Lecture 23: Sovereignty of God (Part 3)
Login to download lecture and curriculum
Concluding discussion on Calvinism
Doctrine of God
VI. The Work of God: Decree, Creation and Providence
A. The Decree
Course: Systematic Theology I
Lecture: Sovereignty of God (part 3)
V. Attributes of God
A. Methodology and the Doctrine of God
B. Incommunicable Attributes
C. Communicable Attributes
1. Intellectual Attributes
2. Moral Attributes
3. Attributes of God's Rulership
1) Scriptural Teaching
3) Possible Positions
b) Process Theology
I want to finish as much as we can in this one class period on Divine Sovereignty, Human Freedom and Moral Responsibility; not that we couldn't keep this going for quite sometime, but we have other things to do to finish up the semester. I will give you in the next class period a little handout on the work of God that finishes up this section on the doctrine of God. I will give to you a heftier handout on Angels, Satan, and demons that will basically cover all of that. I may spend 15 minutes on that and then we will move on to the doctrine of humanity and sin. So we still some other important things to do and we will finish that up.
You remember there are two questions that are interrelated. One is a mechanical question: how does God's sovereignty relate to human freedom; how can we be free if God is control of everything? That is a tough question, but it isn't as emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually challenging as the question of Divine sovereignty and moral responsibility for evil or, for that matter, for good, as well.
First we talked about two views that are judged by nearly everyone to be unacceptable to Christian faith: Hyper-Calvinism, which would deny any real human freedom to the humans beings God has made and Process Theology, which for many reasons is unacceptable, one of which is that God doesn't do anything in this except give good ideas; his power is a power of persuasion only.
The classic Arminian and the classic Calvinist positions are the two major contenders in one form or another. We could talk, if we had more time, about the open theist variation of the classic Arminian view because it does make a change in the whole notion of providence given the fact that in open theism God doesn't know the future. Of course in classic Arminianism, God does. He has foreknowledge of all that will take place before he creates. Considering the totality of determinations in the history of the universe, God knew all of those, whether they are human or divine, before he created the world. Of course Open Theism denies that God could know in advance what free creatures would do, and that changes things.
I want to spend most of the time on the question of the Biblical basis for this Calvinist view. We recognize that the Calvinist view argues, in light of divine sovereignty, (in spectrum texts like Isaiah 45), that God, in fact, has control of all that happens: light and darkness, death and life, riches and poverty, sickness and health. All of these areas of life are under the purview of God's sovereign control. So God's determination covers everything that happens in the history of universe. Yet we are actors in this, as well. We make choices; we determine certain things to happen. So those intersect and that is referred to in Calvinism as "Compatibilist Freedom."
The Libertarian notion of freedom does not work in my judgment, in the judgment of Calvinists because it renders human choices arbitrary. That is, there are no choice specific reasons for why we do what we do. For anything we choose to do, we could have chosen otherwise. So any reasons you might give for why you did A would be the identical reasons for why you would do B instead. So then, why did you do A? There is no answer to that question which is different than why you might have done B. This is a huge problem. The other difficulty with it, that I'll come to in a moment is, biblically, how does this work.
Compatibilist Freedom argues, to the contrary, that we do what we do for sufficient reasons, that choices are effects that are caused. We cause decisions. When we make a decision, we cause it to be. Causes of those things that happen need to have sufficiency to account for it. So there are conditions that are involved. But something, some prevailing desire, some set of desires, or deepest longings ultimately give explanation for why we do what we do in everything in life. So Compatibilism has an explanation for why we act. Given all the circumstances, we could not have chosen otherwise. It may be very difficult for us to analyze why we did what we did, but nonetheless, we did what we did because we wanted just that and not this. Philosophically it explains human action where libertarian freedom doesn't.
The basis for the compatibilist view is not philosophical but biblical. That is where we will go next.
In my judgment, the critical question is, what does the Bible say on this? Is one view or the other more supported, or is one supported and the other isn't in relation to these questions of divine sovereignty and human freedom and moral responsibility?
Let me take you through some texts. For some of you this will be familiar territory; I'm sure that you have studied this before. For others of you it may not be, and it is important to take a look at these passages. What I am going to give you is passages that indicate compatibilism. That, in fact, God's determination and human determination go together in the very same episodes, in the very same choices and actions.
