I hope to be able to wrap up answering your question regarding the problem of evil with this post. I have been laboring to show how Scripture sets forth God’s absolute sovereignty. Today I am going to try and show how God’s absolute sovereignty neither makes God the author of evil (though we admit He is the cause of evil) while at the same time making the case that God’s absolute sovereignty doesn’t take away human responsibility or human free agency.
Now we turn to the issue of the will. Libertarian ‘Freedom of the will’ (the ability to choose or not choose options based quite apart from any consideration of God’s predestining will)was introduced into Christian Theology in the attempt to rescue God from the charge of being ‘not nice’ or ‘not fair’ as well as to try and make room for human culpability. We have seen already that the problem with absolute human free will is that where humans have a freedom that is independent of God the result is that God’s Freedom is sacrificed with the further result that man is given a sovereignty over God’s sovereignty.
Some contend that it is better to craft a theology that denies what Scripture teaches on God’s omnipotence if the cost of following what Scripture teaches on God’s omnipotence is that men can not be held responsible for their evil actions. Those who reason this way, reason that it is better to degrade God to a finite level who, like Mick and the boys, ‘can’t always get what he wants’ then it is to have a theology that putatively undermines human responsibility.
So Freddy, how do Biblical Christians avoid the charge that the Biblical doctrine makes puppets out of men? Well first we contend that God’s work of predestination upon men is not physical in the way that that planets are predestined to follow their orbits. Biblical Christians do not believe in a kind of materialistic determinism. Biblical Christians do believe that the natural liberty of the will consists in freedom from this kind of physical necessity. Our wills and the choices arising from our wills is not determined as the planetary motions are. However, their are other kinds of determinism then materialistic determinism. We can speak of a psychological determinism that allows us to deny free will while at the same time speaking of a natural liberty. This observation frees us from any idea that Biblical Christians believe that men are stocks and stones who act by compulsion, though we are still able to embrace the idea that all that men do they do by necessity.
Let us discuss that distinction for a moment. Remember this is all in pursuance of embracing what the Scripture teaches concerning the absolute sovereignty of God while answering at the same time how this affirmation leaves men as free human agents (which is different than saying that men has free human wills).
We have said that Biblical Christians deny the idea that all things happen by compulsion while affirming that all things happen by necessity. What is the difference? Necessity is defined as that by which whatever comes to pass cannot but come to pass, and comes to pass in no other way than it does. The reason that we introduce this distinction between compulsion and necessity is so that we may see that predestination can be affirmed while at the same time affirming that men remain free human agents who are not puppets. To say that all things happen by the infallible certainty of a predestining necessity gives us both a high doctrine of God’s sovereignty while at the same time allowing that humans can be held responsible for their actions. Such a distinction allows us both to affirm that Judas acted voluntarily and without compulsion in betraying Jesus and yet remains the son of perdition who was predestined from eternity past to be the traitor that had to be present in order for prophetic Scripture to be fulfilled (John 17:12).
So, what we are seeking to do here is to make a distinction between free human agency and libertarian free will, the former which we embrace the latter which we reject as un-biblical since it teaches that there is no determining factor, including God, which operates on the human will. Free will means that either of two incompatible choices are equally possible while free human agency acknowledges that all choices are inevitable and yet the choices made are made by agents who themselves desire what they choose.
You see free agency teaches voluntary action and this every Biblical Christian believes. Every Biblical Christian believes that all men make choices wherein they consciously initiate and determine a further action. A choice is a deliberate and conscious volition on the part of the chooser even if the chooser could not have chosen differently. Biblical Christians believe that Judas acted voluntarily without the kind of compulsion by which a puppet acts, while at the same time believing that what Judas chose happened by necessity and was predestined from eternity past. Judas had a will. Judas used his will in a way to make a choice. Judas’ will however was not acting independently of God’s will, though it was acting contrary to God’s commands and as such Judas is responsible to God for his sin against God’s command because Judas was the sole author of his action — a action that in God’s sovereignty could not have been other than it was. Judas’ choice (like all human choices) was a deliberate volition on the part of the chooser, even if it could not have been different.
Now in protest some will object against the idea of necessity at this point claiming that they know that their will is absolutely free because they do not sense any necessity informing it. This is a short-sighted protest. There are many common things that influence our will without us being conscious of it. When we have been up 36 hours straight our wills are affected by exhaustion. The actions of our wills are different after going 4 days without food then they would be if we were making choices after a Thanksgiving feast. All education is predicated on the reality that the will is not absolutely free and can be trained and molded. Do we really believe that our wills are free from all outside influence? Do we really believe that we have enough knowledge of what outside influences are working on our wills in order to bend them in the direction that they are bent? If little matters like lack of sleep, or lack of food, or training, or external conditions can delimit the notion of libertarian free will then why are we so insulted at the notion that the sovereign God delimits our free will, when scripture clearly teaches that He does (Proverbs 21:1)?
In the end, humans assert libertarian free will, but it is an assertion quite beyond their ability to know. In order for men to know they have this kind of freedom of the will they would have to know and be conscious of every kind of influence in the entire universe and this would require omniscience. Their assertion of libertarian free will is really a manifestation of God’s determining will that they would believe that which is not possible.
