Thursday, January 7, 2010

Foreordination and human responsibility

Hello Ben,

I appreciate your desire to seek out the truth even on difficult issues such as these. I’ll do my best to answer your questions in their entirety.

You asked: “Did God create beings He knew would rebel against Him? And if so, how can He hold them accountable for that rebellion?”

Yes, God created beings He knew would rebel against Him. On a related note, I would also like to address how God knew the future before the foundation of the world, and I think you‘ll see how this becomes directly relevant to your questions. Was God simply looking down through the corridors of time, much like a fortune-teller with her crystal ball? Or does the Lord have another basis for knowing what happens in the future? I believe the Bible answers this very question.

Isaiah 44:6-8 reads: “6"Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me. 7 'Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; Yes, let him recount it to Me in order, From the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming And the events that are going to take place. 8 'Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any other Rock? I know of none.'“” (NASB).

This is a text I use fairly often when talking with Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but also with Open Theists, oddly enough. In these few verses our God states in more ways than one that He is the only true and living god that exists. More than that, He offers a challenge to the many false gods to declare to Him the events of the past and their purpose for happening. God then challenges idols to declare events that have yet to happen. I believe there is a strong implication that just as the Lord established past events and the ancient nation He likewise establishes the future.

Isaiah says in 46:8-11, “8"Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors. 9 "Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'; 11 Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.” (NASB).

Saying similar things as the previous passage we looked at, but also that He declares the end from the beginning so that His purpose will be established according to His good pleasure. He has spoken and it will happen just as He desires. His plans always come to pass.

Next, I’d encourage you to read Isaiah 40-50 … but until then … this section in Isaiah not only presents a series of tests to demonstrate that He is the only true god, but also to serve as reassurance for this fact. Among His many tests are the constant reminder that He alone is the Creator of all things, and I believe that His many mentions of ordaining the past, present and future must be considered an act of God’s creative handiwork (creation).

Romans 8:28 is a passage well known amongst Christians down through the ages of the Church because of it’s reassurance of God’s total control over all things: “8 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (NASB). This is comforting not only because God is watching out for the Christian’s best interests but because everything that happens is according to God’s purposes. Think how the first century Church viewed this text in light of the intense persecution brought by the Jews and the Romans, and the text becomes all the more relevant. Even in the face of persecution our Lord is in control because He has ordained what will happen, and His ends will be accomplished for the betterment of His people.

What I have attempted to do up to this point is demonstrate that the Creator has ordained all events in time and space: the past, present and future. But I have one other point to make regarding good and evil. Going back to Isaiah, we read in 45:6-7, “6 That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, 7 The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.” (NASB). He forms light and darkness, causing well-being and calamity. Another text, Proverbs 6:4 reads: “4 The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil.” (NASB). This brings out a very important fact: God ordains all things, good and evil - evil the wicked for the day of doom.

We are nearly ready to directly address your question, but first we need to answer one other question: if God has ordained good and evil events, how does that all play out? In an attempt to better explain our theology, Calvinists differentiate between first and secondary causes. God is the first cause of all things that happen. In other words, He has ordained everything that takes place. Secondary causes are the means which He uses to accomplish His ordained decree.

So, did God “create” sin? I suppose it depends on how you are defining the term “create.” He certainly ordained the existence of sin and evil, but it was Satan and human beings that actualized, or brought about, its existence.

How is it that human beings are held accountable for their sins in light of the fact that God has ordained all things? A simple answer would be that it is human beings that sin and not God. But going further, human beings have what is known as compatibilist freedom. That is, that though God is sovereign in ordaining everything that comes to pass, man is responsible for what he does. This is seen in 3 key texts of Scripture: Genesis 50:20, Isaiah 10:5-13, and Acts 4:27-28.

Genesis 50:20, “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)

In this rather awkward scenario where Joseph’s brothers are pleading with him to not be punished as a result of their wicked behavior, we have a clear recognition that God had purpose and intent in the evil they had done. What was that purpose? To preserve many people alive. Joseph’s brothers meant evil but God meant it for good. It is important to point out that though God has ordained even Joseph’s brothers’ evil deeds, they are not let off the hook for their behavior. For evidence of this take a look at what Jacob said to each of his sons on his deathbed.

Isaiah 10:5-13, “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,” (NASB).

Assyria had evil intent to destroy and cut off many nations, but not against Jerusalem. Yet God chose to use Assyria as the rod of His anger and punish the Jews. Once finished, the Lord then punishes Assyria for what they did to Jerusalem. The simple lesson from this passage is that God controls all things but we are still held accountable for our actions.

Finally, 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).

Even the Son of God had an appointed time to face abuse and death at the hands of Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel. We know from the Scriptures that all these have been held accountable for their actions. But think about the many decisions that led to the experiences that Christ faced. Between Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles and the Israelites there were an innumerable number of decisions. The first century also came thousands of years after the time of the creation … and I wonder how many choices and actions were done leading up to the time of Christ? If God did not ordain even the choices of men I suggest to you that ordaining specific events of Christ’s life would have been impossible. The Lord is either utterly sovereign over the universe - including time and space - or He is not sovereign at all. These are our two options.

One final question you had asked was whether God created beings He knew would be destined for eternal punishment? I believe that He did - Romans 9 talks a bit about why God did this very thing.

I’ll wrap it up there, but please let me know if you’d like to discuss this further or if you have any further questions.

Praise God for His rulership over all things,
Casey “Rusty” Ryan

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