October 9, 2015

God and Evil: Why the Ultimate Cause is not the Chargeable Cause

by Mike Riccardi

Problem of EvilSeveral weeks ago, I began a series of posts by outlining some foundational biblical teaching about God’s decree. We examined numerous passages of Scripture that speak of God’s decree as eternal, unconditional, unchangeable, and exhaustive. As a result, we concluded that God is properly said to be the ultimate cause of all things. As the Westminster Confession states, “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (WCF, 3.1).

Whenever you say something like that in a theological discussion, immediately the question is raised: How can God be the ultimate cause of whatsoever comes to pass—even actions and events that are evil and sinful, things which God Himself prescribes against—and yet not be rightly charged with unrighteousness. Perhaps the most common answer to that question is an appeal to the notion of divine “permission.” In other words, though God is ultimately in control, He doesn’t ordain evil; He merely allows it. In a second post, I demonstrated why such a solution is unsatisfactory, both theologically and biblically. After considering a number of passages that don’t shy away from attributing to God a very active role in the bringing about of evil events, we concluded with John Frame: “God does bring about sinful human actions. To deny this, or to charge God with wickedness on account of it, is not open to a Bible-believing Christian. Somehow, we must confess both that God has a role in bringing evil about, and that in doing so he is holy and blameless” (Doctrine of God). That post demonstrated that Scripture plainly teaches both (a) that God is unquestionably righteous and (b) that He indeed ordains sinful events and actions. And if that’s what Scripture teaches (and it is), it is not our place to sit in judgment upon and question the consistency of those declarations. That only breeds the worst of biblical and theological mischief. To argue that God is unrighteous for ordaining evil is to sit in judgment upon both the Word of God and the Judge of all the world. Instead, it falls to us to receive both propositions as true on the authority of God’s infallible and inerrant Word.

But is there any way to understand how it can be that God is not the chargeable cause of sin, even though He ordains that it be? There is a way for the worshiper of God to ask that question submissively, not because we demand that God give an account of His understanding of justice that satisfies our sensibilities, but simply because we desire to know Him and worship Him for what He has revealed of Himself. And there is a way to answer that question that remains faithful to sound biblical interpretation and theological reflection.

The answer that Scripture seems to give can be boiled down to two propositions. First, though God is the ultimate cause of all things—even evil—He is never the proximate, or efficient, cause of evil. Second, Scripture regards only the efficient cause of evil as the chargeable or blameworthy party. Let’s look to a sample of texts that bears this out.

Assyria, the Rod of My Anger

In Isaiah 10, God pronounces woe upon His people for their idolatry and injustice (Isa 10:1–2). He threatens that He is about to bring about a “day of punishment” and “devastation which will come from afar” (Isa 10:3). “Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives or fall among the slain” (Isa 10:4). In verse 6, we learn that God will carry out this punishment against wicked Israel by sending the nation of Assyria to destroy her. He says, “I send it [i.e., Assyria] against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets” (Isa 10:6). God will send Assyria to level devastation upon Israel to punish her for her idolatry.

Assyria Destroys IsraelAnd yet, in verse 5, God also pronounces woe upon Assyria! He says, “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation” (Isa 10:5). He even goes so far as to liken Assyria to an inanimate object—the rod of Yahweh’s anger in His hand which He Himself wields. We might naturally ask, “How can it be just for God to send Assyria to destroy Israel—indeed, to describe their involvement as so inactive as to liken them to an inanimate object in Yahweh’s hand—and then punish them for the evil of destroying Israel?” It simply won’t do to say that Yahweh merely “allowed” Assyria to punish Israel; the text is far too active for that: “I send it against a godless nation” (Isa 10:6). The answer seems to lie in the concept of ultimate versus efficient causation. Even though Yahweh is clearly the ultimate cause of Israel’s destruction and the Assyrians are merely the rod of anger in His hand, yet the Assyrians are the efficient cause of the evil.

Besides this, God’s sovereign ordination of Assyria’s destruction of Israel in no way coerced Assyria or forced them to do what they did not otherwise want to do. Assyria wasn’t sitting around minding its own business when God came and twisted their arms to mercilessly destroy a nation. No, they still acted according to their freedom of inclination; they were doing what they wanted to do. And yet, the reason they desired to destroy Israel was not the reason for which Yahweh wanted to. Yahweh wanted to righteously punish Israel for her idolatry and injustice. But Assyria had other intentions. Verse 7 says, “Yet it does not so intend, nor does it plan so in its heart.” In other words, Assyria does not intend to destroy Israel for the sake of punishing unrighteousness. No, “but rather it is its purpose to destroy and to cut off many nations. For it says, ‘Are not my princes all kings?’” (Isa 10:7–8). Assyria’s intention in destroying Israel was to arrogantly flex its military muscle and pridefully make a name for itself among the nations.

God ordains the evil of the destruction of Israel by Assyria. Yet while Assyria meant it for evil—to satisfy its own pride and bloodlust—God meant it for good: to punish unrighteousness and bring about repentance in His people. Assyria is the efficient cause, and because their desires were sinful, they are accountable for their sin. God is the ultimate cause, but because His desires and purposes for ordaining that evil were not evil but righteous—in other words, because He ordained the evil for goodness’ sake—He is not the chargeable cause of sin.

The Anger of the Lord Incited David

David's Census and PlagueSomething similar takes place in 2 Samuel 24. This chapter details David’s sin of taking a census among the people. We know it was sinful for a couple of reasons. First, David himself confesses it as such. He says, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Yahweh, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have acted very foolishly” (2 Sam 24:10). Apparently, numbering the people was a display of David’s pride. He was basking in the glory of the nation over which he was king. It was as if he was saying, “Look at how numerous is my people!” Second, we also know it was sinful because God responded by sending pestilence upon the nation, with the result that 70,000 men died (2 Sam 24:15)! If David was going to exalt himself and take pride in a nation of great numbers, God was pleased to humble the great king by taking 70,000 of that great number to the grave!

