Category Archives: Calvinism

16 Problems that Arise From Libertarian Free Will

Given libertarian free will, the following difficulties emerge

  1. It is possible that every single person God created could have been lost and that the number of the elect be zero.
  2. It is possible that every human being can live a perfectly sinless life.
  3. It is possible that some people do not need forgiveness of sins, for each person is able to perfectly conform to God’s law.
  4. It is possible that Christ’s death on the cross would not save anyone.
  5. It is possible that God is eternally sorrowful over the lost and that they did not choose him.
  6. God becomes temporal and changing, since he must wait on events in time to determine his knowledge. This makes God finite, since he cannot possess his entire being at once.
  7. Prophecy of future free actions become conditional – but Christ’s death, which itself depends on the free actions of humans, then becomes conditional. Therefore it is possible that Christ not die. Yet Scripture says the lamb was slain “from the foundation of the world.”
  8. God’s providence becomes conditional and how God wants to steer events in the world can be frustrated. God cannot guarantee that an event will occur that comes from a particular free willed action. But many events depend on particular free willed actions. Therefore God cannot guarantee that such events occur.
  9. It is impossible for God to have foreknowledge of future free actions, since he must wait on the future to arrive in order to know what will occur.
  10. It is impossible for God to have timeless knowledge of free actions and also use that knowledge to be provident, since if he is timeless he would become a single eternally passive receiver, and any reaction or response on his part to acts in time would destroy his timelessness and make him temporal himself.
  11. God, since he cannot be timeless if he relates to libertarianly free people, becomes just one more changing and temporal being, which cannot explain its own existence. For a temporal being cannot itself produce time and space. Thus a temporal being cannot create ex nihilo and God could not have created the entire space-time manifold itself.
  12. Do choices presuppose motives, or motives choices? If the former, then we do not choose our motives, and libertarian free will is false. If the later, then libertarian free will is irrational, for we would lack a ground for preferring one motive rather than another in the choosing of our motives.
  13. How do we explain the universal testimony of human experience that all people do and will sin? If libertarian free will is true, this becomes an instance of the greatest case of bad luck in history (literally).
  14. If God passively receives something (say knowledge, or a fulfilled desire) from a source outside himself, then he is essentially dependent on something outside himself for his existence. But God as first cause is outside the whole order of created things and does not require something else to exist the way he does. Thus God cannot depend on the creation. Rather the creation depends on him. But then God cannot receive being from libertarian free choices, and so they cannot exist.
  15. If libertarian freedom is necessary for human goodness, then in order to have human goodness Christ as man could have sinned. But if it was possible for Christ to sin then it was possible for the second person of the Trinity to be in disunion with the first person. But this is impossible. Thus Christ as man could not have been libertarianly free.
  16. God’s salvific will, even presupposing libertarian freedom, is still qualified or limited, insofar as God only desires to save those who do such and such (believe, trust in him, do good, et al.) Thus, God still only conditionally desires salvation even granting libertarian free will, otherwise he would unconditionally give eternal life and joy to even those who did not meet a particular criteria for salvation.

God Ordains Evil for the Perfection of the Finite Universe

“And because this orderly arrangement maintains the harmony of the universe by this very contrast, it comes about that evil things must need be.” Augustine, Divine Providence and Evil, Chpt 7

We have been looking for a reason why a God who causes and ordains all things would create a universe containing evil. A few posts back I argued against the Calvinist position that God ordains evil in order to appease his wrath, for that ultimately reduces to the fact that God metaphysically needs evil in order to fully satisfy his desires.

However, what is often not fully realized when giving God’s “reasons” for ordaining evil, is this glaring truth: God does not only not need evil in his creation to fulfill his own desires – to fulfill his own desires God doesn’t need creation at all. This is shocking only because of our own self-centeredness and feelings of cosmic importance. But here is the truth: God’s goodness and happiness do not depend on anything outside his own triune relationship. If we say that God’s happiness is maximized only by some other thing outside himself, then a) he is not the very source of Goodness itself, for he would lack some good essentially that he only gained by being united to this other thing; and b) God, the first cause of all, becomes one more dependent cause among others that needs something additional to maximize itself. Thus he would cease being God the absolute and fully actualized good and become just another potential, because unfulfilled, finite good.

Here then is the point. God’s act of creating does not in any way add to his own enjoyment of himself (for then God without creation would not be perfectly fulfilled). God’s act of creation, rather, is done in order for the creation to be fulfilled, and for the creation to reflect God’s glory, in itself.

