An Excessively Pious Mud Turtle

So admittedly I am a Calvinist yahoo, something of an Augustinian yob. If Calvinism were coffee, not only would I not take cream and sugar, or other foo-fooeries, but I would endeavor to make it a form of cowboy espresso, only without any steam. You take a tin can, put a horseshoe on the bottom of the can, cover it with the coffee grounds, fill it with water, and set it on the campfire. When the horseshoe floats, it is ready. To modify the metaphor, I believe what what the church needs today is more jet fuel Calvinism. Pastors today should cultivate a crawl-over-broken-glass Calvinism. No more preaching through Romans with the caution of an excessively pious mud turtle. Put yet another way, to reapply a phrase from Wodehouse, no longer should pastors ascend into the pulpit looking like a sheep with a secret sorrow. I say this, of course, in a manner free of all ecclesiastical partisanship, one-upmanship, or flag-waving. The exuberance I urge here must always, at all times, be kept within its appointed bounds, so long as those bounds are consistent with zeal for the Lord of hosts consuming us.

I say this, not because Calvinism divides evangelical Christians, but because it doesn’t. What divides evangelical Christians is their willingness to admit that, at bottom, their theology is Calvinistic. Some admit it and some don’t, but all are dealing with the same bedrock realities. So all Christians who acknowledge that God created the world ex nihilo are Calvinists in principle, and shall I elaborate?

By Calvinism I mean God’s absolute ownership of all that happens. In the words of the Westminster Confession, God freely and unalterably ordains whatsoever comes to pass. I am referring here to the fact of God’s absolute control over the world, not to His reasons for controlling it the way He does.

There are two basic tenets of Christian faith that we should review as we consider this issue.

1. The world is a screwed up place.
2. God put it here, and sustains it in its course, minute by minute.

Even the most aggressive open theist who holds to creatio ex nihilo holds to this, and holding to this has Calvinistic ramifications. And if these ramifications cause him to abandon creatio ex nihilo, he has at that point abandoned the Christian faith. It is hard to stay a Christian when denying the first lines of the Apostles’ Creed. It sort of dampens the enthusiasm for the rest.

So let’s bring it down to a very tangible question. Who is Lord of tomorrow? And by “tomorrow” I am referring to the 24-hour period following this one.

Worldwide there are about 500,000 murders per year. That works out to over 1300 murders a day, which in its turn comes out to almost one per minute. One UN report indicated 250,000 reported rapes or attempted rapes annually in the world, and because that is a number subject to great under-reporting, let us say the numbers are comparable to those for murder. But even if we don’t, that is an attempted rape every two minutes. A pretty grim picture.

Now, who is going to let this average tomorrow happen? Who has the power to prevent it from happening, but will let it happen anyway? Remember that we are not yet discussing what His righteous reasons are for letting it happen, but rather simply establishing the fact that the mess we call tomorrow will occur, or not, as the result of one decision and one decision only. The only one with the authority and power to prevent it from happening is God in Heaven. And He will not do that — or at least He didn’t yesterday.

Before we offer our respective theodicies, before we explain why God is not evil for doing this, we all must acknowledge that He has done this, and that He is the only one who has done this. And if we have agreed thus far, we have traveled a good distance together.

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J
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J

And that right there Ladies and Gentlemen is precisely the reason I read this blog…

Thank you Mr. Wilson

J
Guest
J

On another note. Does that statistic about murders include murder of the unborn? I would have thought it was quite a bit higher if that was the case.

Luken
Guest

MAny seem to think that God allowing things to happen he could stop is easier to swallow than that he planned it. This has never seemed to me to relieve Any tension, and so another attempted appeal of arminiaism and open theism falls flat.
Opentheism wants to get God off the hook for the evil in the world, without considering that God may not want to be let off the hook

Tiago Cavaco
Guest

Great text!

RFB
Guest
RFB

I think that the fundamental reason that man (including Christians) reject the principle of suck overwhelming sovereignty, the kind of power that says “put a galaxy right…there” is nothing more than pig-headed pride. They do not want to come to grips with the fact that they ultimately have no say in the matter that is not granted to them. Then they pull back on the reins until their high horse is rearing up, front legs flashing through the air, saying “I could not serve a God like THAT!!!” They do not comprehend that their horse only rides until Dad puts… Read more »

RFB
Guest
RFB

…the principle of “such“…

prayersofadoration
Member

I know you bring it up to refute it but I bridle at the idea that God passively “lets” anything happen. God is like the author of a story–there’s nothing in the story the author didn’t put there. Actually it’d be better to say authors are like God in this respect.

RFB
Guest
RFB

Indeed!

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. .upholding all things by the word of His power…Known to God from eternity are all His works.”

