Debate on Calvinistic Compatibilism Part 26: Matt replies–part 2

Hey Derek!

I want to repeat my genuine affection for you as a fellow brother in the Lord. In my responses to you I do not want to sound haughty or superior and I certainly do not intend to disparage your intelligence or person. I admire your intelligence and am fully confident you are smarter than I…my only advantage is that my position is correct 🙂 Our responses have gotten lengthier with each reply and this one…well you should get comfortable. I apologize in advance—but the nature of your responses has blurred crucial distinctions and cannot be dealt with in sound bites. I seek to deal with your interpretive approach to Proverbs, the predestined crucifixion, Joseph and his brothers, as well as share my own perspective on the classical problem of evil.

It has been mentioned before but bears repeating. You present the most controversial and tenuous aspects of your view as being outside the reach of logic to offer a definitive judgment or critique. Ultimately it is unfalsifiable and beyond the realm of rational affirmation. It is outside the realm of rationality, not only because it circumvents logical implication, but because inherent to its affirmation is the belief that you were divinely determined to believe it, just as you must concede I was divinely determined not to believe it. In that sense you must furthermore concede that neither one of us is truly weighing the pro and cons of the debate points we are having—rather our differing opinions on the matter are just the effects in time of what God decreed before we were born. Do you disagree? Ultimately in your view I am no more free to change my beliefs over and against God’s determinative decree than I am free to become God himself.

Now on to Proverbs: You believe Proverbs gives us good warrant to conclude that God has predetermined every choice of man—whether good or evil—based on the verses you highlighted. I dealt with those verses and shared why the Calvinistic interpretation is not the only interpretation possible. In fact I shared why it is highly speculative and absurd because Proverbs is not seeking to teach that God directs each of our steps deterministically into wickedness and evil—but rather how submission to God results in God’s guidance and direction away from wickedness! That is one of the fundamental points of Proverbs your interpretive framework is missing.

So Derek I asked you: “In your last response you called to aid Proverbs 19:21 ‘Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.’ Does this verse dictate that God meticulously determines and controls everything humans do—such as molesting children? The Principle of Moral Perfection would say “no.”

I don’t see where you answer the critical question but instead try to evade the horror of it by essentially saying in multiple places, “But your view results in the same conclusion because God foreknows evil will occur but chooses not to stop it!” You additionally try to make the argument that if God permits to allow evil to occur, and doesn’t seek to prevent it, that it is the same as saying God determined it to occur. But this just doesn’t follow. Do you really think the father of the prodigal son who KNEW his son wanted to leave,  ALLOWED his son to leave and chose not to PREVENT his son from leaving with his inheritance is the same as saying the father determined and decreed his son to leave home and squander his inheritance???

Along these lines you ask:

“Does God foresee every evil that occurs? Does He have the power to prevent it from occurring? (if not, what power does He have over evil?) Does He permit evil, or does it happen outside of His control? If God permits evil when He could prevent it, do you think this violates PMP? Does PMP dictate that God never foresees or allows evil?

Similarly in another place you asked:

Do you believe that God foresees your sin? Does He have the power to prevent it? Does He willingly permit it? How is this different from decreeing you to sin?

It is vastly different.  It would only be the same if we were to commit some equivocation fallacy with the word “willing.” As I said before evils which occur can be said to occur against his perfect will (what he desires for people) but can also be said to occur under the charge of his consequent will (what he wills to allow in light of free-will and rebellion)

I will again explain the Calvinist problem of evil and then get to the Arminian problem of evil. Calvinism violates the Principle of Moral Perfection (PMP) because God is the ultimate source for evil’s inventive emergence. In your view God’s righteous and holy mind is the decretive origin for every evil—such as children being molested. In other words God IS the author of every evil decision men make in the sense that God devised, designed and decreed every act of wickedness and deterministically rendered it certain people do the very evils his mind firstly envisioned and “thought up” for each person. Your view presents a picture of a God who has written (decreed) a script for each person’s life and no one is free to act God contrary to how they were predetermined by the divine will. (You may not like this conclusion but you can’t deny it—you can only resort to confessed ignorance).

Therefore God’s will is the ultimate cause, source and controlling agency that brings about evil. This invalidates human responsibility of what they do—because they are not REALLY in control of what they do. It helps the Calvinist none at all to appeal to secondary causation because such secondary agents are not really in control of what they think, desire and do. Rather they are instrumental, intermediary agents carrying out the determinative will of God—and can do no other. As I said before secondary, instrumental causation is no different than my picking up a stick to move a stone. The stick moves the stone—but I’m the principal cause for the stone being moved. Calvinism violates PMP because God is the principal cause for every evil. Each evil thought firstly originated in his mind—and was then passed down to us through decrees that we are not free to resist or reject.