Now it may be that the perfection of this particular universe that God made requires that there be evil in it. And this is intuitively very obvious: for some created goods we experience require evil in order to exist. Indeed many human virtues, such as courage, patience, self-control, could not exist in a universe without evil. Courage assumes some evil that is being withstood, patience some evil that is tolerated, self-control some evil that is held at bay. It just may be that for the perfection of this created universe various evils must needs exist; otherwise you would not have this created universe.

I put “this created universe” in italics for a very important reason, which is this. Just because the universe itself requires evil to be perfected does not entail that God or Goodness as such requires evil to be perfected. This is one of the misunderstandings in certain Calvinist schemes of God, which posit that God had to create sinners in order to appease his wrath. God needs no evil to be fulfilled, satisfied, or appeased. That is an idea that ultimately entails Dualism and makes God’s own fulfillment dependent on sources outside himself. It also posits that evil can somehow infect God’s inner being and impact him, which is another error. But, although God cannot be dependent on evil, it may be that the finite, created universe, in order to be “this universe” needs evil to be fulfilled.

Now, the question at the back of this is why God created “this universe” at all. Could he have made one without any evil whatsoever? Well, if by evil we mean metaphysical evil – i.e. some limitation in goodness – then the answer seems clearly no. God is the only uncreated and underived Goodness. As soon as you posit a creation then you unavoidably admit some metaphysical evil. But could he have made a universe with no physical or moral evil in it – i.e. no pain and suffering at all? This at least seems a possibility, insofar as God in his own fullness of being is not necessitated to create this or that particular universe, or even any universe at all. But why, then, did he create a universe which requires, for rational beings, the experience of pain and suffering to fulfill their own perfection in goodness? Why did he create “this universe”?

For all the “why” questions pertaining to God’s act of creation, there can be no other answer than simply that “he chose to.” For there is not some higher reason, outside God, to explain his free and voluntary act of creating the universe. God did not have to create. But then why did he? He simply willed to. That is the final explanation. It is indeed incomprehensible and impenetrable. But there is no contradiction. Nor, by the way, is there implied that just because evil exists in the universe there exists any imperfection in the creation taken as a whole, as it is, insofar as it is exactly as it is because of God’s omnicausal ordination. For the entire creation has the exact harmony, the exact proportion of goods and evils that has God freely intended it to have. And since all of God’s acts are perfect, then what he has made, given what it is, cannot be improved upon.

But again, it is the “given what it is” that is answered ultimately in the mysterious and incomprehensible will of God.

Calvinism: A Refutation

I grant that the strongest weapon in the Calvinist’s arsenal is Scripture. In fact, if some things weren’t (supposedly) found in the Bible I can’t imagine anyone would believe that a good God has intentionally ordained even evil acts for his own good pleasure.

But, there is a rebuttal to this claim. Before anyone says that Scripture forces us to hold that God is the source of all evil I would remind them that it is only the goodness of God which makes worshiping Him permissible or even rational. For if God is not good – or is not what we mean by that word – then worshiping Him may not really the “right” thing to do. If God’s moral being is so utterly different from our own moral intuitions then God may delight in punishing those who worship him or reward those who defy him. The heaven prepared by a morally alien God may indeed be hell to any human being we would define as virtuous. So to say that there can be some authority outside or over and against our own moral intuitions that commands us to pay allegiance to a being we find morally repulsive is literally self-refuting. For it makes no sense even to believe in the Scriptures if in doing so we destroy all possible ethical connection to God. However we interpret the Bible, if that method results in us burning our bridge back to God, we simply must abandon it. For the existence of a bridge itself is more necessary to reach our destination than any particular tool (however useful) which helps us cross it.

Continuing on then with my criticism of Calvinism. For an omnipotent God there is, as it were, no metaphysical speed limit that prevents him from going as fast as He can. There are no limitations over and against an omnipotent God, and unless he so limits himself, there can be nothing existing outside His own nature which pushes back against him or that is an obstacle. Thus a God who does NOT so limit himself – say, by granting other beings an amount of say-so regarding what comes to pass in the universe – must necessarily intend absolutely all that happens in his creation. Since there are no other independent forces at work and since everything is an expression of his own will, what occurs in creation must be 100% willed and intended by God, the first and only cause. This means that there cannot be some “piece” of God’s personality which is unhappy or dissatisfied with what he has made. How could there be? He is omnipotent and all good and, since no other agents with power or freedom exist, the finished product of creation came entirely from him. The sculpture is the result of the most perfectly imaginable artist who not only is unsurpassed in terms of skill but is, in his own being,  the very essence of flawless artistic beauty.

