Saturday, July 12, 2014

Is It Reasonable to Believe That God Brings All Things to Pass?

If God has foreordained every event or action, then he not only causes evil through evil men like Hitler or Judas--but he also causes "evil" (along with good) through every human who has ever lived. According to this line of reasoning, God evidently brings it to pass that fetuses are aborted through humans. It also seems that God caused evil through humans when the ancient Israelites offered their innocent babies in the fire to the false god Molech. Yet, YHWH explicitly stated that he never commanded such actions, nor did these kinds of sacrifices ever come up into his heart (Jer 7:31; 32:35). In fact, God called such sacrifices an "abomination." I also judge (condemn) similar actions and I would never think that God moved someone to offer his/her child in sacrifice, nor would a righteous and good deity move one man to rape another man's wife. "There is no darkness" in God (1 John 1:5).


Mike Felker said...

Hi Edgar-

I think there might be some misunderstandings on what Reformed thinkers generally believe on such issues. Not that i'm an expert in this area, but no learned reformed theologian will deny that God abhors and punishes evil. But I think the primary problem in your argument is that it doesn't take everything into account. For example, God surely abhors the unjust sacrifice of innocent men, right? Yet, Scripture is explicit in that the events leading up to the crucifixion were predestined by God's plan (Acts 2:23, 4:28).

This is not to say that God forces anyone to do something against their will. If you had interviewed the Jews/Romans who crucified Jesus, they wouldn't have acted as though God had held them hostage to do this. Instead, they did exactly what they wanted to do. But at the same time, they were acting in accordance with the plan of God.

Another example. It's wrong to sell your younger brother into slavery, correct? God surely abhors such things. Yet, in Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers, "What you mean for evil, God meant for good." So God "meant" his selling into slavery for good? Yes! God justifies the ends as well as the means. It was God's plan to "preserve many people alive" through Joseph leading Egypt. But God uses the evil actions of men sometimes to accomplish such a purpose.

Therefore, in light of this and so many other examples, I see no logical or theological reason as to why God can't plan evil events through the sinful actions of men to accomplish a particular good purpose at the end. Romans 8:28 is a great example of this.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Mike,

As I mentioned on the other thread, I'll reply in full when time permits. But I just wanted to clarify a couple of points for now.

1) I realize that reformed theologians will say that God abhors or punishes evil: he is not the author of sin. But it seems logically inconsistent to say that God brings an evil act to pass or foreordains an evil event (or causes it), but is not the author of sin. Maybe the language of "bringing to pass" is confusing me. But I've also had conversations with some reformed thinkers who believe that God does indeed cause everything (including evil acts). My comments are specifically addressing this line of thinking.

1b. What does it mean to say that Jesus was executed by "God's plan"? Did God cause those men to condemn his Son as a criminal and blasphemer? Was it God who brought those events to pass? I believe that those men acted freely without any influence or coercion from God. Christ died in accord with "God's plan" (I would say "purpose") insofar as Jehovah provided his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. God could foreknow what wicked men would do to his Son without causing them to act thus. This explanation is consonant with the language found in Acts.

2. My only objection is with the "bring to pass" language or pancausal thinking of some reformed theologians. If you simply believe that God can accomplish his plan/purpose through the sinful actions of men, then we are not that far apart. But if you would make the stronger claim that Jehovah God causes men to do evil actions, whether sacrifice their children to a false deity or rape the wives of other men, then we're miles apart (theologically speaking).

Edgar Foster said...


what do you think of this quote from Charles Hodge (Sys Theo, 1:541):

"It was no less certain from eternity that Satan would tempt our first parents, and that they would fall, than that God would send his Son to die for sinners. The distinction in question has reference only to the relation which events bear to the efficiency of God. Some things He purposes to do, others He decrees to permit to be done. He effects good, He permits evil. He is the author of the one, but not of the other. With this explanation, the proposition that the decrees of God are certainly efficacious, or render certain all events to which they refer, stands good."

Mike Felker said...

Hi Edgar-

I agree that there may be some confusion on language. While I think the Westminister confession has some very carefully thought-out language, I am sure that improvements can be made. Nonetheless, i'm glad to have confessions like these so we can see how close or far apart we are.

1. I understand your point about God "bringing to pass" an evil event. But even if there is potentially a theological/philosophical discrepancy at hand, I don't see any other way to describe what "your plan and your purpose predestined to occur" would actually mean.

BDAG (and most other lexicons) defines "proorizo" as "decide upon beforehand, predetermine." While i'm sure we can think of additional language to describe this, I think it's fairly obvious what this mean: God decided beforehand, predetermined, foreordained the evil events leading up to the crucifixion.

I would see this as more than merely permitting men to do this but less than actually causing men do to it; somewhere in between. "God causing" is too strong because it assumes God took control of their faculties to do something they didn't want to do. While I can't think of the metaphysical mechanism by which such a thing took place, I still see no way around the conclusion that God planned/predetermined/foreordained the crucifixion and somehow did so through the sinful desires of men. Like Genesis 50:20, "What they meant for evil, God meant for good." One action: two purposes.

2. Perhaps we aren't too far apart. But we are if you think that God didn't actually want the crucifixion take place; that is, he wanted Christ to live. But the Jews/Romans thwarted that plan and crucified him. Now that God's plan for Christ to live was thwarted, He then figured that he could find some way to use this event for good; a "plan b" if you will.

I'm not trying to present a charicature in any way; just that I don't see any other way around the predestination of evil events.

I don't have a major problem with Hodge there, but I would only make the distinctions a little more carefully. I don't think it takes into account texts like Genesis 50:20, Isaiah 10, Acts 2/4, etc. "Permittaing evil" seems to suggest that God would rather have it another way, but He'll just let men do what they want to do so as to not invade their free will. I would prefer perhaps John Frame's approach in his new systematic theology, p. 838-839.