Monday, July 19, 2010

Does God Sin By Allowing Evil - Part 1


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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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/role, and our moral character/intent.

  3. 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.


bossmanham said...

They keep bringing this up, but we've answered it before. God causing someone to sin is demonstrably different from allowing someone to sin. God doesn't have any duty to stop sin He has determined to allow, but surely God has a duty to follow His own nature by not directly causing sin!?

Onesimus said...

If God allows man to sin and lets sinful man go unpunished, there is a problem.

If God ordained man’s sin and then punished man for what God Himself had ordained – THAT is a far bigger problem.

However, if God gave man the freedom of moral choice, making man responsible for his own sin – and if God then provided a way for man to be free of the penalty of his sin by taking that sin and its punishment upon Himself. That is not a problem – that is GRACE.

Robert said...

Hello Rebekah, (A)

Many bring up the so-called problem of evil to justify their ideology (whether it is the atheist like Dawkins attacking Christianity and justifying his scientism or the calvinist attacking non-Calvinism with the problem of evil to justify his determinism). I say this because even if you present rational answers to their supposedly sincere “questions”, they will simply slip into some other argument like a chameleon changing its colors. When dealing with insincere skeptics, they pose a question, then you answer, they pose another question, then you answer, you quickly find that this particular person is not really interested in the truth, but is really arguing for, defending and promoting his ideology.

Lately I have seen determinists using the problem of evil in order to attack non-deterministic Christianity. They argue: if God foreknows a future event (X), and God allows that future event (X) to occur, when He could (or should have) prevented (X) from occurring, then God INTENDED THE EVENT TO OCCUR.

Now we grant that God foreknows all events, so that is not the problem with this argument.
There are some problems with this argument however. The claim that non-Calvinists believe that whatever God allows He intends is not our view. So the argument is actually a caricature of our view.

One problem is with the claim that God would/should prevent all evils from occurring. This is too simplistic when it comes to the problem of evil. We know that God primarily overcomes the evil of sin with the cross of Christ. But the crucifixion could not occur unless evil had been done to Jesus. It is also possible that in some cases God has reasons for allowing evil to occur. Furthermore it is also possible that in creating truly free creatures that are independent persons capable of their own thinking, and choosing and actions. That those independent persons in order to be truly free will have the capacity to do both good and evil actions by choice.

Is the event in question allowed because God cannot prevent it from occurring? Or is there some reason for God permitting it? And if God permits evil choices, doesn’t permission presuppose libertarian free will? (cf. if everything is predetermined then nothing is permitted, yet the bible clearly has passages where God permits or allows someone to do evil).
And the conclusion of this argument also seems wrong. The claim that God intended the event to occur if He allowed it, is not a presupposition held by the non-Calvinist. The determinist constructs this argument attempting to show that on non-deterministic premises, whatever God allows He intends. But that is not our premises at all.

In exhaustive determinism (ED), God has a total plan (i.e. the secret or sovereign will) and so it is true with regards to EVERY EVENT WITHOUT EXCEPTION (that God intended the event to occur, the event is part of His total plan, the event was one which God wanted to occur, or put another way, no event occurs unless God wanted it to occur, and every event is part of the total plan so every event is intended by God and desired by God to occur). Also in ED, God can only foreknow what He preplanned, only what He INTENDED to occur (this is not the normal Christian view of foreknowledge). In ED there is no such thing as God allowing or permitting anything that He did not intend to occur. So the determinist operating according to his own presuppositions believes that what God allows He must intend.

So according to **their premises**, whatever occurs is what He intended to occur.


Robert said...

Hello Rebekah, (B)

In contrast the non-Calvinist, the non-determinist, who rejects a total plan in which every event is intended by God to occur, does not believe that WHATEVER OCCURS GOD INTENDED. That is not our premise at all, that is the premise of the determinist. For us, if God foreknows something it does not necessarily mean that he intended it to occur. In our thinking, if God permits something it does not mean that he intended it to occur. So we could (and do) believe that in some cases God allows something to occur, which He foreknows will occur, and yet which He did not intend nor want to occur.