A great example of this is in the Joseph story in Genesis 45 and 50. We are jumping in, in Genesis 45, at the point where Joseph makes himself known to his brothers. You all know the story before this, don't you? Joseph was the favorite son; his father showed him certain privileges, gave him the multi-colored coat, and this made his brothers jealous. God gave to Joseph dreams that he told his brothers about, the substance of which was that, basically, they would bow down before him. That made them all the more jealous and angry at him. So one day Jacob sent Joseph out to check on his brothers. While he was out there, away from home, his brothers decided to plot against him and kill him. That was the original intention, to kill him. Who intervened on Joseph's behalf? Reuben, the oldest brother, intervened and said, "No, you will bring our father to grave if you do this. He will despair of his life if you kill his favored son, so don't do that." So they didn't do it; instead they threw him in a pit. Ruben was then gone. (I'm going to come back to all of this later, how this whole thing works together). Ruben is gone, and it is when he is gone that this Midianite caravan comes along. The brothers say, "There is something better than killing Joseph; we can make money on this. We can sell him. He will get all this misery; he will eventually die in slavery, and we will get rich off it. At least we'll get paid for it." They decide to sell him into slavery, which they do.
So Joseph goes to Egypt in this caravan, sold as a slave, but God's hand is upon him. He is promoted to be in the house of Potipher, one of pharaoh's chief men in the kingdom. He serves in that wonderful place. As you may remember, Potipher's wife has less than noble ideas about Joseph and seduces him. He resists. Eventually, in her frustration, she makes it appear as though Joseph has made advances toward her. Potipher hears this story from her (it is a lie, but nonetheless, he believes it), so he puts Joseph in prison.
In prison God's hand is upon Joseph, and he prospers in prison. In prison he has these dreams about the chief cupbearer and the baker and what is going to happen to each of them respectively. Sure enough what Joseph tells them will happen happens. The baker is killed and the cupbearer once again serves the king. Joseph is in prison all of this time trusting God, being obedient, waiting, not knowing what in the world is happening. It is not until years later that Pharaoh has a dream, and he calls to his magicians to tell him what this about. They can't do it. The cupbearer remembers that when he was prison this man told them their dreams respectively, and he was right in both cases. They called Joseph. They promote him to second in Egypt. Only Pharaoh is above Joseph now, in all of Egypt. He evidently becomes quite Egyptian in his dress and appearance and even his speech. When his brothers come, they don't even recognize him. They don't know that this is Joseph. Part of the story that unfolds before chapter 45 is the visits from these brothers and all that transpires with that. They don't know it is Joseph all this time.
Here is where we pick up in chapter 45. Joseph is with brothers and it says in verse 1
Gen 45:1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried, "Have everyone go out from me." So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. Gen 45:2 He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it. Gen 45:3a Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.
You can imagine what they began thinking.
Gen 45:4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come closer to me." And they came closer. And he said, "I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.î
Is what Joseph just said correct? Is that what the story of the previous chapters would lead you to conclude, that they sold Joseph into Egypt? Yes, absolutely. From the narrative leading up to this point, you wouldn't think about it any other way than just that. They sold him into Egypt. Then keep reading.
Gen 45:5 "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here,
There it is again, "you sold me."
Gen 45:5b for God sent me before you to preserve life.
Here now we have the shift in the language from ìyou sold meî to ìGod sent me.î You have to ask the question, which is it? Who done it? Who is responsible for getting Joseph into Egypt? Was it the brothers? Yes. Was it God? Evidently, according to verse 5 it was. Notice that he does not say, "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God has brought good out of it. God used what you did and brought good out your evil." He doesn't say that. He rather says, "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me (past tense) here, for God sent me (past tense). Back at the point of Joseph's going to Egypt God is involved in getting him there; not just making good out of it once he is there.
Gen 45:6 "For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. Gen 45:7a "God sent me before you
What is the difference between verse 7 and 5? What is missing in verse 7 that is in verse 5? He doesn't even mention the brothers. The brothers don't even figure into the picture when you start analyzing what is really going on here. The brothers don't even come in.
Gen 45:7a "God sent me before you
Notice the language. God sent me, not God made use of the brothers selling him there.
Gen 45:7 "God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.
Gen 45:8a "Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here,
You go from you sold me into Egypt in verse 4 by the time you get to verse 8, it is not you who has sent me here but God sent me.