Your only response again and again to counter this logical conclusion is to appeal to mystery or ask us to ignore conclusions derived from human logic because we lack enough revelation or information to make an informed conclusion. But my point is that even if our human perspective is not fully informed—that is no excuse to preach doctrine that (on the limited basis of what we DO know) logically requires us to conclude God is the primary source of moral evil and has the authorial “copyright” over every evil contrived and conceived.

Concerning Proverbs I stated: “Far from saying man’s plans originated in God’s decretive mind and that man is merely the intermediate instrument to bring about God’s decree, the verse actually grounds man’s plans in the mind of man—not God.”

 To which you replied:

“In other words, God decrees to permit man to do what man wants to do? That sounds very familiar. The creature is always the originator of evil.”

Here again, Derek, you are being entirely dishonest with your own position. I cannot tell if this is intentional on your point or not…but I must confess it is a tad frustrating because you keep fudging on your view and adopting Arminianism in order to defend the horrific implications of Calvinism.

Given that the Calvinist view is that God had IRRESISTIBLY DECREED AND RENDERED CERTAIN every evil choice of men, it is patently bogus and meaningless to say God thwarts moral responsibility for evil because he simply “permits man to do what man wants to do.” Derek, you are saying nothing more than “God permits what he had irresistibly decreed and decided must occur.” You are just using words to obscure meaning—surely you must see this. You have now done this a number of times. As I said before, in Calvinism any “permission” or “allowance” is simply a formality of means in God’s system—it’s of no real consequence. It’s like saying, “I have decided to walk to the store to buy milk. Therefore I will permit myself to walk to the store to buy milk.”

That God chooses to sovereignly permit man to misuse his God-ordained freedom is the Arminian position Derek—and it concerns me that you want to play both sides when convenient to shield your own view from logical implications. It makes clarity within our dialogue all the more difficult to achieve. I don’t mean to come down too hard on you because I think you are a good guy and are intuitively unnerved and uncomfortable with just coming out and saying, “Yes—in Calvinism God’s mind conceived of every evil, decreed every evil and rendered certain every evil and therefore should be morally responsible for evil. But it is mystery to me how God is not moral responsible for evil.”

I wrote: “Secondly God’s sovereignty is best seen in overruling man’s ingenuity and evil to bring about his sovereign purposes. There is no violation of PMP in saying God can use, direct and steer man’s own sinful intentions (known to God because he knows our characters) to ultimately fulfill his purposes. That is to say God can exploit man’s plans to fulfill his own purposes. His purposes can trump ours! Again his sovereignty is best seen in overruling evil by exploiting evil for his own good purposes. But it quite another thing to say God decrees evil SO THAT he can bring about good purposes.”

To which you replied:

“What is the difference between allowing evil in order to bring about good and decreeing to allow evil in order to bring about good? Is the “good” of overcoming evil His eternal purpose? Did He foresee it from eternity? Then why not decree to allow it?”

Here again Derek you fall way short of your own doctrine—you simply aren’t unraveling the banner of your theology fully when you attempt to define the Calvinist position as “God decreeing to allow evil in order to bring about good.”

That is fundamentally NOT the definitive maxim you are an advocate of. You are advocating that GOD DECREED ALL EVIL—NOT THAT HE DECREED TO ALLOW EVIL. Surely you must see how it is disingenuous and dishonest to blur the critical distinction between rendering it determinatively certain that someone do something and knowing and allowing someone the free exercise of their will do something.

If a teacher determinatively renders it certain that all her students will fail an exam, can we honestly say the teacher “allowed” her students to fail? If a father were to determinatively render it certain that his child disobey him, is it sufficiently accurate to say the father “allowed” his child to disobey him? Of course not. Yet this is the view you are adopting.

Moreover you are taking the position that God renders evil certain through decree SO THAT he can bring about good. In other words you feel God has a need—evil—in order to bring about good. This is quite misguided. Unlike the Calvinist position, the Arminian view is not that God causes evil or even allows evil in order that he can bring about something good. Rather we believe God can overrule the intents of both human and demonic evil and bring about good. That is to say we believe God has the capability to take the broken pieces of a life shattered by evil and stained in death, despair and disappointment, and ultimately use it for good in someone’s life. This is all a work of on-going sovereign redemption.

For example I know of someone who was molested and later became a heroin addict out of depression. She eventually surrendered her life to God and in turn God has redeemed the evil done against her by using her story to bring healing, hope and deliverance to others ensnared by the devil’s schemes. She has become a beautiful soul full of forgiveness and without a trace of the poison of bitterness. No amount of psych-therapy could have achieved her amazing turnaround—it is the glory of God and the sovereign work of God to ransack the evils of this world, overrule their effects and bring about a good purpose that trumps the intent of evil.

