Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sovereignty, Sin & Culpability: Part 1

First, allow me to apologize for my long absense from posting. Though I have been silent here, I have been hammering out several ideas. This post is an excerpt from about 10 pages I have written regarding sin and sovereignty. So, there will be more in short order, I promise.

There are many who would seek to subordinate foreordination to foreknowledge. They do this, as I undertand it, to preserve free will and to distance God from culpability for sin. I assert that foreknowledge and foreordination are commensurate: God does not create that which He does not know, or as Albert Einstein put it, "God does not play dice." Before creating, God considered the world He would create, including every action that every man would commit. I can hear the cries already, "He's making God the author of sin!" I will deal with this objection more fully in a latter post, but for now I will respond that the retort "God is not the author of sin" is not a Bible quote, and I can find little support for such a contention, though I can find much support for the assertion that God is the designer and sustainer of all creation, even of calamity, and that in His ordaining every action in this creation God does not sin. Again, more on this later.

In considering the world He would create, God chose His own level of interaction, whereby He restrains evil (by oppressing freedom, by the way!), and the instances where He would harden the sinful hearts of men. He chose when to use supernatural signs and wonders and when to be eerily silent. Ultimately, all of this relates to how God chose to restrain Himself. He is the all-powerful source of goodness, and the light of His goodness would fill all creation if unrestrained (which is the picture of heaven). Who then might restrain this light? Who has the power to shield the glory of God? Satan? Sinful man? Heaven forbid! Only God can restrain God, for He has no equal. For what purpose does He do this? I dare not presume to know the secret counsels of God, but we can consider the results of this creation. When all is said and done this creation will have yielded a heaven filled with glorified men and sinless angels, both impeccable, and a lake of fire filled with sinful men and devils, both beyond redemption. The earth we know and the whole sweep of starry heavens above will dissolve away and be replaced. All of this is so He can gain us!

With His divine plan fully before Him, He spoke the word of Creation. He was not under any compunction to create at all, much less to create any particular world with any particular actions. He was at complete liberty to change His plan, altering any event, by restricting evil more, or permitting more freedom, by hardening more or less, by bestowing grace or withholding it, by using supernatural means or not. The simple fact is that while the still un-created universe was nothing but a thought in the mind of God it was ultimately malleable, He could reshape it in any way He cared to. This is not to say that He does not have the power to still change anything He cares to, He does, but that He will not change His plan now since to do so would violate His omniscience. How? For God to have known a future event at the beginning of creation and to alter the future so that this previously known event does not come to pass causes His prior foreknowledge to be wrong. Prior to creation there is no violation of foreknowledge in the weighing of contingencies since there is no actual thing to know.

The persons He was considering creating were not yet people, but mere thoughts of people. These as-yet-imaginary people had no real wills, but only the wills God imagined they might have, if He created the man He imagined, and influenced by the situations in life He might permit. To suggest that the imaginary wills of imaginary people might exalt themselves over the real will of the real God and win personal freedom at the cost of God's own freedom is silly. But God, seeing the end from the beginning, spoke the word of creation, placing His seal of approval on it, judging the results worthy of the cost. This is necessarily so. If God did not approve, He could have changed the plan, or scraped it altogether. Again, God created not under compunction but according to His own good pleasure. We can rest in the fact that His intention (and, necessarily, the result) for every action is for good (Rom 8:28, Rom 11:36). In the next installment of this series I will be discussing the relation of intentions to actions, and how this affects culpability for sin.


Eric said...

"To suggest that the imaginary wills of imaginary people might exalt themselves over the real will of the real God and win personal freedom at the cost of God's own freedom is silly."

Well put, Shannon. It always amazes me when people argue for the free will of man. These same people, if Christians, will both say that A) they have sinned, and B) they chose God over the world.

But how could a man marred by sin choose God? It makes no sense, not to mention that it is un-biblical.

Shan said...

As I was looking at my post I realized that this particular section is nearly devoid of scriptures and is rather philosophical in nature. Let me assure you, gentle readers, that other posts from this series will be far more scripture-dependent.

Thanks for your response. It is always encouraging to know that I'm not just jammering to myself ;-) BTW - nice hat you're wearing in your photo there! Must be all the rage in Savannah ;-)

Anonymous said...

