Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dealing With a Dealt With Deal: An Overview of the Author of Sin Controversy

Even though many of us Arminian e-pologists (as we are affectionately known) have dealt with this issue (see here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here), it is still thought to be just the death blow to our argument.

Here's how it goes. We say, "determinism means God is the author of sin, because everything that happens happens because God has made it happen." The Calvinist says, "well so does Arminianism because God knows about sin and lets it happen anyway!"

Okay, imagine the worst sin you can imagine. The worst evil that could ever happen. Now, imagine that a guy named Evil Evanston is performing this heinous act. If Evil Evanston has free will, in that he is not under constraint by a force outside his own will to act, and has it within his power to not act as he will (the power to do otherwise) then it is Evil Evanston who is choosing for himself to sin and then carrying out that sin. He authors the evil. If God, on the other hand, did not grant us free will, but has deterministically ordered the universe such that everything that happens HAS TO happen, happens necessarily, then God is the origin of all events and choices. God is the one who came up with the evil thought and evil act that Evil Evanston is going to commit, and nothing but what God has determined to happen could otherwise occur. Evil Evanston is just carrying out the pre-scripted programming that God set up. God, in this case, authors the evil. The author of the evil is the morally responsible party.


The Arminian knows, as the Bible teaches, that God only does good. All good things are from God. In fact, since God is by nature good, it is logically incoherent to think He could make evil. We measure acts against God's nature to determine if they are evil. If all acts are from God, then no act is evil. But we all know there are evil acts.

"But," the Calvinist will interject here, "God allows evil to occur on the Arminian view! He just stands there and watches Evil Evanston commit his heinous act, which is obviously in the same ballpark as determining it will happen!"

I'm not sure if Calvinists have had their coffee when they say something like this. Allowing a sin is tantamount to making the sin happen? That's just bad logic, as I pointed out in my response to James Swan. Say I knew what Evil Evanston was going to do, and I had the ability to stop him. Would I, as Swan says, "share responsibility" for the sin that Evil Evanston commits? No. There would be two separate actions taking place; Evil Evanston's sin and my allowing his sin.

Is allowing someone to sin a sin in itself? It depends on a whole host of things. Parents sometimes will allow their children to sin to allow them to experience the consequences of that sin. The police will sometimes arrange a situation where they know a criminal will sin so they can arrest the criminal. In other instances, I think it would be utterly negligent to allow sin. If someone was going to kill someone and you had the power to stop it. There are obvious instances where non-action would be negligence (which is a separate sin than the sin committed).

Okay, so the Calvinist must be saying that God is utterly negligent on Arminianism because He isn't stopping sins He knows about and has the power to stop. Is this the case? No. As creatures of God, He has charged us with certain moral duties, one of which is to help people when we can and not be negligent. That is a moral duty that flows from God's moral nature. But, as the dispenser of moral duties, God does not issue command to Himself. God has no duties to follow. He holds the power over life and death and has the right to take away the life of whoever He wants whenever He wants. Obviously, we don't share that right. In fact, that is one of the things that makes His grace and mercy so amazing. God had no obligation to rescue us from our sins, to conserve us in being, or to ever show anyone any grace. But He does!!

Okay, so can we say that something is still wrong with God allowing evil? Would an all good God do such a thing? If God has decided to give us free will, then there may be no way for Him to create a world where no evil happens. Free creatures may always choose evil in no matter what set of life circumstances they live in. Could God stop them? Well, if He has decreed to make them free, no. It is logically incoherent to speak of making someone freely do something. It is as nonsensical as speaking of a married bachelor or square circle. Beyond this, it is probable that God has morally sufficient reasons to allow the evils that currently happen.

But, on deterministic Calvinism, you can't postulate that God possibly couldn't create a world where free creatures always did good, because if Calvinism is true, we don't live in a world of free creatures. God could have created a world where no evil happens if He is making everyone do what they do.

So, it is impossible for God to make sin. God allowing sin is far different than causing sin. God has no duty to stop all sin. He may not be able to create a world where we all freely do good. And He may have morally sufficient reasons to allow sin. But what could possibly be the benefit of causing all sin?

5 comments:

The Seeking Disciple said...

I agree Brennon. The omincausality arguments simply do not add up either to the revelation of who God is in Scripture (that He is a God who loves His creation and sent His Son to redeem the lost) nor to what the Scriptures teach about humanity. We all will be judged not for Adam's sin but our own and we all, including Adam, committed our sins through our own free choice to rebel against a holy God who made us free. God has the right to do so and He has done so.

SLW said...

This is just excellent work, Brennon. Well done!

We measure acts against God's nature to determine if they are evil.
Defining sin and evil properly is half the struggle in these discussions. You've struck the chord here, it seems to me, in anchoring the definition to God. Sin is the exertion of will in opposition to God, evil is that which is not good (of God). IOW, a thing's relation to God determines whether it is evil or sin.

Is allowing someone to sin a sin in itself?
The question doesn't get to the heart of the matter, though a Calvinist may believe it's the Gordian knot for Arminian conceptions of freewill. It assumes that there is not a moral revulsion in God to contravening his image (will, choice) in people. Adam's case is the one to study in this regard, because it is the most simple and straight forward and uncluttered. Romans 7:13 speaks to the cluttered circumstance of mankind since Adam.