But Derek just because God used it for good, does that require us to think God desired and foreordained through a determinative decree that she be molested and abuse her body and soul for years so that he could later deliver her from its evil’s clutches and use her tragic story to help others who have suffered the same ruinous evils (that according to you God also must have decreed…and so and so forth “ad infinitum”)? In what sense can anything truly be called “evil” and worthy of condemnation if God is actually determinatively causing every evil—not just allowing it and seeking to exploit it—in order to do bring about something good?

You’ve asked questions about my views on foreknowledge, etc. At this time my theological persuasion is somewhere in the middle between classical Arminianism and Open Theism with an Arminian grasp of soteriology. I am convinced that God possessing exhaustive foreknowledge of the future does not count against man’s free-will because God’s foreknowledge consists of what we ACTUALLY choose to do. Therefore God’s foreknowledge does not act deterministically upon our wills. If I were to ever adopt the Open View (open theism) it would not be because I think simple foreknowledge and free-will are incompatible. Rather it would be because I think the Open View is persuasively represented in scripture.

That being said I don’t think the Open View has any real advantage over the classical Arminian position because you still have a God who can foresee an infinite number of possibilities and through an infinite intelligence can focus all his “energies” on each possibility as if it were the only possibility. So open theists would still need to answer the classical problem of evil just like everyone else. I do like Greg Boyd’s approach who said:

“We can be assured that God has a good purpose for every tragic event and yet deny that any tragic event happened for that good purpose…The challenge is to fathom an intelligence so great it has an eternally prepared good purpose for every POSSIBLE event that MIGHT unfold.”

Whether someone adopts the open view of open, possible futures or the Arminian view of a foreknown future, Boyd’s essential point is dually valid. God is capable of envisioning how he can take any evil that occurs and overrule it, such that good can come. In that sense he is prepared for every contingency in knowing how to exploit it and ultimately overrule it for our good. But we can also deny that God decrees or causes wickedness for the purpose of bringing about a good purpose. We can take heart in knowing that whatever befalls us in life, we do not need to remain completely victimized by it. It is my current belief that IF we respond appropriately, God is fully prepared to turn any tragedy and any evil around for good in our lives. Nothing is beyond the scope of his redemption. But I do believe much of this sovereign work of God to redeem evils is contingent on our response. I know of many who have allowed the evils done against them to define them, rob them and ultimately bring their life to total ruin because they never allowed God the space or freedom to work in their lives (they refused to let go of unforgiveness, hatred and bitterness.)

In contrast the Calvinist goes way beyond this. In Calvinism the God who seeks to stretch forth his hand to heal us from the wounds of a fallen world, is the very One holding the bloody dagger in the other hand!

So there is a big difference between God allowing freedom to be misused for evil, yet fully knowing how to exploit it to his own advantage (Arminianism), and God decreeing and purposing that evil occur because he needs it in order to use it to his own advantage (Calvinism).

As I said earlier, I believe there is the perfect will of God and the consequent will of God. So let’s take the case you mentioned of a child being raped or molested. I can say that is pure evil—and God had nothing to do with either conceiving of it or decreeing that it occur. Yet it occurs anyway in spite of God’s displeasure and against his consequent will. Why? Because as Alvin Plantinga once said,

“Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so…The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.” (God, Freedom and Evil, p.30)

So as we can see in the Arminian perspective evil’s occurrence is not about God’s powerlessness or ineptitude in prohibiting all evil, but rather his sovereign, self-limitation of intrusive power for the sake of moral freedom. So in answer to your question, NO—positing a God who knows man will commit evil and who permits man to commit such evil does not count against PMP. The classical “problem of evil” has always been why an all knowing, all powerful and all good God would allow moral evil.  It is a legitimate question and I believe Arminianism is in the best place to answer it. In Calvinism the question/problem is wholly different—it is why an all-good God would conceive of and then purpose to decree every insidious evil on the planet. In this context the true mystery becomes why God would hold anyone morally accountable for choices they are causally determined to make.

In sum the Arminian position is that God determined and decreed to allow man the capability of committing evil because of the ultimate good of man being a free moral agent. Yet this does not mean God sits idly by on a heavenly perch, doing nothing but passively watching the parade of man’s freedom play out before him. Not at all. God is actively at work to override and exploit the evil intents of man by bringing good out of situations that seem impossible in the natural. Thus in Arminianism we are not completely victimized by evil. God can turn it around for our good. That IS his sovereignty at work.

