I think I must be in a cranky mood today. At any rate, the following is also something I originally put on a certain (NeoCalvinist) Anglican(?) blog in response to the following:
The man born blind in John 9 was not an accident of biology. He was born blind so that the Lord Jesus could give him sight. Joseph was not sold into slavery by accident. He was sold into slavery by the express intended purpose of God to redeem many. The Assyrians did not destroy Israel on their own accord. They came as the arm of God to punish. The Lord Jesus was not crucified by fortunate happenstance. The men who delivered Him up and killed him did so by divine decree. There are no random molecules in the universe. Everything is governed by the decretive will of God. Nothing happens except that He has decreed it from the beginning. No death, no misfortune, no suffering, no sorrow, no misery is beyond his reach, or outside the scope of His will. That is why we can say that everything has purpose in this life, and that everything will eventually reveal the glory of God. We do not have to understand. It is sufficient that God understands.
Providence means that God is capable of bringing good out of evil. But God does not decree or create evil. Evil is entirely the result of the rebellion of creatures, which God permits, but does not cause. Certainly “No death, no misfortune, no suffering, no sorrow, no misery is beyond his reach, or outside the scope of His will.” It does not at all follow that “Nothing happens except that He has decreed it from the beginning.”
God does not decree sin. God hates sin, and his Son died to redeem us from that sin which God hates. To state that God decrees sin is to place on God the responsibility for that which he hates, and condemns, and the effects of which his Son died to alleviate.
The relation between God and creatures is absolutely unique, and not one that any creature can even imagine because all of our knowledge takes place within the finite contingent structures of created reality. But God is not part of that reality at all. We literally cannot imagine the relation between God and creatures, and determinism is as much a case of such an idolatrous attempt to imagine the connection, as are attempts that imply that (as my interlocutor put it), God “struggles with a creation in which random suffering is exactly that – random, devoid of purpose.” Both positions are equally “nonsense.”
The vast majority of Christians throughout history have not found it necessary to posit determinism in order to assert God’s providence and control of his creatures. Indeed, God’s sovereignty is more honored if we recognize that God creates creatures in such a manner as to give them a genuine but contingent created integrity. God is quite capable of working through genuine created causality to bring about his intentions. He does not have to be a determinist to do so. God does not create evil, and he does not decree sin. God does not create or cause that which he hates.
Of course, God is quite capable of using the evil that he does not cause, and which he hates, to accomplish his purposes. Of course, God is capable of working through the sins of Joseph’s brothers or Pharaoh or Pilate to accomplish his purposes. But God did not determine that Joseph’s brothers betray him or that Pharaoh would enslave the Hebrews, or that Pilate would crucify Jesus. To suggest such is close to blasphemy.
I realize such discussions are interminable, and generally raise more heat than light. Rather than enter into endless discussion, I point readers to my philosophical and theological betters. One might read Augustine. But certainly Thomas Aquinas and Richard Hooker have thought through these things as carefully as have Calvin and his successors.
The language of Scripture is phenomenal when it comes to describing God’s relation to creatures, as it is phenomenal when it describes things like the rising of the sun, scientific realities, or God’s body parts (“The arm of the Lord is not shortened . . .”). Scripture nowhere provides detailed metaphysical discussion of such questions as the relation between primary and secondary causality, or, how God works through created contingent events in such a manner as to provide not only for his sovereignty but their integrity as creatures. To assume that it does is to make a category mistake, like those Vatican officials who chided Galileo for contradicting the clear teaching of Scripture about the rising of the sun.
There has been in the history of the church reams of paper and gallons of ink spent on discussing questions relating to how divine sovereignty relates to created contingencies. Every metaphysical issue—incarnation, Trinity, creation, grace, sacraments, etc.—is a variation. If it were simply a matter of quoting a few passages of scripture, the issue would have been settled long ago.
Most Calvinists have no idea of just how rich and complex the discussion has been. Needless to say, most Christians have not been determinists. The ecumenically orthodox consensus of the church is that:
1) God is the supreme Good, in whom there can be no evil—not because whatever is, is good, or because something becomes good merely because God wills it, but because God’s nature is inherently good, and God cannot will or create evil.
