I recently came upon this question in my twitter feed. In case it isn’t obvious, my answer to this shocking question is unapologetically, “HELL NO!” And I mean that quite literally. Hell, the place were creatures go who “BRING ABOUT” such atrocities, screams what should be the obvious answer: NO! Our perfectly HOLY God does not bring about the sins for which people suffer for in Hell!
However, as obvious as the answer to this question may seem, John Piper, and other notable Calvinistic scholars, teach a highly controversial perspective:
“God . . . brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and his people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11; James 1:2-4). This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child…” (Link)— Mark R. Talbot, “’All the Good That Is Ours in Christ’: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us,” in John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds.), Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 31-77 (quote from p. 42).
So, look at the two different beliefs side by side:
- Traditionalism affirms that God works to redeem man’s morally evil choices and bring about good from the heinous consequences of those autonomous choices. God is seen as most glorious because of His redemptive grace in overcoming evil.
- Calvinism, according to Piper, affirms that God “isn’t just managing to turn the evil aspects of our world to good; it is rather that He Himself brings about these evil aspects for His glory.” God, according to this perspective, is seen as most glorious for His power and control of the evil itself.
So, is God bringing about the very moral evil that He works to redeem? Why is that perspective of God viewed as “most glorious” by some? Since when is cleaning up your own mistakes deemed as more glorious than graciously cleaning up the messes of those who are fully responsible and woefully undeserving?
Now, to be clear, a Calvinist would not “blame” God for the mistakes of men outright. They would rely on a very complex philosophical explanation of “second and third causes” which has become known as “Compatibilism.”
Let me forewarn you, this explanation can become as convoluted as the lapsarian controversy and has as many various approaches as it does syllables. Objective observers can see how this leads to much confusion and the endless accusation of misrepresentation against anyone who dares to speak out against the systematic’s questionable conclusions… conclusions such as:
Nothing that exists or occurs falls outside God’s ordaining will. Nothing, including no evil person or thing or event or deed. God’s foreordination is the ultimate reason why everything comes about, including the existence of all evil persons and things and the occurrence of any evil acts or events. And so it is not inappropriate to take God to be the creator, the sender, the permitter, and sometimes even the instigator of evil… Nothing — no evil thing or person or event or deed — falls outside God’s ordaining will. Nothing arises, exists, or endures independently of God’s will. So when even the worst of evils befall us, they do not ultimately come from anywhere other than God’s hand. (Same Link as Above)
Here is the problem with this approach. It denies the permissive aspect of God’s decree. To say, “God isn’t just managing to turn the evil aspects of our world to good; it is rather that He Himself brings about these evil aspects for His glory,” is to suggest that God is not merely permitting evil people to freely act and managing to turn what they intend for evil into something good, but instead that God is actively “bringing about evil” Himself. He is the root cause (or “author”) of moral evil under this system. That is unacceptable, not only to our consciences as born again believers, but it is wholly unbiblical. Compatibilists, while intending to protect their understanding of Divine sovereignty (i.e. complete control), undermine God’s supremely self-glorifying characteristics of holiness and love.
I’ll allow John MacArthur, another notable Calvinistic pastor, bring some much needed balance to this approach:
If God is sovereign, is He responsible for evil?
No. Scripture says that when God finished His creation, He saw everything and declared it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Many Scriptures affirm that God is not the author of evil: “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33)—and if that is true, He cannot in any way be the author of evil.
Occasionally someone will quote Isaiah 45:7 (KJV) and claim it proves God made evil as a part of His creation: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”
But the New American Standard Bible gives the sense of Isaiah 45:6-7 more clearly: “There is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.” In other words, God devises calamity as a judgment for the wicked. But in no sense is He the author of evil. …
Romans 5:12 says that death entered the world because of sin. Death, pain, disease, stress, exhaustion, calamity, and all the bad things that happen came as a result of the entrance of sin into the universe (see Genesis 3:14-24). All those evil effects of sin continue to work in the world and will be with us as long as sin is.
God is certainly sovereign over evil. There’s a sense in which it is proper even to say that evil is part of His eternal decree. He planned for it. It did not take Him by surprise. It is not an interruption of His eternal plan. He declared the end from the beginning, and He is still working all things for His good pleasure (Isaiah 46:9-10).