I can’t tell if you misunderstood what I explained about Joseph or if you haven’t thoroughly engaged it… because it seems as if you are repeating the very points I already addressed that do not require the deterministic rendering you appear to insist upon. For example you state:

“The point is that the same evil event which was “meant for evil” by the brothers was simultaneously “meant for good” by God. Did God foresee and choose to permit the wicked characters and actions of the brothers? This was the human motive and means for Joseph to be sold as a slave in Egypt.”

Yes that is the point, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that God determined their individual wicked characters as a motive to sell Joseph into slavery or murder him. Moreover in having Joseph be sold as a slave God actually saves Joseph’s life because they originally MEANT to kill him (“But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him…Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns” Gen 37:18-20).

Highlighted below are two possible interpretations that accord with the text and avoid God violating the Principal of Moral Perfection. The first is God foreseeing or anticipating what the brothers intend to do and overriding their intentions with his own and the second is God intending to establish Joseph in Egypt in humility and trust and arranging the conditions to bring it about—in part via his middle knowledge of knowing what the brother’s would do in response. Classical Arminians and Arminian-minded Molinists and Open Theists (generally speaking) could adopt their core features because they both avoid the view that God is the decretive author of evil characters and motives (as your view logically entails). So no, what I’m suggesting is not “in perfect harmony with Calvinism” as you stated in your last post. Such a claim could only be made by ignoring the core distinctives inherent to our opposing views.

(1).     As I said the essential “it” was ridding their lives of Joseph—not their wicked, jealous hearts that prompted them to rid themselves of Joseph. The brothers meant “it” for evil—namely Joseph’s harm. But God—in virtue of knowing the character of their wicked hearts and discerning their jealousy and evil intentions decided to exploit their evil intentions for his own purpose—rather than outright prevent their intentions. Moreover for God to supersede, supplant, or exploit an event “meant for evil” by free agents, doesn’t necessitate that he determinatively decree that the evil occur or the means for it to occur! That is the mistaken assumption you and all Calvinists make. God can simply know that event X will (or might) occur and purpose to use it to his own advantage. Of course God would desire that evil, wickedness and rebellions never occur—but knowing full well that evil will occur in a context of free-will, he is fully prepared to respond to it and use it as he deems appropriate. God has a perfect will—what he desires—and a consequent will—what he permits in light of his sovereign intention to create man free.

In the case of Joseph we are fully within our interpretive rights to conclude that God is allowing an evil event to occur, yet God has decided to overrule the intended evil by using it for a good that was not intended by the brothers.

(2).    Now if this explanation is not satisfactory to someone and we want to press it even further and ascribe even more providential control to God (that still avoids the Calvinist interpretation of an irresistible, eternal decree that determinatively necessitates evil characters and choices) an Arminian (and a Molinist) can say God—via his middle knowledge—can know what we will do in any given circumstance. Or in the open view God can know all the possibilities and anticipate with a high decree of accuracy what we might do in any given set of circumstances. Either way God could have exploited the brothers’ undetermined, un-decreed jealousy and hatred by providentially arranging circumstances that allowed a caravan on route to Egypt to pass by–knowing full well the character of Joseph’s brothers would trigger them to freely act in a particular manner that he knows will ultimately result in His sovereign plan (to establish Joseph in Egypt for a saving purpose) to be realized.

It is critical to note that nothing in the text requires us to think that God determinatively decreed before the foundation of the world that Joseph’s brothers would murderously desire to hate Joseph—only that at some point in time (we aren’t told when) God saw fit to exploit their wicked characters and steer their intentions in a manner that fulfilled his own saving purpose concerning Joseph and later Israel. God can use anything. God has the ability to even use sin, evil and the devil, but that doesn’t mean he approves of such evil or determined such evil. Your entire theological construct confuses God’s ability to use evil with God’s approval of evil in virtue of decreeing all evil. Thankfully God can use the greatest of tragedies and turn them around for our good–but that does not mean such tragedies come from God for good. That God can usurp and overrule the evil intentions of this world and use them for good is his glory and sovereignty. And it is right that we celebrate God’s sovereignty in this way. But to say that all the evils of this world come from God through divine decree is a lie from hell we ought to reject at all cost. Nothing less than God’s moral character is at stake.

So in conclusion over the matter of Joseph, rather than believe God is using the evil intentions of Joseph’s brothers for good, you place extreme assumptions upon the text and hold that God must have determinatively decreed and rendered certain the wicked characters and intentions of the brothers as the means to bring about his good purpose concerning Joseph. You would have to concede this since you wrongly assume God must predetermine all the means (exhaustively and systematically) to reach a determined end.

But God—being infinite in his creative genius—could have utilized (used) any number of means to get Joseph into Egypt and eventually raise him up for a saving purpose.