Gen 45:8 "Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
I don't think we should take verse 8 and jump over to this position and say, "You see, they don't have freedom after, they are not responsible for what they do, and there is no sense in which they actually made a choice." The narrative which leads up to this point disputes that. Everything you read about their anger, their resentment, the choices they make, their deliberation, everything you read about that would give you clear indication that this is them. This is what they are plotting; this is what they want to do. There is nothing about that which would indicate puppetry or some kind of phoniness. They are choosing and deciding.
There is another actor involved beside the brothers: God. God is involved from the beginning. I think that this is the conclusion you ought to draw from verse 8. Which one of the two has ultimacy in what happens? It is God. Isn't it clear when he says, it is not you who sent me here, but God? He is not denying what he just affirmed earlier. He is rather saying, if you want to know what ultimately accounts for my being where I am right now, it has nothing to do with you; it has everything to do with God choosing to send me here. How did he do it? He sent me; you sold me.
Look at what we have on the board. We have an intersection of divine determination and human choosing. If you answer the question, how did Joseph get to Egypt? You have to give two answers. His brothers sent him there, and God sent him there. Which one is ultimate? God. Does that reduce what the brothers did to insignificance? No, nothing in the narrative would allow us to draw that conclusion.
In chapter 50 this same theme comes up again. Jacob passes away.
Gen 50:16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father charged before he died, saying, Gen 50:17a 'Thus you shall say to Joseph, "Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong."'
They are not pointing back to Gen 45:8, "Joseph, do remember what you said back there in chapter 45 verse 8? It was not you who sent me here but God." They are not pointing back to that statement and saying, "We are off the hook; we are not culpable for what we have done". To the contrary, they are worried sick; now that dad is gone, Joseph will take revenge on the brothers. Why? For their transgressions, their wrong doing. They know it, and they know they are dead meat. Joseph had all this authority, all this power over them. He could turn them into slaves. He could torture them and kill them, and no one would complain. He has that authority. That is what they fear. So they make this thing up, "Dad says, go tell Joseph.'
Gen 50:17b And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.
Can't you see why he would weep? All they care about, all they have gotten out of this, evidently, is their own personal guilt in the whole thing. They have missed the sovereign hand of God. All they can see is their own lives before Joseph and what he might do to them. They have missed the big picture.
Gen 50:19 But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place?
Do you understand the point of that response? Basically it is, I am not going to retaliate; God will do that. Small comfort, I would say.
Gen 50:20 "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.
When God is involved in working in such a way that the choices we make are advancing to the kingdom, good occurs. Think of, for example,
Jn 15:5 "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
If you abide in me, then fruit will come, it will last. How does this happen? Because God works in us.
Phil 2:12c Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; Phil 2:13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
He is working in you for the choices you make and the actions you do. That covers it all; he gets all the glory because there is nothing that you do for the kingdom that doesn't involve choices you make or actions you do. He works in us to will and work for his good pleasure.
When we do what is good, God has worked in us. Do we do it? Yes. "They may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt 5:16b). If they are ''my'' good works, why don't they glorify me? The way it works is you do works that are good because God does them in and through you. You and I can take no credit, ever, for a minute. He gets all of the glory.
Gen 50:20a As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.
God was at work in who knows how many ways. In one clear way God gave the dreams to Joseph. That was God's choice to do that; it didn't have anything to with anybody else out there. He didn't work through anybody to do that. He just gave Joseph those dreams. Why? What was the byproduct of God giving Joseph those dreams? It made the brothers mad which contributed to them ultimately selling him to Egypt. One of the things that happened was Jacob giving Joseph the coat of many colors. That was a kind thing to do, a good thing to do. In whatever way God chose, he orchestrated the events knowing, absolutely knowing, that the result would be that they would sell Joseph into Egypt. When they do it, they do it for evil motives (you meant it for evil), but God does it for thoroughly good motives, to preserve his people alive, to accomplish those good things that are going to happen.
Another text which will help to illustrate this is Isaiah 10. This is a remarkable passage that surely does speak volumes to the issue we are dealing with.
Is 10:5a Woe to Assyria,
What does that mean? It doesn't have anything to do with horses or slowing down or anything like that. Woe to Assyria means judgment is coming. Assyria, you are such big trouble.
Is 10:5 Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger and the staff in whose hands is my indignation,
Do you get the point? Assyria, you are in such big trouble, you who are doing my will, you who are performing my work. You are my rod; you are my staff doing my work, and wow are you in trouble. How do we make sense of this? Keep reading. You get some help in the passage.
