Let’s go through four main biblical examples referenced from our Calvinistic brethren seeking to support their case for Divine determinism of all things (sometimes referred to as “sovereignty”).
- Joseph being sold by his brothers into slavery: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Gen. 50:20
- The King of Assyria is used to bring judgment on Israel. Is. 10
- Pharaoh hardened by God to accomplish the Passover: “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.” Ex. 9:13
- The Crucifixion of Jesus: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[a] put him to death by nailing him to the cross…They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” Acts 2:23; 4:28
Traditionalists believe at times throughout history God does intervene to determine some things. That is what makes these things “of God” and uniquely supernatural. We also believe God uses means similar to what some Calvinists describe in these instances. We do not believe, however, these unique divine determinations prove God’s meticulous determination of all things, especially man’s evil intentions. In fact, in every one of the instances listed above, the purpose of God’s unique intervention is clearly redemptive. I refuse to believe God is merely seeking to redeem the very evil intentions and actions that He Himself predetermined.
How does God bring about His good purposes through the evil choices of libertarianly free creatures?
To be clear on this point there are two kinds of hardening taught in scripture.
- Self-hardening: This is where a morally accountable person, who is able to refrain or not refrain from given moral actions (libertarianly free), grows stubborn or calloused in his own ways. People are not born already calloused, but if they continue to suppress the truth they eventually will be cut off and thus unable to see, hear, understand so as to turn (Acts 28:27-28).
- Judicial-hardening: This is God’s active role in blinding an already rebellious person in their rebellion so as to prevent their repentance for a time. Once one is cut off in their rebellion God may use their bad behavior to bring about His plan. God’s motive is ALWAYS to accomplish a greater redemptive purpose through their rebellious actions (often including the potential redemption even of those being judicially blinded).
On Traditionalism, judicial hardening is simply hiding or confusing the revelation of truth that could otherwise lead to repentance (Mark 4:11-12; Rom. 11:8). So God is not said to have caused or enticed anyone to intend moral evil. He simply lets them continue down their already libertarianly free, self-hardened path and cuts them off from any revelation that might convince them to repent prior to His redemptive purpose being served. An example of this is Jesus’ use of parables so as to keep the Jewish leaders of the day from recognizing Him as their Messiah (Mark 4 — this referred to as the “Messianic Secret,” and you can read more about that topic HERE.)
Consider this analogy: Suppose my 4 year old daughter was told that she is not to take cookies from the cookie jar. In another room, out of sight, I see into the kitchen that my daughter is looking at the cookie jar. She looks around the room to see if anyone is watching. As a parent, I can tell what she is thinking. She is about to steal a cookie and she knows she is not supposed to.
Now, I could step into the room so that she sees me prior to her committing this sin. Upon seeing me she would forego her evil plot and give up the idea of getting the cookie (at least until the next time she was alone). However, suppose I decide to not step into the room. I remain out of sight to allow her to be tempted and then pounce into action to catch her with her hand in the cookie jar.
Now, by not stepping in at the moment I saw she was being tempted did I cause the temptation? No. I allowed it to continue, but I did not cause it. I did not determine for her to desire to steal. I could have prevented the action by simply showing myself, but I chose not to do so.
This is like judicial hardening. By simply hiding the truth (i.e. that I was present and watching) I allowed my daughter to be tempted and to act in sin. Am I in any way culpable for that sin? No. I merely allowed it though I could have stopped it.
Could God have stepped into the 1st century and clearly shown Himself in Christ to make all the Jews of that time believe Him? Of course. He could have ordained a “Damascus road experience” with all the Jews if He wanted to. He didn’t.
Instead we see Christ telling his disciples to keep things quiet until the right time (Matt. 16:20). We see him hiding the truth in parables (Mark 4:11). WHY? If all people are born deaf, blind and unable to understand to the truth why would he need to do this? He did it because He did not want them to come to repentance YET (not until after he is crucified and raised up does he draw all men to himself). This PROVES that Jesus knew the truth was more than sufficient to draw the lost to repentance. He had a bigger redemptive purpose to accomplish through them first, so he blinded them from that enabling truth.
