Monday, December 29, 2008

Response to Persiflage on the Decree

Persiflage wrote:
“But I have to tell you man, if that is all Calvinism means by the word “ordain” then I don’t have a problem with the Westminster Confession when it says that God did “ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” There’d only be a small annoyance that the men who wrote this worded it poorly and could have eliminated a lot of confusion if they just wrote “whatsoever comes to pass is in God’s plan.””

Well, I think that you have again misunderstood what I said. The decree is a simple plan. However, God is the one who writes all of history including the actions of men in it. It is *not* that God looks ahead of time, sees what man does, and fits his plan around what He foresees man will do. My only point in writing this definition was to dispel the straw-man of Calvinism that God winds-up all humans like a toy at the beginning of creation, and they simply move and do what He wants them to do.

In other words, I do not deny that God actually wanted (in the decretive sense) all the actions of men in history to come to pass since He planned them.

Persiflage wrote:
“I looked up ordain in the Webster Dictionary, and it defined it as “to establish or order by decree or law.””

That is a dictionary of the modern English which has nothing to do with *Theological terms*, especially ones that originated during the times of the 17th century Protestant scholastics. You might want to purchase and use a Dictionary of Theology or a Calvinistic Systematic Theology instead.

That you are using secular definitions of terms instead of theological definitions is a constant problem throughout your response.

Persiflage wrote:
“In one sense I absolutely agree with you, in the other sense I start to worry about other Scripture that says how things happen against God’s will (even if he’s philosophically the “first cause” of everything. So I won’t argue or agree with your interpretation of these Scriptures until I understand this better.”

Yes, when I used the term, ‘ultimate cause,’ I meant it in the sense that God *wanted* it to happen (again, in a decretive sense but not in a prescriptive sense). God set in action a chain of events that He knew would result in whatever would happen, *and* He *wanted* it to happen (again, in a decretive sense but not necessarily in a prescriptive sense). When it says that “God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled,” (Revelation 17:17) God specifically *wanted* the kings to give their power over to the beast (which would no doubt include idolatrous worship).

This does not mean, however, that God wanted them to worship the beast in the prescriptive sense since God specifically forbids false worship. Rather, the way that this event would probably happen would be like that described in Job 1 or 2 Chronicles 18:18-22. God would bring Satan before Him and specifically permit Satan to “entice” and influence the minds of those kings and tell Satan to “prevail” in doing so (2 Chronicles 18:18-22). God *wanted* Satan to “prevail” in the decretive sense so that God’s purpose might come about.

When God *wants* (decretively) a certain evil event to happen, He willingly permits an evil spirit or man to do evil in order to bring about His purpose. God is never the one who entices to sin (James 1:13). He always *permits* it to happen. However, He never gives demons open reign everywhere and in all cases. God specifically sets the parameters of what He will allow the demon to do, sets the goal, and allows no more. God *wants* the evil event to happen so that it will fulfill His righteous purposes.

I know that I’m being a bit repetitive, but I don’t know how else to show you the distinction between God’s prescriptive (i.e. law) will and His decretive (i.e. providential) will. In essence, what I am saying is that defining the term, “God’s will” or “God wants this to happen,” in the sense that God prescribes a law for mankind is far too narrow for how the Biblical text uses it.

Persiflage writes:
“Do you see the problem here? If the “free choice” is caused by something, then it wouldn’t be a “free choice” in the first place.”

But that is the very issue under dispute, and it won’t be solved by a simple appeal to your intuitions. This has been debated back and forth by philosophers of metaphysics for many years now.

Persiflage wrote:
“A moral agent’s free will doesn’t cause choices, instead free will is the power through which the moral agent makes his choices. The fact that God gave him this “power” does not mean (a) that he is suddenly omnipotent, or (b) that God caused the free choice.”

But self-causality simply assumes one’s own self-existence, i.e. aseity. If God creates and sustains their very ontic existence, from where does their power come from to bring into being their self-generated choice? I don’t know how else to explain it to you. Sorry.

You go on to quote Geisler, but compatibilists of all stripes have pointed out that that is far too simplistic and creates all sorts of problems. Philosophy isn’t my best field, and so, I can only recommend some works:

J.M. Fischer’s The Metaphysics of Free Will

J.M. Fischer’s My Way: Essays on Moral Responsibility

John Frame’s No Other God

John Frame’s The Doctrine of God (pp.138-145)

Persiflage wrote (concerning 1 Samuel 2:25):
“Why did God desire to put them to death? Because they were already wicked in the first place - wicked enough for God to want to put them to death sooner than later (as opposed to the entire human population). And there is no reason for us to conclude that God preordained for them to reject him in the first place.”