What makes this a surprising scene is the opening verse of the narrative. In 2 Samuel 24:1, the text says, “Now again the anger of Yahweh burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’” David confesses such an act as sin (2 Sam 24:10), and God punishes it as sin (2 Sam 24:15), and yet from the outset we’re told that it was Yahweh’s anger that incited David to take this census! More than that, in the parallel account in 1 Chronicles 21:1, the inspired text says, “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.” God and Satan are used entirely in parallel! The author of Samuel says God incited David to take the census, and the Chronicler says Satan incited David to take the census!

Now, unless one is ready to admit a contradiction in Scripture, we must understand that (a) God is the ultimate cause of this act, ultimately decreeing that it should be; (b) Satan is a proximate cause, the instrument Yahweh uses to stir up this evil in the heart of David; and (c) David is the efficient cause, having carried it out according to his own sinful inclination, and thus is culpable for the action.

And although God is clearly the ultimate cause for this evil (He does not merely “allow” Satan to do it; 2 Sam 24:1 will not allow that understanding), Scripture does not at all imply that God is to blame or that Satan and David are any less responsible. God’s motives in this action must be presumed entirely righteous even though we are not explicitly told what good God intended by ordaining this evil. After all, shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly (Gen 18:25)? There can be no unrighteousness with God, can there? May it never be (Rom 3:5–6)! And yet because Satan always desires to ruin God’s people, and because David’s motive was to pridefully exalt himself, they are the chargeable cause(s) of this evil.

Whatever Your Hand Predestined to Occur

The final illustration of these principles may be found in the greatest moral evil in history: the murder of the innocent Son of God. Two passages help us here:

Acts 2:22–23 – Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.

Acts 4:27–28 – For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.

Crucify HimSo there can be no question that Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the peoples of Israel were to blame for the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 4:27). Peter openly indicts the men of Israel for their crime: “This Man . . . you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23; cf. 2:36). And yet, Peter also explicitly says that such evil was accomplished “by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Indeed, Herod, Pilate, the Jews, and the Gentiles were those whom God “anointed . . . to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:27–28).

Here again we see that (a) God is the ultimate cause of the crucifixion, predestining all of the events that led to the crucifixion, guaranteeing that it would occur; (b) the Jews were a proximate cause, seeing as how they incited Rome to crucify Christ; and (c) Herod, Pilate, and other godless men were the efficient cause, because the crucifixion was carried out by Roman authority. The Jews are held accountable as a proximate cause, as Peter says “you nailed [Jesus] to a cross by the hands of godless men.” That the Romans actually nailed Jesus to a cross made the Jews no less culpable for that crime. And yet God, by whose hand all of these things ultimately came about, is not the chargeable cause of any evil. Why? Because they meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. Herod, Pilate, Judas, and the Jews conspired the crucifixion because they wanted to be rid of this Man who indicted them for their sin. But God ordained the evil of the cross for the good that it would bring; namely, the salvation of His people from their sin.

So the point is: God may be the ultimate cause of all that happens—even evil—and yet not incur the guilt that rightly belongs to the proximate and/or efficient cause(s), because: (1) He is never the efficient cause of evil, and (2) He always ordains evil for good. God does not will sin as sin, but for the good which He desires to bring from it. Edwards explains:

“[It is consistent to say] that God has decreed every action of men, yea, every action that is sinful, and every circumstance of those actions; that he predetermines that they shall be in every respect as they afterwards are; that he determines that there shall be such actions, and just so sinful as they are; and yet that God does not decree the actions that are sinful, as sin, but decrees them as good. . . . By decreeing an action as sinful, I mean decreeing it for the sake of the sinfulness of the action. God decrees that they shall be sinful, for the sake of the good that he causes to arise from the sinfulness thereof; whereas man decrees them for the sake of the evil that is in them.” (Concerning the Divine Decrees, Works, 2:527)

Unto Our Highest Happiness

And what is that good for which God ordains evil? Ultimately, we know the answer is always for His glory.

To those who would reproach God for holding accountable those who don’t have the ability to resist His decree (cf. Rom 9:19), God answers by reminding mere mortals that they’re above their pay grade: “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” (Rom 9:20–21).

But to the submissive, inquiring worshiper for whom the furthest thing from his mind is to find fault with God, who simply wants to know his God and worship Him for how He’s revealed Himself, God gives another answer. In Romans 9:22–23, Paul says,

What if God, willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And [what if] He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory?

God ordains sin and evil—He even ordains the eternal punishment of the wicked—to make known to His elect the riches of His glory. You can’t do better than Edwards here:

“It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all. . . .

“Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all. If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from.

“How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired. . . . So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.” (Concerning the Divine Decrees, Works, 2:528)

God ordains whatsoever comes to pass in order that His glory might ultimately displayed to the utmost. And far from a megalomaniacal narcissism, God’s pursuit of His own glory is “in order to the highest happiness of the creature . . . because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God.” And our knowledge of God would be imperfect if we didn’t see the full expression of His attributes: grace, mercy, forgiveness, justice, righteousness, and so on. And yet none of those attributes could be fully expressed if there was not sin to punish and to forgive, or sinners to whom to be gracious and merciful. God is not less glorious, but more glorious, because He ordains evil. And the more He magnifies His glory, the greater is His love to us. Surely God cannot be charged with unrighteousness for doing that which amounts to the greatest benefit for us who are His.

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
For ‘Who has known the mind of the L
ord, or who became His counselor?’
Or ‘Who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again?’
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Excellent! Thanks for correcting my per understanding of this rich theology. I kept thinking of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart while reading the post as another example to help us understand.

    • Tim Bates

      I was also struggling to reconcile my views on this topic and unable to do so. This post greatly helped articulate what I should be saying in relation to this controversial question.
      Thanks for taking the time to write it and taking such a bold stance. I’d been struggling mightily with this specific question for the last week or so. It came at a perfect time.

