Saturday, January 10, 2009

Second Response to Persiflage on the Decree

Persiflage responded to my first response here. I will be interacting with this response as well as one of the comments he made to Bnonn over at Triablogue.



First, I am not going to spend any more time on the issue of theological terminology except to say this: there is specialized terminology in any discipline whether it is in science, engineering, cosmetics, journalism, etc. Frequently, that terminology will take well-known words and change their meaning slightly to fit the situation. For example, in the oil industry there is a device called a “pressure bomb.” Is it really an explosive? No, it is simply a pressure reading device that is lowered into a well that records pressure over a period of time. This linguistic situation is no different in theology.

Second, I’m not going to say anything on the philosophy of metaphysics in regards to free-will. The guys over at Triablogue are better at that than I.


Next, the main body of this post will be on theodicy.

Perhaps I need to make a few qualifications on orthodox Calvinist theodicy:

1. God did not (nor does He) create any of His creatures morally evil.
2. God does not tempt men to do morally evil actions.
3. God does not Himself do any morally evil actions.
4. God does not prescribe (i.e. give laws for) morally evil actions.
5. God does not get pleasure from morally evil actions.
6. God does not coerce men to do any morally evil actions (though Bnonn made a point in his comment to you that “determined” is not necessarily the same thing as “coerced” given compatibilist free-will).

And specifically:

7. God does not coerce men to disbelieve.
8. God does not prevent men from coming to true repentance which results in justification and eternal salvation (but this is to be differentiated from temporary or superficial repentance).

You’re right that the word “ra‘” in Lamentations 3, Isaiah 45, Amos 3, Jeremiah 4, and (to add one to the list) Job 2:10 should probably not be translated “evil” as in moral evil, and it does refer to the punishment God is meting out upon wicked cities and nations. However, I do believe that it should be translated “calamity” instead of simply “punishment” (though it includes that idea in these texts), and although God’s intentions for destroying the wicked were righteous, the actions and intentions of the nations that did the destroying were not. Thus, the calamity that was brought upon those cities should be considered morally evil (or at least it involved moral evil in carrying it out).

While I neither believe that God Himself coerced the Babylonians to bring calamity nor that God Himself was the proximate cause of drawing the Babylonians south to invade Judah (i.e. God probably willingly permitted the demonic host to do that), I do think that it is theologically proper to say that God was the ultimate cause of the event. This becomes clear when you simply read the verses in which God states that *He* was the one who did it (see also Daniel 1:2).

As John Oswalt, himself an Arminian, notes in his commentary on Isaiah 45:7:

7 The climax of the particular statement being made in this segment appears in this verse. Here the prophet spells out exactly what he means when he says there is no other than the Lord. If any question yet remained about the degree of uniqueness and exclusivity that he was claiming for God, this verse should lay it to rest. He chooses two areas in which to make his claims: nature and history, and in both of them uses the figure of antinomy, or polar opposites, to make his point. In each of the parallel pairs he begins with a verb which expresses specific, concrete action by God (form, make) and closes with one which is even more theologically expressive, the same one in both cases (create). What Isaiah asserts is that God, as creator, is ultimately responsible for everything in nature, from light to dark, and for everything in history, from good fortune to misfortune. No other beings or forces are responsible for anything.
Without question such a sweeping assertion raises some serious problems, especially as we try to puzzle out issues of justice and fairness. At the same time, we must take into account the point being made and the alternative. The point is that everything which exists, whether positive or negative from our perspective, does so because of the creative will of God. The alternative to this view is that things happen in the world of nature or history that have their origin in some being or force other than God, things that he is powerless to prevent. If that alternative is correct, then God is but one of the gods and is as powerless to save us from ourselves as they are. Furthermore, he is no more the expression of ultimate reality than they are. Since he is limited, we must look beyond him for whatever is final in this world. Given that alternative, it is easy to see why Isaiah makes qualifications, given the rest of Scripture. But that is the correct direction to move: from principle to qualification. If we start with qualification, we will never reach the overarching principle.
An important qualification is already implicit in the text. The Hebrew word ra‘ has a wide range of meanings, much like the English word “bad.” Like “bad” it can refer to moral evil (“Hitler was a bad man”) or to misfortune (“I’m having a bad day”) or merely to that which does not conform to some potential, real or imagined (“That’s a bad road”). This is not the case with the common English equivalent for ra‘, “evil,” which almost always refers to moral wickedness. Thus if we read “I…create evil” (AV), we conclude that God causes people to make morally evil decisions. That this is not the correct translation of ra‘ in this circumstance is shown by the opposite term used, which is salom, “health, well-being, peace, good relations, good fortune.” The opposite of these would be those connotations that we most commonly ascribe to “bad.” What the prophet is saying is that if bad conditions exist in my life, they are not there because some evil god has thwarted the good intentions of a kindly but ineffectual grandfather-god, who would like me to have good conditions but cannot bring them about. They are there solely as a factor of my relations to the one God. They may be there because I have sinned against his natural and moral laws, or they may be there because by their means I can become more like him, or they may be there for reasons that he cannot explain to me. But they are not there in spite of God. He is the only uncaused cause in the universe.”
-John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998), pp.203-205.