Again, you’re missing the force of the passage. The passage states:

“But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the LORD desired to put them to death.” (1 Samuel 2:25)

They chose to disobey BECAUSE *GOD WANTED* them to. Again, this is not in the prescriptive sense as if God told them to do so or God Himself controlled their minds, but nevertheless, the text names God as the *cause* of their disobedience.

He was the ultimate cause, not in the sense that He simply set in motion a chain of events that “just happened” to result in their choice, but rather, it was a *calculated* move on His part. They chose exactly what He wanted them to chose, not because they just so happened to chose it, but because He knew that the events that He set in motion would be the *effective cause* of their choice.


Persiflage said...

Notes & Asides -

1 - Regarding the Westminster Confession’s “God ordains whatsoever comes to pass” - you argue - “I do not deny that God actually wanted (in the decretive sense) all the actions of men in history to come to pass since He planned them.”

So we do have a fundamental difference in what we believe God’s will is. According to your Reformed tradition, God has decreed every single human action in the history of the world, including Adam & Eve’s rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden. Where we disagree is that God ordained/decreed evil, sin, and death into existence. From what I see in Scripture, evil and sin was NOT God’s will, nor did God ordain evil into existence. There is a difference between saying (a) evil and sin are part of God’s decretive will, and (b) that the fact that God allowed created creatures the power of free will to choose evil does not mean that that was what God wanted them to do.

2 - On definitions you said - “That you are using secular definitions of terms instead of theological definitions is a constant problem…

Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines the word “ordain” thus -

ordain - “to appoint; to decree. ‘Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month.’ I Kings xii. ‘As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed.’ Acts xiii. ‘The fatal tent, The scene of death and place ordained for punishment.’ Dryden.”

Granted this is modern English, but modern English is what we are using to communicate, and is what the Scripture has be translated into for us to understand. I agree that sometimes a “Dictionary of Theology” could help understand archaic terms, but I don’t think the meaning of “ordain” or “decree” has changed much. And the meaning of these specific terms isn’t what’s causing us to disagree, right?

3 - You explain - “Yes, when I used the term, ‘ultimate cause,’ I meant it in the sense that God *wanted* it to happen (again, in a decretive sense but not in a prescriptive sense).”

Ok, cool - that does help me understand your meaning better. Revelation 17:17 is an example, among others, where God specifically intervenes in the minds of men and causes them to desire or to act in a particular way. This is the exception to the rule though, God usually doesn’t decree that man has to think, want or do something. We act based on our desires, and yet God gave us our good desire. God did not give us our evil desires (even though he occasionally points men’s evil desires in a particular direction in order to accomplish a particular goal).

You even explain this idea yourself, of God allowing Satan to accomplish particular goals because He is even using Satan to accomplish his own ultimate plan. This distinction you are making between God’s decretive will (decrees) and God’s prescriptive will (commands, moral law) is a valid distinction. I even understand your examples of God decretively wanting a certain evil event to happen. Because God is sovereign he can use evil against itself. Because God using his power to direct evil towards particular actions does not mean that evil is God’s will. In World War II, a particularly knowing allied intelligence could direct a Nazi attack in one direction (towards army A), so that this accomplishes a particular goal (the movement of army B). The fact that allied intelligence is using the Nazis’ attack against an entrenched American position in this example does not mean that it was our will for the Nazis to fight to conquer the world in the first place. The same applies to when God allows evil to do something in order to accomplish His plan.

So defining the term “God’s will” as what God wants to happen in the sense that He has a moral law for all mankind does not mean (a) that He can’t still use the breaking of his moral law to ultimately accomplish His plan, or (b) that God originally wanted or decreed for mankind to become wicked or to break his moral law in the first place.

4 - Free Will

I don’t think that the difference between determinism and free will is what’s at dispute here. I just think that perhaps neither of us has clearly understood the other’s position. I’ll try again though. As I understand yours, you are arguing for “divine determinism,” but then saying that free will can exist at the same time. While as I understand the elementary philosophical textbook definitions of determinism (of any kind) and free will, both cannot be true by definition.