      • So in that case, God was the ultimate cause but Mike is the proximate and effective cause.

        • Tim Bates

          No! I read this post and came to a clearer understanding all on my own free will!!! NEVER question my autonomy, Coughlin!

      • Thank you both, Michael and Tim. Very glad to know this has helped you in some way. Grateful for your readership!

  • Dennis Swanson

    Which is also why traducianism is the only real viable understanding of the origination of new souls.

    • Hah. Actually, I don’t think that follows at all. But that’s a topic for another day.

      • Dennis Swanson

        Well, the only other option then is creationism, which has God directly creating a fallen soul it seems, I’ve never heard a good creationist argument around that. Also, if you are a creationist you really have no positive argument against abortion. You can “say” that the soul-spirit” is created by God at the moment of conception, but that’s little more than conjecture and you end up with the embryo only being a “potential” person. But, I’m just old fashioned that way, I think traducianism accounts for the biblical data much more effectively and it removes the problem which your excellent post details.

        • The imputation of guilt is not the same thing as positively creating evil. But, like I said, another topic for another day.

  • Mary Elizabeth Palshan

    This is just excellent, Mike. My question is, if God needs the opposite of holiness (evil) to make His glory shine forth (which I totally understand), then how will that
    work in heaven, when there is no evil?

    • Hey Mary. Good question.

      (On the front end, though they might ultimately describe the same reality, I’m more comfortable saying “evil is necessary” than saying “God needs evil.”)

      That said, I don’t think “the existence of evil is necessary” is the same as “the continuation of evil is necessary.” The centerpiece and pinnacle of all the worship of heaven focuses on the most evil event in history, the crucifixion of Christ: “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. . . . Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev 5:9, 12).

      We will remember the greatest evil in history precisely for the good for which God ordained it. And the mercy, grace, justice, wrath, etc. of God that is displayed in that event and the consequences of it will enflame our worship for eternity. From the greater to the lesser, I think we’ll remember the lesser evils of this life in heaven, and from that perspective see in them the good for which God ordained them. And the display of His attributes in all those events (and especially the cross) will, in the language of Edwards, cause the infinite glory of God’s manifold perfections to consummately shine forth unto our greatest happiness.

      Hope that helps.

      • Mary Elizabeth Palshan

        Thank you for that deep and eloquent answer, Mike. Just awesome!

        On another note: I think God does “need” evil. He needs it to satisfy His attribute of wrath. God’s attribute of wrath existed from all eternity past, and is proof that evil sinners, of necessity, needed to be created to satisfy this attribute. Therefore, if God needs evil sinners to satisfy His attribute of wrath, it would then indicate that He “will” be glorified by evil for all eternity, proving that evil is necessary and is instrumental in bringing God eternal glory. In other words, there is a twofold purpose of evil: as an opposite of holiness capable of showing God’s glory (especially in the present), and as a necessary function to satisfy His eternal wrath.

        Always enjoy this blog!!!

        • I hear you. I just think it’s imprecise, and open to enormous confusion, to say that in any proper sense that the all-sufficient God “needs” anything, let alone evil.

          Like I said, I agree with the substance of what you’re saying: evil is necessary in order for the holy and loving purposes of God (i.e., the display of the riches of His glory upon His vessels of mercy) to be accomplished.

          But I think the statement, “God needs evil” is a crass conceptualization of that reality. Though I know you don’t intend it this way, it makes it sound like the essence or existence of God’s being is dependent or contingent upon the existence of evil, which is absurd. God is entirely free and self-existent; He depends upon nothing for who He is and what He does. Therefore, to say He needs anything, strictly speaking, is less than precise. “It was necessary for God to ordain evil in order for Him to accomplish His holy and loving purposes” grates much less against the rest of the Bible’s theology.

          • Mary Elizabeth Palshan

            Totally agree with you. God is in need of nothing. But His purpose for evil does bring Him eternal glory. Great conversation–great article!!!

          • marygiel

            This doesn’t make any sense to me. So in your reading of the bible do humans have free will?

          • Hey Mary. As I mentioned, this post is a third in a series. Some of the more foundational biblical exposition and theological explanation is found in the earlier posts. If you’re struggling to make sense of what’s written, be sure to read those posts as well and see if it helps. Here was the first, and here was the second.

            Regarding whether humans have free will, it depends on what you mean by the term. Usually, people who use the term refer to what theologians and philosophers call “libertarian free will” or “the power of contrary choice.” It’s the idea that doesn’t really respect the sovereignty of God as outlined in Scripture, and argues that humans can make choices that are contrary to God’s sovereign will of decree. You’ll not find that kind of “free will” in the Bible.

            Instead, you’ll see that the Bible calls the will of the natural man enslaved to sin (Rom 6:17; 2 Pet 2:19b), unable to subject itself to God’s law (Rom 8:7-8), and dead in sin (Eph 2:1-3). Apart from the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit found only in Christ, our wills are not free in the proper sense; they are enslaved to sin. There is a sense in which our wills are free to act according to their nature. In other words, just as a fish is free to swim wherever he wills, that fish is not free to get up on to dry land and walk. It’s free to act within the bounds of its nature, but it’s not free to act outside the bounds of its nature. Fallen humanity’s nature is sinful, and so, apart from Christ, we are free to choose among many ways to dishonor God, but we are never free to repent and trust in Christ — not until the Holy Spirit, by the sovereign grace of God, changes our nature by the divine miracle of regeneration.

            The freedom that human beings possess is also sometimes called “the freedom of inclination.” I mentioned that in the original post with regard to Assyria. Over and against libertarian free will, freedom of inclination simply means that one does what one wants; s/he is not coerced. The natural man is free in that sense, but only in that sense. To experience true freedom, we need the irresistible grace of God to open our eyes to treasure the glory of God in the face of Christ.

            Hope that helps.

          • marygiel

            Thank you for your answer. I read your previous posts too. I don’t agree with your conclusions because I don’t read the bible through Calvins traditions.

