September 08, 2005

Soteriology on a New Orleans Flatboat

One of the major debates in the New Orleans Katrina rescue operation is whether or not forced evacuations should occur. Some people seem determined to ride out the situation, perhaps hoping things will dry up any day and that they can begin the recovery process. But what seems more likely is that the water will continue its decline toward a state of festering sewage, that supplies will not be forthcoming, and that the whole area may need to be bulldozed in the end. If these holdouts stay, there is every chance that they will either die of starvation or pestilence, and for no worldly gain in the end. So, why is there a debate? Shouldn't these people be evacuated by force for their own good?

Perhaps the reason for the debate is because our society is so oriented toward individual freedom of choice and personal rights that we founder over principles of autonomy even in the face of the mortal consequences of some of those choices. For instance, permitting the choice of a homosexual lifestyle is a sure death sentence for a high percentage of participants, tolerating tobacco use is an invitation to cancer, and "choice" in the case of abortion is guaranteed to cause fatalities (for the infants).

To be consistent with modern society's principle of autonomy I suppose we must leave the hurricane survivors to their fate, even if it means certain death; for to violate someone's rights merely for the sake of their own good is a dangerous precedent to set in our libertarian culture. If we begin to concern ourselves with the good of the individual or what's best for society, what rights in our pursuit of "happiness" might we ultimately lose? No, we must sustain our slogan, "Give me liberty to risk my death."

On a slightly different note, it occurs to me that this situation is a metaphor for salvation. According to Christianity, all souls are ultimately in peril, even while things may presently seem safe and hopeful. The Christian missionary is like the boatman who passes by the house pleading with the resident to come to safety. It is his job to convince the stubborn occupant that his situation is dire and can only end in destruction. Some are persuaded, or even eagerly awaiting such a boatman to arrive (the Arminian "seeker" or the Calvinist "elect"); some are simply stubborn or mired in their delusion (perhaps they are unwilling to leave behind their cache of looted valuables, which represents the pleasures of this world).

Each Christian should be so convicted by the plight of unbelievers that he ought to man the "rescue boats," or at least participate in equipping and enabling those who are prepared to do so. The reason that the liberal Christian is seldom missions-minded is because they either do not believe that the situation is life-threatening (there is no judgment), or that there are other avenues of escape besides their own little boat (religious pluralism).

But this evacuation situation is even more specifically a metaphor for the Arminian/Calvinist debate. Should the rescuers depend, as Arminians claim, on the resident's free will to assess the danger and their autonomy to reject the offer, even if it may cost their life? Or should the rescuer compel the resident to evacuate by way of irresistible force, ala Calvinism? More specifically, Calvinism claims that the Holy Spirit, not the boatman/missionary, is doing the compelling, and that it is by way of a transformation of the heart such that the resident steps into the boat of their own renewed will. Even though it is more subtly played out, it still amounts to a forced evacuation. So, am I justified in thinking that whatever view one takes on the evacuation in New Orleans, that it ought to be consistent with one's view on free will vs. sovereign election?

Is the freedom of our will so sacred that God should allow it to remain unmolested even though it may mean our ultimate damnation? Or is it, in fact, a good thing if we can manage to convince people of the need of their rescue? Isn't salvation an intrinsically good thing that all would desire were they in their right mind and given proper knowledge?

Arminianism would seem to suggest that preserving the freedom of the will is a higher moral good than the ultimate rescue of the individual. But perhaps salvation is worth the meddling of God, especially if the very will itself has been transformed in order to enable it such that the person desires what they have received. It's not as though the rescued person is unhappy in a forced captivity.

At this point the Arminian might agree in principle but then object because God does not do this for all lost souls. If God is going to save, then why save only some? But does this objection warrant returning to the idea that it's better to let some perish according to their own will, even if in theory all may will to perish? Is it immoral for God to insure that some are saved, whether by their will or His?

What if it were the case that all that did not will to be saved were looters and criminals? What if they cursed at their would-be rescuers and drove them away? Would any of these deserve to be saved? Would it not be a matter of grace to, in fact, do so for any? Furthermore, what if their crimes were so bad that they were deserving of the death penalty? If God is not required to save any, then is He unjust if He saves only some? And if those who are ultimately lost are swathed in their own denunciations, and clutching the spoils of their own crimes to their bosoms, then where do we find grounds for injustice?