KEY POINT: Don’t allow the context of that judicial hardening of the Jews cloud your view of men’s inherent nature. Men are very much capable of hearing, seeing and repenting when confronted by the powerful gospel truth if they have not been judicially blinded to that truth (see Acts 28:27-28).
1. Joseph being sold by his brothers into slavery: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Gen. 50:20
Let’s consider another analogy: When a police officer sets up a speed trap he has one ultimate desire: to stop speeders for the safety of all. However, by hiding the truth of his presence he is ensuring that those who want to speed will continue to do so. Thus, in one sense he wants the speeders to continue to speed so as to catch them speeding, but his ultimate purpose is the same: to stop speeders for the safety of all. The police officer does not determine the speeders desire to speed in any way, he simply hides the truth so as to ensure the speeder will continue to speed, something they have contra-causally chosen to do.
God’s ultimate purpose, like that of police officer in our analogy above, is only good. The brother’s intention, like that of the speeders, is not good. God’s sovereign plan is to use their libertarianly evil choices to accomplish His good redemptive purpose, much like the officer’s plan to accomplish his purpose through the free choice of speeders. God’s intention is ONLY to redeem, save, and restore throughout this entire event, yet to do so he must permit evil men to fulfill their own evil desires. There is no reason to suggest God determines the desires of the brothers anymore so than there is to suggest the police officer determines the desires of the speeder.
2. The King of Assyria is used to bring judgment on Israel. Is. 10
In reference in Isaiah 10, Calvinistic apologist, Dr. James White argues:
“In one passage we have God’s holy intention of judging His people through the means of Assyria—yet God holds Assyria accountable for her sinful attitudes in being so used! God judges them on the basis of their intentions, and since they come against Israel with a haughty attitude that does not recognize God’s power and authority, they too are judged. This is compatibilism with clarity: God uses the sinful actions of the Assyrians for the good purpose of judging His people, and yet He judges the Assyrians for their sinful intentions. God’s action in His sovereignty is perfectly compatible with the responsible, and culpable, actions of sinful men.” -James White
Traditionalists, like myself, would agree that God used the evil intentions of the Assyrians to bring judgment on Israel. However, we do not believe that God “sovereignly brought about” those evil intentions. Thus, our view does not bring God’s Holiness into question or create issues with the concept of Divine culpability.
God’s wrath is often depicted in scripture as God’s permitting the natural consequences of moral evil, which is not a problem in a worldview where the moral evil is brought to pass by someone other than God. God’s wrath can literally be described as God separating Himself from us so that we experience the natural consequences of our free moral actions.
That is what we see happening in Isaiah 10. Instead of protecting Israel from Assyria (which He promised to do if they remained obedient), God removes His hand of protection and PERMITS the Assyrians to follow their own libertarianly free will. God does not cause or bring about the evil intentions of the Assyrians, so He is perfectly just to judge them for their rebellious action despite the fact that God USED their rebellion to accomplish divine judgment on Israel for their disobedience. The fact that God may have incited the already rebellious Assyrians to consider the already rebellious Israelites to be their next victims does not negate the Israelite and Assyrian people’s individual responsibility in becoming rebellious to begin with.
Would Calvinists have us believe God “sovereignly brought about” the disobedience of the Israelites and the Assyrians so as to use the Assyrian’s disobedient actions to judge the Israelite’s disobedient actions? What would be the point in that?
Traditionalists do affirm that God may use the free rebellious actions of some to bring about the discipline or judgement of others. But we vehemently reject the notion that our thrice Holy God “brings about” the rebellion of morally free creatures. He does not even tempt men to do evil, much less sovereignly and unchangeably determine that they will (James 1:13).