So, while God did not intend moral evil by bringing about those actions, He brought those actions about knowing full-well that the proximate causes (e.g. the Babylonians) would be morally evil or would commit morally evil actions in the process. Let’s take an example:

Job 2:10
In this passage, Job says, “Should we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Of course, the word, “evil,” should be understood as “disaster” or “calamity,” but the calamity in Job’s case took the form of the murder of his children by Satan and the murder of his servants and theft of his flocks by the Chaldeans. Yet, Job ascribes both well-being and the disaster that fell upon him ultimately to God. Is God then accountable for the moral evil that was brought upon Job? No. He willingly permitted Satan to do that. Nevertheless, God set the boundaries of what Satan could and could not do and even knew exactly what Satan would do given God’s foreknowledge, and thus, Job correctly ascribed these actions ultimately to God.


You continue to say things like:
“However, all the many passages of Scripture (and there are more) that say that God allows and makes use of evil that exists, never say that God made it exist, ordained it to exist, or caused it to exist. God uses evil, yes. But God ultimately causes evil? No.”

You are completely missing the force of the texts that were cited. You are probably reading the verses too quickly, assigning a meaning that will fit your theology, and not really paying careful attention to the exact words used or their order. Theses texts don’t simply say that God uses (already-existing) evil or calamity and makes good out of it. They name God as the ultimate cause of the evil act.

Genesis 50:20
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
Here, the “it” that God meant for good refers back to the evil actions of the brothers. It was not as if God saw the evil actions of the brothers and proceeded to clean-up their mess. Rather, the event was ultimately caused by God Himself. God meant the actual event itself for good. But if God “meant” the actual event of selling their brother into slavery, then God must be the ultimate cause.

1 Samuel 2:25
Again, the very act of choosing to disobey their father ultimately came from God. The act of disobedience to their father was sin! Did God Himself do this? No, He probably willingly permitted a demon to harden their heart against obeying their father. Nevertheless, God should be and in fact *is* described as the ultimate cause.

Revelation 17:17
Again, the act of the kings in giving their royal rule over to the beast is itself a sinful act (probably the fulfillment of Psalm 2:2), and yet, God is specifically described as the ultimate cause of that act: “He has put into their hearts to carry out His purpose.”

I could go list every text that we discussed, but I think that you get my point.


Next, I’d like to deal with your interpretation of the events in Exodus.

You write:
“…although in Pharaoh’s case, it very specifically says that he hardened his own heart…”

While it is true that Pharaoh did harden his heart, there are a number of problems with your statement:

1.) In a compatibilist scheme, there is an ultimate cause and proximate causes. God is the ultimate cause, and a demon (that God willingly permitted to do the act) as well as Pharaoh himself were the proximate causes. So, you’re committing a fallacy (i.e. begging the question against compatibilism) in saying that either God hardened Pharaoh OR Pharaoh hardened himself but not both.