In this sense we can say it was God’s plan for Joseph to be sent to Egypt, for Jesus to be crucified. Yet this does not require that we think God determinatively decreed the wicked characters of Joseph’s brothers, the Jews, Pilate and the Romans to reach these ends.

Concerning your earlier appeal to Christ’s predestined crucifixion, the related texts only require us to understand that by God’s “predetermined plan and foreknowledge” Christ was “delivered over” to “wicked men” to carry out their own wicked intentions—intentions that are fully known to God. It bears repeating that the event of the crucifixion was predestined—not the evil motives and characters of those involved. This where I think most Calvinists get tripped up. God can exploit and use to his own advantage the evil characters and intentions of others. God can override the wicked characters of people–not by decreeing that they first occur–but by exploiting them for his own purposes. You erroneously think God needed to exhaustively and meticulously predetermine all the means in order to reach a predetermined end. As such you think God had to predetermine certain persons to have certain evil characters to do certain things to arrive at a certain, predetermined end (i.e. Christ’s death). But this just doesn’t follow. When you read that Herod, Pilate and certain Jews “did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” you automatically and mistakenly assume that Herod, Pilate and others must have had their individual, wicked characters causally determined via God’s irresistible decrees in order to carry out the crucifixion. this just doesn’t follow. I hate to quote dump on you but I believe this point to be the principal assertion of Calvinism that drives their exegesis so I want to respond with an “official” response:

Jacob Arminius whose explanation would encompass both traditional Arminianism and Molinism states: “God, indeed, “determined before” that death should be inflicted on Christ by them.  But in what character did God consider them when He “determined before” that this should be done by them?  In that character, surely, which they had at the time when they inflicted death upon Christ, that is, in the character of sworn enemies of Christ, of obstinate enemies and despisers of God and the truth, who could be led to repentance by no admonitions, prayers, threats or miracles; who wished to inflict every evil on Christ, if they could only obtain the power over him, which they often sought in vain.”

In other words God could have sovereignly arranged Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem to occur when it did—knowing it would naturally force the hand of the ruling authorities to respond in a manner resultant in Christ’s crucifixion. Arminianism and Molinism allow for God to foresee obstinate hearts and characters, and know what men would do given a certain set of circumstances. Whereas in Open Theism God’s knowledge of such obstinate hearts and characters is derived from his knowledge of the condition and situation of Israel “at the fullness of time” and knowing Jesus would get crucified given certain conditions.

Now, you may be tempted to say, “But if you allow that God can providentially arrange certain conditions to acquire certain events to reach a predetermined end—like the crucifixion—then I can equally say God has compatibilistically determined each and every necessary condition to bring about every sinful thought, desire and choice to carry out every depraved act of mankind throughout history!”

However this is an unwarranted extrapolation. It is thoroughly ridiculous for Calvinists point to the crucifixion and think they have good grounds to hold that God has also determinatively rendered certain all moral evils such as child pedophilia, spousal abuse, adultery, and every rental of a rancid porn movie—the very evils Christ sought to overcome in death. To attempt to highlight the crucifixion of our Lord as a hermeneutical perch to sit upon whereby we can cast God’s determinative ordination net into the world and “catch” every sin and every sordid evil event of world history is absurd and wide of the mark.

Put simply to view the one act which removed the sin of the world as the hermeneutical key to justify how God could have ordained all the sordid sin of that world is an exegetical leap that is unwarranted and ill-advised. I don’t think the one event in history to rid the world of sin is very sound evidence that God ordained all the sin in that world!

I also can’t help but discern that the two, most often repeated examples Calvinists look to in order to bolster their view that God determinatively decreed the evil choices of all men—have an obvious saving purpose in view. In both the case of Joseph in Egypt and Jesus being crucified, God is acting in a unique fashion to bring about a divine saving purpose for humanity. Why these texts would be used to justify all the insidious, God-defying evil in our depraved world is beyond me—and beyond God.

You then asked:

Was God in control of this evil, such that He could have prevented it?”

God can prevent anything if he so wills, Derek. Arminians have always said the argument is never about “Can God?” but “Would God?” There is a vast difference between the two that gets muddled in the Calvinist view due to construing sovereignty only in terms of sheer power. This results in other sovereign considerations getting lost. Moreover when I speak of God’s permission and allowance it’s not as if impersonal evil comes knocking on God’s door and says, “Can I cause that husband to commit adultery?” or “Can I cause I cause child abuse in that family?” and God says, “Sure, go right ahead.” Rather in allowing evil and sin, God is actually allowing his own sovereign creational intention to be realized—which is a world permeated with beings morally capable of both good and evil. And God refuses to abort one sovereign intention to fulfill another. God will not override his own sovereign intention to create man free in order to prohibit man from misusing the very freedom He sovereignly chose to bestow upon him.