Now, we move on to the issue of responsibility. Some would contend that free will is the basis of men being responsible to God but Scripture seems to teach otherwise. Romans 1 seems to indicate that one foundation of men being responsible before God is that they acted against a better knowledge,
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they(AN) became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…”
But Freddy, Scripture also teaches that we are responsible to God for reasons beyond our actions and beyond the suppressing of what we know to be true and are yet held responsible for knowing. Scripture also teaches that quite beyond our choices (free or otherwise) men are held responsible before God because Adam’s sin has been imputed to them (reckoned to their account). Men are accountable to God because of Adam’s sin as Romans 5 (esp. vs. 19) teaches. Adam was our covenant head and when Adam acted we acted in Adam, and so when Adam sinned we sinned in Adam and became guilty with our Father Adam, so that it is just and proper for God to be displeased with us and hold us responsible if only because we are Adam’s seed. Now, typically, most Christians will insist that this is not any more fair of God than not giving men libertarian Free will but fortunately truth isn’t arrived at by counting noses.
So, we have seen a couple reasons why God’s predestining will is not inconsistent with human responsibility. Humans are still free agents even if they don’t have absolutely libertarian free will and consistent with that we have seen that the necessity of something happening is not the same as those necessary things happening by compulsion. Free human agents earnestly and genuinely pursue what God has willed and so remain the author of their evil decisions.
Let us press on to look at another reason why it remains just for God to judge those who have necessarily walked contrary to His divine commands. It is just of God to hold men responsible for their actions simply because God is God. Scripture teaches that God is just in all His ways (Psalm 145:17). Whatever God does is just, if only for the reason that He does it. Was it unjust of God to harden Pharaoh’s heart? Was it unjust of God to hate Esau before He was born? Was it unjust of God to plague Job? Was it unjust of God to carry Joseph to Egypt by way of slavery, bondage, and mistreatment? Was it unjust of God to ordain the cruel death of His Son? Why should we think that the sense of justice that belongs to fallen men has a right to condemn He who is by definition always just all the time? Scripture teaches us that God is just. How could we ever charge Him with injustice? Shall the clay say to the potter, ‘you’re not just because you made me this way?’ So, we are saying that it is just of God to hold men responsible for their actions of necessity because God says that all of His ways are righteous.
There is another thing we might say at this point Freddy that could help with our sense of outrage over the very real cruelties we see in this world. All of us at times struggle with evil. There have been times in the ministry where I have seen it face to face. The funeral of a infant killed by its parents. The death of a suicide victim. The long misery of an ugly cancer. The abuse of a child or woman by a man. I have seen, wept, and agonized over a great deal of the evil for which men rage at God, and the sum of what I have seen has not left me without scars nor has it left me unchanged. By God’s grace, however, I don’t rage at God and charge Him with fault, but trust in His goodness, for He has taught me, and I accept by Faith, that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil that exists. Now, I don’t know what that reason is but I accept, because of the testimony of Scripture, that God is good and just in all of His ways and so I believe, by faith, that God has a morally sufficient reason for all the wickedness and evil that people can name. In the end Freddy, if, in order for God to be just, His sovereignty must be limited, why would I worship or trust such a divine being? If God isn’t absolutely sovereign than I would be better served by arming myself to the teeth and trusting myself since a non-sovereign God isn’t much help in a tight situation.
I hope we have said enough to show that God is not the author of sin while still remaining the cause of sin. What I mean by this Freddy is that since God is the cause of all that is (Romans 11:36) we affirm that God must be the cause of all evil. However, all because God is the cause of all evil, does not mean He is the author of all evil. We can say that because Scripture clearly teaches the idea of secondary causes. If I knock a cup of Tea off my desk and it spills into my computer thus destroying it I might hold gravity accountable (dumb gravity, if it didn’t exist the cup would not have fallen) or I might hold whoever placed the cup on my desk accountable (dumb person put that tea in a place it didn’t belong) or I might hold myself accountable (dumb me, I should have been more careful). All of these realities were causes but the most natural idea is to hold myself responsible as the author of my spillage. Similarly when we say that God is not the author of sin we mean that God is not directly responsible for the wicked actions of free human agents. Men themselves remain the immediate cause of their sins and so remain the author of their sin but all because men are the author of their sin doesn’t mean that there aren’t other causes and since God is the ultimate cause of everything and nothing could exist except that God caused it we must say that God is the cause of evil without being the author of evil.
Now, we have spent some time on this and perhaps I have given you more then you could have wanted. Still, in order to be direct let me turn to your questions one last time and give you a direct answer the brevity of which can be understood in light of all that has now been said.
“If God created the heavens and earth why did he create sin?”
The answer is that God created the Devil who instigated sin because He determined that by creating such a being as the Devil He would gain more glory than by not creating a being such as the Devil.
You also asked,
“If He didn’t create sin then why did He allow the possibility of sin?”
The answer is that He not only allowed for the possibility of sin but He also determined that it would exist and He did so in order that men might marvel at His greatness.
Please forgive me if I have given you to much. If you have any further questions I would be pleased if you would ask them.