Does God Author Sin? (part 1)

The following is a post by David Mathis to the Desiring God blog. Mathis says that the reason for the 4-part series of posts was because many emails were received in response to three of John Piper’s sermons concerning God’s sovereignty over sin. The Lord willing, I hope to show at some point in the future John Piper’s damnable heretical conditionalism. My comments are interspersed below.

Does God Author Sin?

August 29, 2007 | By: David Mathis
Category: CommentaryThis is part 1 of a 4-part series on how to talk about God’s sovereignty over sin.

In his last three sermons, John Piper has made some provocative statements about God’s sovereignty over sin.

* August 12: “God created [Satan and his demons] knowing what they would become and how, in that very evil role, they would glorify Christ. Knowing everything they would become, God created them for the glory of Christ.”
* August 19: “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.”
* August 26: “[E]verything that exists—including evil—is ordained by an infinitely holy and all-wise God to make the glory of Christ shine more brightly. . . . Adam’s sin and the fall of the human race with him into sin and misery did not take God off guard and is part of his overarching plan to display the fullness of the glory of Jesus Christ.”

Desiring God has received a batch of emails in response—some more heated than others!—questioning (or outright disagreeing with) God’s sovereignty over sin.

Chris: I’m sure that these heated responses were hypocritical. For it is very likely that most of these people objected to Piper’s view that God supposedly “decrees to permit” sinful action x. These persons might say that God foreknows (i.e., merely knows ahead of time) that sinful action x will happen. Now how is mere foreknowledge substantially different that decreeing to permit something? And thus, those who objected to Piper’s erroneous view that God “permits” sinful actions are flaming hypocrites; for according to their own fallacious standard of reasoning, their god (i.e., vain idol) is just as morally culpable for his negligence of foreknowing sinful action x and choosing not to prevent it, as the god (i.e., vain idol) of Piper is morally culpable for his negligence of “decreeing to permit” sinful action x. J. Gresham Machen said this in his “The Christian view of man”:

“For both [allegedly consistent views like his and inconsistent views of those more of Arminian-like views–CD], the problem remains. How could a holy God, if He is all-powerful, have permitted the existence of sin? What shall we do with the problem? I am afraid we shall have to do with it something that is not very pleasing to our pride; I am afraid we shall just have to say that it is insoluble” (Machen, The Christian View of Man, p. 45).

Chris: Machen says that both the Calvinists and the Arminians have the problem of WHY God supposedly “permitted the existence of sin.” The Calvinist and the Arminian use the word “permit.” The Calvinist adds the word, “decree” while the Arminian adds the word “foreknowledge” to further explain their particular views of “permission.” Ultimately they have the same unbiblical view of permission, rather than the biblical view of God’s actively causing sin in order to fulfill that which He has decreed from eternity.

Machen mentions the word “pride.” And it is very prideful of Machen to admit “pious ignorance” by saying it is “insoluble” when in fact, God has clearly spoken regarding the hows and whys in Romans 9:19-24. God did NOT permit the existence of sin, He actively caused it in order to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known.

Machen does mention a bit later that, “He has told us how at infinite cost, by the gift of His Son, He has provided a way of escape from it” (Machen, p. 45). Perhaps Machen would agree with how Piper and Frame explain the so-called “insoluble mystery,” but even if not, they would all agree that God cannot be playing an active causative role in seeking to display the fullness of the glory of Jesus Christ, lest He be the supposed culpable author of sin. In short, men like Machen, Frame, and Piper are trying very hard to convince themselves and others that they are not Paul’s objector. But it isn’t working.

==We’ve found that John Frame provides some significant help on how to talk about God’s sovereignty over sin. Dr. Frame and P&R Publishing have graciously given us permission to quote his Doctrine of God at length. The excerpts below (and in the next 3 parts of this series) are not available elsewhere on the web. If you get some help here, we’d highly recommend purchasing The Doctrine of God.

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The following is from The Doctrine of God, Chapter 9, “The Problem of Evil,” by John Frame. The headings are added; the paragraphs are Dr. Frame’s.

Chris: John Frame is recruited by Desiring God to help explain how God can be sovereign over sin and not be the culpable author of sin.

==God Is Sovereign Over Sin

. . . God does harden hearts, and through his prophets he predicts sinful human actions long in advance, indicating that he is in control of human free decisions. Now theologians have found it difficult to formulate in general terms how God acts to bring about those sinful actions. . . . Do we want to say that God is the “cause” of evil? That language is certainly problematic, since we usually associate cause with blame. . . . [I]t seems that if God causes sin and evil, he must be to blame for it.

