IS GOD PERMITTING AND/OR RESTRAINING HIS OWN DECREES?
Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hands of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wishes.”
In reference to this passage, Dr. John Piper, a notable Calvinistic pastor and author writes,
“What is apparent here is that God has the right and the power to restrain the sins of secular rulers. When he does, it is his will to do it. And when he does not, it is his will not to. Which is to say that sometimes God wills that their sins be restrained and sometimes he wills that they increase more than if he restrained them.” – John Piper
This is a common teaching among Calvinistic pastors and apologists. But, if God has indeed “brought all things to pass by His unchangeable decree,” as Calvinists often teach, then what is it in the heart of this ruler that God is restraining if not His own “unchangeable decree?” In other words, hasn’t God merely restrained the very intention He unchangeably decreed?
Suppose the ruler, referenced in Proverbs 21, wanted to harm his servant and God restrained him from this heinously evil intention. From where did this evil intention originate? Didn’t God “sovereignly bring about” the evil desire of this ruler to harm his servant by the same “sovereign control” that He restrained the ruler from acting upon that desire? How is God not merely restraining His own determinations in a world where there are no autonomously free creatures?
Affirming God’s power and ability to permit and/or overrule the will of morally accountable creatures does not prove that God sovereignly brings to pass every intention and desire of their will. It reveals the self-evident truth that there is a will outside His own that must be overruled and/or permitted.
Just because I have the physical ability to force my child to eat her lunch or restrain her from eating her lunch does not prove that I use that ability every time my child eats or refrains from eating. And choosing not to use my physical ability to force or restrain my child does not prove I am weak and incapable of doing so. It only proves that I can do as I please with regard to my child. It does not prove that I am pleased to physically control my child’s every move.
Moreover, if my daughter doesn’t have a will distinctly separate from my own, then what am I restraining when I physically keep her from eating? There is nothing to restrain or compel if there is not an autonomous will with which to contend.
So too, affirming God’s ability to restrain and/or permit man’s will to do what God decides does not negate the concept of man’s contra-causal free will, but in fact confirms it. For what is there for God to restrain or permit outside His own will if man’s will is not autonomously free from His own? It is nonsensical to suggest God is restraining a will that He has already been meticulously controlling. What decision is there for God to make regarding restraining and/or permitting moral choices of men if God is the one determining the will of every man at all times?
Sovereignty must be understood as God’s ability to do whatsoever He is pleased to do (Ps. 115:3), even if He is pleased to give the world over to man’s dominion (Ps. 115:16).
What we can be certain of is this, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 John 2:16, emphasis added)
How can John Piper say on the one hand that “God unchangeably decrees all things, including the lust and pride of men,” <link> while on the other hand affirming the clear truth of this passage, which is that these things are NOT from the Father?
A clear distinction must be made in the idea of God actively purposing evil and His actively using creaturely evil for His good purposes. The former impugns his Holiness while the latter highlights His redemptive sovereignty and ultimate glory as the Holy, perfect, sinless Creator.
What’s the difference in determining sin and merely permitting it?