The analogy must fail at some points, but perhaps it is useful to provoke some thoughts on this historical debate. And, of course, I am not suggesting that those poor souls wishing to stay with their homes are moral reprobates, only that my analogy applies because they ought to evacuate.



At 9/09/2005 12:28 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Woah! There is way too much here to comment on, but great post!

I don't want to leave without saying something though. In Jonathan Edward's book on The Freedom of the Will, he argues that unless there is a necessary connection between motives, desires, biases, and inclinations, then commands and pursuasions are superfulous. The reason he gives is that commands and pursuasions can only be effective if they have some power to bias the will, giving a person a desire, motive, or inclination to act in a particular way.

If he's right, then a person cannot rightly be said to be "forced" on the Calvinist view, since on the Calvinist view, he is acting according to his strongest motivation. "Force" implies that one is being made to go against his will, not with his will.

At 9/09/2005 12:41 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Woops, I meant to say "In Jonathan Edward's book...he argues that unless there is a necessary connection between motives/desires/biases/inclinations and the acts of the will, then commands and pursuasions are superfulous."

While I'm at it, I did nine posts on Edward's point of view in case anybody is interested. Just scroll down to where it says "Argument against morality from determinism" parts 1-9.


At 9/09/2005 10:11 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Yes, the common caricature of Calvinism is that God is presumably dragging some into heaven kicking and struggling, and barring others who are pounding at the door to get in. It seems to me that the Calvinist and the Arminian are agreed upon the phenomenology -- those who "want" to be saved are and those who are uninterested aren't -- the difference is merely in the explanation of why people would choose to bend the knee to the true God in the first place.

I've always though that one of the toughest questions for the Arminian is this: When you pray for a loved one to come to faith, exactly what is it that you are asking God to do? Don't we want the person to want to be saved? Do we really care what's happening behind the scenes so long as that person does indeed ultimately make it into the kingdom? Suppose our loved one came to faith and then gave a testimony like, "I don't know exactly what happened, but one day I got this strange conviction of my sinfulness. I couldn't help myself; I cried out to God for mercy right there." Would we then say, "that's not fair God, you cheated" or would we say, "Halleluiah, God is merciful and hears my prayers"?

At 9/09/2005 11:15 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Paul, that thought never even occured to me before I became a Calvinist, and yet I prayed for my family's salvation all the time.

At 9/09/2005 1:30 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I notice Arminians speaking like Calvinist quite often in their unguarded moments (e.g., faith is a gift, salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit). But sometimes I catch Calvinists thinking like Arminians (e.g., if we fail to be effective in this or that, then souls will be lost). And there are some who self-consciously live in the hinterlands between the two positions. I work with a number of such "Calminians."

At 9/09/2005 2:04 PM, Blogger anoninva said...

Am enjoying your blog and comments. Today's is especially thought-provoking. BTW, do you have Pruett kinfolks in Missouri? We also have that last name and are originally from Missouri. Just wondering.

At 9/09/2005 3:25 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Welcome aboard anon! Feel free to comment anytime. I'm building up a small cadre of regulars, but most don't join in the discussion. Sam (ephphatha) has done me the honor numerous times now, and his blog is well worth a visit too if one is inclined toward philosophy. (Sam, I'm going to start spelling you alphalpha if I'm not careful.)

As far as I know, most of my relatives are in Indiana and Illinois. (If my Mom/Dad catch this post, perhaps they could set me straight if I'm wrong here.) I've got some in the Carolinas now though. I'll be happy to consider you honorary kin if you like :-)

At 9/09/2005 7:16 PM, Blogger Vman said...

This sort of ties in to the entire debate over legalizing narcotics that i wrote about. whether or not personal liberties should be disregarded to keep people alive. i agree with the forced evacuation. and yes gay marriage does kill but your next post should be on how and why it kills.

At 9/09/2005 8:16 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Vman, if you truly want to know some of the untold facts about homosexuality (health, psychological, etc.), I can't recommend this tape strongly enough. I'd even buy it and have it shipped to you. In fact, I'd send you several tapes from this list if anything struck your fancy. These resources are some of the best-in-class that is also presented at a level that the layman can understand.

At 9/12/2005 5:10 PM, Anonymous jyeager said...

