Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Sovereignty of God

Over the past week or so I have been engaged in a debate with a fellow blogger named Preston, who writes the blog An Open View. We have been debating the issue of God's Sovereignty and Omniscience; if you are interested in that debate you can read it here. I am writhing this post in response to that debate in order to more fully clarify my position on this issue.

A.W. Tozer wrote, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." This is one of the truest statements, outside of the Bible, that has ever been written, and this is the very reason that I engaged in this debate to begin with; we must strive to have an accurate view of who God is, and what He is like. That includes an accurate view of His Sovereignty, and why there is evil in the world (the very things that were attacked by Preston in his post).

A.W. Tozer wrote, "God's Sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules His entire creation, and to be sovereign God must be all-knowing, all powerful, and absolutely free." That we understand that God is all- knowing (Omniscient) and all-powerful (Omnipotent) is absolutely essential to how we view Him and how we relate to Him as His children. I believe that the Bible teaches us that God knows all things, including the future, and that He is Sovereign over all things, including evil, and that ultimately all things will bring glory to Him and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We can see this in the letter to the Colossians where Paul, speaking of Christ, wrote:
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

Colossians 1:16-18
In commenting on these verses John Piper said:
clipped from www.desiringgod.org
All that came into being exists for Christ—that is, it exists to display the greatness of Christ. Nothing—nothing!—in the universe exists for its own sake. Everything from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the mountains, from smallest particle to the biggest star, from the most boring school subject to the most fascinating science, from the ugliest cockroach to the most beautiful human, from the greatest saint to the most wicked genocidal dictator—everything that exists, exists to make the greatness of Christ more fully known—including you, and the person you have the hardest time liking.

blog it
I couldn't agree more. But does this meant that God is responsible for the evil that is in the world? Not at all! With that very question in mind I asked Preston the following in our debate:
Does God have the ability to stop evil in the world? If He does, and there is no purpose in allowing it to continue, then God would be evil Himself. BUT, if God has the ability to stop evil, and He allows it to continue there must be a purpose in His allowing it. If you say that God cannot stop evil that makes evil more powerful than God, and He is not Omnipotent.

blog it
He responded with a new post entitled A Case Study: Satan & The Problem Of Evil where he made the following statement:
The war-torn nature of our cosmos reflects this tragic fall and ongoing war. Satan’s fall was catastrophic, which is ultimately why we experience catastrophic horrors in this world. Yet this fall was not altogether cataclysmic, for even in this worst case scenario God is still victorious. Though he must now operate in a terrible war zone, God’s goal of acquiring a bride cannot be thwarted.

blog it

Look back at the quotes above from A.W. Tozer on the sovereignty of God; in that quote we saw that God must be "absolutely free." That means that He cannot be forced to "operate in a terrible war zone." He cannot be "forced" to do anything - He is absolutely free.

So why does God allow evil to continue in the world? Why didn't He just wipe out evil the second Satan fell? Why does He allow bad things to happen in our world? These are some very serious questions, and questions that we must answer if we are to ever have a proper understanding of who God is, His sovereignty, His omniscience, and His power over all things - including evil.

So what then are we to do with the fact that God is sovereign and that there is evil in the world? If you conclude, as Preston did, that God is forced to live with the evil that exists in the world what you have said is that evil is more powerful than God. On the other hand, if God can put a stop to evil at any time he chooses, and He hasn't chosen to do so, then you have only two choices:

(1) Either God is evil Himself
or
(2) God has a purpose is allowing the evil to continue

I choose to believe the latter. As we have already seen all things exist for the glory of Christ. To further illustrate this point John Piper wrote:

clipped from www.desiringgod.org

My conclusion is that from cover to cover the Bible presents God as governing Satan and his demons. He has the right and power to restrain them any time he pleases.

I conclude, therefore, that God permitted Satan’s fall, not because he was helpless to stop it, but because he had a purpose for it. Since God is never taken off guard, his permissions are always purposeful. If he chooses to permit something, he does so for a reason—an infinitely wise reason. How the sin arises in Satan’s heart, we do not know. God has not told us. What we do know is that God is sovereign over Satan, and therefore Satan’s will does not move without God’s permission. And therefore every move of Satan is part of God’s overall purpose and plan. And this is true in such a way that God never sins. God is infinitely holy, and God is infinitely mighty. Satan is evil, and Satan is under the all-governing wisdom of God.

blog it
So what I am saying here is this: We serve a holy, powerful, and loving God who has promised that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). It is only because God is who the Bible says He is that He can make this promise; His plans are not thwarted by evil, nothing takes Him by surprise, He knows the future and He holds ours in His hand.