If there is anything beyond His full authority, then that “thing” would have a greater authority.

scm
Guest
scm

I like the idea of God being Author and existence being His story. But people who affirm God’s sovereignty over all things (me) have to be careful though: this idea sometimes brings genuine sadness to Christians on the other side of the fence that don’t get it. I personally find it liberating, but that was only when I became ready for it. “A man can receive nothing unless it is given to him from heaven…” comes to mind here. I have noticed that issues like this (as well as postmill ideas) tend to either bring exhilaration or disgust, but hardly… Read more »

D
Guest
D

Can one cause an atrocity to happen without being atrocious? When this question is posed towards God, I unfortunately do not have a sound biblical defense. I am interested to see Pastor Wilson write a substantial follow-up post.

Ryan
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Ryan

@ RFB I think that the fundamental reason that man (including Christians) reject the principle of suck overwhelming sovereignty, the kind of power that says “put a galaxy right…there” is nothing more than pig-headed pride. I agree that many people reject the thought of God’s sovereignty due to “pig-headed pride,” but I do not think this is always the case. As for me, it’s very much an emotional issue that I’ve been struggling with for several years. I find it tough to look at a picture of Emmit Till and say, “Yea, I’m certain that God was in control.” I… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Maybe instead of God “let it happen,” go with: “watched it happen.”

bethyada
Member

Now, who is going to let this average tomorrow happen? Who has the power to prevent it from happening, but will let it happen anyway? Remember that we are not yet discussing what His righteous reasons are for letting it happen, but rather simply establishing the fact that the mess we call tomorrow will occur, or not, as the result of one decision and one decision only. The only one with the authority and power to prevent it from happening is God in Heaven. And He will not do that — or at least He didn’t yesterday. Yet what you… Read more »

Doug Sayers
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Doug Sayers

OK, so we have established a firm grip on the obvious: God has created all things out of nothing, He sustains all things, and He ordains whatsoever comes to pass. You can credit Calvin for this, if you want, but I think God has revealed this invisible attribute to every heart (whether they admit it or not) and put it in the Bible. The question being begged by invoking Calvin is whether God is free enough and willing to allow His prize creation (aka:offspring) to have some meaningful “say so” in whatsoever comes to pass. There is much more to… Read more »

RFB
Guest
RFB

I think that the best answers are always what God says. I am not saying that horrendous pain does not happen. Many Christians have suffered extraordinarily with the knowledge that “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world… Read more »

Jeff Moss
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Jeff Moss

So, all Open Theists and even Deists (if they do not deny God’s omnipotence in principle) are crypto-Calvinists? What a fascinating claim!

How do you distinguish between “God’s absolute ownership of all that happens” and the statement in the Westminster Confession (which is a Calvinistic document, is it not?) that God is not the author of sin?

Fake Herzog
Guest

After reading this I was kind of shocked I didn’t find anything objectionable; after all, Catholics are not supposed to be Calvinist, but Pastor Wilson’s theology doesn’t seem too far from this passage from the Catechism: God creates “out of nothing” 296 We believe that God needs no pre-existent thing or any help in order to create, nor is creation any sort of necessary emanation from the divine substance.144 God creates freely “out of nothing”:145 If God had drawn the world from pre-existent matter, what would be so extraordinary in that? A human artisan makes from a given material whatever… Read more »

Keith LaMothe
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Keith LaMothe

The “this is the story God wrote” idea has been a huge encouragement to me for years, but I’ve gotta ask: does the Bible speak that way? Why or why not?

Moor
Guest
Moor

I have come to believe that two of the most important questions Christians must answer are the following:

1. Is God in control?

2. Does God have our best interest in mind?

If the Christian can hold on to “yes” for both, then the need to make sense of any particular circumstance diminishes.

RFB
Guest
RFB

Keith, “…does the Bible speak that way?” The Creator sure seems to enjoy telling stories: “He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that… Read more »

Andrew Lohr
Member

@Fake Herzog: Yeah, in Tolkein’s Silmarillion, a few pages in, Iluvatar (God) tells Melkor (Satan-ish): “…no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument…” (page 6 in my paperback, in the “Ainulindale”.) And William F. Buckley Jr in one of his collections (I forget which one; NOT “A Hymnal”) wrote something of similar thrust.

Ted "Theodore" Logan
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Ted "Theodore" Logan
Phil Hobbs
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Phil Hobbs

So if there is no free will as understood in non-Calvinist circles, God must have positively willed the fall of Satan, and is therefore the author of all evil. No thanks, I’ll leave that to the Hindus.

And while it’s true that God is sovereign in all things, He is also in the business of putting limits on Himself–preeminently in the Incarnation.

Cheers

Phil Hobbs

Barnabas
Guest
Barnabas

You can see cases as where the heart of Pharaoh was hardened. God appears to be directly acting in that case to bring about an evil act but I think that the overall point is that man may not judge God. It’s not that the act may not be attributed to God, its that what God does is good by definition. I’m still trying to work this out so I may be off base.