Free will is the fact that the moral agent can choose between two different options. If his choice was divinely determined/decreed/ordained already, then it was never a “choice” in the first place. And perhaps I misunderstand Reformed theology as well, but I’m under the impression that total depravity teaches that man only has one option - sin. And that irresistibly drawn regenerated man only has one option - faith. This is not free will because there is nothing to choose between.

I’m also (perhaps badly) trying to make a distinction here between existence and actions. If you are not God, then your existence cannot be self-caused. You asked the question - “If God creates and sustains their very ontic existence, from where does their power come from to bring into being their self-generated choice?” Where does the power of free will, like the power of thought, come from? That power comes from God, and there is no reason to think that cannot give those powers to non-self-existent created beings.

The fact that a created being uses his power of thought means that his thoughts are self-caused. The fact that a free moral agent uses his power of free will means that his acts are self-caused. An act is not a free act if is caused by “outside irresistible forces.” It is only a free act if it is self-caused by the use of the power of free will. The fact that a free act is self-caused simply means that the creature was using a power given to him by God. It does not mean that that creature has caused his own existence. There is a difference between action and existence.

So are you saying that a man’s free will can be acted upon by God’s irresistible power in order to ensure that he chooses one thing instead of another, and yet still call that choice a free act? Philosophically that doesn’t make sense to me. Theologically, there may be instances of God doing this occasionally, but they are exceptions where he is using the wicked to do particular evil acts, while they have already made the decision as moral agents to do evil in the first place.

5 - I Samuel 2:25

You see, I actually agree that in this instance “they chose to disobey BECAUSE *GOD WANTED* them to.” Yes, it’s disobeying God’s will as understood in the moral law (or your prescriptive sense). I don’t see why it couldn’t be that God controlled their minds in this instance - what else would you call it? God caused their disobedience in this specific instance.

But here’s the important distinction to make - Nowhere in this passage of Scripture does it say that God made them evil, or that they going to be punished because God ordained for them to be evil men so he could glorify Himself through their punishment. There is no reason why they still couldn’t have been free moral agents who chose evil over good. This (specifically their rejection of God) affected their character and their eternal state. That God interfered in the specifics towards the end so as to arrange their punishment is not to say that God wanted them to be evil in the first place.

6 - Going down the List of References

a) - Isaiah 53:10, Acts 2:23, Acts 4:28 - Yes, God predetermined the time, place and method of Christ’s death on the cross without causing evil.

b) - Genesis 50:20 - Yes, God means to use evil to accomplish good - this is always part of his plan.

c) - Judges 9:23 - Yes, God allows and uses the actions of evil spirits to eventually accomplish his will.

d) - I Samuel 2:25 - God occasionally directs the hearts of evil men (even to do evil) in order to accomplish specific ends.

e) - 2 Samuel 12:11 - God was the ultimate cause of these acts? In the sense that Absalom was evil, God directed his specific actions to bring about specific results sure.

f) - 2 Samuel 17:14 - In order to cause the defeat of evil men, God directed their hearts to listen to bad counsel. This is what an active, sovereign, omnipotent God can do. Again it doesn’t mean man doesn’t normally have real free will, or that God ordained these men to be evil in the first place.

g) 2 Samuel 24:1, I Chron. 21:1 - Another simple example of God allowing the devil to do evil. But then you say things like this -

“God was the ultimate cause of David’s sin (by willingly permitting Satan to tempt David), but Satan was the proximate cause (as well as David himself) and thus responsible.”

There is no reason here to say that God was the cause of David’s sin. Why? Because God allowing evil and God causing evil are two different things. David is already a sinner, and I’m assuming Satan is simply appealing to the sin of pride that is already in his heart to begin with. Does this mean that God put sin in David’s heart? No.

h) 2 Chronicles 18:18-22 - same principle as (c) and (g)

i) Job 1:21 - involves our disagreement over whether God is the ultimate cause of evil

j) Job 14:5 - Again, because God determines or decrees the date and time of the death of some men does not mean that God has fixed the date and time of the death of every man.

k) Psalm 105:24, Exodus 1:8-10 - God directs the hearts of evil men to accomplish his ends - same principle as (d), (e), and (f)

l) Proverbs 16:4 - “made everything for its own purpose” could mean that God created and predestined some people to go to hell because that would glorify him, or it could mean that God works out everything, even the lives of the wicked, for his own purpose.