Does the problem with determinism now begin to become clearer? If God has determined absolutely everything that comes to pass and if free will is illusory then God intentionally causes all evil in the world – all the extracted torture and rape and mutilation. He must therefore want such things. For again, there are no other competing wills that God can use to take the blame for the occurrences of such things. He cannot point to the devil and say that he is responsible for sickness and disease for God himself literally determined absolutely every feature and action of Satan’s existence. But again, if it were true that God in fact DOES directly cause all evil in the universe then our calling him “good” would ultimately be meaningless.  A God who can positively cause hundreds of child rapes a day is so different from our conception of goodness that it is just as reasonable to believe that he would send us to Hell for obeying Him. So therefore once again, worshiping such a being becomes not only immoral but self-refuting.

So far I have been claiming that if God causes evil then He is evil. But the obvious and common rebuttal to this is to say that this isn’t necessary so because without certain evils certain goods would not be possible. In other words, this rebuttal goes, God may be forced to cause certain evils in order to bring about the most good possible. God may really want to have a perfectly good universe with no evil in it, but then He would not be able to fully display His goodness.

Notice though what this rebuttal assumes. At the back of it is really a denial of the omnipotence of God. Any time we say that God is ‘forced’ to do things, or when we say He is not ‘able’, we are supposing some outside, imposing power that God is contending with. On the Calvinist scheme, however, this is absurd. There simply are no other causes, outside of God’s own singular will, which could create such resistance. Even the Calvinist distinction between God’s antecedent and consequent will is absurd, for there is no other force independent of God which would cause him to have a divided desire. All things are as they are from his unilateral, determining, desiring will.

I think it is here, in this claim that the good is somehow made more good by the presence of evil, that the root of the Calvinist error lies. At the bottom of it is the idea that the good is somehow metaphysically dependent on evil. This, however, if true, amounts to Dualism, not Christianity. Let me explain.

God’s goodness, according to Christianity, is maximally perfect. ‘God is light’ St. John says, ‘and in Him there is no darkness at all.’[1] That is on one hand, it is true that there can be no evil without good. On the other hand, the opposite – that there can no good without evil – is not true. God’s goodness is such that it does not need anything else other than itself to exist. It simply is, and is good, through and through. If we were to imagine God’s goodness as a color it would be absolutely solid white. Whiteness as such does not need or ‘depend’ on blackness to be white.

If we deny this, and if we say that God’s goodness does in fact depend on evil, then this entails Dualism. If God ‘needs’ evil in His creation, then Goodness, as such, needs Evil. Good and Evil are then on some level or equal ground. I am dependent on food and water and air because without them I cannot exist. But the Christian God does not “need” evil in this way.  The good as such would still be just as good if evil never existed. Indeed, apart from creation, God existing in His own right has no evil in Him at all. Evil, however, is parasitic. It can only exist if there is something good there first that it can live off of.

Although we live in a world of contrasts, and we very often experience certain goods otherwise impossible without certain evil, this, I believe, is not because God’s nature is dualistic in this way. It is because His omnipotence is such that He can draw forth good even out of evil. To suppose that good needs evil would be equivalent to supposing a marriage needed adultery, or that a beautiful face needed some grotesque deformity, in order to be maximally good. A marriage may, in the long run, be better after adultery has occurred, but it is not something that must happen to have a maximally great marriage.

Therefore the unanswerable question for Calvinism is this: where – metaphysically speaking – does evil come from if not from the freedom of creatures? How can an all-good, all-powerful being such as God make a universe containing evil? If God makes a world exactly how He wishes, like an artist painting a picture in order to please Himself, and, further, if God is omnipotent such that nothing outside His own nature presents an obstacle to Him in attaining His wishes, and, finally, if He must still include evil in His universe to make it ‘maximally good,’ does this not mean that God’s will in some way requires there to be evil in order to be maximally satisfied? And how is this any different from saying that ultimately God wills and desires evil? If in God’s mind and will there is this need for evil, would this not make Him less than all good?

[1] 1 John 1:15

Calvinism, a Good God, and Evil: A Dilemma

If Calvinism is true, then God causes all things to exist, even evil. Since there is no such thing as libertarian free will, there are no independent causal powers apart from God’s own. Therefore, all that comes about comes about because God specifically intended it to do so (unless you want to claim that God causes things he does not intend.)