RFB
Guest
RFB

THIS:——> “…man may not judge God. It’s not that the act may not be attributed to God, its that what God does is good by definition.”

jesuguru
Guest
jesuguru

@Barnabas, throughout Exodus 8-10 there are verses that mention both that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, and elsewhere that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. The tension between these two truths is what I believe the Biblical (read: Calvinist, Reformed) Christian is meant to grapple with. This correlation reaches its climax at the crucifixion, where we find three questions raised: 1) Was it God’s doing? 2) Was it Satan’s doing? 3) Was it wicked humanity’s doing? And the collective answer is a confounding, but resounding, yes. But somehow, 2 and 3 are yes only because 1 was yes first and foremost. Acts… Read more »

Matt Massingill
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Matt Massingill

Phil Hobbs, You have a point of sorts, but your conclusion is not so simple. We could easily turn your statement around this way: “So if there is free will as understood in non-Calvinist circles, then God must have not willed the fall of Satan, and is therefore not utterly sovereign. No thanks, I’ll leave that to the Methodists.” This is precisely the conundrum – one answer seems to attribute evil to God, and the other seems to limit his sovereignty. I see your point, but it doesn’t resolve the matter, it only presents another problem. As far as God… Read more »

RFB
Guest
RFB

And if God is not omnipotent, sovereign over all, then why would or should anyone bother to pray? What, to get sent to another department, the one that handles problem X?

God says He had Pharaoh on special order and right on time: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

Hard? Absolutely

Good? Very, because it is only fitting for God to have such glory.

K. Swanson
Guest
K. Swanson

Amen. Absolutely.

timothy
Guest
timothy

This thread is a wonderful read.

Thanks

prayersofadoration
Member

I’ll scoot further out the limb because this topic fascinates me and some of you know what you’re talking about and might teach me something. God does no evil (this is not controversial I trust) but evil is his idea. He invented it. He didn’t create it because it’s not a thing in itself but a corruption of actual good things. But God is ultimately responsible for everything and that includes evil. God is good and there is evil, therefore it is good that there is evil. Why would God want evil? In a perfect world there would be no… Read more »

RFB
Guest
RFB

Mr. Steele, Wisdom = “…we are profoundly incompetent to judge him.” I think that it is the height of arrogance (not speaking of you) to even try. I also think that there are good models in His Word for appropriate demeanor as created beings: Isaiah: In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up;…And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King,… Read more »

Jeff Moss
Guest
Jeff Moss

Doug, thanks. I hear every commenter on this post (including me) affirming God’s absolute sovereignty over all things, or at least wanting to affirm it. There’s no doubt that God is in control over evil—as you said, the issue is the nature of His control.

With that said, where does Paul teach that “God freely and unalterably ordains whatsoever comes to pass”?

John Callaghan
Guest
John Callaghan

Rob,

Peter Kreeft has an interesting development of your idea of God as author in the context of reconciling Freewill and Predestination.

He tackles the same subject in a few pages of his book, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings.

Barnabas
Guest
Barnabas

I’ve seen writings where people work so hard to establish Natural Law that they can then turn it around against scripture and against God. In one such example the author says that the genocide of the Canaanites was a sinful act instigated by the human Israelite leaders and should not be attributed to God. In this, he does not call God evil but must torture the text to get God off the hook. Of course there are many less well articulated cases of “I refuse to believe in a God that ….”

RFB
Guest
RFB

“Known to God from eternity are all His works.”

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…”

I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”

Jeff Moss
Guest
Jeff Moss

Thank you, Doug. Reading that last phrase of Ephesians 1:11 in context, isn’t Paul just making a point about the wonderful inheritance that God predestined us to receive in Christ? Paul says that this is “according to the purpose of the One who accomplishes it all according to the plan of His will” (κατὰ πρόθεσιν τοῦ τὰ πάντα ἐνεργοῦντος κατὰ τὴν βουλὴν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ), so that our hope in Christ will glorify God (v. 12). In Calvin’s commentary on Ephesians, he explains all of verse 11 as being about God’s election of us. This reading agrees generally with that… Read more »

Tom
Guest
Tom

Jane,
Yes, Jesus had foreknowledge of the cross, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t feel totally abandoned as he took the place for our sin.
The point is that the answer to the Euthyphro dilemma is at the cross.

Matthias
Guest
Matthias

Jeff, I believe it would have to be argued that “Divine ordination of an act” is qualitatively equivalent to “committing an act,” and this is something I’ve not seen, at least not in a way that maintains the distinction between the Creator and creature.

RFB
Guest
RFB

The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Jeff Moss, If I read your come-back interpretation of Eph1:11 right, you are saying this passage proves only that God exercises enough control to get His chosen saints saved — that it’s not speaking to whether He’s controlling the rest of stuff. But the letter concludes with the exhortation to us who have been so saved to fight strong, with His gifts, against the powers aligned against us. And yet we are in this position because He rescued us from those powers, having defeated them, and sits above them. So somehow He controlled ALL the stuff going on at least… Read more »