Is 10:6a I send it
The "it" is Assyria.
Is 10:6b I send it against a godless nation and commission it
Do you get the language, how forceful it is? They are raised up, commissioned and sent by God.
Is 10:6c I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of my fury
"The people of my fury" is his own people. He raises up Assyria to be the people of judgment against Israel, his own people. We know that happened in 722. God raises this nation up to bring judgment against his own people.
Is 10:6 I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of my fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.
Is 10:7a Yet it does not so intend, nor does it plan so in its heart,
What does that mean? What was not their motive? It is not to do God's will. They have no idea; they are clueless that they are actually doing God's will. They don't even know that they have been raised up as the rod of God's anger. God is welding it; God is commissioning it; God is doing it. They don't even know this.
Is 10:7 Yet it does not so intend, nor does it plan so in its heart, but rather it is its purpose to destroy and to cut off many nations.
What is the moral difference between God plundering, killing and destroying Israel (God commissioning that it be done) and Assyria doing it on her own (from Assyria's perspective)? God is altogether justified. He is bringing just and promised judgment. He let them know in so many ways, so many times reminding them over and over by the prophets: if you continue in this path I will bring this devastation upon you. So for God to do this, he is altogether just.
We talked about how the Israelites went into the land and killed the Canaanites and how God cannot murder. It is impossible for God to murder. But every single person whose life is taken, every one is taken by whom? God. That is what Isaiah 45:7 says.
Is 45:7 The one forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.
Deut 32:39 'See now that I, I am he, and there is no god besides me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from my hand.
God, if he chose, could continue sustaining a life another day. Every person who dies has consciously, deliberately been allowed to die, at the bare minimum, by a God who could have sustained their life another day, another year. So God is responsible. He owns all of us; he has absolute rights over us. But God cannot murder. According to law, God is just in judging Israel. So for God to judge Israel, it is altogether righteous for Assyria to think they are not doing this to fulfill the will of God. Assyria is doing this because they are greedy and prideful and covetous; they want everything Israel has; they want their women; they want their goods; they want Israel.
Is 10:7a But rather it is its purpose to destroy and to cut off many nations. Is 10:8 For it says, "Are not my princes all kings?
Do you get the point of that? Our junior high basketball teams in our cities could beat your national professional teams. Our princes are better than your kings. It is arrogance.
Is 10:9 "Is not Calno like Carchemish, or Hamath like Arpad, or Samaria like Damascus? Is 10:10 "As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols, whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, Is 10:11 shall I not do to Jerusalem and her images Just as I have done to Samaria and her idols?"
Just think of the arrogance of Assyria to say this about Jerusalem; don't you know that this invited God's judgment, to put the God of Jerusalem on par with the gods of the other cities that they have destroyed. And look what we will do to Jerusalem. The amazing thing is they did exactly that, destroy Jerusalem. Actually they didn't, but the Babylonians did then after them.
Is 10:12 So it will be that when the Lord has completed all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will say, "I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness." Is 10:13 For he has said, "By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this, for I have understanding; and I removed the boundaries of the peoples and plundered their treasures, and like a mighty man I brought down their inhabitants, Is 10:14 and my hand reached to the riches of the peoples like a nest, and as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth; and there was not one that flapped its wing or opened its beak or chirped."
How do you answer the question, who brought this judgment, this plundering and devastation upon Israel? You need two answers.
The main problem with the classic Arminian model is that you have to answer in either/or ways. Either God does it or, in this case, wicked people do it. But you can't say that God and wicked people do it. But don't you have to say that? After reading verse 5, "I commissioned it, I sent it," how you can say God is just responding, just making good out of the evil of Assyria? No, he raises them up; he does the work; they are the instruments of his judgment. So he does it, ''and'' they do it. How do Arminians account for God willing certain things to happen? It would require that God coerced them and eliminated their freedom, but they would appeal to that very rarely. If that is what God has to do to get his way, then it makes a mockery of human freedom. It is a mockery if, in order to run the universe, he has to eliminate human freedom over and over again. Arminians would use analogies like God is the master chess player. A. W. Tozer, has an analogy in his book, ''The Knowledge of the Holy'' (which is wonderful book for the most part, but his chapter on divine sovereignty is abysmal because he an Arminian, Christian Missionary Alliance). He holds the view that sovereignty can be pictured by a big ship going from New York to England. God gets the ship from one port to the other, but it doesn't matter what people do on the decks. They can move the chairs around; they can sleep; they can do whatever they want. But the ship gets there. The analogy falters if you ask the question, what if the people decide to go down in the boiler room and set a bomb off; is the ship still going to get there? To what extent can God allow Libertarian free choice to take place and yet get his will done? One the main appeals of the Arminian model is that we are responsible for evil, not God, but look how much God has had to put up with. Look at the 20th century, the bloodiest century in human history, with estimates of 100 million people killed in political and international murders of various kinds.