            What disturbed me is the fact that you seem to be implying that God is responsible for moral evil. I hope I’m just reading it wrong because that would be absurd. How can all loving God will moral evil when we know that he doesn’t even tempt us? (James 1:13). Wouldn’t that be God acting against himself?

            Your interpretation of the bible goes against nature of God therefore it cannot be correct. You are reading your theology into the text.

            Free will question is very difficult but even there you seem to say that men cannot do any good at all. The bible clearly teaches otherwise. Rom 2:14-15. Grace is still needed obviously but on the natural level this text says men can act justly.

            Anyhow just my few thoughts. I don’t expect you to agree. We read the same text with different traditions and they clearly effect how we interpret the same words.

          • Jason

            God doesn’t act against Himself by ordaining evil specifically because it’s for our good (and He is loving).

            I think back to an atheist debating the head of Christian Apologetic Research Ministry (I think) about the “problem of evil” whenever I read about this topic.

            The question came up “what is evil”. The atheist argued that it was to cause pain. The apologist asked if vaccines were evil. The atheist then amended to “cause unnecessary evil”, which became a whole discussion of “what is necessary” and if the subject needs to agree that it is necessary (for instance, are vaccines for infants evil because an infant doesn’t understand why they’re being poked).

            Looking at the garden of Eden. Man lived in a world without evil. However, not knowing evil, Adam and Eve (without sin nature) didn’t really understand that what they had was as good as it gets. They could not discern that God was not holding out on them specifically because they did not have an adequate way to understand the goodness of God.

            To say that the existence of evil is “wrong” is short-sighted. Evil is wrong, but the existence of it is good for man to fully appreciate God and the new earth which will be populated by those who are going to have a better understanding of God specifically because they didn’t have a life free from evil.

          • marygiel

            You are speaking of physical evil. Vaccines, pain etc. I asked does God cause moral evil. That is what I would say is absurd and goes against Gods nature. He may allow his creatures to commit moral evil. He allows the consequences of moral evil but God cannot be a cause of moral evil. That’s like squaring a circle.

          • Mary, I plan on responding to your comment when I have more time. But before I do, I’d like you to answer two questions before interacting further:

            (1) Are the events of the crucifixion — i.e., the murder of the innocent Son of God — rightly to be considered “moral evil(s)”?

            (2) Did God cause these events in any sense? Remember Acts 2:22-23 and 4:27-28.

          • marygiel

            1) yes
            2) God of course knew that those events will happen. He knows everything. His plan of salvation incorporates our choices. In that sense Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God as Acts 2:22 speaks. In the same way it was predestined. God did not cause Jesus’s death. Jesus gave himself up as an offering to the Father for our sins. The Father allowed Jesus to be crucified (not caused) and Jesus allowed himself to be crucified all out of Love. God IS Love after all.

          • Your second answer is an equivocation, aided by the vague statement that God’s “plan of salvation incorporates our choices.” You need to flesh that statement out in your thinking.

            If by “incorporates” you mean that God’s plan or decree extends even to the level of our choices, such that God ordains the very choices we make, then that statement is accurate and you agree with my posts. But you’ve already registered your disagreement, so I’m assuming that’s not what you meant by the phrase. So if by “incorporates” you mean that God in some sense peers down the corridors of time to see what our choices would be, and then based on the information He learns from those who are external to Him He forms His plan, then I would ask you to (a) defend that position from Scripture, and (b) explain how such a responsiveness in God does not undermine His omniscience. In reality, God does not form His decree based upon what He knows people will do; that assumes that creation exists independently from God. Instead, God knows what people will do because He decreed those actions. Such is the only conclusion to be drawn from Scripture, which teaches that God’s decree is eternal, unconditional, immutable, and exhaustive.

            It’s equivocation to suggest that the language of “predetermined plan” (Acts 2:23), “purpose” (Acts 4:28) and “predestined” (Acts 4:28), is in any way different than the language of causation. When we speak of planning something, or purposing something, we are not speaking of merely allowing it. These words do not speak of not hindering what has a tendency to take place, or mere noninterference. They speak of action. It’s so plain on its face that it’s almost tautological. If I say, “I am purposing x,” or “I am planning x,” and then I act according to my purpose and plan and “x” occurs, it is absurd to say I did not cause “x” at least in some sense.

            In order for your position to stand, you have to embrace that absurdity and equivocate on the meaning of “predetermined plan,” “purpose,” and “predestine.” Because of that, your position doesn’t deal honestly with Acts 2:23 and 4:27-28, and therefore is not biblically viable. It makes little sense to engage further if we can’t even get past that.

          • marygiel

            God is eternal so your statement about my understanding of God’s incorporating our choices in his plan is wrong. He doesn’t peers down the corridors of time to see what our choices would be and based on that adjusts his plan. < ALL that is implying God is IN TIME. He is clearly not. To Him everything happens all at once. He doesn't peer down the time. He knows our choices always. He doesn't adjust his plan. He knows his plan. Your mistake is that you assume that because things happen (moral evil) that God decreed them to happen.

            Knowing something will happen does not mean I caused it to happen.

            "I am planning x," and then I act according to my purpose and plan and "x" occurs, it is absurd to say I did not cause "x" at least in some sense.

            The problem is that there is not a single "I" in this plan. I act according to my purpuse, another free agent acts according to their free will and the fact that X occurs does not mean that I caused the other free agents actions. X accurs despite the other free agent actions becaue God being eternal already knew about ALL other free choices "when" he planned X.

            Your explenation is to temporal. God is outside of time.

            You must read the bible in light of Jesus's revelation. Jesus reveals who God is and God is Love. Every action of God is Love. Does it make sense in that context to suggest that the Father decreed that some people commit moral evil and end up in hell? Does God condemn people to hell because he decreed them to be hell bound? You are removing all responsibility of our moral actions and placing it on God. In a sense you are REMOVING our responsibility. What is the point of redemption if God WILLS people for hell? How can a robot without free will LOVE God?