God could only prevent all evil by countermanding his sovereign decision to create man free. That God does desire and will to prevent evil and wars against it—I have no doubt. I am quite confident that some evils have been prevented because of God’s intervention. However God’s intervention is itself conditioned upon various realities—two of which would be prayer and the body of Christ coming into agreement with God that releases the supernatural. Moreover I believe any intervention on the part of God in prohibiting evil involves a sovereign “juggling” of many considerations or variables. For instance God could know that preventing one evil to occur could invariably result in a greater evil. For example (and this is just speculation) God could have known via his middle knowledge that if he prevented Hitler from rising, an emboldened Stalin would have arisen to even greater power and marched all over Europe causing even greater injury and evil to countless millions (Stalin was far “worse” than Hitler if one is counting body bags).

Inherent to everything I’m saying, Derek, is the presupposition (i.e. framework) that God, for whatever reason, has sovereignly chosen to self-limit his himself (i.e. his power). God has chosen to create and fashion the cosmos in a manner that allows aspects of this world to be subject to the wills of free agents other than God’s. That is to say: God has sovereignly chosen to not always get his way. This should not surprise us. Ultimately in only such a context can the scriptures honestly say God is “provoked” by evil and that he “abhors and hates” the wickedness of men that sows discord into his creation.

Now you asked about whether or not God is in control over the evils of this world. The word “control” is notoriously fraught with assumptions so we need to unpack it. When the Calvinist speaks of “control” he has in mind “meticulous omnicontrol.” I assume you mean it in the same way. However, when an Arminian speaks of God “being in control of the world” he means “God is in charge.” And there is a difference between meticulously controlling something and being in charge of something. Being in control or being in charge is essentially about ultimate authority—not being omni-causative. A king can be said to be sovereign over his kingdom and yet not meticulous control everything his subjects do.

A cruise ship captain can be said to be in control or in charge of his ship and yet not meticulously control everything his sailors or guests do—such as when they use the toilet or what they choose on the menu. There are certain “ports of call” that the ship captain has decreed and determined that his ship make—but a great deal of what takes place on the ship is out of his determinative control. In fact the sailors can choose to go about their duties lazily or even disobediently and impede and delay the very “ports of call” the ship captain has determined. I believe God has decreed certain “ports of call” that human history is to make—the crucifixion being one of them and the second-coming being another. Nothing could and nothing will prevent them from occurring. Yet I think even these predestined points of history uniquely interplay with a world immersed in genuine indeterminacy and contingency. The scriptures tell us, “In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son” which is to say when all the conditions were right, God sent forth His Son. I also find it interesting that Peter says that we can “hasten the day of the Lord” (2 Pet. 3:12) and that even Jesus implies that “the end will come” only after his followers are faithful to “preach the gospel of the Kingdom as a witness to the whole world” (Mt.  24:14).

You ask: 

If the sin of Joseph’s brothers was foreseen and permitted by God in order to bring about what He planned and purposed, did they have the ability to choose otherwise?

 Yes they did have such ability and thus they are morally responsible. God’s foreknowledge does not act deterministically upon our wills. An Arminian can say God knew they would not choose otherwise but that is not to say they could not choose otherwise. There is a fundamental difference between what God knows we will not do and cannot do. That God knows what man will do or would do in any given situation doesn’t mean man could not do something other than what God knows he will do. This is rather critical to understand. Because in your deterministic view God’s irresistible decree causally determines what we will do, must do and cannot fail to do—thus we are incapable of choosing contrary to God’s decree.

You ask:

“How about eternally purposing to allow a pre-defined amount of evil in order to bring about vastly more good?”

Again bro—you are not at all being consistent or forthcoming with your view. In Calvinism the God who “purposed to allow a pre-defined amount of evil” is the same God who conceived how much evil he would decree for the world. It is ludicrous to continue to speak of God “allowing” anything if he determined and rendered certain it would take place! Is God schizophrenic? Does God need to get permission from himself to allow the very things he decreed, Derek? To even ask such a silly question is to answer the question.  Yet this is Calvinism. The Arminian framework is that God has purposed to allow genuine freedom to be misused because only genuine freedom is capable of moral good.

In my earlier post I pointed out that the general principles in Proverbs (like God’s direction and guidance) is conditioned upon the assumption that we are submitting to God and trusting God and walking in wisdom. I tried to point out that such an assumption is completely lost and irrelevant in Calvinism because God directs your steps into both good and evil! Maybe I could have been clearer though. At any rate you oddly replied that Calvinism still maintains we are responsible to submit to God in order to receive his direction and guidance. You attempted to make this point when you said:

“We believe in the proper balance of human choice/responsibility and God’s sovereignty. We do not in any way deny human choice/responsibility.”