Chris: These theologians find it difficult to formulate how God can bring about the sinful actions of those who would crucify His Son because they come to the text with the carnal a priori baggage that tells them that moral culpablility implies freedom from God. If God actively caused these men to do what they did in crucifying His Son then would not the carnal objection be that the unrighteousness of these crucifiers commends the righteousness of God (cf Romans 3:5)? And if this be the case, then when God actively causes these crucifiers to crucify His Son, the objection is that God must be unrigheous to lay wrath upon that which He is the author of. The murderers of Christ are indeed the culpable authors of their own sin, while God is the ulimate author in that He has actively caused them to transgress His command: “Thou shalt do no murder.”

==Words: The Theologian’s Tools

Therefore, there has been much discussion among theologians as to what verb should best describes God’s agency in regard to evil. Some initial possibilities: authors, brings about, causes, controls, creates, decrees, foreordains, incites, includes within his plan, makes happen, ordains, permits, plans, predestines, predetermines, produces, stands behind, wills. Many of these are extra-scriptural terms; none of them are perfectly easy to define in this context. So theologians need to give some careful thought about which of these terms, if any, should be affirmed, and in what sense. Words are the theologian’s tools. In a situation like this, none of the possibilities is fully adequate. There are various advantages and disadvantages among the different terms. Let us consider some of those that are most frequently discussed.==

Chris: Terms such as “permit,” “author,” and “cause” should be defined. For instance, the Bible uses words like permit, as in “if indeed God permits” (Hebrews 6:3). This is a figurative expression since we know from many other passages of Scripture that God is very active in causing His creature to sin in order that He may destroy them in just judgment (e.g., Pharaoh, Sihon, the sons of Eli, the king of Assyria).

==1) Does God Author Sin?

The term authors is almost universally condemned in the theological literature. It is rarely defined, but it seems to mean both that God is the efficient cause of evil and that by causing evil he actually does something wrong.1 So the [Westminster Confession] says that God “neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin” (5:4). Despite this denial in a major Reformed confession, Arminians regularly charge that Reformed theology makes God the author of sin. They assume that if God brings about evil in any sense, he must therefore approve it and deserve the blame. In their view, nothing less than libertarian freedom will serve to absolve God from the charge of authoring sin.==

Chris: That “author” is rarely defined is a problem. But in the context of this universally condemning is the implication that by “author,” is meant the perpetrator of the actual sin. That is, to author the sin is to commit the sin. What has not been demonstrated by either Calvinists or Arminians is HOW is God doing something wrong when He efficiently causes a person to sin. They wrongly think, that for God to bring about sin in this way, it ALSO means that He is the approver of the sin He efficiently causes or authors. This does not follow of course, for the reason God efficiently causes or authors is because He desires to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known. God IS and shows Himself to be the author of sin by actively and efficiently causing Satan, reprobate men, etc., to commit (i.e., author) their own sins. They are the culpable authors; God is the unblamable and sovereign author. The carnal man will say “why does He yet find fault?” The reason this Romans nine objection is even put forward is because the Romans nine objector implies that the fault ought to lie with God since Paul just told him that God in effect, is the efficient cause (author) of his sin while the objector himself is the culpable and blameworthy author.

==God Does Not Author Sin

But as we saw [in chapter 8] libertarian freedom is incoherent and unbiblical. And as we saw [in chapter 4] God does bring about sinful human actions. To deny this, or to charge God with wickedness on account of it, is not open to a Bible-believing Christian. Somehow, we must confess both that God has a role in bringing evil about, and that in doing so he is holy and blameless. . . . God does bring sins about, but always for his own good purposes. So in bringing sin to pass he does not himself commit sin. If that argument is sound, then a Reformed doctrine of the sovereignty of God does not imply that God is the author of sin.==

Chris: Dr. Frame’s view of “sovereign permission” is representative of most who call themselves Calvinist or Reformed. And this view of “sovereign permission” is incoherent and unbiblical. It is like saying that when a person swings an axe in order to chop a tree down, that this person is somehow “sovereignly permitting” the axe to swing itself (cf Isaiah 10:15).

==1 Lest there be confusion over language: the “author/story” model of God’s relation to creatures, which I [will advocate later], does not make God the “author of sin” in this sense. Nothing about that model implies that God commits or approves of sin. In fact I shall argue later that it provides us a reason to deny that.==

Chris: And nothing implies that God commits or approves of sin when He desires to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known by actively causing the sin. God actively causes the sin because He desires to show wrathful disapproval of the sin.