But God’s role with regard to evil is never as its author. He simply permits evil agents to work, then overrules evil for His own wise and holy ends. Ultimately He is able to make all things-including all the fruits of all the evil of all time-work together for a greater good (Romans 8:28). – John MacArthur
Please re-read that last paragraph that I emboldened. He says, “He simply permits evil agents to work, then overrules evil for His own wise and holy ends,” while Piper’s article says the opposite, “God isn’t just managing to turn the evil aspects of our world to good; it is rather that He Himself brings about these evil aspects for His glory.” So, which is it? Is God bringing about evil or simply permitting it?
Ironically, on this point, I agree with John Calvin when he wrote,
“We should contemplate the evident cause of condemnation in the corrupt nature of humanity-which is closer to us-rather than seek a hidden and utterly incomprehensible cause in God’s predestination” [Institutes, 3:23:8].
Do you see the contradiction as it exists even within the ranks of Calvinism? On the one hand you have prominent Calvinists saying, “so it is not inappropriate to take God to be the creator, the sender, the permitter, and sometimes even the instigator of evil…even the worst of evils befall us, they do not ultimately come from anywhere other than God’s hand.” While, their own namesake teaches his followers not to “seek a hidden and utterly incomprehensible cause in God’s predestination” for the moral evil in this world.
What does Piper, Talbot and Taylor mean by teaching that God is “sometimes even the instigator of evil?” Does that mean God ceases to be “sovereign” in those times He is not “instigating evil?” I only ask because it appears that these types of Calvinists insist that for God to be considered “sovereign” then He must be in absolute meticulous control over every thing (which I presume includes every instigation of evil). It seems inconsistent to provide a qualification for God being the instigator of evil sometimes but not all the time given that God presumably has the same level of control over every instance of evil.
How should we look at these apparent inconsistencies among Calvinists?
This all boils down to what a Calvinist means when he uses the word “PERMIT.” Like so many other words in our vocabulary, the Calvinist is forced to put a bit of a spin on the clear meaning of this term in order to maintain their systems presumptions. (Read this for more on the inconsistency of Calvinists in use of this term)
The dictionary states:
That sounds like Libertarian Free Will (LFW) at its very core. LFW is the belief that God has created free moral creatures with the categorical ability of the will to refrain or not refrain from any given moral action. In other words, God permits man to choose (selection between available options) and suffer the consequences of those choices.
Compatibilism, on the other hand, teaches that man is justly punished for their choices even though those choices are ultimately predetermined by God.
Not long ago I had an twitter encounter with Phil Johnson, President of Grace to You (John MacArthur’s Ministry), and when I quoted the article written by John MacArthur above, he assured me that MacArthur “does not believe God merely permits anything.” To rebut the idea that God “simply permits evil agents to work, then overrules evil for His own wise and holy ends,” as MacArthur wrote, Johnson sent me a link to this article from John Hendryx of monergism.com:
God ordains all things that come to pass (Eph 1:11) and it also teaches that man is culpable for his choices (Ezek 18:20, Matt 12:37, John 9:41)…In order to understand this better theologians have come up with the term “compatibilism” to describe the concurrence of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Compatibilism is a form of determinism and it should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism. It simply means that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. Our choices are not coerced …i.e. we do not choose against what we want or desire, yet we never make choices contrary to God’s sovereign decree. What God determines will always come to pass (Eph 1:11).
In light of Scripture, (according to compatibilism), human choices are exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices occur through divine determinism. …
We should be clear that NEITHER compatibilism nor hard determinism affirms that any man has a free will. Those who believe man has a free will are not compatibilists, but should, rather, be called “inconsistent”. Our choices are our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures, nor seperately from God’s meticulous providence. (Link)
In short, he is saying that men make choices according to their greatest desire in a given circumstance, but “the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices occur through divine determinism.” Put another way, men always do what they want but what they want is determined by God. I explain in detail why I believe this article falls short HERE.
Compatibilists bristle at the accusation that their systematic turns people into puppets on strings, but one would be hard pressed to show how the claims of their systematic can logically avoid that accusation. It appears that as long as the puppets are described as liking their strings then Compatibilists would have no reason for rejecting such accusations. After all, the string attached to my desire (if Compatibilism is true) has ironically been pulled in favor of Libertarian Free Will.