to remain trapped in a 2D prison world we create by relying too much on our own logic.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Hey Phil, some thoughts from a "four point" Calvinist:

And with that we're ready to address Mr. Manata's question: if God has foreordained that Mr. Bob would spend eternity in Hell, then how can He make a genuine offer of salvation to Bob? The answer is easily found: God happens to know that man left alone will choose hell, but even so He is not condemning man to hell with His decrees. Man is given the empty space to make His own decision, and chooses himself.

I'm not sure where you stand confession-wise, but this comment definitely puts you outside the Reformed camp. In fact, it's hard to see how even an Arminian could affirm this position, since even Arminianism entails theological determinism.

See, for instance, the Westminster Confession, III, i & iii: "God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass ... By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death."

An analogy might help. Both my neighbor and I have this species of terrible weed in our front lawns. When I go out to fight it I don't weed my neighbors lawn, just my own (my positive action), but neither am I the one causing weeds to spring up in his lawn

Well, yes you are. In the analogy, you are God. Since nothing created has the power of self-existence, the analogy would entail you causing the weeds to grow.

Do I want my neighbors lawn to be overcome with weeds? No.

Since nothing happens aside from God's decree, how could those weeds have gotten there if you hadn't wanted them to?

God doesn't force men to do anything, they freely choose their own fate.

You're committing a whopper of a category error. The issue isn't whether God forces people to do anything. The issue is whether he determines what they will do. So Manata will simply turn around and say: "Sure, God determines that the reprobate freely choose their own fate. Now, answer my question. How can God sincerely offer salvation to someone whom he has already decreed and determined will not accept it?" And you've got nothing. The question is totally untouched, and it wrecks the sincerity objection we've raised against limited atonement.

Ie, if God is insincere to offer salvation to S when he knows S cannot accept it, then he is insincere both under limited atonement, and under universal atonement. The reasons S cannot accept may be different, but the conclusion is the same—unless we can show some relevant distinction between the two cases.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Odd, I notice summat weird happened with the link in the above comment. It should point to http://bnonn.thinkingmatters.org.nz/determinism-and-the-authorship-of-sin-in-calvinism-and-arminianism/

Phil said...

I'm not sure this is going to be well received, but that's okay, I promised you I would respond.
The problem here in the analysis is that it leaves out human agency. You are working in a model with too few variables, or you might say you have lost data when you ran your compression, or you might more say you have over simplified it.
Your intent, I think, was to clear out the underbrush and show how the Arminian pushes back the dilemma of God's decree, but since God effects only one universe, and can never be wrong He has determined everything.
What is really happening, probably unnoticed, is that the notion of real human freedom and responsibility is getting overlooked. Humans act as real agents, with real un-coerced decisions. The notion of the "Arminian" permissive decree has merit, it does not merely exist to obscure the Sovereignty of God.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Phil, I'm not leaving out human agency at all. I have explicitly included human agency.

What I have shown, however, is that human agency is decreed or determined by God.

Phil said...

But you don't mean established or upheld by that, I take it to mean you are saying fixed. And as a blanket statement that's different.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

I'm using "determined" in the standard way. Ie, given the determining conditions, we are not able to do other than we do.

Surely you agree that Reformed theology entails determinism?