I'd like to reframe the anaology to make it even more applicable to the Arminian/Calvinist debate.

First, let's say that we are dealing with dogs (seen lots of coverage on them in the media). Then let's say the rescuers are trying to save the stranded dogs. Let's further say that the owners are in the vicinity.
By way of explanation I picked dogs because human owners have a moral authority over their pets (like God over us), and yet dogs have some amount of free will.
So assume there is a 100% chance that if the dog doesn't leave with the rescue boat it will die.
Assume the dog WILL NOT leave its home to be rescued (for whatever reason).
Now, the owner has a magic dart he/she can shoot at the dog through a dart gun that will cause the dog to WANT to leave and jump in the boat.
Obviously here the owner and the dart are God and His means of regeneration of the 'elect'.
Is it immoral for the owner to 'violate' the dog's will by reprogramming that dog's will via the dart?

Your answer is very critical in how you will side in this debate.

At 9/12/2005 7:22 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I suppose that most people would say to save the dog by whatever means. The justification would probably be that dogs are not smart enough to know what's best for them. But are people? Is rejecting God really the smartest choice for some people?

At 9/13/2005 1:19 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

jyeager, I think your analogy raises two questions. First, Would it be wrong for God to cause us to want to do something? Second, If God caused us to want to do something, would we be morally responsible for doing it?

Jonathan Edwards answers both of these questions in his book on The Freedom of the Will. The first question is raised because he had argued for God's sovereignty over all events, even sinful ones. Was it wrong for God to cause Joseph's brothers to sell Joseph into slavery? Edwards argues that it was not, because, as Joseph said, "God meant it for good."

But if God caused Joseph's brothers to sell Joseph into slavery, was it wrong of them to do it? Edwards argues that it was, because, as Joseph said, they "meant it for evil."

So the same act (selling Joseph into slavery) had two purposes. God had one purpose in it, and Joseph's brothers had another purpose in it.

But that still leaves us wondering if a person can be morally responsible for something he was, in a sense, caused to do. Here, a couple of things Edwards said are relevant.

First, the will, and nothing else, is the proper object of commands. The will is the faculty of volition. Whenever something is commanded of somebody, it is their will which either obeys the command or disobeys it. Everything else is passively the cause or the effect of the will and is not subject to praise or blame.

Second, the acts of the will (our choices) are determined by our strongest motivations. But the motivations themselves are not under the control of the will. Before we could choose a motivation, we'd first have to have an earlier motivation to make that choice, so at some point in this chain, there must be a motivation we did not choose to get the whole chain going.

Third, acting on our strongest motivations does not excuse us; rather, it's the reason we're morally accountable. Nobody is excused for doing something on the basis that they wanted to do it. Rather, it is because they wanted to do it that we blame them.

It follows from these three points that it doesn't matter what caused a person to have a desire to act. What matters is that they have the desire and act on it. We have no control over our desires and motivations whether they were caused by natural forces or by a personal being. It is our own will that is the object of commands, not the motives that caused the will, and not the causes of the motives.

In the case of Joseph and his brothers, it was God's will that chose to cause Joseph's brothers to sell him into slavery, and his motivation was to save lives during the famine. So God did what was right.

Joseph's brothers acted out of a desire to get rid of Joseph and punish him since they were jealous of him, so they did what was wrong.

So in your analogy, it would not be wrong for somebody to cause a dog to want to leave and jump in the boat since he'd be doing it to save the dog's life. And it's not wrong for God to regenerate somebody causing them to want to be saved.

At 9/13/2005 8:57 AM, Blogger Paul said...

I agree with a great deal of Edward's thinking. My question is that if we act according to our strongest inclinations, then are we not in some sense acting deterministically? How do we trace moral responsibility back to our dominant urges? And if we are fallen, then we are insured to have some assortment of sinful urges that will dominate at one point or another.

At 9/13/2005 10:55 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Paul, yes, Edwards was arguing against libertarian free will in his book. Strictly speaking, he was a compatibalist, not a determinist, though some see little difference. He argues in his book that libertarian free will is actually inconsistent with moral accountability, and that moral accountability depends on the compatibalist position. In other words, it is because we act according to our strongest motivations that we are morally accountable. If you read the nine posts I linked to earlier in these comments, I addressed the very question you raise.

