No matter what the circumstances of this life are – each thing is designed to bring glory to God, for He is deserving of all glory. How then does the God of earth receive glory when a man is murdered, a victim victimized, or even by those whom hate Him? He brings glory in the means of redemption of those who do not deserve it and provides a hope for the restoration of all things, yet also brings everlasting punishment upon those who disobey. Evil itself is not what glorifies God – it is His mastery over it for His purposes (mercy or subsequent wrath) that causes all things to work for good. We can see, very clearly from scripture, that sin is “the dare of God’s justice, the rape of His mercy, the jeer of His patience, the slight of His power, and the contempt of His love” (John Bunyan). So how then do we have a God who ordains all things, yet is not the author of sin, nor the tempter of the brethren?
Simply because God has ordained all things to be does not revoke the responsibility of man and the subsequent judgment that comes. Is He not also glorified when judgment is meted out upon the reprobate? What we see then is the divine paradox, in that sin is punished, yet purposed for His will. We have seen this over and again through the examples provided in the previous post – just look again to the nation of Israel and see how they were not only promised to rebel, but be judged for that very same rebellion through the means of another exceedingly wicked nation, which is also judged for raising against God’s covenant people. While they were promised to be given over to disobedience, they were called to obedience to the Law by Moses.
We then find two nations who are punished for things they were brought into doing by the Lord. How then do we reconcile two seemingly contradictory notions? Well, what did the Lord say He would do after Israel went whore-mongering among other nations and gods? Redeem them – and make His glory known to all the nations of the earth; yet first they would pay for their sins. Likewise, Babylon would crumble and be brought to non-existence for the purpose of demonstrating His might above all earthly rulers and authorities.
In these examples, the Lord specifically revealed why He would destine Israel for disobedience and subsequent redemption, yet this still doesn’t reconcile how His will in this does not revoke the disobedience of man, nor how it removes guilt from the Lord. The difficult question remains: if God has ordained all things, this must mean my sin is predetermined. How am I still guilty for my sin?
We mustn’t relegate some separation of the will and the mind, as if fallen man, whose will is bent to operate under the predetermined will of God does so under compulsion, that is, without freely choosing to do so. Each man willingly and joyfully operates in opposition toward God, for we have wholeheartedly embraced sin, thus, we are led to refuse the notion that we come to God without the inherent intent to rebel. When you sin, your will is not without the desires of your heart being birthed – and the deviancy of your mind delighting in conjunction with it. The qualification of terms is revealed in respect to what autonomy really means then. You are free to operate as you please, in the manner by which you are capable: a man alienated from God and sold into the bondage of sin.
Sproul remarked of John Calvin, “[He] writes that if we mean by free will that fallen man has the ability to choose what he wants, then of course fallen man has free will. If we mean that man in his fallen state has the moral power and ability to choose righteousness, then, said Calvin, free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to fallen man. Man’s will is free to follow his inclinations, but fallen man’s inclinations are always away from God.”
When we speak of man’s predetermined path we are speaking of him operating under the unrevealed will of the Lord. In this, we are not referring to a wholesale, mindless rejection of choice in the matter, but that he freely chooses, in his modus operandi, or the way with which he operates, to rebel. A man in bondage to sin will choose in the manner which he is inclined to do so; a man freed from the bondage of sin will then be free to operate under the Spirit of grace. Thus you freely choose – yet you choose that which you are capable of choosing: further alienation from God, because you are in a state of death – and dead men can’t choose to live, now can they?
But if this is true, then how can God remain good?
God’s grace and goodness is not affected by how He chooses to work; His being works these qualities in modus operandi. Goodness and grace are simply exuding from God by the very nature of His being. Human reason, therefore, is not the litmus for determining what is good and vicariously if God is acting accordingly. By the revelation of God declaring goodness bound within His nature, He is in every essence, qualitatively and wholly good. The same can be said for any attribute of God by nature of His declaration. As He has so declared it to be, it is, and these attributes are inseparable from His being. Yet beyond this, goodness, mercy, righteousness, etc., are all qualities that we can understand and reflect because they are qualities of God.