What Arminians would say of these texts is that God is able to use a combination of his foreknowledge (he knows the things that people are going to do) and his permissive will to permit certain things to happen so that what happens turns out to be what God wanted to have happen.
The best Arminian book on these issues, the most thought out and articulated Arminian volume is by Jack Cottrell, ''God the Ruler''. He will argue for this divine foreknowledge and divine permission.
Divine foreknowledge is smoke and mirrors in the Arminian view. It looks like it actually gives you something, but it doesn't give you anything. Because if God foreknows everything exhaustively, by simple foreknowledge, that means he also foreknows everything he is going to do. It affords him no opportunity to respond to situations because his responses are foreknown also. It is like the stock market example. Will it be of advantage if you know everything that will happen in the stock market? We think it would, but it won't. All you will know is for the next 15 years is your frustration over the stupid investments you make. If you foreknow them, that is what they will be.
What kind of permission is this? It is permission to let Libertarian creatures do what they wish, and God cannot control them. So on what grounds can God guarantee that what he wants done will be done? This is a huge problem.
'''A case of compatiblism'''
2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
2 Pet 1:21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Is the Bible the word of men? Yes, absolutely, 100% human. Is it the word of God? Yes, absolutely, 100% divine. All the Bible is God's, all the grammar, all the syntax, all the vocabulary; that is why you spend all of this time and effort, and money studying Greek and Hebrew, because it is God's word.
How is this going to work in the Arminian model of Libertarian Freedom? How are you going to get men who were moved by the Holy Spirit and spoke from God, if everything they write they can write otherwise, and God cannot control their freedom? Either that or you turn them into puppets. If you do that, then it is not really human. The only way it can be human and divine together is if they choose and God chooses, so the end result is their word, his word together. Inspiration is great example of the principle of compatiblism.
One of the most famous examples of this is Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost. Speaking of Jesus, he says:
Acts 2:23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put him to death.
How do we answer the question of who put Jesus on the cross? This is a huge question of mammoth importance. The answer: God and wicked men. Don't you have to say God? Wouldn't you use language like Joseph used in Genesis 45:8. It was not you who put Christ there, but God put him there. Wouldn't you use language like that to express the ultimacy here. The ultimacy is God.
Jn 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Is 53:10 But the Lord was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief; if he would render himself as a guilt offering, he will see his offspring, he will prolong his days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
Who put Jesus on the Cross? The Father sent him.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed.
Matt 26:39 And he went a little beyond them, and fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will."
What is that cup? It is to go to the cross.
The Father put him there. But that is not going to satisfy to a full answer to the question, how did Christ get on the cross? Yes the father put him there, but how did he get there? Look at chapter 4 of Acts; this is even more specific and remarkable.
Acts 4:27 "For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,
Look how many people were involved in this.
Acts 4:28 to do whatever your hand and your purpose predestined to occur.
Everything that happened fulfilled the predestined plan and purpose of God in putting Christ on the cross. No accidents, no coincidences. The predestined plan and purpose of God was fulfilled in Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel.
What you see when you look at this is that there must be a coming together of divine sovereign control of all things in which the will of God is done. In passages like Deuteronomy 32:39, Isaiah 45:5-7 and Daniel 4 and all that happens is ultimately in the control of God; he ordains all of it. Yet evil that occurs is done by human beings with wicked hearts and wrong motives of pride, arrogance, hatred, and jealousy. Think of the Pharisees; they were so jealous that Jesus was popular and people were following him and not listening to them. Yet God uses that and the very actions he has predestined are carried out. He gets the glory for it. Isn't this true on the cross? For what is more glorious, more worthy of honor and glory than in God giving his Son to pay the penalty we deserve to pay ourselves. Yet what deed has been more horrific than the murder of the sinless Son of God? The answer is, there is nothing more glorious and nothing more despicable, and yet they are together. God did it. Wicked men did it.