What this means is that God must be pleased to bring evil about. Since evil could only exist by God’s decretive will, God must will that it exist. And, since God does all that pleases him, it must please him that evil exists.

How does this square with the idea that God hates evil? On Calvinism, God creates vessels of wrath because he is pleased to destroy them — but he destroys them because he hates evil. What you have here is a situation in which God is both pleased with the existence of evil and displeased with it. But this seems a contradiction: insfoar as evil exists God must want it to (for nothing exists without him willing it to exist); yet insofar as he destroys evil he must not want it to exist.

I have seen at least one Calvinist (Sam Storm) attempt to answer this problem by saying that “God is pleased to ordain his own displeasure.” But apart from any sort of notion of divine self-limitation, I fail to see how this quote is not a bare contradiction. For what you are saying is that God is pleased – i.e. he delights in – doing what displeases him – i.e. what he does not delight in.

Once again we come to the fact that, if we are going to maintain the reality of evil, and if we are not going to simply say that all things happen by God’s desire and will (which would make all things actually good, since God’s desire and will are themselves perfectly good), then we must posit some notion of creaturely free will. Otherwise, if God is the immediate and single source of all, then he is the source of evil as well. But if he is the source of evil then either a) there is no such thing as evil (for God does only what is good); or b) God is not all good (since God is pleased to intentionally create evil.)

Now, if we say that God is not pleased to create evil, and that it is a source of hatred and wrath for him, then we must ask why it exists at all, seeing as it is ultimately God’s will alone that is the cause of things. Does God will that which he hates? And how could he hate that which comes specifically and intentionally from him alone, the all good perfect being?

Again, if God’s will is never frustrated on Calvin’s scheme, then what is God’s relation to evil? If it is one of hatred, then his will is in some sense frustration, since one does not hate what one desires. If, on the other hand, it is one of delight, then God’s will delights in evil, which either makes his will less than all good, or makes evil cease being evil altogether.

Either way, one is driven to a contradictory conclusion.

Process/Oordian Theism vs. Omnicausal Theism

There is a (legitimate) concern that a God who sovereignly ordains absolutely everything that comes to pass, including sin, is somehow a less perfect or loving being because of this fact. I want to explore this idea.

First, one must decide whether or not it is reasonable to think that God foreordains all that comes to pass, even evil. When I say “foreordain” I mean “cause” in the sense of being the metaphysical and ultimate explanation for. I don’t know any traditional theologian who would disagree with the fact that God is responsible for and the ultimate cause of all being whatsoever in the created universe. Now anything that exists, just insofar as it exists, has being, even an evil act. Therefore God, since he is the universal cause of all created being, can be supposed to have caused all being that exists whatsoever. (This is not to deny that there is an element of privation in sin and evil. Obviously God cannot be the cause of what does not exist.)

So, is the idea that God is the ultimate source of all created reality whatsoever, true or false? Well, what is the alternative? Let’s say that God is not connected to the existence of evil, pain or suffering in any way. The view which is farthest away from an omnicausal view is a process view – one like Thomas Jay Oord currently holds. This view is essentially that God “asks” all finite being (both rational creatures and matter) to freely choose to act in a good way. When the agent that God asks responds to this invitation well, created “good” comes about. On the other hand, when it fails to do so, created “evil” comes about. Now, since good and evil as they exist in the universe depends on created agents separate from God, Oord and Process theologians can say that they have solved the problem of evil.

Now, there are a few things to say here. The first is one I’m simply going to assert without attempting to prove: this metaphysical system seems quite difficult (impossible?) to square with a plain reading of the Bible. (This point could be a post – even a book – in itself.) Second, the occurrence of the miraculous reduces to God winning the divine lottery, insofar as in order for miracles to occur, God must depend on a particular combination of both animate and inanimate created beings freely responding in a particular way to God’s invitation. Thus when the Red Sea parts this is because, ultimately, a combination of natural phenomenon (presumably atoms, animals, clouds and winds) “chose” in such a way that a miracle came about. On this view, God cannot ensure the miraculous. He can only “ask” for one, then hope it comes about.

With this in mind we come to the rather gutted framework of this whole metaphysical system. When the Oordian/Process view of God is taken to its logical conclusions, the implication is that God and the world are two self-existent realities, and God cannot causally impact the world in any way. Why would I say this? Because I can see no consistent way in which a “persuasive” view of God can explain a causal connection between God who does the persuasion and the world who is persuaded by him. God cannot immediately move matter or rational beings, for that would violate their freedom on this view. How, then, does he impact them? It would seem any sort of persuasion, such as arousing the conscience of a sentient human, would entail at least some immediate action on God’s part at least on the neurons of the brain. But again, if this is admitted, then we have a God who can by his will immediately move objects in the created world.