2.) Psalm 105:23-45 recounts the events of the Exodus. It states that God “turned [the Egyptians’] hearts to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants,” before Moses and Aaron are sent to Pharoah in v.26! So, God did hearden Pharaoh’s heart in the first place.

3.) As G.K. Beale has shown, whenever Pharaoh hardened his own heart, it is always in fulfillment of a previous passage where it says that God will harden Pharaoh’s heart (cf. 4:21 with 5:2, 7:3 with 7:13, etc.) or a passage after the event commenting on the past (cf. 9:34 with 10:1, etc.). Furthermore, Beale shows that the phrase “as the Lord had said” (Heb: ka’aser dibber YHWH; 7:13, 7:22, 8:15, 19, 9:1) is a statement used frequently in the Pentateuch to denote a promise-fulfillment where God acts in behalf of His people. Thus, even in the passages where it says that Pharaoh hardened his heart, this should be seen as God having heardened it as the ultimate cause.


You then quote Greg Boyd who quotes Ezekiel 18 and 33 (same with Lamentations 3:33). However, those texts simply mean that God is not sadistic, not that God has a universal salvific will. It does not mean that God had not reprobated (i.e. ordained to not elect) the wicked in His eternal decree. You also have to couple those verses with others such as Deuteronomy 28:63 which states that God does take pleasure when justice is done and the wicked are destroyed:

“It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it.”

In other words, God is not sadistic in punishing evil, but He does take pleasure when justice is done.


You then quote Greg Boyd on Proverbs. I’ll have to wait on commenting on this until I obtain Bruce Waltke’s commentaries on that book which may be awhile since they’re quite expensive.


As to Habbakuk 2:12-13, I believe that I have over-extended the meaning and implications of that passage. It simply means that the rise of evil empires through bloodshed and other evils is futile since the omnipotent God will punish them and bring all of their gain to nothing. Oops.


You stated:
“John 12:40 is a difficult passage often misinterpreted. A more full description of the same thing is found in Matthew 13:13-15 where the author is explaining how Jesus and Israel’s rejection of him is fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah. Some people use this passage to say that God doesn’t want some people to understand the truth and repent. That is inaccurate when you read the whole story.”

I am not going to argue (nor did I) with your statement that God does not cause unbelief ***except*** to make the qualifications that I made above (see #8 under the Calvinist theodicy). Here’s what I actually said:

“God hardened those who rejected Jesus so that they would not repent; though, it probably means a temporary repentance like Ahab’s (see 1 Kings 21:20-29) since God refuses none that come to Him. God did this so that the Jewish leaders and their followers would hate Jesus and kill Him. 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.”

Scripture most certainly does teach that God is the cause of the hardening. Once someone first rejects the gospel, the result is that God pours out His wrath by giving them over to believing falsehoods. This is the plain meaning of 2 Thessalonians 2:11, Romans 11:7-10, Isaiah 63:17, etc.

You’ve told both Peter Pike and I what those passages don’t or can’t mean, but you have never actually told us what they ***do*** mean.

Next, you used Acts 17:30. However, Acts 17:30 is a command for all men to repent. You’re assuming that if God gives a command, then man must be metaphysically (and not just physically) able to obey those commands. But this again assumes the Principle of Alternative Possibility and Libertarian Free-Will.


I’ll get around to dealing with your posts on the actual TULIP at a later date.



Persiflage said...

hey, I'm back online - a couple problems knocked me off for a couple months, but I've still been thinking about this stuff

and you know what, I agree with most of this, but you do say a few things that I just could never say -

"Job ascribes both well-being and the disaster that fell upon him ultimately to God."