One variation that I make on this that I think is helpful is that I utilize in my thinking this through a distinction between the determinative (strong causation) and permissive (weak causation) will of God. Both are caused by God insofar as God determines whether it is going to happen or not.
Determinative (strong causation) is by God's working in the individual to make it happen. God gets the credit for what happens because he caused it directly within the person, i.e. regeneration. None comes to a saving faith in Christ apart from God's work in us to open blind eyes, to regenerate dead hearts, to enliven us to believe. So when we believe, we give glory to God because he has worked in us. So everything that God does in this category is good. This is where John 15:5 would fit. This where Ephesians 2:10 would fit. He has ordained these good works that we should walk in them. God has done it; every good work that you ever do, whether it is giving a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus or whatever God has for you in your life, God has done it in and through you and me, and he gets all the glory.
In Permissive (weak causation) he is just as much in control of this, but his control is different. The way he controls what will happen in his determinative will and the way he controls what happens in his permissive will is asymmetrical; it is not identical. He knows full well what conditions will give rise to certain actions, i.e. Joseph brothers. He knows the dreams will provoke them to jealousy. Is giving him the dreams bad? No, it could be seen as a good thing God did, but clearly one of his intentions in this is setting up the situation so that they will do in their jealousy what he knows they will do. Could he prevent it? Could he prevent Joseph's brothers from selling Joseph into Egypt? Yes. Could he work in their hearts so that their jealousy is diminished, so that they grow in love and appreciation for their younger brother? Yes, but he chooses not to. He chooses, rather, to permit this line of action to fulfill what he chooses. Yet he knows that when they do it, it will be evil. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. The cross of Christ is another example of this.
In my judgment, to make sense of this category (not all reformed people have wanted to appeal to this), I think that it is essential to render asymmetrical or differences in God's activity that brings about good and God's activity that brings about evil. There has got to be two different kinds of activity: one directly done by God that brings about good and one done indirectly by permitting what he could prevent. Yet he permits it for ultimately good reasons. Why did he permit wicked men to put his Son on the cross? Good reasons. Why did he permit Joseph's brothers to sell him into Egypt? Good reasons. Why did he permit Assyria to plunder Israel? Good reasons.
To make sense of this I think you must appeal to a version of middle knowledge; (knowledge between what could be and knowledge of what will be, and that is knowledge of what would be). What is the relevance here? Middle knowledge allows God to look at various situations. What if I give Joseph the dream, and what if I don't; what would the brothers do? Maybe, God knew without the dreams they would not be provoked enough to sell him into Egypt. They might beat him up, they might leave him out in the desert, they might do something like that, but they wouldn't sell him into Egypt. But with the dreams they would do this. So what God can do, by middle knowledge, is know exactly the circumstances in which his permissive will, will result in them doing the very thing that he ordains for his good reasons that they do. They do it for wicked reasons and are culpable. This middle knowledge is not the same kind of middle knowledge that is held in Arminianism because that kind relies on Libertarian Freedom. The problem with that is that God could never know what a free creature would do in circumstances because the circumstances are irrelevant to what they would do. They could always choose otherwise. But if freedom is the expression of what we most want to do, then God can know the complex set of factors that will give rise to certain choices. There is a connection between the circumstances and the factors and the choices we make.
So in my judgment God uses permissive will and uses middle knowledge to accomplish this. Jospeh's brothers do it; they are responsible for the evil, but God is praiseworthy because it all works for the good purposes he has designed.
This view does not hold to simple foreknowledge. The Calvinist view is that God foreknows everything, but he foreknows what he has decreed will be. So foreknowledge is not simple foreknowledge. In the Arminian view, the reason it is called simple foreknowledge is because God, being God, being omniscient, just knows every true proposition, everything that will be. If he knows it, and he knows it from eternity, and he is immutable, what possible providential benefit can that be to him? What can he do about it? If he knows it and it is set, it is eternal and immutable. But in the Calvinist view, God's foreknowledge is logically subsequent to his decree. The reason he knows what you are going to have for dinner tonight is because he determined it. Foreknowledge is not in itself determinative, nor is foreknowledge simple in God's judgment.
Blessing on you.
If you are enjoying this lecture, would you consider making a donation so others can learn from it as well?
BiblicalTraining is a non-profit and relies on its users for support.