2) In discussing the relation between Creator and creature, not only divine aseity and sovereignty, but also created contingency and genuine created reality, must be preserved. God creates and works through created contingencies in such a manner that they retain their integrity as created contingencies.
3) Sin exists, but God is in no way the cause of it. Sin is completely contrary to God’s will. God is in no way the cause of the sinful actions of creatures. God permitted, but did not cause, the fall into sin.
4) God is sovereign over his creation. God is present to each creature and each created event in that he gives existence to whatever is. If God were to cease creating and sustaining the universe for even a moment, it would collapse back into nothingness.
5) Although God is not the cause of evil, God is capable of bringing good out of evil, and does so. If God could not bring good out of evil, he would not be sovereign.
The above would be agreed to by Orthodox, by Catholics, including Augustinians, Thomists, Scotists, Dominicans, Molinists, Suarezians, by the vast majority of Protestants, including orthodox Lutherans, the vast majority of Anglicans (e.g., Richard Hooker, John Donne, Joseph Butler), Methodists, and, I think, even most Reformed today, for example, the late Thomas F. Torrance, who wrote a huge amount of material on how the patristic doctrine of creation made a radical change in how Christians viewed the world as compared to paganism, and how this has significant implications for the relation between theology and modern science.
The one exception in the entire tradition would be traditionalist Calvinists. Luther himself was a determinist, but othodox Lutheranism did not follow him in this. There is debate as to whether Calvin was a determinist, or rather, whether determinism was introduced by Beza. In my opinion, a careful reading of the texts indicates that Beza’s supralapsarianism was simply a logical drawing out of the implications of Calvin’s own understanding of providence.
At the same time,there is no inherent connection between a doctrine of Augustinian predestination and determinism. Augustine was the first advocate of unconditional predestination, but he rejected determinism until his dying day. Thomas Aquinas embraced Augustine’s doctrine of predestination, as have many of his followers, but he emphatically rejected determinism because it would make God responsible for sin.
My own thinking on such matters has been greatly influenced by thinkers like Torrance, but also Thomists like Robert Sokolowski, Norris Clarke, Thomas Weinandy, and numerous others. I would also recommend the writings of Anglicans Austin Farrer and Eric Mascall. And, of course, there is the huger discussion in the entire tradition of the church, beginning with the church fathers. Calvinist determinism is just a tributary, and rather a small creek, in the huge river of Christian metaphysics.
I would add to the above that I grant to Calvinist determinism about the same amount of credibility I give to the Orthodox Essence/Energies distinction, to the Non-Chalcedonian Christologies of Copts or Armenians, to Lutheran ubiquity, Roman Catholic transubstantiation, Scotist possible worlds metaphysics, Molinist middle knowledge, or Openness of God theism. Like the above, it is a metaphysical theory that has been embraced by a sizable group of Christians in an attempt to address certain theological problems raised by Scripture, and, in particular, the way in which particular divine and created realities relate. At the same time, each one of these views is a bit of metaphysical speculation that has been embraced by no other Christian body outside the particular body of advocates. As such, while the theories might be right, one tends to think that their continued adherence within the particular group in which they have arisen has more to do with inertia, and preservation of group identity than with well thought out solutions to the problems raised.
Finally, I am aware that Calvinists not only insist that God decrees everything, but that God is not thereby the author of evil, and I am aware of the various ways in which they try to reconcile these two claims. To explain why they can’t be reconciled would require a rather lengthy syllogistic argument outlining various distinctions between necessity, possibility, impossibility, contingency, and various kinds of necessity. However, in short, if God brings things about necessarily, then they are necessary, and cannot not have been. If God brings things about contingently, then they are not necessary, and might not have been. If God decrees all events in such a manner that the fall or sin cannot not have been, then the fall and sin are necessary, and God is the author of evil. This is true even if the necessity of the fall or sin are contingent on human actions, which, in themselves, are voluntary, but nonetheless determined in their outcome by the divine decree. If those human choices are determined by the divine decree in such a manner that they cannot not have been, then God is the author of evil.
However, that God is the author of evil is a heresy not only contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture, but also condemned universally by the Christian tradition–with the single exception of Calvinist determinism.