- well, only in the sense that Job knows God is sovereign and allows evil to happen. Job is not referring to God as the cause of evil here. You sound like you'd agree that Job asking his wife if God doesn't give out both good times and hardship is clearly not ascribing moral evil to God's authorship.

"Theses texts don’t simply say that God uses (already-existing) evil or calamity and makes good out of it. They name God as the ultimate cause of the evil act."

Here is simply where we differ my friend. You think I'm fitting these verse to my own personal theology to make them only mean what I want. I think you're fitting them to your personal theology to make them mean more than they actually say. I feel like we'd just keep going in circles if you keep insisting a verse means that ... ultimately ... God is the actual cause of evil actions. In every single one of these verses you're making an inference to say, "so we can obviously infer from here that God caused evil." I don't think it's obvious. And I refuse to make the inference because I believe other inferences are equally easily drawn in the light of the rest of Scripture. Logic does not demand God to be the cause of evil, nor does it demand that if He isn't then He can't be sovereign.

Examples -

Genesis 50:20

Again, God meaning the evil actions of men for good DOES NOT NECESSARILY mean that God caused those men to enact evil. God can mean everything for good, whether He causes it or whether he allows it.

You conclude - "But if God “meant” the actual event of selling their brother into slavery, then God must be the ultimate cause." The fact that you can just immediately conclude things like this boggles the mind. I believe in a God so sovereign and so powerful that he can allow evil to exist and then use that evil to accomplish good anyway. This means that there are a hundred different variations of evil that Joseph's brothers could have done to Joseph. And whatever it was, God was still going to direct the outcome to accomplish His particular goals. This is not the same thing as the Holy Spirit convincing the hearts of Joseph's brothers to do evil, or God commanding evil spirits to convince them to do evil. This violates your point #6 - "God does not coerce men to do any morally evil actions." If God didn't somehow coerce Joseph's brothers to sell him into slavery then how could God have been sure of meaning the outcome for good. Because God can do or allow whatever he wants, that's why.

I get your point with I Samuel 2:25, Rev. 17:17 other other verses. I do. But I just can't make the inference you're making. God is not the ultimate cause of a person's hardened heart. God can still use a person's hardened heart to accomplish good without being the "ultimate cause" of evil.

Pharaoh is the same exact situation - a hardened heart.

1 - denying that both God and Pharaoh hardened his heart would be flatly denying Scripture. The question is either why or which came first. The logical conclusion being that if God hardened Pharaoh's heart first, then God went way beyond "tempting" a man to do moral evil, God coerced Pharaoh to do moral evil, coerced Pharaoh to disbelieve, and prevented Pharaoh from coming to repentance - all things you've already said God doesn't do.

2 - Psalm 105:23-45 never says why or when God hardened the Egyptians hearts during the story, Exodus does

3 - G.K. Beale, like many determinists, has the beginning assumption that if God predicts a future event then that necessarily means God actively used his power to make/coerce/ordain that event to happen. He really should get rid of that assumption or show some supporting Scripture that declares all God's foreknowledge = God's future actions. I'm simply denying this assumption because of God's allowing the existence of evil. Sure, God predicts that Pharaoh's heart will be hardened. Then the first time this happens it specifically says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart like God said he would. No one can deny the progression in these verses. All you can do is say that Scripture's telling how Pharaoh hardened his own heart first and then God only hardened his heart afterwards, is a meaningless coincidence that really just means that God did harden Pharaoh's heart first, as if Pharaoh needed God's help to do that in the first place.

God takes pleasure when justice is done. God is not a sadistic, arbitrary tyrant. He does not take pleasure in moral evil or in the death of the ungodly. Agreed.

You said - "God hardened those who rejected Jesus so that they would not repent ..."

I'll I'm saying is that this flatly contradicts when you said "God does not prevent men from coming to true repentance ..."

The Compatibilist's proximate cause versus ultimate cause -

I'm not buying it. It's way too fancy for me, and I don't think God is this tricky, or makes it this hard to understand His specially revealed will.