God could have created a world where no evil happens if He is making everyone do what they do.
In fact, this point disproves Calvinistic determinism. We have a clear testimony from God's word that says God does not sin, does not tempt us to sin, and does not have a dark side. If God acted in a deterministic framework, there would be no sin. The existence of sin proves that God as he's revealed himself to be, does not act deterministically.

Skarlet said...

Good post! You bring in a lot of good points. For one thing, you mention the situations where it is loving and responsible to allow people to sin - this undermines the whole crux of the Calvinist argument that, according to Arminianism, there could be no conceivable loving or responsible reason for God to allow sin.

Secondly, you do bring in the different roles that are played. Like you said: "As creatures of God, He has charged us with certain moral duties, one of which is to help people when we can and not be negligent." I would go a step further and say "as people on earth," because Christ, while on earth, healed people. Yet, in heaven, He does not just magically heal all sickness.

C.S. Lewis spoke, in his book, "The Problem of Pain" about the necessity of evil in any environment in which beings (some of whom may be righteous, and some of whom are not) are allowed to interact. He points out that God set up the world with certain physical laws, and at times God does see fit to break those laws. Such as in cases of miracles and whatnot - and there are recorded instances where God prevented bad from doing bad things, by either paralyzing their arm, or sending in 11 angels which only the bad guys could see. However, as Lewis points out, you can allow the bending of rules occasionally in a game, like chess, but if you constantly break all the rules, it is no longer a game. If God did not permit any evil - we would either not have free will, not be able to interact with each other, or else matter would be unpredictable.

Finally, I'm surprised that they do not see their own answer as a legitimate answer for us. They always quote the story of Joseph: "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." They use this to mean that God caused it, which is impossible, considering God's pure and perfect holiness. However, it would explain why God allows evil, overcomes evil with good, uses evil to achieve His own ends, and even promises in the New Testament that ALL THINGS work together for good to those that love God. God allows evil in our lives, but works it together for good.

JD said...

Brennon,
This is an excellent posting. I agree entirely. It's fairly interesting that it get's brought so many times, as proven with your multiple links, I just wonder if after so many times, whether there's a point to it anymore. Well, that was my thought, great job, and it's so nice to read something agreeable, after what I've read recently, but that's neither here nor there.

Robert said...

Hello Brennon,

Great points as usual. You are doing very well in presenting points that need to be considered.

At one point you mentioned “moral duties” and it triggered a thought. When I look at the bible in various places God gives commands regarding “moral duties”. Some of the more well known include how spouses are to be towards each other (e.g. husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church), how parents are to be towards their children, and how children are to be towards their parents. Now in each of these cases, God commands a person to do X. Assuming people have free will (meaning they can choose to obey or disobey God’s commands), in order for them to obey these commands they must choose to obey them. And if they don’t make that choice it is not going to happen.

I was thinking of this and I can’t think of any case, any example, where someone had a “moral duty”, a command from God, that they were aware of, and they chose to not do it, and God then did it for them (or did it in their place or took over their bodies, minds, wills and made them do it).

And in some of these situations, the intentional not choosing to obey the commands of God led to some real bad fruit, some real evil. Take the case which I have unfortunately seen more than a few times of very good Christian parents who were models of Christian maturity and behavior. Who really lived the life consistently, were people of prayer, seemingly did all the right things, and yet one of their kids freely chose to disobey them. The kid freely chose to not fulfill their “moral duties” towards their parents. The result was sin and evil, and God did nothing to prevent it. And the parents were grieved by the actions of their child, their testimony before others may have been impacted (and the Fathers may even have been disqualified from local church leadership) and there was no evidence that God “took charge” and caused the child to then obey or prevented the disobedience on the part of the child from continuing.

What this means is that when God gives commands and “moral duties” are established, if the person freely chooses not to fulfill their “moral duties” those things will not happen and some evil will happen. Obviously God wants the kids to obey and the fault is not with the parents or God’s commands, the fault is solely with the child who freely chooses not to obey.

Now if this is true, couldn’t we extrapolate this to all sorts of other situations?

God gives “moral duties” for marriage partners. If they choose to obey they will have a God-honoring marriage. If one of them chooses not to obey the “moral duties” then there will be sin and evil. And this will be sin and evil that God did not cause and does not prevent.

It also occurs to me that the bible says the moral laws of God are written on the human heart. So this would mean that some “moral duties” are already on the hearts of all human persons and are in force wherever human persons are present. And they must choose to obey these laws or the “moral duties” connected with them will not get done. If they choose to disobey, then God did not cause the resulting evils nor does God prevent them. These “moral duties” can be seen as the “rules of the game” which God has set up. He will not contradict these rules, as He set them up. He will not force them to be done (as part of the “rules” is that He wants people to freely choose to do them). And He will not prevent them from being disobeyed as part of the “rules” is that they be freely obeyed (and if they can be freely obeyed then they can also be freely disobeyed.

Robert