At 9/13/2005 12:51 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Sam, if you're studied in the Puritans at all (beyond these soteriological issues) you ought to check out Vman's latest post. Yeager and I have each added our two cents, but what is still lacking is some definitive counter-factuals if you've got 'em.

At 9/15/2005 11:17 AM, Blogger Chris said...

"When you pray for a loved one to come to faith, exactly what is it that you are asking God to do?"

In my oppinion (and I don't really know what I am in refrence to armenian or calvanist, probably armenian...) we are asking for those around the person who have bent their will towards God to evangelize and minister to that person, as well as asking God to speak to that person (much the way we speak to eachother). Speaking to someone in no way violates their free will. So if that person is convicted by God and comes to God, this did not violate his will because it was ultimately his choice in the end. If God speaking to someone were considered a violation of their free will, then us speaking to others about God is a violation of their free will and their conversion to Christianity is a robotic action forced upon them by us.

As this is not the case, I would say that it is safe to pray for a loved on to come to the faith and not even consider the implications on their free will, because I don't think that God violates our free will. He allows us try and try and try to do something all we want.

If we did not have free will then instead of drowning pharoah's army, he would have just pressed the "nice" button in Pharoah's brain and had him release all of the slaves.

What kind of God would be so evil as to introduce sin into the world? Either sin is a result our our free will to choose other than God, or God causes us to sin (if we don't have free will).

If God is truly good, then there is no sin outside of free will.

At 9/15/2005 12:24 PM, Anonymous jyeager said...

Chris, I'd like to offer a friendly challenge about the following:
"What kind of God would be so evil as to introduce sin into the world? Either sin is a result our our free will to choose other than God, or God causes us to sin (if we don't have free will).

If God is truly good, then there is no sin outside of free will."

The proper response to this (read Job if you want to see God use this defense Himself) is to point out that what you call Evil (namely the introducing of sin) can only be claimed if you have knowledge equal to God's. He is in a position (and only He) to know all things at all times, including the future outcome. It's believed, by those of us who hold to God's complete sovereignty, that He introduced evil (through secondary causes) so as to achieve the maximum amount of good in the eternal sense. Only in His foresight does this make sense, and only if we trust what the Bible teaches about Him can we accept this truth.

At 9/15/2005 1:22 PM, Blogger Chris said...

There are two kinds of evil. There is the evil where we define evil as something that happens contrary to our desires, and the kind of evil that is people activly choosing to turn away from God.

The kind of evil I am talking about is activly choosing to turn away from God. To do that which he does not will. The kind of evil spoken of in Job is the kind of evil you are talking about, where things happen contrary to our will or understanding.

In your example, there is actually no such thing as evil. There is only the will of God. We simply interpret things contrary to our will as being contrary to the will of God.

So, as I said before, there is no sin outside of free will. If it is impossible to do something that God did not will, then it is impossible to sin.

I see your way as both eternally optomistic (that nothing truly evil ever happens) and at the same time completely horrible (that God would have actually wanted some of the things that have happened to happen).

Like when moses struck the rock with his rod instead of speaking to it. God punished him by not allowing him into the promised land. What was his reason? Moses sinned. He did something other than what God willed. If God relaly willed that he strike the rock, then you are saying that God is a liar and really wanted moses to strike the rock, even though he told him to do something else, and even though he told Moses the reason he was punishing him was because moses had done other than he willed. That's just not nice, plus the fact that it makes God a liar.

There are two types of rulers. Tyrants who control every aspect of their citizens lives, and benevolent lords who show the people the way by example and encourage them to do what he wants. In the end only one ever works.

At 9/15/2005 1:55 PM, Anonymous jyeager said...


It's a mistake on your part to equate my position with an assertion that there is no evil. There IS evil, and it's real and it's not arbitrarily defined as that which goes against God's will. In fact, righteousness is that which is in accord with His perfect nature (not His will...even though His will corresponds perfectly). Yet this is semantics because God can't change His mind (or will).

Another mistake is to think that I somehow define evil as anything that goes against MY will. Obviously my fallen will often hates righteousness, yet I've never resorted to calling fidelity or selflessness evil things, even when a part of me dislikes them at times.

If it's true to say there are 2 kinds of evil, then the 2 kinds would be moral evil and natural evil. We could talk about that distinction perhaps.