Our ultimate good will only be realized in Christ; He will be glorified by everything (and everyone) that has ever been or ever will be created. God is sovereign over His creation and we can rest assured that all things have been created through and for Christ - to bring glory to Him.


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8 comments:

Preston N said...

Chris

You state that

"(1) Either God is evil Himself
or
(2) God has a purpose is allowing the evil to continue
I choose to believe the latter. As we have already seen all things exist for the glory of Christ."

The thing is this statement is one in the same. If God has a purpose for evil and is sovereign in the Calvinistic sense then he is indeed the author of all evil - as He created it and willed it to occur. Again, your violating the Law of Non-Contradiction here as something can not be good and evil at the same time. Do you not have a problem with this? Does this not all impugn or cause a problem with the character of God?

Let's see how loving and compassionate your theology plays out here. Let's say you walk up to a woman after she has been brutally raped and sodomized by a gang of men. And you begin to consul here by telling her that "God had foreordained this from the beginning of time to bring him glory, and all though she is unable to understand it, just know God is responsible". Tell me what type of reaction will you get from this person? On top of that , let's say she is not saved - do you think that after telling her that a so called "loving and compassionate God of Calvinism" had just been the author of her rape and horror, that she will now just want to accept him as her Lord and Savior? Will she not think God is a tyrant or sadistic being? Ohhh, but I forgot you don't believe in freewill either, so regardless she is predestine so all this doesn't really matter anyhow. As a matter of fact I find all this rather interesting - according to your theology all this really doesn't matter as it's God who is the one pulling all the strings to begin with. Right??

Here is what this all comes down to Chris, you believe (as do all Calvinist) that the Sovereignty (God's Power) is the most important attribute of God, not Love. According to your definition, even if God's sovereignty horrifically impugns his character this is not a problem. However, I see God who is not afraid or intimidated of freewill. The God I read of in scripture is not the nail biting, hand wringing God of Calvinism, but rather I see a God who desires true loving relationships without coercion or predestination with his creation. For God is confident and love is of the highest order in the universe.

I have attempted to put forth a logical and concise explanation as to how God can still be omnipotent and omniscience, and yet allow mankind to have the ability to freely love, or sin against Him. Yet not once have I impugned the character of my beloved Father in heaven.

I am still awaiting your rebuttal to my post regarding Satan and the Problem of Evil.

In Christ
Preston

Chris said...

Preston,

I disagree with your assessment that in Calvinistic Theology God is the author of evil. As you have stated numerous times, God created us with free-will and as such we have a choice to obey, or disobey Him. However, this does not change in any way the fact that God is Omniscient and therefore knows the choices that we will make. So we have a problem under your theology: either God is not Omniscient and doesn't know what choices we are going to make, or He knows what we will do and has promised that they will all work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

Do I know how these evil things will work out for His glory and our good? No, I'm not God. All I have to go on is the fact that my Bible tells me that God knows the future, that He is in control, and that everything will work out for my good and His glory.

And let's look at you example here for a minute. First of all I would NEVER say to a woman who was raped, "God had foreordained this from the beginning of time to bring him glory, and all though she is unable to understand it, just know God is responsible". because God was NOT responsible!!!! The men who committed this atrocity are responsible for their actions. Does this mean that their actions took God by surprise? Not at all, he knew the choice they would make and the action they would take, they are responsible for that action, and unless they repent and turn to Christ they will be thrown into Hell for that action (along with every other sin they have ever committed) and Christ will be glorified.

Also, I do not place the sovereignty of God above any of His other attributes; He is sovereign, and He is love, and He is holy, and so on... And each of these attributes works in harmony with every other attribute. For example, God does not cease to be sovereign when He exercises His love; they work together in perfect unity. But if God did have an attribute that governed all of His other attributes it would be His holiness. This is the only one that is ever repeated, He is Holy, holy, holy, and as such He cannot tolerate sin. The question should not be "does man have the ability to, in his free will, choose to come to God. The question is, why does this Holy God save any of us?

And the answer is, to glorify His Son. It's not because I chose Him, it's because He chose me.

Chris

Preston N said...