Excellent introduction, I am "thirsty" for the rest! Since your argument is not fully presented here, feel free to quickly dismiss my remarks if you feel they will be addressed later. Two quick questions and then a major objection...

-You model seems to answer the issue of evil in general, but don't you find that it is not any evil at all that causes problems, but the gratuitous or excessive evil that many stumble over? Example of so called "gratuitous evil" are legion.

-Will you address the problem Middle Knowledge seems to cause in your paradigm?

-I am a bit confused as to how God is bound to his own determined plan. I understand that you distinguish between the universe in the mind of God and the actualized universe that is created, but isn't this a false distinction? Why would the truth aspects of the non-actualized creation be any different from those which are actualized? In a world devoid of middle knowledge where a purely deterministic model is adopted, then I would argue that God had always known the course he would take. There was never a moment that his omniscience would be violated, because he would have always known.
I am sure you are already two steps ahead with problems with this, and I will address the most egregious. If God had always known what he would do, in keeping with his omniscience, then humanity and all of creation become necessary beings. This is not in keeping with any of scripture or even common sense, so therefore must be false.
To conclude, this is why I must disagree with your model. Its sets into motion a "regression of omniscience" (similar to the infinite regress in Epistemology) that makes the creation a necessary event. However; a paradigm with a "limited" sense of free will endowed by the Creator, and resultantly, some type of middle knowledge will avoid this and thereby provide a greater fit of the available evidence.
I eagerly await your sharp rebuttal and correction of my wayward philosophical theology!


Jeff said...

The attempt at the preservation of man's so called "free will" over and against the primacy of the divine will in effectually bringing about all He foreknew through his foreordination is "silly" (thanks Shan!) at best and idolotrous at worst. This is especially the case when the topic of salvation is on the line. Man is dead in his trespasses (eph2), ungodly, unrighteous and supresses the truth of God for lies (rom 1). Col 2:8,13 describe man prone to captivity(8) because of the empty philosophies he is want to acquiese to and consequently dead in transgressions (13). John 3:19 speaks of man loving darkness over the light because his deeds were evil. The question then is how does the morally evil, positionally unrighteous, categorically ungodly, lifeless, lying cadaver do anything at all synergistically in salvation?

The answer is that he doesn't. The metaphores for salvation depicted in the Bible also evidence this point. One who is lost (without hope and wandering) is found/saved exclusively by someone else(God) who is searching (Luke 15). One who is a bastard fatherless wretch is singly adopted by the Gracious, loving and omni-beneficient Father. One who is poor without two cents to rub together is freely redeemed by the precious blood of the lamb. The one held captive to his sins, with a will bound as it were to the pleasures of self, sin, and sensuous crafty passions is freed through the costly ransoming work of Christ on the cross reconciling the world to the Father. That cost is paid by God the Father, not by wanton man. Furthermore, the one who has committed injustice in the created and "actualized" cosmic realm stands condemned on God's earth for his moral tresspass that will one day be reckoned in God's divine courtroom. This lawbreaker needs necessarily the justification of God, a righteousness that he cannot attain in a synergistic way.

And finally the metaphore of the new birth screams with clarity on the matter. How much did you contribute to your natural fleshy birth? If you think for a minute that you contributed anything you are either confused or are lying, and we can find out by asking yo mamma...and she will undoubtedly say that it was completely her work that painful day and that you should recieve no credit. Natural child birth is the work solely and completely by the mother. In the same way, spiritual birth is a work (mono(one) + ergon(work) = monergistic) solely and totally by the Father.

I say all that to say this: Those seeking to preserve the free will of man, such that can choose God over sin, eternal life over eternal death, holiness over godlessness, and adoption by God over the biblical witness that we are children of wrath, by playing slight of hand tricks with the attributes of God in eternity past are erecting a phisolosophical castle on the sifting sands of human certaintude rather than the strong biblical witness of God's beautiful, independant but awesomely dependable, monergistic work in salvation. May God be the soverign in the lives He has given to us, the church he has given his elders to care for, and His world He has given us dominion over. For we were "called according to His be conformed to the image of His Son." (Rom 8 28ff)

Other than an oxymoron, what is "limited" free will? :) Could you explain that one...Also, I love the challenge you bring to Shan. It keeps him on his toes! It also is driving me to study more...

Shan said...

Thanks for the questions guys, I've bumped the replies to a new main posting.