Wednesday, August 12, 2009

James 1:12-18 Against the Divine Determination of Evil

Calvinist theology holds in some manner that God has determined everything, even the evil acts that will happen. Now, to be completely fair, Calvinists insist God does not perform evil acts or coerce people to perform evil acts. But God has in some way determined that certain people would choose to do evil acts out of their own desires. The fall of man, for instance, was fore-ordained by God to happen, not simply foreknown. Basically, instead of the Arminian contention that God foreknows events because they will happen, the Calvinist contends that all events will happen because God determined them to happen, including evil.

James 1:12-18 says:

12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
Here James seems to systematically lay out how sin originates and leads to death. He even goes so far as to state explicitly that God does not tempt, and God remains conspicuously absent from the entire process. James does not say, "God decrees that a sin will happen, but takes no part in it, and then allows the agent to carry out that sin of his or her own will that God determined."

Note that I am not saying Calvinists think God tempts. They clearly do not. But they think that God at some point has determined that a temptation will happen, which in my view simply moves the causality of the temptation back one step. That would work against James' contention that good things come from God without "variation or shadow of turning" (v 17).

Seeing as how James never includes God in this progression, and how explicit he is to say God in no way tempts anyone, I contend that the Arminian position that God simply allows the sin of man is the correct position. Man's sin originates in his heart due to his own selfish desires. God has not fore-ordained or decreed in any manner that sin would happen, otherwise God is libeled as the ultimate cause of that sin. God, as He exercises providential sovereign care over His creation, must allow the sin to happen if it is to happen, but He is not in any way the cause of that sin.


Bob Brewer said...

Great Post!

Several years ago while leading a nondenominational Bible study in a local coffe house one of the reformed men attending stated that he didn't believe the book of James should be in the Bible. His argument was based mostly on James 2:14-26 but as a result of his belief he always looked at James with a sceptical eye.

BTW didn't Luther suggest that James and Revelation shouldn't be in the Bible?

Kevin Jackson said...

Yeah, that passage is clear that evil in now way originates with God. This is another one of those inconsistent C dilemmas, where they say God causes everything, but doesn't cause evil. Go figure.

Yeah Bob, Luther wasn't real keen on a number of books - the two you point out, and also Esther, Hebrews, and Jude. He called James an Epistle of straw. Not so much due to this passage, as do to James position on faith and works.

bossmanham said...

I think it comes from a misunderstanding of what James is talking about. I struggled with those verses myself a while back, but never questioned the canonicity of James' epistle.

James is certainly anti-antinomianism, which is a problem for some reformed folk (not Luther though, as he affirmed good works as a part of the Christian life after faith). It just goes to show that some are more committed to their own theology than the Biblical text.

I believe Wesley's commentary on James 2:24 is the best I have seen:

Ye see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only - St. Paul, on the other band, declares, "A man is justified by faith," and not by works, Romans 3:28. And yet there is no contradiction between the apostles: because,
They do not speak of the same faith: St. Paul speaking of living faith; St. James here, of dead faith.
They do not speak of the same works: St. Paul speaking of works antecedent to faith; St. James, of works subsequent to it.