This topic came up as a result of this blog, posted by Peter Pike over at Triablogue: Does Permission Exculpate God?
Pike puts forward the the idea that, according to Arminianism, if God foreknows everything and then still allows sin, He would become culpable for all evil that occurs. I commented, and as me and Peter debated back and forth, it quickly became a very fascinating discussion. I was half-tempted to just repost the conversation here, but I generally feel that reposting conversations is a very unstructured and sloppy way of presenting information, and so I decided to make this more of a proper blog.
During the course of the debate, three interrelated but separate topics were discussed:
- Is it immoral for us to permit sin and harm? From an Arminian point of view, is it immoral for God to permit sin and harm?
- Calvinist premise: God is held to a different standard than we are. Therefore, He can permit and cause sin without sinning. Does this hold true?
- Does Arminianism contradict itself or claim this: God would be culpable for causing sin, since He is held to the same moral standard as man, but would not be culpable for allowing sin, since He is not held to the same moral standard as man.
I will post three blogs, and in each blog, one of these topics will be addressed. The blogs will be posted in the order listed above.
Topic 1 - Is it immoral for us to permit sin and harm? From an Arminian point of view, is it immoral for God to permit sin and harm?
Here I will quote a chunk of Pike's blog post:
“I do not wish to rehash old ground anew, but instead to add yet one more Scriptural proof that permission alone is insufficient to exempt someone from culpability. And that Scriptural proof is found in the Law of Moses.
Exodus 21:28 states:
When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable.
Now an ox is an animal, and as such it as a rudimentary will. It is not an inanimate object, in other words, and it will often do things that the owner does not wish for it to do. Anyone who has ever owned livestock—or even pets, for that matter—knows of the frustration of wanting an animal to do something and the animal not doing it.
… What is clear from this verse is that the owner of the ox is not held responsible for the actions of the ox. Presumably, this would be due to the fact that the ox’s will is not the owner’s will, and that is why the owner is not liable. The owner did not wish for the ox to kill anyone, the owner did not plan for this, therefore the owner is not culpable.
Thus far, it looks like this would be evidence for the position that if God permits something evil to occur He is not culpable for that. However, the very next verse reads:
But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.
And here we see that the escape to “permission” cannot remove culpability from God. For we see that it is still the case that the owner of the ox does not will that the ox gore anyone, and we still see that the owner does not plan this event to happen, yet nevertheless the owner is held responsible with the same penalty imposed as if he had murdered the man himself. Why is the owner culpable? Because he did not take measures needed to reign in an ox “accustomed to gore.” He is negligent for not stopping that which he knew was dangerous, and therefore he receives the same penalty as if he had personally acted instead of the ox.
… And if the owner of an ox is culpable when he knows full well that he has a dangerous ox, then God surely must likewise be culpable if He knows full well that a created being He put on Earth is a danger to others.”
Issues brought up:
Here we establish the Biblical principle that if a person allows his non-moral beast, who he owns, who he is responsible for, and who he knows is dangerous, to hurt people, he is in the wrong. But this doesn't say anything about God permitting us to sin, because God does not relate to us in the same way that we relate to non-moral oxen that we own and can in good conscience lock up in the backyard for their entire life! I put forward to Pike the idea that if we “own” an animal we are accepting responsibility for them in a different way than we accept responsibility for other people, and different then any way God takes responsibility for our actions.
Pike answers this by setting forward this idea: It is not only immoral for a person to allow his beast to kill someone, it is also immoral to allow harm to come to another person when you could prevent it. He gives two reasons for this argument. Reason #1 - Ezekiel's watchman is warned that if he does not attempt to save others by warning them, he is held responsible for their deaths. Reason #2 – It would be unloving to not stop harm from occurring, if you have the power to stop it. (He adds a side note that he is not talking about instances in which it is right and proper for you to avoid interfering.)
Here is the direct question:
“If we allow someone to be harmed when it is in our power to stop that harm, is that loving him as we love ourselves?”
It depends on our position, and our motives. If we are the person's bodyguard (a position), and we allow them to be harmed, that would be unethical and wrong. If we allow that person to be harmed out of a lack of love, then that would be unloving. There are, however, other cases in which we may allow people to be harmed, in which we do no wrong. I allow people to be harmed everyday, when I have the power to stop that harm, because I choose to go to work at an office job instead of being a detective or police or military or Social Services worker. I do not permit harm because I am not loving. I permit harm because I do not feel called to go and prevent that particular harm. People permit harm to those on death row (namely, death) – this, also, is not unloving. I could go on and on, but my point is this: Whether permitting someone to hurt someone else is right or wrong depends on your position(and thereby responsibility) and motives.
Position or relationship of responsibility: If I own an oxen, I am in a position of authority and responsibility over a non-moral being. If I allow it to hurt people, I am abusing my position. If I am a watchman, and I don't warn people, I am neglecting my duty. But what if I don't own the ox? What if I'm not a watchman? Then I have no responsibility in those cases (except for the moral responsibility of motive) If you let your ox kill someone, shame on you. On the other hand, if my little sister goes and slugs some guy at school, I am not culpable for that, even if I know that my little sister has violent tendencies. Why? I am not in a position of authority or responsibility over my little sister in the same way I would be over an ox. For this reason also, God is not culpable for allowing sin, since He does not take responsibility, as an owner of a non-moral being, nor signed up to be a “watchman.” He did not take those positions, and therefore is not culpable for not fulfilling the responsibilities that go along with them.
Moral character: It's all about the motive here. This goes back to what was said about the commandment to love. If we let our animals go around killing people, and we don't warn people of an attack, it's probably become we are not pursuing righteousness or love. We would rather sleep at home than warn people of impending danger, and if my animals hurts you – well tough for you. Is that loving? No. However, if we permit something for a good moral reason (IE it would be illegal to do otherwise, we are dedicating our time to a different cause that God has put on our hearts, we know that we need to allow our children the freedom to make mistakes rather than just locking them up, etc), then it can be fine. God's moral character is always pure and holy, and so if He allows something, you can bet your life that it is with morally pure, righteous, and loving intent.
A Final Question from Pike:
“Are you actually saying that God is not responsible for His own creation?”
God is responsible for His choice to create. He is responsible for His choice to create moral beings who could then choose to sin. He is not responsible for what those moral beings choose to do. [From an Arminian perspective in which those moral beings cause themselves to do things. If one assumes that God causes all the actions of the beings, then yes He would be responsible for any good or evil that they carry out, at His decree] He is responsible for His actions, and not ours. We will be held responsible and culpable for our actions, except in the case where God choose to take our punishment on the cross, and we trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, in which case our culpability was put on Him.
Stay tuned for my next three blog posts, which will cover the other aspects of this same discussion! But, just to reiterate the points that I put forward here:
- Man would be culpable for allowing his non-moral beast, which he owns, to go off and kill someone, if he knew that the ox was dangerous.
- It does not follow that we are also culpable for allowing anyone to be harmed. Whether or not it is a fault to allow harm to befall someone depends on these two factors: Our responsibility/positon/rol
e, and our moral character/intent.
- God is not culpable for allowing man to hurt each each other, or for allowing oxen to hurt people for two reasons. First of all, He does not take a role in which He has the responsibility to protect us from all harm (as a watchmen would) or to keep us from hurting each other (like locking up an ox). Secondly, His moral character and intent in allowing harm is already righteous and pure.