The best example of this is when persons commit sins. God foreknows that people will sin, and permits them to sin, but he does not want them to sin, He does not intend that the sinful action occur. They intend the sin, they bring about the sin, not God. When Adam and Eve fell in the garden, God knew it was going to happen, allowed it to happen, but did not intend or want it to happen. And this is true with regard to other sins as well.

What this means is that the determinist making the aforementioned argument, assumes without proving, that *******whatever God allows or permits He intends*******. But we don’t accept that assumption/presupposition. The determinist is in fact not presenting our premises when formulating his argument but is sneaking in his own presupposition (that whatever occurs God intends to occur).

The determinist will then try to bolster his argument by arguing further for the point (call it the “loving intervener” principle, or LIP for short) that a loving person would prevent certain things from occurring (and the contrary, if that person has the ability to intervene and does not do so, they **must** then not be a loving person). This is further bolstered by various hypotheticals where surely the truly loving human person would intervene in such a situation. This is then finally extrapolated to God Himself (i.e. if God really was a loving person, then he, like the human person in similar situations, would surely intervene and prevent the evil event from occurring, according to LIP God would ***always*** intervene to prevent evil with no exceptions whatsoever).

Now it needs to be noted that I have repeatedly heard atheists and other unbelievers presenting LIP when presenting their argument from the problem of evil against the existence of God. The atheist is trying to use it to “prove” that God does not exist (i.e. surely LIP is true they say and argue, and if God is good and loving then he should be preventing all of these evil events from occurring, if we look around us he obviously does not prevent them all from occurring so obviously He must not exist, because if he really existed then LIP would be in force).


Robert said...

Hello Rebekah,(C)

Now Alvin Plantinga has dealt with the logical problem of evil very well (i.e. the existence of a good and loving God is logically inconsistent with the existence of evil). So well in fact that the atheists have shifted their tactics (i.e. instead of arguing that the mere presence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of God, they now tend to argue (1) that the amount of evil is incompatible with the existence of God or (2)they argue from things like LIP that surely the biblical God should have, say prevented the Holocaust, He didn’t, He did not intervene when he could have/should have, He does not practice or submit to LIP, therefore he does not exist, because of course if he existed and really was good and loving then He would always practice LIP!).

LIP has a strong emotional impact for many people, in my opinion, it is because most of us, agree that LIP applies with human persons. We consider the hypotheticals or real life cases brought up by the skeptic and we have no trouble believing that if we were in that situation and could do so, out of love we would intervene to prevent an evil from occurring or stopping evil. And we really wished that it applied with God as well. I mean who wouldn’t want God to prevent every rape, every child molestation, every genocide, etc. etc.?

But we have to keep our **speculations** on this subject within biblical parameters (i.e. what does the bible reveal about God and His ways?).

I say “speculations” because in asking why did God allow X, we are wondering what God was thinking regarding a particular evil (most often, when He has given no revelation concerning the particular event). We can speculate as to why a human person did something. And we can even in some situations even ask: “Joe why did you do that?” Not so with God. This is especially the case with regard to actual events: we really do not know why God allowed it to happen, we do not have access to His mind to know. Nor does He usually reveal why He allowed something evil to occur (the bible sometimes gives us glimpses behind the scenes such as in the book of Job). Now **within this speculation**, Christians have presented other principles that need to be kept in mind in this discussion of evil, God, and his permitting of evil.

One principle is the claim that God sometimes allows things to occur, in order for some good to achieved. The best example being the cross of Christ. What the Jewish leaders and Romans did to Jesus was evil, they did so freely, they were allowed to do their evil choices (the bible says their actions were evil). God certainly foreknew what their actions would be (this is also explicitly stated by the bible both as prophecies and as narrative comments such as in Acts). So we have evil, evil freely chosen and not coerced, evil that is foreknown by God, and it is evil that God allowed. And a greater good came out of it. This principle is sometimes called the “greater good” defense. And in fact sometimes this principle may be in operation. But this is not the only principle that we need to keep in mind.