But don’t you see, Derek—that doesn’t make any sense in your view. It is completely irrelevant if one submits to God or not! A person’s very submission or rebellion is itself determined by God and God will direct their steps into evil regardless of their posture before him. That’s the argument you are making. You are trying to use verses about God’s sovereign direction and guidance over our lives (that assume our responsibility to submit to God) to PROVE THAT GOD DIRECTS PEOPLES PATH INTO EVIL AND SIN AND REBELLION AGAINST GOD! There is no balance!

So while you personally may not deny man’s responsibility—your view logically does! That’s the point. Your view cannot explain how man is held morally responsible for being causally determined to do what he does by God’s irresistible decrees. You only offer up mystery for how man possesses genuine freedom in a context of causal determinism and you now you can only offer up mystery as to how man is held responsible given determinism. You only ASSERT things in the critical junctures of our debate—you don’t ever prove or demonstrate them. It is the weakness of your position.

Here’s another good example. You said:

“Calvinists believe God is as morally perfect and meticulously sovereign as He reveals Himself to be throughout Proverbs.”

In other words you feel compelled to assert that God is morally perfect because so many verses in Proverbs speak of his righteousness and hatred of evil. Yet on the hand you believe God is so meticulously sovereign that he conceived of every evil men are determined to commit—including all the things Proverbs says God abhors and hates and we ought not to do! How is this not a “house divided against itself” Derek? Can you explain this without appealing to mystery? The dialogue is not furthered by simply appealing to alleged examples where you think this mysterious hybrid comes into being in Jospeh or Jesus…because your interpretations themselves are suspect.

You stated:

“We also believe in the principles of Law and Gospel, so it is natural that we are commanded and held responsible. Again I am concerned that you may not be aware of the historic/classical Calvinistic approach.”

Your concern should by why Calvinism can only assert things but never demonstrate why their conclusions and interpretations don’t logically become incoherent and meaningless. Everyone familiar with the argument knows historical/classical Calvinism posits logically inconsistent propositions and then punts to mystery when pressed to explain them. Please don’t take this the wrong way—I’m not questioning your intelligence or character, just your argumentation…or lack thereof…which I think is fair game.

When I pointed out to you multiple examples of where a Calvinistic, universally deterministic rendering of many verses in Proverbs results in gaping un-truths, you stated:

“I believe this is a misguided and dangerous approach to exegeting the Wisdom Literature. Proverbs certainly contains general observations about the world and people as you indicate, but it also contains absolute and unobservable truth about God…is God ALWAYS wise? Does God ALWAYS hate evil?…The things Proverbs reveals about God are not generalized. They are God’s self-revelation, and are not reflecting human observations. They are the Holy Spirit’s unveiling of God’s hidden ways… Your approach here would seem to reduce His self-revelation to mere generalization and human observation.”

Here Derek I believe you are clearly conflating two things: 1) God’s conditional actions towards man, and 2) God’s self-revelation as to his character and person.

Verses about God hating evil, loving righteousness, being righteous, being wise, etc are revelations of his character and personage. As such they are universally binding on God. But you confuse divine self-revelation of God’s character with God’s general approach towards humanity—which scripture bears out repeatedly is largely determined by our submission and lack thereof. For instance here are some verses that would be in the same category as those you highlight in Proverbs which you think: 1) teach a universal rule of application and 2) gives you warrant to conclude that God determinatively directs man’s steps into doing evil—such as sovereignly directing a rapist to his victim or an adulterer to his affair. Please notice how they assume man’s submitted posture before God and are not always universal in their application.

Proverbs 1:7-8 “The LORD is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.”   (Yet some faithful followers of God die in tragic car crashes and are not always protected and shielded from evil)

Proverbs 9:10-11 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through wisdomyour days will be many, and years will be added to your life.    (Yes the fear of the Lord is the ultimate fountain of wisdom. However some who fear the Lord don’t have many years added to their life. Some have their lives cut short by illness, etc.)

 Proverbs 16:7 “When the Lord takes pleasure in anyone’s way, he causes their enemies to make peace with them.      (Though generally true, we shouldn’t think that God “causes our enemies to be at peace” with us at all times universally. For many of God’s faithful have suffered at the hands of their persecutors and enemies. God was pleased with Paul and he was beheaded. God was pleased with Peter and he was whipped and beaten, etc.)