Question for you. According to your position, you violate much of Scripture. For instance, when Joseph was sold in to slavery by his brothers, was that God's will? If you say no, you declare Scripture to be a liar! (Gen 45:4-8)

At 9/15/2005 2:43 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Again, you are saying that there is no such thing as evil. You are saying that God wills everything that happens, and therefore nothing that happens is evil. OTHERWISE it is IMPOSSIBLE for Joseph's brothers NOT to have sinned in this case. It was a sin for them to sell Joseph into slavery, and it would have been a sin for them NOT to have sold him into slavery because that would have gone against God's will. So either way, in your example, they would have sinned.

Perhaps God willed that a slave be sold and that that slave become more powerfull than pharoah. God created Joseph for that purpose knowing that his brothers would likely sell him into slavery because of his family situation. He didn't MAKE Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery.

It's like if you took some water and poured it down a slope. You would have a goal in mind, and you would have choices about where to pour the water. You pour it at the top (and if you are smart enough, and good enough) it goes where you wanted in the end. This says nothing about the objects that guided it along the way. God can use any evil for good. Just because someone did something evil that fit into God's plan, doesn't mean that what they did was ok.

Joseph forgave the brothers for their evil act that they commited simply because he understood the grand scheme (and it probably had something to do with the fact that they were genuinly sorry if I remember correctly), not because it wasn't evil.

Oh, and I disagree that evil is that which goes against God's nature. Otherwise anything that is not God is evil. Or, if you are saying that by "nature" you mean his "substance" or something, how can something be other than that which God created it to be if not through it's own will? Again, without free will, there is no sin, no evil. Unless you can go against the will of God, then you are not free. And if you want to disprove my argument all you would have to say is that maybe God wills that you could go against his will, then you aren't really going against his will because he willed that you go against his will. But this is just silly and it makes the whole meaning of will meaningless.

Also, why (if there is no free will) would Jesus tell us to pray that God's will be done? If it is impossible for it to be any other way, what's the point? That's like asking God to be God. "God, please, today, be God. Don't be a rock, don't be a fish, be God..." You see how silly this is...

If there is no free will, life is happier because now I can forget about religion and being good and all this crap because who cares, I can't do anything against God's will anyways. I am a robot who just does things because that is what I was programmed to do with an infallable program that cannot be changed or altered and can not deviate from it's course.

Also, by using that Joseph example, you are assuming that this was not merely Joseph's own explanation to himself to keep from hating his brothers. You are assuming that God TOLD Joseph all about the master plan, and told Joseph that he made his brother's sell him, and that they had no choice in it. You are assuming that God didn't use an evil act and turn it good, but that God CAUSED an evil act FOR good. Remember, in Job, who was tormenting Job, God or Satan? It was Satan, but God let it happen. Yes I know, this means that God "willed" that Job be tortured, but I beg to differ. It was Satan who came to God and requested the torture, not God who came to Satan and requested that Satan torture Job. But then you can say that God willed that Satan come to him and request the torture.

Really what you are doing is making an argument for a God that can't be trusted. A God that gives an illusion of Good and Evil, and of free will. But in reality, we are just an over-sized lego set.

At 9/15/2005 4:05 PM, Anonymous jyeager said...

Chris, I understand your point (believe me I can't come to the position I have without having first held your position then worked through it). I actually think you make some good points. Let me make one main observation. Either intentionally or unintentionally you continually twist my position in to a strawman. You pose false dilemas.

Just a comment on Job. First you are a bit wrong @ who initiated things in the Job story. It wasn't Satan that started it. It was God. Look carefully at how God decided to incite Satan. When God said: "Have you considered My servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil." do you really mean to assert that God had no idea how Satan would respond? That he didn't realize that this would incite Satan to make his challenge?
Then, I ask you this: was God moved to accept the challenge because of His arrogance? Wouldn't it have been more righteous for Him to say "No, we won't test Job because I already know His character and I don't want needless suffering...that would be Evil"?
Then, after all the calamities, when Job complained to God, did God respond back that Satan did it? NO! Was the answer that Job deserved it? NO! What was the answer (even though we know Satan perpetrated the evil on Job)?
"Who is this who obscures My counsel with ignorant words?" God goes on, not to explain away the evil or claim it wasn't His doing but to say that He had His reasons and Job has no right to question it. (ch. 38).

