In the next section, we come to the hinge of Hart’s objections. And it provides us with a textbook case of what happens when very intelligent people go beyond what it is written. Certain indisputable truths provide the premises for them, and then they reason from those premises until they come to a conclusion that flat out contradicts another indisputable truth from Scripture. And then that second truth becomes “problematic.” Since all reality is self-consistent and not contradictory, this means that there is a problem with the reasoning.
We must repent of our practice of starting with “our” verses and then reasoning in such a way as to overthrow “their” verses. All the verses are ours.
Here are some examples of this problem from Hart’s next section.
“To be capable of evil — to be able to do evil or to be affected by an encounter with it — would in fact be an incapacity in God; and to require evil to bring about his good ends would make him less than the God he is” (p. 72).
The first part of this is preeminently scriptural (Jas. 1:13), and is why the Westminster Confession says that God is not the Author of sin. But the second half — that God cannot require evil to bring about his good ends — simply contradicts many passages. The reasoning capacity of man is enthroned over God’s plain revelation of Himself. Or perhaps it would be better to say that man’s reasoning in subtleties beyond his ken is promoted beyond man’s reasoning abilities when it comes to simply reading the text.
“For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28).
Now I grant that God gave us reason to use as we receive His word. He gave us reason so that we would be able to diagram sentences. The men who perpetrated the greatest evil in the history of our sorry world did exactly what God had predetermined they would do. Q.E.D.
I could multiply texts to this effect, but I think we all know that the texts are beside the point. If God is love, and I know deep in my sinful heart what love has to look like, then the debate is settled.
Hart has taken on one of the most important questions in theology, and he is engaged in a debate with a Calvinistic band who have a pile of verses that say pretty much what they are saying. They live in a world in which God sends delusions upon people so that they would believe a lie. They live in a world in which evil spirits from the Lord can afflict someone. They also live in a world where God is inexpressably holy, and does not tempt anyone. They affirm all this, and cite the passages that say just what they are saying. Hart challenges them, taking them on, and yet the one thing needful that he does not do is diagram Acts 4:27-28, showing us how we read it wrong. He would rather do metaphysics.
“Evil is born in the will . . . a turning of the hearts and minds of rational creatures away from the light of God back toward the nothingness from which all things are called. This is not to say that evil is then somehow illusory; it is only to say that evil, rather than being a discrete substance, is instead a kind of ontological wasting disease” (p. 73).
It is good that Hart grants that evil is not illusory, but the ontological status of evil (and many orthodox have agreed with Hart’s view that it is an ontological nullity) is really beside the point. The fact that evil is an ontological goose egg does not address the question of suffering in the story. And Hart takes the indisputable fact that God cannot admit of any evil whatever in His being (ontos) and extends it to the principle that God cannot tell a story with evil in it, which is quite a different matter. And it is astounding to me that a theologian can address this question at this length in a debate with Calvinists without engaging the key passages at all. What does the Bible say?
“Hence evil can have no proper role to play in God’s determination of himself or purpose for his creatures, even if by economy God can bring good from evil” (p. 74).
Notice that hence. We have settled the matter by means of our hences.
“No less metaphysically confused — though immeasurably more disconcerting — is the suggestion of that junior professor that God requires suffering and death to reveal certain of his attributes” (p. 75).
This is yet another example of the same problem. In a previous post I noted the place in Romans 9 where this “junior professor” got this crazy idea — straight from an apostle as it turn out — and yet Hart doesn’t deal with these texts. To quote them, engage with them, and explain their true meaning would have a negative effect on his pronouncements from the metaphysical mount. Even if Hart were right, the prima facie take on those texts would reveal to the reading public the fact that Calvinists aren’t idiots, and ought not to be patted on the head. It turns out that they know how to read.