There is very little I can add to Proverbs 16:33 and your subsequent remarks and questions. I feel you didn’t understand what I wrote or didn’t thoroughly engage it. My point was God’s direct intervention in casted lots had a clear, cultural, and specific context conditioned on submitting to God that he make his will known—and that key point would not have been lost its original hearers.  The verse is highlighting that God is more than capable of overruling the random effects of casted lots and intervening at will (such as to make his will known)—not that God DOES intervene at will in every roll of the dice in every gambling foray. You’re just assuming that and to assume it makes much of Proverbs admonition against gambling to get rich quick rather meaningless.

This would lead to the larger question as to why is God upset about anything in Proverbs if he unilaterally decided it should occur and can’t occur absent his decision and decree? I would really like an answer to this.

Thanks for taking this long journey with me Derek 🙂 I finally arrive at my last point about the different frameworks we are working from.

On the one hand you would agree that Proverbs is principally about exercising wisdom to stay on the path of righteousness and to preserve our lives from being ensnared by ungodly evil.

Yet on the other hand the compatibilistic view you are advocating is that God’s sovereignty means everything we think, desire and do—whether it be good or evil or wise or unwise is ultimately the result of being irresistibly determined by God.

You think verses about God establishing our paths and directing our steps are not selective actions on the part of God whereby he directs our life into righteousness conditioned on our submission and obedience, but speak to God’s universal determination that decreed every persons steps into sin and every path into evil.

Your view makes Proverbs wholly untenable and meaningless.

Proverbs 11: 20 says, “The Lord detests those whose hearts are perverse, but he delights in those whose ways are blameless.” Yet you would have us believe that Proverbs also provides interpretive grounds to believe that God—who detests perversity— determined some hearts to be perverse and carry out specifically decreed perversity.

Proverbs 8: says, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.” But you would have us believe God decreed EVERY evil behavior and ever perverse word that comes out of every person’s mouth. Yes? So how do you make sense of that?

Is sum you are asking us to believe that when read in the right framework and when approached with the right assumptions, the book of Proverbs (a book about preserving one’s steps and path from evil) is ACTUALLY meant to inform us that God deterministically directs every step we take into wickedness and decreed every path of ungodly evil he decided and predestined we are to be ensnared by. Does this make sense to you?

I can’t help but conclude it is all a tad absurd Derek and ultimately undermines both the message of Proverbs and God’s perfect righteousness (i.e. PMP).

I am at a loss as to what would motivate you to cling so tightly to such a framework of interpretation. As I said—in the end it really comes down to the right framework we adopt to interpret scripture and not necessarily proof-texting our way through scripture. Both sides of the debate can do this, which is why the debate should really be about the interpretive framework that is filtering our exegesis. I would rather adopt a framework of Proverbs that does not ultimately ground the origin, conception and emergence of all wickedness in the decretive will of God—especially when a central theme of Proverbs is abstaining from unrighteousness. Furthermore I would rather adopt a framework that doesn’t collapse into confusion and absurd incoherency and then appeal to mystery or paradox to retain its rightful place among biblical interpretation.

At minimum your compatibilism seeks to not be subject to human, logical inquiry—which results in its most controversial aspects being shrouded in confusion. What you so often state as mystery to avoid logical implication, I see as only incoherency. Either way the result is confusion because you yourself concede that from our limited, human perspective your view merely has the appearance of contradiction. Perhaps we should keep in mind the admonition of Paul: “God is not the author of confusion…” If he didn’t mean that in reference to our “limited, human perspective” interacting with “limited divine revelation” then I don’t know what meaningful context is left.

In conclusion, Derek, I thank you for the opportunity to address your questions and articulate my concerns and sincere disagreements with your view. I am not sure what more can be said that hasn’t already been said. I believe God’s revelation–though not fully complete–is consistent enough in matters of greatest importance to warrant our logical interaction with it and our subsequent making of logical conclusions on that basis. All of your assertion, without explanation, the constant positing of incompatible propositions, and your continual appeal to unsearchable mystery and biblical paradox to avoid logical implication, tells me you believe the current extent and volume of God’s divine revelation lacks “key pieces” to qualify it as revelatory consistent, such that it would invite our logical inquiry. But if you want to offer one last rebuttal, that would be fine. I’ll close out our discussion with my reply.

God bless brother,

Matt

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About StriderMTB

Hi, I'm Matt. "Strider" from Lord of the Rings is my favorite literary character of all time and for various reasons I write under the pseudonym "StriderMTB. As my blog suggests I seek to live out both the excitement and tension of a Christian walk with Christ in the 3rd world context of Asia. I am unmarried yet blessed to oversee an orphanage of amazing children in South-East Asia. I hate lima beans and love to pour milk over my ice-cream. I try to stay active in both reading and writing and this blog is a smattering of my many thoughts. I see the Kingdom of God as Jesus preached it and lived to be the only hope for a broken world and an even more broken and apathetic church.
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