The fact is that God initiated the suffering (didn't perpetrate it), and ordained it to happen even though it looks like Satan did it by his own free will (and perhaps he DID do it by his own free will...but it was also determined by God). Are you saying God is evil? The consequences of your position either lead to considering Scripture wrong or God evil.
Just as you say that Joseph was actually wrong when he attributed his being sold into slavery to God's perfect plan, you will need to say that God didn't really mean what He said in Job. Perhaps you consider Job to be allegory that means something far more abstract?

At 9/15/2005 5:15 PM, Blogger Chris said...

You're right. I was wrong. God did ask Satan about Job.

First of all, I think that the story of Job is not a story about anything that actually happened, but rather a poetic parable. This doesn't make it invalid, it just means that it is a lesson rather than history.

Second, God did not do anything to Job. He didn't control Satan and make Satan do that stuff to Job. If God controls everything, then you could say that God was everything. Now, while God contains everything, and everything is a part of him, I also would say that it can act independantly of his will. Otherwise, God is satan, God is me, God is my keyboard. In a way, this could be argued to be true. Nothing can exist outside of God. But I am not God. God is not dependant upon me for his existance. The whole "God is everything" is getting into (I think) Bhuddism, which is obviously wrong. There is an element of truth in it, but overall, it's wrong.

God did have a purpose to letting these things happen to Job. What that purpose was could be debated. Perhaps it was to show satan what true obediance and love for God is. Perhaps God was trying to win satan over, back to his side (or at least giving satan a chance to "convert"). Perhaps it was just to teach us all not to get mad at God when bad things happen to us (we shouldn't). But I disagree with an interpretation of this story to mean that God controls everything and that there is no free will. Like I said before, if there is no free will, what the heck is the point?

In my belief (I don't know where I got this) God created everything because he didn't want to be alone. He wanted something to love, and something to love him. He wanted more similar to himself.

Love is only love if it is free. If we are all legos for God, don't you think he would be bored out of his mind by now? A lego can't love you. You play with a lego long enough and you just get tired of it. If God is controlling everything, then he is really just sitting here arguing with himself through you and I. Isn't that silly? Wouldn't only an insane person do that? I mean, what's the point? What is your reason for God NOT wanting us to have free will? Is he too scared to let us have it? Is it beyond his power?

At 9/16/2005 3:15 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

I would like to have jumped into this debate if only I had caught it a little earlier. I do think a clarification could be made that might further the discussion some. There are two senses in which the Bible talks about God's will. There is God's moral will and there is God's sovereign will. God's sovereign will includes those things God actively does, and in this sense, God's will cannot be thwarted. God's moral will includes his desires, and this will can be thwarted. We can disobey God's moral will.

Sometimes, God's sovereign will is different than his moral will. For example, I think in Ezekiel it says that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. So in a sense, it is not God's will that the wicked suffer, and yet God is the one who makes them suffer. So God's moral will is not always the same as his sovereign will.

The same seems to be true in the case of Joseph being sold into slavery and Jesus being crucified.

to be continued...

At 9/16/2005 3:17 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

I have a couple of other things to say. (Who am I kidding? I have a whole lot of things to say!) First, even though Satan was the active agent in all he did to Job, God took responsibility for it. He said to Satan, "And still he [Job] holds fast to his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him without cause." This is contrary to Chris' claim that "God did not do anything to Job." If God did nothing to Job, why did he take responsibility for it?

David was incited to take a census of Israel, and that is recorded twice in the Old Testament--in 1 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1. They both describe the same event, but in 1 Samuel it is God who incited David, and in 1 Chronicles it is Satan who incited David. It seems to me the best way to reconcile these is to say that Satan was the agent through which God incited David, just as Satan was the agent through which God destroyed Job. Only if God is sovereign, even over the actions of Satan, does it make sense to attribute these actions to God even though Satan did them.

to be continued...