Chris

A couple of things here. First, either you have not a full understanding of Calvinism or your not a Calvinist in the truest sense. Per all the studying I have done of this doctrine - Piper included, almost every Calvinist theologian would disagree with your statement regarding foreordination and freewill. For example here is what Loraine Boettner (a prominent Calvinist Writer) who states in his paper "The Foreknowledge of God" writes:

"Since God's foreknowledge is complete, He knows the destiny of every person, not merely before the person has made his choice in this life, but from eternity. And since He knows their destiny before they are created, and then proceeds to create, it is plain that the saved and the lost alike fulfill His plan for them; for if He did not plan that any particular ones should be lost, He could at least refrain from creating them.

We conclude, then, that the Christian doctrine of the Foreknowledge of God proves also His Predestination. Since these events are foreknown, they are fixed and settled things; and nothing can have fixed and settled them except the good pleasure of God,--- the great first cause,--- freely and unchangeably foreordaining whatever comes to pass. The whole difficulty lies in the acts of free agents being certain; yet certainty is required for foreknowledge as well as for foreordination. The Arminian arguments, if valid, would disprove both foreknowledge and foreordination. And since they prove too much we conclude that they prove nothing at all."

According to statement set forth by Boettner, here we have God creating the Hitler's, the Stalin's, the Jeffery Dalmer's of the world, knowing full well how they will turn out ahead of time and foreordaining every heinous act they will ever commit against their fellow man. I would like to see how you can deny Boettners statement here. This is the Calvinist orthodox view of both foreknowledge and foreordination. Augustine, Luther and Calvin would all agree. According to this doctrine one can not truly have freewill and be foreknown at the same time. I agree with Boettner here in the sense that you can not logically have both free will and absolute foreknowledge. This is a logical contradiction. This is the very reason why I reject this doctrine. As Boettner states in true Calvinstic fashion, God has foreordained ALL things and if we take this to its logical conclusion He is indeed the author of evil and has foreordained every evil action from eternity past. This is highly blasphemous language against a loving God.

Finally, let me ask a question. Is it possible for God to diminish his power? Again, look forward to your response.

Preston

Chris said...

Preston,

Let me start by saying that I never claimed to be a Calvinist; that is an assessment that you made. While I do believe that the sovereignty of God is best explained by Calvinism I do not agree with everything that Calvinism teaches. I guess I would most likely classify myself as a 4 point Calvinist (maybe 4.5 - I struggle with limited atonement and I do not believe in double predestination). So you are correct, I probably am not a Calvinist in the truest sense of the word.

With that said let's look at the quote by Boettner.

"Since God's foreknowledge is complete, He knows the destiny of every person, not merely before the person has made his choice in this life, but from eternity."

I agree 100% with this statement, however, I have an issue with his next sentence:

"And since He knows their destiny before they are created, and then proceeds to create, it is plain that the saved and the lost alike fulfill His plan for them; for if He did not plan that any particular ones should be lost, He could at least refrain from creating them."

Just because God knows the choices that a person will make doesn't mean that He causes them to make those choices. To then refrain from making them, because of the choices that He knows they will make, would eliminate mans free-will.

"Since these events are foreknown, they are fixed and settled things..."

Fixed and settled only in the sense that because of His omniscience God knows what they are, not because He causes them to happen.

"According to statement set forth by Boettner, here we have God creating the Hitler's, the Stalin's, the Jeffery Dalmer's of the world, knowing full well how they will turn out ahead of time and foreordaining every heinous act they will ever commit against their fellow man."

Knowing, yes. Foreordaining, no. Hitler, Stalin and Dalmer are all still responsible for the choices they made.

"According to this doctrine one can not truly have freewill and be foreknown at the same time."

I disagree with this; freewill does not in anyway limit God's ability to know, from outside of time, everything that will happen within time. And once again, just because you know something does not in any way mean that you caused it.

"God has foreordained ALL things and if we take this to its logical conclusion He is indeed the author of evil and has foreordained every evil action from eternity past. This is highly blasphemous language against a loving God."

I really could not agree with you more on this point. The Bible is clear that God is light, and in Him there is NO darkness at all. But I still maintain that God, being all knowing, knows every decision and every action that every person will ever make, and that at the end of the day all things will somehow bring glory to Christ. (And that glory may only be realized as the Hitler's of this world are throne into Hell for all eternity illustrating once and for all, for all of creation to see, just how holy Christ is.

Lastly, can God diminish His power? He can do anything He wants, but I think a better word would be "limit" as in can God limit His power. Why do you ask?

Chris

Preston N said...

