Monday, November 22, 2010

Response to Steven Berg

My good friend Steve, being a "rabid Arminian", has responded to my blog post entitled "Predestination and Voluntary Choice".  The following is my response to him.

There is overwhelming biblical supporting the Providence of God.

An interesting quote from Easton's Bible Dictionary along these lines:

Providence is generally used to denote God's preserving and governing all things by means of second causes (Ps. 18:35; 63:8; Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). God's providence extends to the natural world (Ps. 104:14; 135:5-7; Acts 14:17), the brute creation (Ps. 104:21-29; Matt. 6:26; 10:29), and the affairs of men (1 Chr. 16: 31; Ps. 47:7; Prov. 21:1; Job 12:23; Dan.2:21; 4:25), and of individuals (1 Sam. 2:6; Ps. 18:30; Luke 1:53; James 4: 13-15). It extends also to the free actions of men (Ex. 12:36; 1 Sam. 24:9-15; Ps. 33:14, 15; Prov. 16:1; 19:21; 20:24; 21:1), and things sinful (2 Sam. 16:10; 24:1; Rom. 11:32; Acts 4:27, 28), as well as to their good actions (Phil. 2:13; 4:13; 2 Cor. 12:9, 10; Eph. 2:10; Gal. 5: 22-25). As regards sinful actions of men, they are represented as occurring by God's permission (Gen. 45:5; 50:20. Comp. 1 Sam. 6:6; Ex. 7:13; 14:17; Acts 2:3; 3:18; 4:27, 28), and as controlled (Ps. 76:10) and overruled for good (Gen. 50:20; Acts 3:13).

And a similar quote by John Piper:

God "works all things after the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11). This "all things" includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).

My problem with your response is two fold:

First it is a philosophical response, not an exegetical one. You have problems with God's Providence philosophically. This is to be expected, as you have a degree in philosophy. However, your objections do not disprove the doctrine of Providence at all.   When it comes right down to it, if this is what the text teaches, then to the gallows with philosophy.  I am not obligated to reconcile your philosophical problems, but to demonstrate what I am teaching from the text of Scripture.  Un-liked implications do not disprove me at all. If you have a philosophical or emotional problem with the doctrine of Providence, then your problem is ultimately with God and not with me.

That leads to my second problem with your response. I think it is implied that you are essentially demanding that God should act and conform to your idea of right, and do what seems proper to you! So you reject the idea that God can do what he wants and rule all creation, including the choices of men, according to his will, because you don't like some of the implications.  These implications make you reject God's Providence because they don't fit into your categories of what is right or wrong. But who are you to judge God in what he does?

"But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? 'Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, "Why did you make me like this?"'" (Romans 9:20 NIV)

"The LORD said to Job: 'Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!' Then Job answered the LORD: 'I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.'" (Job 40:1-5 NIV)

God has a sovereign right to do whatsoever pleases Him, and because it pleases Him, it is by definition equitable and right. Right and wrong are determined by God, and not by us.  If it can be proven exegetically that God governs everything, including our choices, according to his will and purpose, then we have no right, as mere creatures, to stand in judgment of God. Judging God by our fallen human notions of justice is the height of arrogance. If God does it, it's right, despite what you may think about it. You may not be able to reconcile everything. Anything God does is going to be mysterious to us.  God's providence doubly so because that's part of what makes him God. What kind of God doesn't govern his creation? All we are to do is sit in awe of his incomprehensible majesty.  This is a faith issue.  Providence is not an acknowledgment that we can make sense of what God is doing; it is an acknowledgment that He can make sense of it and that is all that matters. We are not called upon to explain providence, but to trust the God of providence.

Martin Luther responded to Erasmus the same way.

This is the highest degree of faith -- to believe that He is merciful, who saves so few and damns so many; to believe Him just, who according to His own will, makes us necessarily damnable, that He may seem, as Erasmus says, to delight in the torments of the miserable, and to be an object of hatred rather than of love.' If, therefore, I could by any means comprehend how that same God can be merciful and just, who carries the appearance of so much wrath and iniquity, there would be no need of faith.

You asked for a definition of Concurrence and secondary causes. 

Concurrence is "[a]n aspect of God's providence whereby he cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do." (Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology).

What are secondary causes? God and his decree is the first or primary cause of all events. Nothing happens by chance, randomly, or outside the sphere of God's decree. But just as a king grants his ministers the honor of executing his commands, so too God employs what are called "secondary causes" to execute his plan. By his providence God controls whatever comes to pass, but secondary causes play their part in bringing them about, working as either fixed laws like the laws of nature, or freely like the will of the creature, or because other causes have caused them. An example of a secondary cause would be the water cycle. But notice what the scriptures say: "For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:45 ESV) God "calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name" (Amos 5:8 ESV) (See also Psalm 135:7 and Acts 14:16-17). So what causes the rain, God or the water cycle? The fact that we have a natural explanation for rain in the form of the water cycle, doesn't mean that God doesn't send the rain. Calvin is right when he says, "It is certain that not a drop of rain falls without the express command of God." (Institutes 1:16:5) God is the primary cause, and he uses the water cycle as a secondary cause. 

Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae gives a good definition of secondary causes and concurrence:

"God has immediate providence over everything, because He has in His intellect the types of everything, even the smallest; and whatsoever causes He assigns to certain effects, He gives them the power to produce those effects [Thus,] there are certain intermediaries of God’s providence; for He governs things inferior by superior, not on account of any defect in His power, but by reason of the abundance of His goodness; so that the dignity of causality is imparted even to creatures. (ST I.22.3, respondeo)"

God governs the universe generally in a law-like way. Every single event within the universe is under His direct control. This does not take away the truth that secondary, natural causes also make things happen. It does not override or undermine the actions human beings undertake as a result of their own wills.

Aquinas says, “God’s immediate provision over everything does not exclude the action of secondary causes; which are the executors of His order” (ST I.22.3, rep. obj. 2). And again: “since the very act of free will is traced to God as a cause, it necessarily follows that everything happening from the exercise of free will is subject to divine providence. For human providence is included under the providence of God, as a particular under a universal cause” (ST I.22.2, rep. obj. 4).

God's providence and secondary causes are not in conflict but in concord. Natural events cause other natural events to happen, but not without God’s will concurring. God directs the wills and hearts of men, but not without their voluntary concurrence.

In other words, you get universal divine governance, providence over each particular event, providence even over the decisions of human beings – and you get it all without sacrificing secondary causes or making God the author of evil.

God does not directly cause or approve of sin, but only limits, restrains, overrules it for good. Foreordination renders certain an act to be performed by a person. Foreordination does not compel the person to perform the act. Men are at liberty to do what they desire. God does not coerce them. Man is a responsible agent who originates his own sinful acts. Sin is transgression of God’s law and is disobedience to the Lawgiver Himself. God does not influence men to sin against Him.  Humanity is primarily responsible for the sin in the world. But, God has a purpose he is working out. Because God sustains the universe's moment-by-moment existence, nothing comes about independently of his will. Nothing can happen unless God has willed it to be so. He governs all creatures and events so that they accomplish his own sovereign plan.  God's plan is accomplished either by their acting freely (like the will of the creature) or contingently (because other causes have caused them) or necessarily (as either fixed laws like the laws of nature).

By "freedom" and "freely", I do indeed understand that to mean, "we do what we want to do".  The source of what we want is our nature. "An evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." (Luke 6:45 NIV) Our heart is what determines our choices. But that we are not absolutely free, Jesus gives his plain and clear testimony: "Jesus replied, 'Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.'" (John 8:34 NIV) Despite being slaves of sin, this is actually what we want. "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." (John 3:19 NIV) But it simply isn't a matter of changing what we love. It isn't a matter of willing something different. We are slaves and in bondage. A Zebra could sooner changes his stripes then a slave of sin free himself. Paul explains this slavery to sin further, "The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:7-8 NIV) Our choices stem from our heart. Our heart is enslaved to sin. Thus our will is not "free" but in bondage. This is abundantly clear and the plain meaning of Scripture.

As Luther says, "But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled, until he comes to know that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsel, endeavours, will, and works, and absolutely depending on the will, counsel, pleasure, and work of another, that is, of God alone. For if, as long as he has any persuasion that he can do even the least thing himself towards his own salvation, he retains a confidence in himself and do not utterly despair in himself, so long he is not humbled before God; but he proposes to himself some place, some time, or some work, whereby he may at length attain unto salvation. But he who hesitates not to depend wholly upon the good-will of God, he totally despairs in himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such an one, is the nearest unto grace, that he might be saved."

Thus God, in ways beyond our understanding, works in and through everything to bring about his good purposes.  It is important for us to see God’s hand in our trials, our pain and suffering, even our own decisions. God’s hand operates in everything that happens to me and in everything I do, right down to my own choices. But it is harder to see God’s hand in our own sinful or unwise decisions. God’s hand of providence is in these decisions also. Indeed, the relationship between God’s providence and human sin is mysterious. We should not thank God for sin, but we should thank him heartily for using even sin to further his good purposes.

As far as my quote of Deuteronomy, I was not appealing to a "two wills" idea in this verse.  I was appealing to the fact that it is abundantly obvious that God has not revealed everything about himself and how he operates and rules his creation.  There are some things that only God knows.  He has revealed somethings to us, and these we can search.  But we must avoid searching for answers in areas that God has seen fit to keep secret and not to reveal. As D. A. Carson wrote, "The mystery of providence defies our attempt to tame it by reason. I do not mean it is illogical; I mean that we do not know enough about it to be able to unpack it."

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?' 'Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?' For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." (Romans 11:33-36 NIV)

Grace to you,


Robert Warren said...

This "all things" includes...the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11)...

Thus God, in ways beyond our understanding, works in and through everything to bring about his good purposes. It is important for us to see God’s hand in our trials, our pain and suffering...

Hi Matt:

This is a concept that I ponder frequently, as I have failing eyesight (although I am not necessarily conceding ultimate blindness). If it were not so, my vision problems would have absolutely no meaning. This applies to all other (on the surface) distasteful human outcomes. How many Christians would greatly benefit from understanding this very practical aspect of Divine Providence? (Answer: all of 'em).

JoJo said...

I've been following your discourse with Steve on this issue, Matt. You did a very nice job! Keep it up!

God bless!

(I'll be including your blog on my bloglist)

Tony-Allen said...

First it is a philosophical response, not an exegetical one.

Unfortunately, I have encountered that all too often when I discuss the topic of election with others.