At 9/16/2005 3:18 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Does that make God the author of sin? Only in a sense. He's the author of sin in the sense that he ordains it, but he's not the author of sin in the sense of committing sin. Although he ordained Joseph's brothers to sell Joseph into slavery, he did it for a good purpose. Likewise, he ordained that Judas betray Jesus, but he did it for a good purpose. So it was not a sin for God to bring it about that Judas would betray Jesus even though it was a sin for Judas to betray Jesus. Judas' purpose was 30 pieces of silver, not the salvation of the elect.

to be continued...
In Romans 9 (that nasty Calvinist chapter), Paul quotes God when God said to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose, I have raised you up, that I may show my power in you, and that my name may be declared in all the earth" (Romans 9:17). How did God show his power in Pharaoh? He did it by destroying him. So essentially, God raised Pharaoh up for the purpose of destroying him. In the same way, Paul suggests that perhaps, "wanting to show his wrath and to make his power known, endured with longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had prepared beforehand for glory" (Romans 9:22-23). It's not a comforting thought, but it's pretty clear.

to be continued...

At 9/16/2005 3:20 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Chris said, "Speaking to someone in no way violates their free will. So if that person is convicted by God and comes to God, this did not violate his will because it was ultimately his choice in the end." But is there any connection at all between the conviction and the choice? Did the conviction have anything at all to do with the choice? If there is any connection at all between the conviction and the choice, then the conviction does have some power over the will. But if there is no connection at all, if the conviction has no power whatsoever over the will, if the will acts without any influence at all from the conviction, then what is the purpose in conviction? What's the purpose in speaking to somebody, trying to pursuade them? Pursuasion only works if it has the effect of creating a desire or motive in another person, and if that desire or motive has some power over the will.

You might argue that a conviction urges the will, but not to the extent that the will is unable to resist. However, if conviction can urge the will, then there is something for the will to resist. That means the stronger the conviction, the more difficult it is for the will to resist.

If a conviction (whether good or bad) presents a difficulty for the will to resist, then theoretically a conviction could exist that is so strong that it overpowers the will, making it unable to resist. Does that remove moral responsibility? Chris seems to think it would--that it would be a "violation of the will," and that God wouldn't do that. (Correct me if I'm wrong, Chris.) If an inability of the will to resist a conviction (whether good or bad) removes moral responsibility, then any difficulty in the will's ability to resist a conviction removes moral responsibility in part. The stronger the conviction, the less moral responsibility. That means we are maximally responsible when we are totally indifferent--when we have no desire or inclination whatsoever.

If any urge at all removes moral responsibility in part, then we shouldn't urge anybody to do good. If somebody does good because we encouraged them to, creating a desire in them to be good, then they are not commendable in the least for doing it. Nor can a person be blamed for doing evil if he had a strong desire to do evil. In fact, the stronger his desire to do evil, the less blameworthy he would be for doing it.

I submit that this is contrary to common sense. The stronger a person's desire to do evil, the more blameworthy they are! And the stronger their desire to do good, the more commendable they are for doing it! It cannot be the case then that a person becomes free from moral responsibility when those desires are so strong that the will is unable to resist. So if God ordains even sinful acts by creating a motive in a person to act, it does not free that person from guilt. Nor does it make God guilty for the act, since God's own act was motivated by a desire to do good--whether to save Egypt and the surrounding areas from starvation by causing Joseph's brothers to sell him into slavery, or to save the elect by causing the Romans to crucify Jesus.


ps. sorry for making a bunch of posts. I couldn't get it to accept them, though I tried over and over. At first, I thought it ws because they were too long, so I broke them up. Then I discovered it was because I had a typo in the html.

At 9/16/2005 11:14 AM, Anonymous jyeager said...

That last piece of argumentation @ moral responsibility might be hard to digest, but it's very critical to the question at hand. Sam has shown that moral accountability is maintained even when 'free' will is overcome via coersion.

Some presuppositions to question:

1) Man's rules of righteousness apply to God too. (ie. we can't kill, but God can)

2) 'freedom' is defined as true volitional autonomy

3) It's sinful for God to violate human autonomy

4) Love is only love if it is 'free' (what form of 'free'?)

Chris, your last post raised some great points. It went a bit astray, in my opinion, in the closing paragraph.