            Love is only possible if we have free will and chose our actions. God is Love. God does not condemn anyone to hell, we do it our selves. God does not punish God. THAT MAKES NO SENSE. Jesus freely gave himself up to death in order to free us from our sins. Jesus LOVES and gives himself up. Father LOVES and accepts his sacrifice. See, LOVE consistent. Your theory is God HATES Son, Son Dies for SOME people's sins. The rest GOD pushes to hell.

            Which one fits more with God of the bible? God who is LOVE.

            You say my position is not bionically viable, and of course you would say that because you read the bible using protestant lenses. Remove that and you will see your errors. It is SO easy to have a doctrine invented by men and then read it into the text. All protestants do it. It is why you all disagree with each other, reading the same bible.

            God bless you and I hope you will one day come out of the darkness that is Protestantism.

          • Jason

            I don’t believe Mike was actually stating that God is “peering down the corridor of time” because that’s his perspective, but because that is how it necessarily must be for God to not be the one who ordained moral evil.

            If God is outside of time (and it sounds like we all agree He is) than His plan could not be influenced by something that depends on time (such as human will). Instead, human will must be dependent on His plan. God didn’t form His plan after reviewing the path creation was on. Creation had no path until He made it.

            God is a God of love precisely because evil only exists for our good and His glory. If He put a plan into place and was like “Meh, it will result in evil, which is less than ideal, but that’s no deal breaker.” He would be acting out of apathy instead of care.

            Nobody here is arguing that God is twisting man’s arm to become evil. Nor is anyone saying that those who are morally evil shouldn’t be held responsible. Instead, we are saying that God’s plan was for creation of a system where man’s will would be evil enough to display both justice and mercy, resulting in glory to God and maturity and understanding for creation.

          • Matthew, I removed your latest reply because so much of it went beyond the scope of what we’re trying to accomplish. Rhetoric about the man-made-ness of my doctrine is never going to be helpful, but is nothing if not comically ironic coming from a Roman Catholic, who gets all of his doctrine and interpretation of Scripture from a tribunal of men.

            In any case, I’m still curious as to how you might explain away the startlingly active language that Scripture assigns to God with respect to evil events. You’ve already equivocated on Acts 2:22-23 and 4:27-28 that “predetermined plan,” “purpose,” and “predestine” can refer to something other than “cause, in some sense.”

            But what about the other examples I provided?

            (1) Can you possibly say that the language of Isaiah 10 is not the language of causation, at least in some sense? Assyria is the rod in Yahweh’s hand (10:5). He sends it against a godless nation (10:6). How can you possibly say that this is mere “allowing” or “permission”?

            (2) And 2 Samuel 24:1, which says, “Now again the anger of Yahweh burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.'” We know it is sin for David to do this; he says so himself (2 Sam 24:10) and God punishes Israel for it (2 Sam 24:15). With such active language as “incited,” how can you say that this is mere “allowing” or “permission” and not causation, again, at least in some sense?

            (3) And for good measure, one more example from a previous post: Joseph. Joseph did not say, “You meant evil against me, but God worked it out for good.” It does not say, the allowed-free-choices of Joseph’s brothers had dealt God a rather bad hand, but He did with it what He could and worked it out for good. No, the text says that God meant it for good (Gen 50:20). God’s intentions in Joseph being unjustly sold into slavery were just as active as Joseph’s brothers’ were. God was as sovereignly involved on the front end of Joseph’s trials as He was on the back end of his prosperity. And in fact, the text says twice that God actively sent Joseph to Egypt with His own purpose to preserve life (Gen 45:5, 7). Joseph even says that it is not his brothers who sent him there, but God (Gen 45:8). How can you say that God did not cause Joseph’s slavery in Egypt when it says that God sent him into slavery?

            I would really appreciate how you handle each of those three texts in a way that demonstrates that God does not, at least in some sense, cause these evil events.

  • Dave

    Mike, as I’ve read these posts, it seems like you equate judgment and/or punishment with evil. Consider the following: “God ordains the evil of the destruction of Israel by Assyria” versus the alternative of “God ordains the judgment of Israel by Assyria.” Is God’s judgment evil in this case?
    If I punish my child for willful, blatant, repeated disobedience, am I bringing evil upon him/her? I don’t think so. I may bring discomfort or loss of freedom, and he/she (and their siblings/friends) may not like my judgment and they call my action “evil” but is it really? If my actions are capricious and vindictive, by all means call them evil, but otherwise as the parent, it is clearly up to me to judge and punish wrong behavior, just as it is clear to me that when God judged Israel, they had gone out and earned it.
    Mixing the terms judgment = evil sets a precedent that is not supported elsewhere. Otherwise, thanks for the great post. If my masters class allowed blog posts as sources, this would certainly be one I would consider using on this subject!

    • Mike Halpin

      Mike, I agree w/ Dave that equating “evil” for “judgement” isn’t always or necessarily the same thing. Would appreciate your comments on that distinction.

      Also, God distances Himself from action and cause of an unqualified evil, the sacrifice of children, in Jeremiah 19: 4 Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, 5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind—

      In what ways does your view speak to that passage? Thanks,

      • Mike, I agree w/ Dave that equating “evil” for “judgement” isn’t always or necessarily the same thing. Would appreciate your comments on that distinction.

        Sure thing. See my reply to Dave below.

        With regard to Jeremiah 19, I would say that the ESV’s translation of tsawah as “decree” is unfortunate, because it could tend to be conflated with the technical theological category of God’s decree, but that’s not Jeremiah’s intent. Tsawah is simply the word for “command,” and the NASB opts for that, which I think is a less confusing course. God is saying He never commanded such a thing.