This is the very design and nature of revelation; it is outside of mankind, defined and qualified by the God who gives it, and therefore it is not bound to the defense (or offense) of man. It simply is. We have not defined truth; we have been given it by the very source and authority on it and therefore abide in it. One should also recognize that though we bear these attributes in some capacity, they are in whole, tainted by sin due to the fall of man. We do not necessarily recognize this simply because sin is to us like air is to our lungs; not in the necessity of it, but that it is our functioning state. We cannot function, this side of heaven, without the reality of sin and the affects thereof, even if we are not in the process of committing a wicked deed.
As we used the term with reference toward God, man also operates in modus operandi, yet the modus operandi of mankind is not in some state of neutrality, nor certainly is it in a state of benevolence toward God. If God wishes to harden the heart of a man or give him room for performing evil – does He have to create new evil or new hardness? No; all God must do is lifting His restraining hand from the man He chooses because man is fully tainted by sin. It is due to the restraint of God upon each of us that we do not continually perform the fullness of our wicked desires. God’s graciousness is poured out upon all mankind because He has restrained the full measure of our wickedness from pouring out.
It is only when you are brought to new life that your mind may be transformed through renewal, rather than conformed to the image of this world (which again, is not in some state of neutrality towards God). Man, without Christ, is at enmity with God. Man without Christ is slave to sin. When you are enslaved, can you choose to become free? Or is it that you have been set free because of Christ, and are free indeed? Will you then say, “Why have you made me like this?” only to hear, “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?” Will a lump of clay speak before the God of all things and be so brazen so as to call Him the author of your sin? Your tempter?
In so doing, you are left to attribute the actions of God to Satan, perhaps vicariously, yet nonetheless. Even if you don’t leap to the logical conclusion, can you provide an answer as to why an all-powerful God chooses not to stop atrocities? Surely He is able. Even the atheist acknowledges this fact, which is precisely why they hate Him, for they do not find Him operating on their own terms. Does He wallow in regret, seeing the atrocities of mankind each day, the temptations offered us by the demons and our adversary, the warfare, murder, theft, gossip, slander, and everything else that mankind so willingly engenders, because He has chosen to give man free will?
Or perhaps He interact with His creation, causing all things to happen, bringing them together for an explicit purpose, that is, this grand meta-narrative of redemptive history whose culmination is in the person of Jesus Christ. Is all of history on a direct course for redemption and reconciliation – including the subjection of all opposed to Christ? All orthodox Christians would emphatically say yes. Respectfully though, how might He accomplish such a thing if it were not for continual interference with His creation?
By limiting God’s sovereign interaction with His creation on the basis of free will, one can only effectively side-skirt the issue in dealing with evil, unless He is simply a reactionary God. However, that brings us full circle back to why He has not dealt with it in the first place. Yet if He ordains evil for His purposes, which are wholly good (because they cannot be evil), then we have a God who is in direct control of the outcome of all things. Which is more comforting in the midst of the trial?
I would challenge the reader who denies the complete sovereignty of God to seek genuine answers in scripture. Then I would challenge you to ask yourself some simple questions:
Is God a good God on the basis of what you think He should be doing, or on the basis of His divine revelation? Is He loving for this same reason? Is He just? Kind? Merciful?
Is He a good God because He meets your criteria of “goodness,” to which you, a man being sown in sin, have defined – or is He good because it is His very essence, and we can hold by faith that He has defined His capabilities, actions, character, and nature to us through the authoritative, inerrant, and infallible word of God?
If God has ordained all things, including the eternal destiny of each man – does this flip the biblical witness of His character upon its head? In other words, will you stop arguing from “logical necessity” and offer an argument, citing chapter and verse, from scripture?
Is God’s love only truly loving if He gives complete autonomy to His creation – or is it found in the embodiment of suffering in the person of Jesus Christ, who became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God?
Yet perhaps what should be considered as an aside by the reader is in reference to Paul again in Romans 9. The truly interesting thing we find is that the same argument against Calvinism is the one Paul counters through rhetorical device in verse 14: What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!
Image Credit: Les Lions Garde la Porte by Maxime Bonzi; CC 2.0