My question is, what causal mechanism is not ultimately self-refuting on the Oordian/Process view of God?

Notice too that Oord cannot admit a creation ex nihilo. This is because such a thing would be an instance of coercion. But if this is so, another metaphysical catastrophe results: the very parameters of created good and evil are ultimately explained, not by God who has set them, but the world itself. I almost said the “created world” – but that is a contradiction on Oord’s view. But if the world was not created, then the very possibilities of freedom – i.e. the things that explain how it is that evil can even possibly exist – are just facts built in to the uncreated (and necessary?) finite world. The fact that God must persuade the world in order for the world to become good is just a brute inexplicable that God finds himself faced with. Man, I sure bet he wishes he could do something other than “ask” the atoms in a cancerous body to act a different way.

This system ultimately equates to Dualism, the doctrine that all erroneous theologies ultimately reduce to. You have the Platonic Demiurge doing the best he can with the pre-existing chaotic material he finds himself with.

You see, if you disconnect the existence of evil, pain and suffering from God absolutely – if you make even the possibility of its existence as something he did not ordain to create – then you split God and the world up in too radical a way. You either castrate God, or you puff up the creation such that it is itself got the divine attributes of being necessary, uncreated, self-existent, etc.

(See here for some hasty thoughts on the problems of Dualism

So the first thing to say about the doctrine of omnicausality is that the alternative seems to me metaphysically impossible.

But what about the claim that omnicausality imputes God’s character? In order for it to impute God’s character, there would need to be some inconsistency in the idea of a perfectly loving being creating beings who will suffer eternal damnation. But is there an inconsistency here? It is not clear to me that there is. For God to be perfectly loving, he must do the most perfectly loving thing for each and every creature he has made. That is, he must intend the maximal good possible for every being – he must give it the most good it is capable of receiving. But, if we suppose that there do exist beings who are implacably evil and who, regardless of God’s grace, spurn him absolutely, then it may be the best possible good they are capable of receiving is what they find in Hell.

But on this scheme, isn’t it true that God has only granted such beings resistible grace? Could he not have granted them irresistible grace, and saved them all?

I don’t think the notions “could have” are meaningful when applied to a timeless being, or to the action of a changeless and timeless God. I wrote about this in my last post. My point was, questions that begin with “could not God have” imply that at some point of time in the past God could have acted differently. But if God acts timelessly, then thinking of God in this way is meaningless. God simply does what he does, period. That’s not to say he is forced by an inner necessity, nor that he whimsically or randomly performed some action he could have refrained from doing. It’s rather that his changeless and timeless being itself transcends the categories of the necessary and contingent, which are opposing categories that apply to finite being.

So what we’re faced with just IS the reality of a loving God creating sinful beings who he does not irresistibly draw to himself. Is THIS reality inconsistent with a perfectly loving God? Again, it seems to me only if it entails that this supposition entails that God fails at doing maximal good for the creature in question, given what it is. And I don’t see that this is the case. What we really want is some reason that things are the way they are. Just why is the existence of such beings the case? If it’s meaningless to ask why didn’t God act otherwise, it at least seems possible to ask why he in fact does act the way he does.

The answer seems to me twofold: a) to promote God’s own glory and goodness; and b) to do infinite good to what he has created. Is it not possible to hold that, given what the creature is, it is still good, even for it, that it have its twisted desires in some sense gratified in Hell? (CS Lewis may be right in that everyone gets what he really wants in the end.) And also that, God, in calling into existence such beings, himself promotes his own glory insofar as it expresses his patient longsuffering and even mercy in his dealings with beings who implacably refuse to do good?

Eventually we just come to the brute fact that God does what he does. He himself is the ultimate cause of all his own actions. We can show how, given his actions, there is no contradiction between them and his perfect character. But to try to produce a “motive” that involves a sort of process of deliberation, where God has to justify his own means of working to himself, is to miss the looming reality that all things – anything we could conceive of as means or tools or reasons that God has to work with – spring from God’s “I-AM-ness.” God’s brute existence defies any sort of comparison to a human process of creating just because everything we work with in order to create is lacking in God’s act of creating. There is no such thing as him doing such and such “in order to,” for he bows to no order outside his own being.