I've already been telling both determinists and compatibilists that if what they mean by God being the "ultimate cause" of evil is simply that if God hadn't created the universe, then evil would not have existed, then I have no problem here. But both have made it very clear that mean something much for than that by ultimate cause. Your "ultimate cause" here is not just holding the existence of the universe together, it's not just creating morally volitional free creatures - it's taking an active part in directly causing the existence of morally inherent evil. The determinists just say God directly ordained Adam and Eve to sin. The compatibilist tries to have it both ways, will say things like Pharaoh and God both hardened his heart both at the exact same time. But what the compaibilist ignores is precisely who God is and who Pharaoh is. Because God is the sovereign creator of the universe, and because Pharaoh is a finite fallen created being, it doesn't matter that Pharaoh is hardening his own heart - all that matters is God is hardening his heart in order to get him to do specific acts of evil. And that's being more of an "ultimate cause" of evil than Scripture allows for.

(sigh) I'm not attributing all of my above understanding of compatibilism to you, I know you haven't said all that, and probably wouldn't agree with it all.

Basically, what you are doing is taking Scripture and making inferences from it to advocate a particular theological position. I won't deny that I may be doing the same sort of thing with passages like Ezekiel 18, 33, and Habbakuk 2. But the fact that we both CAN draw completely contradicting inferences from different Scripture may just lead us to conclude that we can't necessarily draw them, and might be better off simply taking the Bible at it's word, saying nothing more and nothing less. It certainly is a reason to argue that either of our inferences are not logically mandatory.

Hardening Hearts - I don't deny that God is the cause of hardening at some point (2 Thess. 2:11, Rom. 11:7-10, Isa. 63:17, etc.). The questions is whether God hardens the hearts of men first, thus completely destroying all their ability to respond to Him and do what he says.

And sure, call me old-fashioned, but if Acts 17:30 and other verses where God gives out commands, is really God commanding behavior in men (where their disobedience results in punishment) where He has actively ensured that they cannot do what he is telling them to do, then God is an arbitrary and capricious tyrant, and I should become an atheist. Thus my disgust with the determinist interpretation that says that God told Adam and Eve not to sin, and then ordained/used his power to coerce/created them to sin anyway.

But this again assumes the Principle of Alternative Possibility (nothing wrong with that, nor is it against Scripture), or the specific philosophical theory of "Libertarian Free-Will"? On the contrary, I beg to differ. Simply because I reject one man-made philosophical idea about God's sovereignty and man's free will does not force me into some other man-made box about it either. This is not an either/or anymore than the false assumption that you've got to be either a Calvinist or an Arminian. Screw any rigid absolute acceptance of man-made absolute philosophical systems and definitions, and stick with the Scripture instead. Philosophy and philosophical terms are useful, and even necessary - but their is no system - Compatibilist Free-Will, Libertarian Free-Will, Determinism, that is required by Scripture. All of these systems come with way too many inferences and other conclusions that they then demand you have to start agreeing to if you simply happen to agree with one.

Basically, I understand the assumptions you hold, and for the most part why you hold them - this colors how you are interpreting these verses just like my assumptions affect my interpretation. In order to interpret Scripture correctly however, you are helping me rethink my assumptions. Because the only assumptions that we are supposed to have that affect our interpretation of Scripture are necessary truths demanded by Scripture itself. I appreciate your continued input about this. Keep it up. If you can name specific assumptions that I have that are wrongly affecting how I look at Scripture, I want to get rid of those. One assumption that I think you have that would definitely color Scripture interpretation is -

"If God is not the "ultimate cause" of sin and evil, then God is not sovereign or in control."

I could be wrong about you're agreeing to this though, and of course "ultimate cause" could only refer to the fact that the universe depends on God for it's very existence, in which case I'd even agree with it too.

ninni said...

its good that somebody has the streght to thinkand find theology but its the simple life that wants an answer