Thursday, January 28, 2010

Compatibalist Freedom


Thank you for your email and your excellent questions. These are both well formulated and well thought out; I very much appreciate that.

Your first question: “If God ordains and puts all sin and disobedience into motion by His plans, how does the blame for this sin land on sinners and not Himself?”

Though it is true that men perform the actions ordained by God since eternity they are also held accountable for their actions. This is what we call Compatibalist Freedom. There is a distinction made between primary and secondary causes. God is the primary cause for all things that happen in time and space. Secondary causes are accomplished through the agents themselves. God ordained the Fall of Adam and Eve, yet it was actualized through Adam and Eve. It was not God who sinned, but Adam and Eve.

There are 3 clear examples in Scripture that teach Compatibalist Freedom: Genesis 50:20, Isaiah 10:5-14, and Acts 4:27-28.

Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (NASB).

Shortly before our text, Joseph and his brothers witnessed their father‘s death. After they finished burying him, his brothers began to worry that Joseph may take vengeance for the many evil deeds they did against him (vs. 15). Eventually they approach Joseph to beg for mercy, and Joseph responds in verse 20. His brothers meant much evil against Joseph, and yet God intended good from these actions. This means that God had a purpose all along for the many evil difficulties they forced upon their brother. God had intentions for their actions before they were ever performed! Joseph showed mercy to his brothers, even though they were clearly guilty of the actions God ordained ahead of time.

Isaiah 10:5-14, “5 Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hands is My indignation, 6 I send it against a godless nation And commission it against the people of My fury To capture booty and to seize plunder, And to trample them down like mud in the streets. 7 Yet it does not so intend, Nor does it plan so in its heart, But rather it is its purpose to destroy And to cut off many nations. 8 For it says, "Are not my princes all kings? 9 "Is not Calno like Carchemish, Or Hamath like Arpad, Or Samaria like Damascus? 10 "As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols, Whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, 11 Shall I not do to Jerusalem and her images Just as I have done to Samaria and her idols?" 12 So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will say, "I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness." 13 For he has said, "By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this, For I have understanding; And I removed the boundaries of the peoples And plundered their treasures, And like a mighty man I brought down their inhabitants, 14 And my hand reached to the riches of the peoples like a nest, And as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth; And there was not one that flapped its wing or opened its beak or chirped.”” (NASB).

In this scenario Assyria is used by God to punish His people for their godlessness. Assyria “did not so intend” or “plan so in its heart” to attack Jerusalem but only to “destroy and to cut off many nations.” And so God uses Assyria to attack Jerusalem. After the fact, God punishes Assyria for “the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.”

This is another example of God causing events and then holding the individuals involved responsible. In this case, Assyria didn’t even intend … but God did intend for them to do this. Then Assyria is held accountable and punished accordingly.

Finally, Acts 4:27-28 may be the most important of these 3 examples because of who is involved in God’s predestining purpose: Jesus Christ.

Acts 4:27-28 “27 "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” (NASB).

Luke records Peter’s and John’s response to the priests, elders and scribes. The point I will make from this text is that the Lord predestined many decisions and actions which resulted in the suffering of Christ, yet Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the Jews are all accountable before God for their behavior and involvement.

Next, I would like to address a possible implication from your question. Are you implying that without a libertarian freedom man cannot be held accountable for his actions? If so, I would simply ask how such a freedom can exist since men are unable to do other than what God foreknew they would do? In other words, if men lack the liberty to act apart from the foreknowledge of God then they cannot possess a freedom independent of all forces (including God’s). Libertarianism is clearly not the kind of freedom men possess. Rather, the Bible teaches that men have a compatibalist freedom, where under the sovereign rulership of God men are still accountable for their deeds.

On to your second question: “If genuine, unprovoked devotion is not, and cannot be part of His plans due to His sovereign nature, why did He not create everyone with a natural positive response to His being?”

Very simply - because God, in His infinite wisdom, decided to create the way He did. I will make reference to Ephesians 1 and Romans 9. Also consider that the secret things belong to the Lord; we know only what God has revealed to us (Deuteronomy 29:29). Going beyond the Scriptures into speculation about why God ordained things this way is futile since only the mind of the Lord knows such things. We might as well ask why God created the law of gravity the way He did.

I hope this was beneficial for you. If you would like to continue on this discussion, or have further questions please let me know.

Because of the sovereign rulership of God,
Casey “Rusty” Ryan

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