God, in other words, just IS. It may be that 90% of all our apparent contradictions and inconsistencies in our metaphysical systems come from our inability to recognize the foundational I-AM nature of God.

God’s Causality and the Existence of Evil

“The Lord has made all for himself, yes even the wicked for the day of doom.” Proverbs 16:4

It is interesting here how the Psalmist qualifies his statement. He seems to go out of his way to make sure you know that when he says “all things” he really means all things – yes, even the wicked.

Now we could debate whether or not the Psalmist was speaking a timeless truth about the actions and nature of God or whether his own culturally biased and naturally sinful character permitted him only to say of God what he was able, given his condition, to understand. Or we could even debate the nature of inspiration altogether: should Old Testament texts – particularly the gruesome ones – be considered as truly revelatory as those of the New?

But to do that would miss the point I want to talk about, which is the relation between God’s causality and the existence of evil. On the model I’ve been proposing, in which God causes all things that exist in the whole history of space and time, it seems to follow that God is the cause of evil as well. After all, evil certainly is something that exists in space-time. Not only is every rape, suicide, and murder an evil, but so is every bitter thought, every hurt feeling, every pain however slight. Even a stubbed toe is in its own sense a real evil. And since God causes all things and events, it follows, since these are things or events, that he causes them too. But doesn’t this make God himself the “author of evil”?

I would say that it does make God evil’s “author,” but that this doesn’t imply anything negative about God. We must be very careful here in our phrasing. What exactly is entailed in the word author? If we mean that God is himself guilty of something morally impure or evil himself, I deny that he is evil’s author. But if it means that he brings about things which are themselves evil I think we could agree with this without creating any theological problems.

Think about it like this. When God creates, say, an apple tree, he creates something which itself brings forth apples and feeds other of his creatures. He does not himself become either an apple tree or an apple. Or when God creates a roaring waterfall, he does not himself become one. What must be understood is that God’s creative action both a) distances himself from the created object; and b) gives the created object whatever definite and meaningful reality that it has. Thus when God creates an apple tree what exists is an apple tree. Furthermore, when God creates evil, say in the form of a wicked angel, what he creates just is a wicked angel. 

With this distinction in mind we can also avoid another common objection against the omnicausal view of God which is that if God creates absolutely everything then whatever he creates must be good. Therefore – the objection goes – every rape, murder, kidnapping, cancer, etc. must be really good, since God has ordained that it occur. What this objection fails to understand however is that these things are not good things precisely because God’s creative action has made them to have whatever evil that they do. In other words, the reason why evil things are not really good is because they really are evil. Death, torture, war, sickness – these things are true evils, horrible ones (and God knows them as such). They are not good just because they exist.

Lurking behind the objection above is the idea that a morally perfect and good God logically cannot create a universe containing evil. There are a few things that could be said here to help us navigate this puzzle.

1) There has not been a proper argument showing that God could not create a universe with evil in it. At least, we would need to see a logical incompatibility between a) the existence of an all perfect first cause God and b) the existence of evil in the created universe.

2) On any scheme of theology, God still has reasons for allowing evil to exist, otherwise it wouldn’t be at all. Even on the least providential view of God, where he is totally hands off and totally causally distinct from the world, God still has good reasons (e.g. his respecting of free will) to permit evil in the universe.

3) This assumes that to create a universe with evil, or to create evil in a universe, is itself morally evil or an instance of evil. But again, that just begs the question. It has not been proven that to create evil is itself an evil thing to do. If the connection between “creating x” and “being x” were inescapable it would mean that, when God creates a bird chirping, he himself would also be a bird chirping.

The real question that is most pressing at this point is not if the existence of evil and a perfectly good God is logically compatible, but rather why evil exists. What would such a God’s motives be in creating evil, especially if the existence of the universe itself is something contingent? God did not have to create – his nature does not logically require a universe in order to be maximally perfect. Why then make a universe with evil? Why not make a universe with no evil at all? Or why not make a universe where all beings were saved? Or why not only create morally perfect creatures?

This is a tough question, but a few things can be said I think to alleviate some difficulties.