        The notion that this “did not ever enter [His] mind” is a strong anthropopathism that illustrates God’s revulsion at such an evil. This is so far from within the bounds of God’s revealed/preceptive will that He speaks of it figuratively of never even entering His mind. We can’t take that statement in the barest of literal senses, otherwise we end up as Open Theists, saying that God learns things. Of course that violates Scripture’s teaching of God’s omniscience and the exhaustiveness of His decree (e.g., Isa 46:9-10; see also the first post in this series.) On the difference between God’s revealed/preceptive will and His will of decree, see this helpful post.

        Hope that helps.

    • Hey Dave. Thanks for your comment. I’ll try to clarify.

      I don’t equate God’s judgment or punishment with evil in all cases, only in the cases that Scripture equates them. For example, when God brings judgment upon sinners by punishing them in hell, He uses no second causes, but exercises His wrath directly. Surely there’s no sense in which that’s evil. However, in the case of Assyria’s destruction of Israel, there is sin there. It is Assyria’s sin, but the action of the destruction is a sinful thing. We see that plainly because God punishes that action, and since God only punishes sin, we can conclude that Assyria’s actions are sinful. Besides, I’d be surprised if we couldn’t agree that the slaughter of men, women, and children (whoever they are) isn’t, at least in some sense and on some level, properly called an evil thing.

      Simply put, (a) God punishes Assyria for their destruction of Israel; (b) therefore their actions are sinful; (c) God ordains that Assyria destroy Israel; (d) therefore God ordains the evil that took place upon Israel at Assyria’s hand.

      The same thing is more clearly demonstrated in the second two examples. Was David’s numbering the people sinful? Sure seems so. He confesses it as sin, and God judges it as sin by sending the pestilence. But 2 Sam 24:1 says that it was God’s anger that incited David to do it. Therefore, God ordains the sin/evil of numbering the people.

      Was the crucifixion of Christ an evil event? Absolutely. The murderous conspiracy of Annas and Caiaphas, Judas’ betrayal, the blood money, the kangaroo court and sham trial, the false witnesses, the cold expediency of Pilate — the condemnation and murder of the innocent Son of God. This is the greatest evil in history. And yet Acts 2:23 and 4:27-28 say that it all happened because God predestined/predetermined it. Therefore, God ordains the sin/evil of the cross.

      Can’t get around it.

  • Eric Davis

    Sound words. Thanks Mike.

  • Scott Christensen

    Excellent. The problem of evil is best explained by Biblical compatibilism. It is also important to recognize that judgment considers the motives. When humans engage in evil it is rooted in evil motives. It is impossible for God to have evil motives. Thus, when he ordains evil it MUST always be for some good and wise end even though we finite humans may never ascertain what those good and wise ends may be.

  • Curt

    WOW! That was really good! Thank you for writing this, Mike.

  • tovlogos

    “Scripture regards only the efficient cause of evil as the chargeable or blameworthy party.”

    Absolutely. I have no problem accepting the message here, in the face of Scripture. There is a reason God wanted His children in the world, though not of it.
    This essay, along with Eric’s on Arminianism, is a great one-two punch.

  • Reagan

    This has been a really helful series on one of my favorite topics. This post especially. Thank you, Mike. I anticipate two objections an unbeliever might raise to this, and I was wondering how you would answer them.

    First, how is God’s inciting Assyria or David or the Jews to sinful actions different from tempting them, temptation being something James tells us we cannot attribute to God (James 1:13).

    Second, is there any circumstance in which a human could incite another to commit a sinful act for the greater purpose of bringing about some good yet not incur guilt upon himself, like orchestrating the assasination of Hitler or something? In other words how or why does this issue of agency and culplability differ at the human level?

    Thanks, brother!

    • Jason

      The difference between tempting and inciting is in the heart of the subject. To tempt someone, a person makes something more appealing to create or increase a desire in someone else (for instance, telling someone that a fruit will make them like God). To incite is to stir up something already in that person that will cause them to do something they aren’t currently doing. God didn’t labor to make conquest appealing to the Assyrians, He just used their desire for His purposes by giving it direction.

      People do incite others all the time to bring about their purposes. Police use sting operations to catch criminals in the act by playing on their desires. In war, it’s common for military leaders to incite their opponents into making mistakes. etc..

      In the example you gave of assassinating Hitler there’s another layer that makes it cloudy. Was assassinating Hitler for the greater good? As humans, we may never know what our actions may cause, so it’s better to focus on having godly motives and leave the questions of “greater good” to God, who alone knows for certain.

    • I anticipate two objections an unbeliever might raise to this, and I was wondering how you would answer them.

      Before going further, it’s probably worth saying that I don’t feel obligated in the least to make such notions acceptable to the unbeliever. My intention with these three posts was not really apologetic; it wasn’t to satisfy unbelievers’ objections to the biblical doctrine of providence and God’s relation to evil. That’s impossible. “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor 2:14). Ultimately, the only way an unbeliever will have his objections to biblical doctrine satisfied is to be given the new eyes and the new heart that come in regeneration. And I think we’ve seen that blindness illustrated even on this thread.

      No, my goal has merely been to try to outline what Scripture teaches on the subject. In that sense, it has been — and must be — an “in-house” discussion. Unbelievers reject biblical authority until they become believers. So, perhaps the most accurate answer to how I would answer the unbeliever’s objections to this is to preach the Gospel to them. To remind them of their sinfulness and accountability before a holy God; to remind them that His Word is the authority over their lives; that they suppress the truth in unrighteousness because they love their sin; that they refuse to submit their thinking to the Lordship of Jesus; and therefore God will hold them accountable for their unbelief.

      When an unbeliever asks these kinds of questions, they are usually exalting their notion of justice above God’s own as revealed in Scripture, and sitting in judgment upon the righteousness of God. “If you make this make sense to me, maybe then I will entertain the notion of believing in your ‘god.'” They don’t have that prerogative; they must bow before Him. And I wouldn’t want to aid their delusion that they may sit in judgment of God by entertaining their objections as if they were reasonable. I want to bring the absurdity (and sinfulness) of their unbelief to the forefront of their minds, preach the Good News of forgiveness in Christ, and call them to repentance and faith. I might even entice them to this with the promise that with repentance and faith will come the gift of the Holy Spirit, who will illumine your mind such that you can finally understand these things.