Robert said...

Hello Rebekah,(D)

Another principle that is especially important to non-Calvinists (because the determinists explicitly deny the clear scripture on this) is that the bible says that God desires that all be saved and that God presented Jesus as an atonement for the whole world (I believe that you know these scriptures so I will not list them here). From these bible verses we infer that in fact God loves us because He gave His son for the whole World (with the most famous text being John 3:16). We also have other biblical texts that make it clear that Jesus died voluntarily and that he did so out of love. So while I may not know why God allows a particular evil event to occur, I do know from revelation that God is love and that He demonstrated this love most clearly through Jesus’ death on the cross. This is the principle that God is love and has demonstrated His love for every person on the cross (call it “the cross proves the love of God principle”).

And this is a very important one to keep in mind as what Jesus did on the cross for all people is of such gigantic proportions and implications. Jesus coming to the earth and then dying on the cross, using an analogy is like a nuclear blast. In contrast, while particular evil events are genuinely evil, in comparison to the evil of the crucifixion of Jesus they are like lighting a match compared to a nuclear blast.


Robert said...

Hello Rebekah, (E),

This brings up another principle, looking at things from God’s perspective. God created human persons to be capable of being in a loving and trusting personal relationship with God. Sin kills that relationship, separates us from God, which is why God hates sin. While people tend to rank particular sins (i.e. this one is much worse than that one), when the standard is God himself, His holiness, then any sin is extremely serious. Every sin merits eternal separation from God. As the bible puts it, missing one of the laws of God is like breaking them all. We forget that ultimately sin is against God and is extremely serious. So serious that if not dealt with a person who commits even a single sin, will be forever separated from God.

After Adam and Eve sinned if God were operating according to strict justice they would have been dead immediately upon their sin and they would be eternally separated from God. But God foreknew they would sin and God already had a plan of salvation in mind (which is alluded to already in the early chapters of Genesis). Now what is significant is that sin deserves death and yet God from the beginning knew they would sin and knew that Jesus would come in the flesh and die on the cross for the sins of the world. This means that throughout human history God has not been operating according to strict justice, but has been merciful to the human race. God takes sin very seriously, much more serious than we do, so God planned to deal with sin through Jesus’ death on the cross. God knew that the only way that sin could be properly dealt with, the only way sinful human persons (which is every one of us) could restored to a loving and trusting personal relationship with God was through the cross.

I never tire of reminding people, if you want to really see the love of God in action look at the incarnation and the cross. No one knowing these things could ever claim there is “no evidence that God loves us”. And no matter how many particular evils a skeptic may cite, none of this changes the facts about God’s plan of salvation and Jesus love demonstrated through the cross.

So if we look at things from God’s perspective, he has already dropped THE bomb (the cross) on what **He** considers to be **THE** PROBLEM (the sin that separates humans from God). What people need to be reminded of is that THE PROBLEM OF EVIL for humans is some particular evil event. THE PROBLEM OF EVIL for God is sin and its effects. The claim that God has done nothing or has not done much is completely refuted when viewed from God’s perspective and considering what Jesus actually did in regards to it. So we really need to consider, from whose perspective are we talking about THE problem of evil? Going back to my analogy I find it interesting that people will talk so much about lighting a match (and go round and round concerning hypotheticals), when in comparison, a nuclear bomb has actually been dropped! A bomb that reverberates both backwards to the Old Testament saints and forward all the way to the end of time!


Robert said...

Hello Rebekah, (F)

Another principle that needs to be kept in mind is that God truly is sovereign (i.e. He does as He pleases). The bible presents this and we know this from personal experience as well. We pray for one person to be healed and they are healed, we pray for another person to be healed and they die. Surely God could have healed either or both of them, yet he chose to heal one and not the other. The apostles in the early part of Acts get in prison and then miraculously get released from prison (but tradition seems that Paul the apostle died as a martyr beheaded by the Romans; surely if God could prevent imprisonment in Acts, he also could have done so with Paul, if he willed to prevent his imprisonment). So it seems to me that in asking why doesn’t God prevent X in one situation, when in some circumstances he does in fact prevent X, we know he is sovereign and we do not know God’s mind regarding many particular events. And this is not a cop-out, it is the truth. Neither the bible nor our daily experience gives evidence that LIP is true in regards to God (i.e. that He is not loving unless he prevents all evils from occurring as the skeptic claims).