1) Although it is true that God’s nature does not necessarily entail the existence of the universe, it may not be meaningful to say that God “could have done otherwise.” That is, to ask “why didn’t God do such and such” may in fact be an incoherent question. For it seems that for it to be meaningful it would have to be possible for us to go back to some first point – some first moment in time – of creation, and imagine God as doing something other than he did. I can ask why I drove this way rather to work than that way because I can rewind my day and evaluate my motives at that particular point in time. But God’s actions – even his free ones – are done timelessly. They are not done sequentially. (This is also another good reason Molinism seems false: it creates a sequential and therefore temporal God.) He doesn’t “first” do this “then” do that. Therefore it doesn’t seem meaningful to ask why God created a universe with evil in it “rather than” a universe without evil. For again, that implies that he is temporal and capable of going back in time to evaluate a choice which he could have done differently.

2) If God is related to a thing, it seems he must be related to it as perfectly as possible. For instance, the Father is related to the Son perfectly as Father. Furthermore, the whole Trinity is related to the creation perfectly as Creator. What this means is that there is nothing in these particular relations that is imperfect or lacking. When we create something or are father of someone, we at times fail in living up to the maximally perfect relation possible between ourselves and such things. We can be bad fathers or create something poorly. But God, since he is perfect, cannot himself fail to be in perfect relation to whatever he is related to.

With this in mind we can ask the question: is it possible that God, in creating unrepentant sinners and the wicked who are reprobate, did so in order to stand in a perfectly appropriate relation to such a kind of evil being? That is, why can’t God express that which in him is infinitely and perfectly opposed to implacable evil by creating beings who themselves are implacably evil? Is it because he would be doing an injustice to the created being? Not that I can see. One could only think that by first imagining God creating an innocent person and thereafter “making” him sinful. But remember, God’s creative action creates its object immediately and with the entirety of its essence. Thus, if what God created just was a being who deserved judgment, how would it be unjust of God to judge it? God would just be bringing about a truly logically possible kind of creature.

Would we think this view of God makes him petty or egotistical? Not if we understand the traditional doctrine of creation. That traditional teaching is that God, since he is of himself perfect, does not need the universe in order to actualize his perfection, nor does he somehow become more perfect or fulfilled simply because it exists. If this is true then God in creating beings does not enrich his own experience of himself. Therefore he could not create the wicked in order to make himself look better or to flex his egotistical muscles. He doesn’t get his juices flowing by making creation such and such a way.

Perhaps we think it is just a waste of God’s time to make such a world. Why would he make beings who he knows will ultimately deny him and so be consigned to everlasting destruction (whether that be annihilation or some degraded or primal sense of consciousness)? What’s the point, especially if he is already perfectly fulfilled? Could it not be for the benefit of his creation, so that they could more perfectly know and understand who God is? I am far from agreeing with the Edwardian/Calvinist picture of God who is positively wrathful or somehow outraged, in the sense of losing his emotional control, over something that goes on in a world where he has ordained all that comes to pass. But if we look at God’s anger more along the Pauline lines of “longsuffering” and “endurance” I think we can perhaps get a better grasp of how to think about this objection.

Traditionally, God’s nature is such that it cannot suffer. That seems to me to imply he cannot be in the sort of emotional distress that the common Calvinist picture paints him to be in: like an enraged alcoholic who can hardly control keep from destroying the slightest thing that offends him. However, it seems to me perfectly compatible with an impassible nature to suppose that God’s anger is something like a perfectly patient and disapproving endurance. A sort of disapproving putting up with, with the thought of eventually destroying altogether, not with any bitterness, but with an unflinching – because completely deserving – finality.

Imagine a time when someone has wronged you. Which is a more appropriate, a healthier, a more God like response? Wishing and brooding over getting even with the person, or a calm recognition that, although that person may have gotten away with what he did, in the end, all will be set right? You see, when we imagine God as being positively offended by the creation, we are imagining him as passible and even whimsical. (We’ve certainly lost sight of actus purus – no consistent Calvinist can consistently believe in that it seems.) Does it not make more sense to view God’s wrath, anger, justice, endurance, etc. along the lines of a well-controlled but still absolutely disapproving judge?

So is it not possible to say that God created evil in order to display to his creatures that which is in itself (and in himself) a perfectly appropriate stance towards implacable evil, that is, as St. Paul said, enduring it with longsuffering and patience for a season, and then eradicating it altogether?

God’s Timelessness, Permissive Decree, and Omnicausality

What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction…” Romans 9:22

There is a nest of problems that come with thinking of God’s causal relation to human’s free will. One of the views that I’ve been interested in lately (and that has been made popular in the blog world lately – see Eclectic Orthodoxy) is that of Hugh McCann’s. His position is not something entirely new, although he has perhaps done the best recently at most clearly articulating such a view. In short, McCann thinks that God causes absolutely all things that come to pass in time, but not in such a way that destroys free will. God “creates us willing.” He does not create “us” and then go on from there to make us will a certain way. Rather, his creation of us immediate. There is nothing between his willing that we exist in a certain way and our subsequent existing in that way. That would entail determinism – i.e. that God forces us to be something other than what we are. The way McCann sees it, and I tend to agree with him, is that God’s creating us just is his making us what we are in the first place.