3. Pharaoh hardened by God to accomplish the Passover: “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.” Ex. 9:12
We believe Pharaoh chose to rebel against God by his libertarian free will, not God’s unchangeable decree. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable for God to blind Pharaoh in his rebellion so as to ensure he would remain in that condition until the redemptive purpose of the Passover was accomplishrd (a foreshadowing of Israel’s hardening to accomplish the true Passover with Christ). The text never suggests that God refuses Pharaoh the ability to refrain or not refrain from his morally evil actions leading up to the point he was judicially hardened by God for a redemptive good.
4. The Crucifixion of Jesus: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross…They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” Acts 2:23; 4:28
Many Calvinists argue something like this: If God determined the worse evil of all time without blame then we should be able to accept that God can determine all evil events without blame.
This is a common error of Calvinists. They take unique examples of God working to bring about a good purpose through the evil intentions of mankind as proof that God (1) “sovereignly brought about” the evil intentions themselves and (2) that He “sovereignly works” in this same way at all times throughout history. In other words, if Calvinism is true then God worked to “sovereignly bring about” the redemption of a child abuser in the same way that He worked to “sovereignly bring about” the abuse of that child. This flies in the face of so much of what we read in scripture about the character and holiness of our God.
Appealing to God’s sovereign work to ensure the redemption of sin so as to prove that God sovereignly works to bring about all the sin that was redeemed is an absurd, self-defeating argument. It would be tantamount to arguing that because a police department set up a sting operation to catch a notorious drug dealer, that the police department is responsible for every single intention and action of that drug dealer at all times. Proof that the police department worked in secretive ways to hide their identities, use evil intentions, and work out the circumstances in such a way that the drug dealer would do what they wanted him to do (sell drugs) at that particular moment in time does not suggest that the police are in anyway responsible for all that drug dealer has done or ever will do. We celebrate and reward the actions of this police department because they are working to stop the drug activity, not because they are secretly causing all of it so as to stop some of it. Teaching that God brings about all sin based on how He brought about Calvary is like teaching that the police officer brings about every drug deal based on how he brought about one sting operation.
Yes, at times the scriptures do speak of God “hardening” men’s hearts (Ex. 7; Rm. 9), blinding them with a “spirit of stupor” (Rm. 11:8) and delaying their healing by use of parabolic language (Mk. 4:11-12, 34; Matt. 16:20), and He always does so for a redemptive good. But the reason such passages stand out so distinctly from the rest of scripture is because of their uniqueness. If God worked this way in every instance these texts would make no sense. After all, what is there for God to harden, provoke, or restrain if not the autonomous will of creatures?
If everything is under the meticulous control of God’s sovereign work what is left to permit and/or restrain except that which He is already controlling? Is God merely restraining something that He previously determined? Why blind eyes from seeing something the were “naturally” predetermined not to see? Why put a parabolic blind fold on a corpse-like dead sinner incapable of seeing spiritual truth? These are questions many Calvinists seem unwilling to entertain at any depth. <for more CLICK HERE>
We must understand that God, like the police department in the analogy above, may be hiding His identity at times and working to use the evil intentions of bad men for a greater good, but that in no way impugns His character by suggesting He is “the cause of all things that are.” And it certainly does not suggest that every evil desire and intention is “brought about to glorify God” as explicitly taught by Calvinism.<link>
Also, I have no problem ‘blaming,’ or should I say ‘crediting,’ God with the redemption of sin as accomplished through the crucifixion. While I agree that God did determine the cross by actively intervening in our fallen world to ensure it came to pass, by means of judicial hardening, I fail to see how that proves God likewise determined and actively worked to bring about all the sin that needed redemption on that cross. Are we to believe God determined to redeem His very own determinations?
Foreknowing that someone will libertarianly choose to sin, as I did with my daughter standing in front of the cookie jar, does not in any way imply such knowledge causes, determines or necessitates the desire of the sinner to sin. There is no reason we cannot merely accept that God is able to foreknow the libertarianly free choices even though an element of mystery remains in the infinite nature of the One who knows.
In short, I believe God knows the choices of His creatures because He is omniscient, not because He is omni-deterministic.