“Proverbs 16:4 is using the language of moral order. God set up creation such that good is (eventually) rewarded and evil is (eventually) punished. In this sense the “purpose” for the wicked is found in the “day of trouble” that shall come upon them. It’s significant to note that the verb translated in the NRSV as “made” (paw-al’) can be translated as “works out” (as in the NIV), an observation that confirms our interpretation. God steers the wickedness of agents so that their end eventually fits the moral order of creation. Moreover, the word translated as “purpose” (ma’ neh) can be translated as “answer.” The meaning of the passage, then, is that God works things out so that the end of the wicked “answers” their wickedness. They eventually reap what they sow. We thus need not accept the diabolic picture of God creating certain people for the expressed purpose of having them suffer endlessly in hell.”

Revelation 4:11 - “for thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Ezekiel 18:32 - “For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.” Ezekiel 33:11 - “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” - Greg Boyd

m & n) Proverbs 16:9-10, Proverbs 20:24 - like God occasionally directs the hearts of evil men to specific actions, He does the same with rulers and kings (regardless of whether they are evil or not). Does this mean that God decreed/ordained for Hitler to exterminate the Jews in concentration camps? Not necessarily.

There is also a difference between saying “God directs man’s steps” and saying that every single action that man does is preordained from the beginning of time.

Greg Boyd explains - “Far from teaching that God controls everything, as some compatibilists maintain, this verse contrasts what the Lord controls with what he chooses not to control. Humans can and do make their own plans, but the Lord directs how those plans get worked out … This does not imply that God meticulously controls everything humans do as they seek to live out their plans, only that he steers our paths in ways that best fit his sovereign purposes. When the course of action the Lord is steering flows from someone’s evil intentions, we may be assured that he wishes it were otherwise.” See also, Proverbs 19:21 & Jeremiah 10:23)

o) Proverbs 21:1 - agreed, same principle as above

p) Ecclesiastes 7:14 - God uses everything, days of prosperity, days of adversity, to accomplish his goals. None of these verses are saying that God “ordains whatsoever comes to pass.”

q) Ecclesiastes 9:1 - same principle

r) Isaiah 10:5-7 - “God wields the king and his army like one wields a wood axe and a war club. God will send Assyria to punish Israel and then turn around and punish Assyria for their evil intentions and pride.” - The fact that God makes use of evil nations does not mean God made or ordained them to be evil in the first place.

s) Isaiah 45:7 - “Clearly, God is the ultimate cause of evil as well as good” On the contrary, if good and evil both originate from God then God is not completely good and just. God cannot be the ultimate cause (as you define ultimate cause) for evil. When read in context, this passage is talking about the future deliverance of Israel out of Babylon’s captivity. “Light” and “darkness” can easily refer to “liberation” and “captivity” and “well-being” & “calamity” referring to God blessing Israel and cursing Babylon.

t) Isaiah 46:9-10 - The fact that God declares that He will accomplish his purpose, and the fact that God has declared the end from the beginning is evident throughout Scripture. God was the beginning. And God has decreed how things are going to end. It’s asking a lot more of us for you to say that this passage means “God has actively foreordained everything in history to come to pass.” That simply isn’t in this passage.

u) Isaiah 63:17 - This verse is describing a state of judgment. The Scripture tells us that our consciences can be seared by repeated sin, and that God will give us up to hardened hearts as a result (I Tim. 4:2, Eph. 4:19, Rom. 1:21) It would be unscriptural, and against all the teaching of why hearts are hardened, to say that this is the birth-condition of all human beings, or that this is how God has preordained for us to be.

v) Jeremiah 4:6 - same principle as (r), nothing new here

w) Lamentations 3:37-39 - Pike brought this one up, but both of you seem to avoid starting this passage in context at verse 31 -

“For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, thought he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men. - So God does not want or will to afflict or grieve people, even though some things that he does do cause grief? - “To crush underfoot all the prisoners of the earth, to deny a man justice in the presence of the Most High, to subvert a man in his lawsuit, the Lord does not approve.” - And again whoa, but it sounds like this passage just listed 3 things that are not God’s will, but that happen all the time in our sinful, lost world. And maybe, just maybe, God punishes evil people for going against His will. “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?” … So, when it says that “good and bad” both come from the mouth of God, could we interpret that that the “bad” means the existence of evil? Or perhaps is this passage talking more about punishment or compassion? Well, those are the words this passage is using so wouldn’t you think that’s what it means?

x) Ezekiel 14:9 - more on the hardening of hearts principle, God does do this, it is scary, but it doesn’t mean you can make logical inferences to say that all, or even most, evil is preordained by God to happen.