Now this position is able to preserve human freedom because of God’s timeless causality. That is, because God transcends time, there is nothing out there in the world that comes “before” our free action such that since it exists therefore our free action must also exist. In other words, it’s not because at the beginning of the universe the particular atoms were arranged in just such a way that they necessarily arranged to produce our brains, and that those brains, themselves being governed by the laws of physics, had to give rise to the free choices that they did. Since God is really the ultimate cause and explanation of every movement in time whatsoever, the case is quite different. He operates on a different plane of causality altogether. The classic example is of his causal power being like that of an author to a novel. No one would accuse the author of “determining” the nature of his characters such that their freedom was violated when he makes them doing different things.

The whole question of a “violation” of freedom presupposes that there is some person already there – some creature that is just “given” – that God then acts on to make it do such and such. But again, if God is timeless, and if he is the source of all reality, there is no such character already “there” just existing by its own necessary existence. For it to exist at all God must first cause it to be. But in that case, we already have a fully created character.

One more thing that follows from saying that God is timeless is that asking whether or not he could have done otherwise becomes a meaningless question. I think it is true to say that God’s creation is contingent and that it need not exist. I also think it true to say that given God’s existence (which is necessary), the existence of the world does not necessarily follow. But, at the same time, since we know that God in fact has freely chosen to create (we do exist after all), God cannot not create. Since God is timeless there is no sequence to his acts (for sequence implies temporality and movement.) Therefore, since what he does he does changelessly, there is no sense in asking if he “could have” not created. For “could have” implies some past state of affairs when God could have actually acted differently. It’s not that God “had” to or “must” have created. Nor is it that he at one point just freely chose to do something he didn’t have to do. Both points put God in time. I would rather say that, given Gods necessary existence, a creation does not necessarily follow, but only if he freely wills to create the world does its existence follow. Putting the situation in a tenseless (and therefore timeless) conditional upholds both Gods necessity and the creation and contingency but avoids the “could have” problems.

Now, one apparent problem with McCann’s view is that it seems to fall victim to the critique against Calvinism insofar as it makes God the cause of sin and evil. It also seems to divide his will: God creates the very beings who he is wrathful with and who he commands to be otherwise, even though they have no real ability to do otherwise.

A couple things can be said here. The first is that the ability to do otherwise may not actually be necessary to secure moral responsibility. It may be that all that is required is a) a rational motive by the intellect; and b) the perception that acting on that motive is wrong. The second quick thing that can be said is that there may be nothing either logically incompatible or theologically problematic in saying that God has caused or created all sin and evil. You see, what we want to specifically avoid is making God out to be evil or of having him do or commit evil himself. But to create evil, or to make a universe in which sin exists, is not necessarily to commit an evil act. That would be a sort of fallacy of transfer: if God makes a red apple exist, he himself must be a red apple; or if God makes a man riding a bike, he himself must be riding a bike. Is it not possible that God, in creating evil and sinful actions, does not do evil insofar as all that he is causing he is doing with perfectly wise, pure, and good motives?

Now, this leads me to the last point of this post, which is about God’s permission of sin and evil. It’s easy to think that if God causes all that comes to pass, he is delighted or gleeful whenever sin occurs. After all, if people sin, they only do so because he has willed that they sin. And since God’s will is always fulfilled – since, indeed, according to this scheme all things that happen do so by God’s decree – how could he ever be upset about anything? Furthermore, how could he even “permit” a thing in the first place? If he is omnicausing all, just what could he be permitting, besides his own causal power?

This is where I think the question of God’s timeless relation to creation becomes really interesting. Sam Storms has suggested that God “is pleased to ordain his own displeasure” and John Piper has talked about the “complex emotional life” of God. Could it be that in willing sinners, God is revealing that which is in himself analogous to our experience of “permission” and “longsuffering”?

Think about it like this. What if God’s very causal, timeless relation is to the reprobate just such a species of permissiveness? What we mean by permission automatically presupposes some resistant object over and against which we exert a sort of causal allowance. What if God’s causal relation between sinners is this same sort of thing, just taken up timelessly?