Note that you consider God to be lonely or unable to be self-actualized if He hadn't created us. Therefore, by extension, you are saying that God needs us--that God is contingent upon us. For to say that He is in any way better with us here than without us here is to actually say that without us here He wouldn't be God (the very definition of GOD is that He is the best possible being)

Obviously it's a VERY hard undertaking to reconcile the God revealed in Scripture. He is affirmed to be totally sovereign; even in the affairs of men. He predicted future events that were contingent upon the free-will choices of people centuries before they happened. There was zero chance these prophecies wouldn't happen. (this shows perfect foreknowledge). God is taught to have caused many human free-will actions...Yet all along men are held accountable for their moral choices. How can it be both? At some point I run out of clarity on the subject. I'd direct you to one of the greatest theological statements ever: the Westminster Confession.
From chapter 3:

I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

At 9/16/2005 11:11 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I sense that the following issues need to be explored further:

Whether the preeminence of human will is a biblical idea or merely an anthropomorphic assumption about how God would probably work. Are there any explicit biblical statements regarding God's sovereignty or the freedom of human choices? Remember that there is a difference between explicit statements and those that seem to suggest a particular doctrine.

Whether Calvinists are claiming that humans have no free will or that our will is simply made use of and influenced by God. How many layers of activity of God, angels, and demons may lie beneath the surface of human observation? How do we reconcile the crucifixion, which is a good and intended work of God, with the fact that judgment surely awaits those who conducted the dirty deed?

How God's foreknowledge relates to the fall and the specific instances of sin that have resulted. Does God permit, deny, or constrain sin at every point, or is He simply responsible because He has chosen to actualize this particular world? Or, as the Open Theists suggest, did God not even know about the fall or about the future in advance, i.e., is He just in the business of reacting to the free will actions of His creatures and making the best of a steady stream of unfortunate events?

The possible role of evil in the grand scheme of things. If God knew the fall and resulting sin would occur, is it possible that it is not just collateral damage to creating volitional creatures but is actually intended to serve some deep purpose. Can we assume there is meaning in our suffering, or is it all just random acts of Satan that we can only hope God will help us overcome? And if God does not infringe upon our will, then can we say that the good things that are produced by men are actually blessings from God in any tangible sense? How do prophecies of judgment play out (like the Babylonian captivity), which were not merely predictions of bad things to come, but had an explicit purpose in God's economy?

At 9/19/2005 2:19 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...


Several of the issues you raise warrant a blog entry of their own. They are definitely all worth thinking about, though. I think I'll give my opinion on a few of them.

Are there any explicit biblical statements regarding God's sovereignty or the freedom of human choices?

Don't have a Bible with me, but I know there are plenty of explicit Biblical statements about God's sovereignty. About the "freedom of human choices," there are several implicit Biblical statements supporting the compatibalist view of freedom over and against the libertarian view of freedom. I wrote a blog about that here.

How do we reconcile the crucifixion, which is a good and intended work of God, with the fact that judgment surely awaits those who conducted the dirty deed?

I think I already addressed this above. What makes a person blameworthy is that their intentions were bad, and they acted on their intentions. Those who conducted the dirty deed are blameworthy, because their intentions were bad, and they acted on their intentions. God is praiseworthy, because his intentions were good, and he acted on his intentions.

If God knew the fall and resulting sin would occur, is it possible that it is not just collateral damage to creating volitional creatures but is actually intended to serve some deep purpose.

Here I think Rick Warren was entirely right in the first chapter of The Purpose Driven Life when he argued that the ultimate purpose of the universe and everything is to bring glory to God. Assuming God ordained sin, and also judgment, how does that bring glory to him? Well, Paul suggests an answer in Romans 9, which I quoted above. He raised up Pharoah so that he could destroy him, demonstrating his power and wrath to the objects of his mercy--the Israelites. In the same way, he prepares vessels of wrath so that he can show his wrath and power and make known the riches of his glory to the objects of mercy. If there were no objects of wrath, we would never fully grasp how merciful God was in saving us.

At 9/19/2005 9:52 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Those are alot of interesting things to think about, and I may comment on them tomorrow. However, I noted ephphatha said, "Don't have a Bible with me", and I wanted to point out one of many websites with a fully searchable free bible:

I didn't realize when you deleted a comment it left a place marker for it. For those of you wondering, it was the same exact post as this one, I just forgot to make the link a hyper link, and since there is no way to edit it, I just made a new comment thinking I could delete the first one...

At 9/20/2005 12:04 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Thanks for the link, Chris. That is sure to help.


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