y) Amos 3:6 - same principle as (p), (q), (r), (s), etc.

z) Habakkuk 2:12-13 - God determines the rise and fall of evil empires. Ok. Does this mean God causes “the evil actions necessary to build up those empires”? No. The distinction here is between God using evil that exists apart from his will to accomplish his will in spite of itself, and God causing evil because that’s what he needs to accomplish his will.

aa) John 9:1-3 - Seriously, isn’t this the reason for everything that ever happens? “so that the works of God might be displayed” is the reason for the existence of everything. It’s even the reason for God allowing pain, death & suffering, including blindness - because God is still going to use it to accomplish his ends.

bb) John 12:39-40 - You said - “Though this passage from Isaiah is usually cited in the Synoptic Gospels in such a way that suggests that those who disbelieve harden their own heart, the passage from John cites it in such a way as to suggest that God is the one who hardens their hearts. Of course, both are true since God is the ultimate cause and the unbelieving men are the proximate cause.”

See also Mark 4:11-12, and the most detailed parallel passage in Matthew 13:10-16. I’ve gone over this with Pike as well. Both of you are suggesting that Jesus could be quoting this passage from Isaiah in order to say that he uses parables to prevent people from turning to Him and being forgiven by Him. Besides the fact that this idea directly contradicts Scripture like Acts 17:30, what’s probably the most important is what passage in Isaiah actually says. And like you admit, Isaiah says that “those who disbelieve harden their own heart.” At least first anyway, then it is perfectly Biblical to say that God hardens the hearts of the wicked to accomplish his own ends. The wording in John cannot be used to mean anything different than what the rest of Scripture means by it. And to say that God is the “ultimate cause” for man’s disbelief in Him flatly contradicts the entire message of the Gospel.

cc) Romans 9 - because of how often it’s used in Reformed theology, this chapter does deserve a separate article all to itself - So I’ll write one up even separate from the article on “unconditional election.” It is amazing how this chapter is misinterpreted, and what it actually says when you just take it literally.

I don’t mean to be frustrating to you here. I still want to understand this better and I’m not trying to score any points or prove anything (particularly as I doubt hardly anyone besides us is reading all of this anyhow). 2 Rom. 11:7-10, Thess. 2:11-12, & Rev. 17:17 are all on the same exact stuff we’ve both gone over before. And after going through this whole Biblical/Topical study, you can probably see how I, and a large number of other Christians, cannot honestly reach the same conclusions that you and Pike are reaching with just these verses alone. These passages all affirm God’s sovereignty, and speak powerfully of the reign of God over all of His creation and how He has determined to accomplish His will at the end.

But when you make your list at your conclusion, most of your list are all inferences from these verses that you’ve made because of the assumptions you hold before you even get to these verses. After going through my interpretation of them as well, you can also see how my assumptions (which I’m trying to base on Scripture), affect what logical inferences I think you can draw. You can’t just suddenly say that God preordains every single action of man. You can’t infer for example, that God preordains the death of every man from the fact that he has ordered the death of some men. This is a long list of instances where God directly intervenes or uses his power to cause something in a world where, for the most part, God has sat back and allowed his creatures to use their free will to do evil. Does God use their evil for his ends? Of course. But the list of actions in these passages of Scripture parts that you cannot use to infer to the sum of the whole.

Thus, we should probably get back down to some of the basics - our first presuppositions about things, in order to understand this better. I’ll be thinking more about how to do this.

Sidenote: I can see you are putting a lot of time and thought into this. I respect that, and hope I show it by doing the same. Thanks for the posts so far.

Persiflage said...

And I finally posted Part Two on Unconditional Election here -

Saint and Sinner said...

Thanks for the comments. It may be a while before I respond.

Saint and Sinner said...

Upon reflection, I believe that you're right on Prov. 16:4, and Job 14:5 likely has reference to a limit placed upon the time a man is allowed to live, not the appointment of the exact time of death. So, you're right on that one too. I'll respond to the others later.

Saint and Sinner said...

In fact, I think that I'm just going to remove those since I plan on using that post again someday.

Persiflage said...

I respect that - and hey, I do the same thing - I make mistakes myself, and later realize I wasn't using some verse quite like it should have been used. So it happens to all of us. I want both of us to be able to do this sort of thing (change our minds about something) without the other looking on it as any kind of score or any of that nonsense. If we continue this discussion, and I look forward to doing so, I want you to know I'm willing to concede points occasionally too.

ninni said...

i believe that man is a machine