      Now, if a believer asked these questions, I might answer them like this.

      First, how is God’s inciting Assyria or David or the Jews to sinful actions different from tempting them, temptation being something James tells us we cannot attribute to God (James 1:13).

      I think the first thing I would say is, whatever the answer we come up with for “how,” it’s unmistakable that these things are the case. In other words, God did wield Assyria as a rod; He did incite David to take the census. He did send Joseph to Egypt in slavery (by Joseph’s own statement, Gen 45:8!). And James 1:13 is in the Bible. So, no matter what our conclusions, our interpretation of James 1:13 cannot be such that Isaiah 10, 2 Sam 24 / 1 Chr 21, and Genesis 45-50 don’t teach what they clearly teach, namely, that God is the ultimate cause of evil events.

      So with that in mind, we ask ourselves, “Is there some way to understand James 1:13 in a way that is consistent with the biblical teaching elsewhere that God is the ultimate cause of evil?” I think the answer is yes.

      James 1:13 says, “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.” The emphasis here seems to me to be clearly on the fact that God is not the efficient cause of any evil. God is not going up to a neutral subject, who has no desire for evil, and infusing an evil desire into them, or coercing them to do what they do not want to do. God ordains the sinful choices of human beings in such a way that those choices are nevertheless still our choices; they are according to our freedom of inclination such that we are always doing what we want to do. Ordination and decree seem to work along with human desires, whereas temptation seems to attempt to instill or coerce human desires for evil.

      If that’s not satisfying, ultimately we have to be content with the fact that God may not answer all the “How?” questions that we ask (including your second question: “How or why does this issue of agency and culplability differ at the human level?”), and trust that the secret things belong to the Lord. What we cannot do is say, “Since this teaching doesn’t satisfy my concept of love or justice, I must re-interpret the plain meaning of Scripture so that it doesn’t say what it actually says.” I think that’s precisely what the device of permissive language does. And again, I think you’ve seen it illustrated in this thread.

      Perhaps on this it’s best to conclude with Calvin:

      “But how was it ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author and approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance.”

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    This was a truth I had always accepted, but could never explain. Thank you for giving such clarity to this issue!

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  • Harry

    Mike, brilliant. Ultimate and efficient causes – with Gen 18:25 as the exclusion clause. Thankyou. Mind you, David is humbled yet 70,000 bear his consequences. There is my strugggle.

    • I hear you Harry. It may help to remember that, because of their sin, those 70,000 all deserved to die long before that day.

      All of us are always getting better than we deserve any moment we’re not in hell. We deserved physical and spiritual death the moment we first sinned, and yet in God’s mercy that sentence is not carried out immediately. And by His grace in Christ that sentence can be commuted entirely. Praise God for the cross, where God solved the problem of evil by conquering evil in us through the perfect sacrifice of His Son.

  • Jason Simmons

    Mike, if God is the ultimate cause of evil, could you give some clarity in explaining
    how ultimate cause would relate to God being or not being the positive agency in that cause?
    Thanks for your response

    • I think a good test for questions on this topic is to ask your question with respect to the crucifixion itself. It is clear that (a) God had a very active role in bringing about the events of the crucifixion (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28), and that (b) the crucifixion was the most evil event in history. But of course, it’s easy for us to “swallow” God’s involvement in the evil of the crucifixion because of the immense clarity of the good that He effects by virtue of the cross. But we need to realize that whenever God ordains evil, His good and loving intentions are no less present than in the salvation of innumerable souls from eternal destruction via the crucifixion. Because we can’t see those holy and loving purposes as clearly in every instance of evil like we can in the benefits of the cross, these truths grate against our sensibilities. But if God can ordain the most evil event in history and yet remain righteous in doing so, surely we can accept the reality of His agency in lesser evils and not accuse Him of unrighteousness — even if we can’t see the holy and loving purposes of those lesser evils like we see in the cross.

      With that said, I think the concept of “positive agency” is virtually synonymous with the concept of “efficient causation.” God is the ultimate cause of the evil of the crucifixion, because He anointed Herod et al. to do whatever His hand and His purpose predestined to occur (Ac 4:27-28). What we deny by the term “positive agency” is that God in any way was the efficient cause of that evil, or that He coerced individuals with otherwise righteous desires to commit evils against their will, and infused evil desires into them.

      Does that help at all?

      • Jason Simmons

        Yes. thank you for clarifying that for me Mike. Looking at the cross as an example brings in a great practical example. Christ, Himself, when tempted pressed on. Christ gives us an absolute perfect model of faith to walk in times of trials and temptations. Knowing God is the ultimate cause of all things, we can exercise faith and walk in His commandments as Christ walks.

  • Curt

    I’m reading your entire treatment on this subject and I feel as one who has had his eyes opened. I never liked the thought of God bringing evil about, but always felt comfortable with “He allows it”. God is SO much bigger than my puny reasoning and comfort!

    This makes me think of all the awful things happening in the world (ISIS, for one example among many) and that God is involved – not just allowing it, but involved in it. Mike, is see it now. It’s like God just got HUGER than I already thought He was.

    Wow! Just……WOW!!!

    • Praise the Lord, Curt. So glad to be of some help.

      It may seem counter-intuitive to think of God’s involvement in the evils of the world (epitomized by ISIS in the present geopolitical climate). But ultimately, it brings greater comfort to know that God is not somehow surprised by this evil; neither is His purpose thwarted by it. Indeed, this great, immense evil is even subservient to the Lord of all, who presses the devil himself into His service, such that when Satan himself (and all those under his influence) aim to destroy God’s decree by their evil actions, even in those actions they are upholding God’s decree. That is cause for comfort, and for praise.