Closely related to the principle that God is sovereign, is the principle that He is not under the same obligations as we are. God is not accountable to anyone else except Himself (the buck really stops with Him). Inmates will sometimes be very interested in what judge will sit over their trial. Because who is the judge makes a big difference. In the case of God there is no judge over Him and in the case of humanity God is our judge. And as C. S. Lewis observed, people love to put God in the dock! Regarding obligations: He is under no obligation to practice LIP, nor is He obligated to give any of us a particular explanation for why He allows a particular evil that occurs. If we take this principle seriously, we realize that while God owes us nothing (actually if we got what we deserved since we have all sinned, we would get Hell for our sins), nevertheless, He does love us and demonstrated this love for all of us on the cross. God is merciful towards us not automatically giving us “what we deserve.” He also says in the bible that he delays the end in order to allow more persons to be saved (cf. 2 Pet.3:3-9, Matt. 24:14). Where we may want all evil ended and removed immediately (like the angels in the parable of the wheat and tares, Matt. 13:24-30), God is merciful even to many who will never repent, giving them the opportunity to repent before Jesus returns. While some people may want the Kingdom to be restricted to them and their closest friends, God’s view is much more expansive, inviting them all to his great eschatological feast at the end of time.

God never says/reveals that he will always prevent all evils: in fact he explicitly says the opposite (cf. Acts 14:22), that for believers they must go through many trials to get to the Kingdom of God (He even told the apostle Paul this explicitly at the very beginning of his Christian experience, cf. Acts 9:15-16). Jesus says Himself that he was not spared trials (while on the earth) but overcame them (cf. Jn. 16:33).

And this brings out yet another important principle: God’s approach to evil is not to always prevent it but to overcome evil with good. Again the cross is the best example of this. But Paul (who should know about experiencing lots of trials) exhorts the Romans to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Paul never says that there will never be any evil or that God will prevent all evil (and no one else in the bible ever makes such a promise). He does say that no evil will separate the believer from the love of God, which means both that believers may suffer and that they will overcome the opposition (cf. Romans 8:35-39): but not that the believer will be separated from experiencing trials and evil. And the New Testament has much to say about forgiveness, which is another way that evil is often overcome.


Robert said...

Hello Rebekah, (G)

On the positive side another principle that ought to be kept in mind regarding evil is what I will call the eternal state principle. Ask people what sufferings and evils they would want to see removed and they will tell you about a world without rape, without genocide, without perversion, a world where all sin and its effects have been permanently removed. In a word they are longing in their hearts for the eternal state discussed in Revelation 21-22.

And the reality is that God will in fact bring about this eternal state where there is no more suffering, no more tears (cf. Rev.21:4), no more evil (cf. Rev. 21:8, 22:11), only goodness, love, righteousness. The fact is the bible says that God desires for all to be saved, and He invites us all to take part in this eternal state. Paul alludes to this when he speaks of our trials do not compare with the glory to come (cf. Romans 8:18, 2 Cor. 4:17-18). Well that glory to come when the creation is released from sin and its effects (cf. Romans 8:19-23) when believers receive their spiritual bodies (cf. 1 Cor. 15) when believers are directly in the presence of God seeing him face to face (cf. Rev. 21:3,1 Cor. 13:8-12) when there is no more suffering and tears, is the eternal state.

Just as particular evil acts pale in significance compared with Jesus’ death on the cross, similarly, our present state does not compare with the eternal state.

So again while I may not have answers that satisfy the skeptic’s questions and hypotheticals, I do have principles (and I have not discussed them all here) that must be kept in mind when discussing evil in the world. The reality and awfulness of evil and sin is significant and yet it is not the whole picture.


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