Chris

I am really confused by how your trying to rationalize all this out? On one hand you agree God's foreknowledge is complete, and He knows every person's destiny before the person has made his choice in this life, but yet they can still have freewill? Can man then surprise God and make a choice he did not destine or had foreknown them to make? If not then is this person not fated?

Almost every Calvinist would have agreed with this point - including John Piper. Why? Because they know freewill within their doctrine is logically impossible. This is also why Calvinist came up with the idea of double predestination. My point here is as Boettner stated, one can not logically get around the issue of God having Absolute Foreknowledge and not equaling Foreordination. I would like for you explain your position in a logical and coherent manner as it would seem your position is illogical.

Second point, you agreed God can limit or diminish his power. Then is it not a possibility that God could then limit his foreknowledge in order for man to have freewill? I would support this from the fact we see the Godhead diminishing its power when Christ laid aside all of his deity in order to come to earth - there was a literal change within the God head. Why? for the sake of Love. Therefore, for the sake of love (freewill) why is it not possible for God to set aside a part of his power (knowledge) in order to allow mankind to have freewill? You said it yourself that God is all powerful and is capable of doing anything - so why can't he do this. Clearly I have put forward a logical explanation (well actually Greg Boyd did) of how both God;s foreknowledge and freewill can exist together without impugning God's character at the same time.

BTW - this also bring up a real messy point for Calvinist with regards to Immutability - as we see from Scripture there was a literal change within the Godhead when Christ came to earth. The other issue is we see that Christ did not and could not take his seat at the right hand of the Father until after the atonement. So the question bears asking to the Calvinist camp was Jesus ALWAYS at the right hand of the Father? If you answer yes then you contradict directly what the Bible states (Hebrews 1:3,8:1).

Again, I think I have show that absolute foreknowledge foreordains absolutely. If you think this through I think you will see it is almost logically impossible to escape this conclusion - at least the Calvinist have accepted this position. It is my position that either you fall into the AF camp or the Open Theism camp - as these are the only two logical explanations.

God Bless
Preston

Chris said...

Preston,

I completely disagree that foreknowledge equals foreordaining; God can know something is going to happen without having to cause it to happen. For example, I know that when I come home from work tomorrow my dog will greet me at the door (I know this is a lame example, but go with me here). Did I cause my dog to greet me at the door? No, but I know that he will.

I know, it is a terrible example, but it shows that you don't have to be the cause of something that you know is going to happen.

God, being omniscient, knows every decision that I will ever make, and He is working all of those decisions out for my good and for Christ's glory; there are just too many verses in the Bible that show that God knows the future to have it any other way.

I don't see this as being inconsistent in my theology; I believe the Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign, and that He has foreknowledge of everything that will ever happen, from the creation of the world to the end of time. But I also believe that the Bible clearly teaches that we have free will.

I'll agree that the Calvinist position does not successfully harmonizes foreknowledge and freewill, but neither does the Open Theism position.

Tozer said it well when he wrote, "Could God at any time or in any manner receive into His mind knowledge that He did not possess and had not possessed from eternity, He would be imperfect and less than Himself." In other words, if God doesn't know everything I will ever do and every decision I will ever make, then he learns from what I do and must adjust His plans accordingly, which would mean He is not all knowing.

I still contented that He is.

Have a great night!
Chris

Preston N said...

Chris

You state that both the Open View AND Calvinism has has failed to harmonize free will and foreknowledge. Then again I request you present you best case forward. You still have yet to show how my explanation is neither biblical or non-scriptural. I have presented a logical and scriptural case that God does not know the absolute future, but you have still not presented any evidence to support your view.

So here is what I want you to do (if your up to the challenge). On my blog under Articles is a paper called "Foreknowledge 2" that shows over 32 verses that support God does not have absolute foreknowledge. Each verse has a clear explanation of the Open View position. I would challenge you then to disprove these verses from you point of view. This for one will hopefully be a fruitful exercise as it will allow you to show and explain your theology in action.

I hope your up for the challenge and take as long as you like. If not then that is Ok to. We can agree to disagree then.

God Bless
Preston

Chris said...

Preston,

I have throughly enjoyed this debate, and I do hope to continue it at some point. I still plan on commenting on your Satan and the Problem of Evil post, and I accept your challenge, although it may be a whole before I can get through all of it.

Thanks again for all the time and effort you have put into this; even though we disagree on this point I do appreciate how fully you have thought this out. It is rare today to find someone to discuss theology at this deep a level and I am grateful to have met you.

Talk to you soon!

Your brother in Christ,
Chris