      Nowhere is that more clearly seen than in the cross. Satan’s greatest desire is to get Jesus to the cross. Jesus describes the time of the crucifixion as “the hour and power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). And yet as Satan works feverishly to accomplish the evil of the cross, he does so to his own destruction, because it is precisely at Calvary that Christ rendered powerless him who had the power of death, and freed those who through fear of death were subject to the devil’s slavery all their lives (Heb 2:14-15). Think about how earnestly Satan labored for the crucifixion, and then think that he labored so earnestly for his own suicide.

      Such is the triumph of God’s absolute sovereignty in all things (even evil): that in the moment that the world, the flesh, and the devil do their worst, they are even in those acts serving to bring about God’s sovereign decree. Even in their evil, they serve good. They can’t win! And God can’t but win! What unspeakable comfort for all of us who are His!

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Amen!

  • nmcdonal

    This is very helpful, Mike – but there must be some sense in which God “allows” sin rather than takes a positive agency role in it. See the rest of Edwards’ thoughts here: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2012/02/13/is-god-the-author-of-sin-jonathan-edwards-answer/

    • I disagree that “there must be some sense in which God ‘allows’ sin.” I think when Edwards uses the language of permission in that excerpt he is being less than precise and inconsistent with himself in other places.

      I get why he (and others) uses permissive language though. He’s trying to demonstrate that God doesn’t take delight in sin (though it is His will) in the same way that He takes delight in obedience to His precepts (also His will). And I get that and agree with the substance of it. I’m not arguing that God wills good and evil in the exact same sense and for the exact same purposes. As Edwards said above, God doesn’t will sin and sin, but for the good He means to bring about from it. But He does will good as good. There’s an inequality there, and people try to express that inequality by using permissive language.

      But again, to cast it in those terms winds up being less than precise and thus less than helpful, because who, in eternity past as God is determining His decree, is interrupting Him and asking for His permission? I explain that further in this post, under the heading, “God’s Decree and Divine ‘Permission:'”

      At the very least, those who hold to a Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty have no desire to communicate what’s actually implied by the use of permissive language (as outlined above). In fact, John Frame goes so far as to say, “we should not assume . . . that divine permission is anything less than sovereign ordination” (Doctrine of God, 178). And I agree. But if we don’t intend to communicate what is actually denoted by “permission,” yet we do intend to communicate nothing less than sovereign ordination, of what meaningful use is permissive language? Why not simply speak of God’s “ordaining” or “decreeing” or “bringing about” all things?
      So, I agree with the substance of Edwards’ position, but disagree with the semantics.

      • nmcdonal

        Thanks for your response, Mike. I will say I think there’s some biblical precedent for Edwards’ language. Scriptures like James 1:13, at least in some sense, veer away from calling God the active agent of sin, don’t they?

        • Yes, but it depends on what you believe the divines meant by “author.” It’s an ambiguous term, and therefore has to be further defined if it’s going to be helpful.

          Some use the phrase to mean nothing more than the fact that God is the ultimate cause of sin. They argue that if God is the ultimate cause of sin, He must in some sense be its author. If all you mean by “author” is “ultimate cause,” then I think “author” is a legitimate descriptor of God’s agency in evil. However, as my title suggests, I do not believe that being the ultimate cause automatically means God is the chargeable cause, or that He is morally blameworthy. I’ve labored to show how Scripture defends this reality, even if it doesn’t explain to us how that works. He is the ultimate cause of the crucifixion, of David’s census, of Assyria’s destruction of Israel, of Joseph’s slavery, and, ultimately, whatsoever comes to pass. But He is not to be charged with evil on account of His being the ultimate cause of those evils, because (a) He is never the efficient cause, and because (b) He never wills sin as sin, but for the sake of His good purpose. Scripture never uses permissive language to some how absolve God of wrongdoing; it distinguishes between ultimate and efficient causes.

          However, I do not believe the Westminster Divines’ use the phrase “author of sin” to refer to God’s being the ultimate cause of sin. Why not? Because in the phrase immediately preceding their comment on God not being the author or approver of evil, they had just confessed that God ordains (and thus is the ultimate cause of) whatsoever comes to pass. So, the answer to your question is yes, I agree with Westminster that God is not the author of sin in the sense that they intended it, which is to say that He is never the efficient or immediate cause of sin. And therefore, He is not the chargeable cause of sin.

          I find the language of “ultimate cause,” “efficient cause,” and “chargeable cause” to be much more precise and thus more helpful than the language of “authorship” in the discussion of God’s relationship to evil. Because “author of sin” is open to so many misunderstandings, I prefer to speak of God as the ultimate cause of evil, while denying that He is ever the efficient cause or chargeable cause of evil. We have to avoid the (il)logical leap that ultimate causation necessarily makes God to blame for evil. Scripture presents God as the ultimate cause of all things, yet never the efficient cause of evil, and thus never assigns blame to Him for it.

      • I think where it gets a bit difficult for us is that, in our finite minds, all events ultimately fall under some type of concept determinism.

        That is, we realize that God knows everything, including the future. So, in a real sense – whether I have Coke or Pepsi at lunch has already been determined. Then comes the “Ugh! Calvinists think we are all puppets,” comments. In a sense, we don’t even feel like we have any choice (control).

        And I think our flesh rails against that kind of control by the God of the universe. And maybe good-spirited Christians reading this blog want to get the doctrine, believe it, and love it…but there’s still a battle.

        Ultimately, we can hardly do anything but draw the conclusion that God has made me this way, and ordained all that will happen; so how can he really be Righteous AND hold ME accountable for my sin?

        What would be nice is had God directly dealt with this question in the Scripture. Seems like the middle of a deep book like Romans would have been a good spot. I guess the world may never know.

        • Michael, I think He did directly deal with this question in the middle of Romans. Romans 9:19-23.

          I think your question, “How can he really be Righteous AND hold ME accountable for my sin?” is virtually synonymous with, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?'” (Rom 9:19).

          The answer to the scoffer comes in verses 20-21. The answer to the submissive worshiper, eager to know God’s mind and submit to Him, comes in verses 22-23.

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