The Author-Story Model (part 4)

My comments are interspersed below.

The Author-Story Model

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

* Part 1, Does God Author Sin?
* Part 2, Does God Cause Sin?
* Part 3, Does God Permit Sin?

* * *

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.
The Author-Story Model

I should … say something more about the nature of God’s agency in regard to evil. Recall from [chapter 8 in The Doctrine of God] the model of the author and his story: God’s relationship to free agents is like the relationship of an author to his characters. Let us consider to what extent God’s relationship to human sin is like that of Shakespeare to Macbeth, the murderer of Duncan.

Chris: In the Bible, God is the One actively causing the sin of a particular individual (e.g., Pharaoh) by hardening whom He will harden. Shakespeare penned much wickedness–and God actively caused Shakespeare to so pen. Shakespeare authored his own wickedness by so writing. God caused it and Shakespeare is culpable. Thus, Shakespeare is the culpable author of his own sin. But if “author” is defined differently then it could be said that God is NOT the culpable author but the ultimate and metaphysical author since He is the One who actively caused it since He is the ultimate cause of all things.

Now it must be said that the rabid Arminian will not be pacified by Frame’s vain attempt to blur the sharp line of contrast between creature and Creator. For even with Frame’s analogy (which he borrowed from Wayne Grudem), the professing “Christian” (i.e., Paul’s objector in Romans 9) who is still wonderfully confused about the creature/Creator distinction is going to continue to find fault as long as God decides or decrees that sinful action X will take place in time.

The Arminian is Paul’s objector and they most likely would only be satisfied with an analogy that had Shakespeare somehow looking through the halls of time, and then based upon what he saw in the future, makes his “decree” that Macbeth will murder Duncan.

In the analogy as originally put forth, Macbeth’s action is the result of Shakespeare’s decree (or decision to write); whereas the Arminian spin put on it makes Shakespeare’s “decree” the result of Macbeth’s action. This of course, has Macbeth and Duncan telling Shakespeare what he will write, rather than Shakespeare writing what Macbeth and Duncan will do.

Further, if a person even professes the most superficial and diluted doctrine of creation, the Christopher Hitchens,’ Sam Harris,’ and Richard Dawkins’ of the world will still continue to manifest their hypocrisy by vainly attempting to implicate God as the *culpable* author of sin (evil). So even the Open Theists who affirm that God does not know the future, with their pseudo-pious pretensions and their pseudo “pastoral concerns,” are STILL going to receive boat-loads of vitriolic criticism from the likes of the aforementioned atheists of popular consumption.

To quote a popular, hazardous heretic:

==But if men can charge God with being implicated in evil, then they may with justice continue to charge Him as long as the doctrine of creation is affirmed at any level. There is no escape; if God is the Creator, then He is responsible for the presence of sinful action y. We might as well face it. If we have the authority to charge the Calvinist God with tyranny, then we also have the authority to charge the Arminian God with culpable negligence, and the openness God with being drunk and disorderly. Of course, as St. Paul would say, I am out of my mind to talk like this. But if God made the world, then He is responsible for it being here, and for it being in the condition it is in.==

Chris: The Calvinist “god” permits sin. The Biblical God actively causes sin. There is a striking difference between the two. The Calvinst “god” is NOT the God of Romans 9. The true God of Romans 9 actively hardens men in their sin, while the Calvinst “god” simply allows men to harden themselves. Think about the objection,”for who resists His will?” A person cannot resist the active hardening of God. But how on earth does this objection make any sense to a “permissive hardening”? One CAN resist a permissive hardening. How’s that? It’s a “permissive hardening”! If God’s hardening action were permissive, then He would not be doing anything active and hence there would be nothing to resist as far as the actions of God are concerned. In “permissive hardening” the only “force” that the man is dealing with or attempting to resist or not resist are his own sinful devices. Long story short: The Calvinist “god” does not fit into the hardening of Romans 9 and the most Calvinist’s would be joining their Arminian brothers in Satan in echoing the objection to Paul concerning the absolute sovereignty of God.

Did Shakespeare Kill Duncan?

I borrowed the Shakespeare/Macbeth illustration from Wayne Grudem’s excellent Systematic Theology.1 But I do disagree with Grudem on one point. He says that we could say that either Macbeth or Shakespeare “killed King Duncan.” I agree, of course, that both Macbeth and Shakespeare are responsible, at different levels of reality, for the death of Duncan. But as I analyze the language we typically use in such contexts, it seems clear to me that we would not normally say that Shakespeare killed Duncan. Shakespeare wrote the murder into his play. But the murder took place in the world of the play, not the real world of the author. Macbeth did it, not Shakespeare. We sense the rightness of the poetic justice brought against Macbeth for his crime. But we would certainly consider it very unjust if Shakespeare were tried and put to death for killing Duncan.2 And no one suggests that there is any problem in reconciling Shakespeare’s benevolence with his omnipotence over the world of the drama. Indeed, there is reason for us to praise Shakespeare for raising up this character, Macbeth, to show us the consequences of sin.3

Chris: Obviously, this “author-story model,” this Shakespearean analogy breaks down big time. In straining my mind to find the univocal point in this analogy, in reality people would find fault with Shakespeare for raising up Macbeth. They would say that Macbeth was only doing what Shakespeare authored him to do–and so blame would lie with Shakespeare they would reason.

In reality, Shakespeare wrote a wicked play involving a fictional murder. But in this fictional play Macbeth is the one who committed murder. Perhaps one could loosely use the term “kill” and say that Shakespeare by writing this fictional play, “killed” Duncan. The Bible speaks of God as the One who heals and the One who kills. But to say that God kills is NOT to say that He murders. Murder is defined as the taking of life without Divine sanction. And so when God causes a man to murder, God is not sinning the sin of murder. Rather, God is killing a certain person by means of actively causing another person to take that person’s life. Thus, in one and the same action, it is God who kills and it is the man who murders. Of course, there were times in the Old Testament where God commanded that certain individuals be killed. God was commanding killing. This was obviously not murder since murder is defined as taking the life of a person without direct revelation from God (as in OT theocratic times).

God Brings About Sin Without Himself Sinning

The difference between levels, then, may have moral significance as well as metaphysical.4 It may illumine why the biblical writers, who do not hesitate to say that God brings about sin and evil, are not tempted to accuse him of wrongdoing. The relation between God and ourselves, of course, is different in some respects from that between an author and his characters. Most significantly: we are real; Macbeth is not. But between God and ourselves there is a vast difference in the kind of reality and in relative status. God is the absolute controller and authority, the most present fact of nature and history. He is the lawgiver, we the law receivers. He is the head of the covenant; we are the servants. He has devised the creation for his own glory; we seek his glory, rather than our own. He makes us as the potter makes pots, for his own purposes. Do these differences not put God in a different moral category as well?

Chris: God is the lawgiver. God says thou shalt do no murder. We are the law receivers who are commanded to do no murder. We are responsible NOT because we are free from God’s control, but because He has sovereign authority.

Dr. Frame says that God is the “absolute controller.” Frame holds to the unbiblical view of Divine permission which blatantly denies that God is absolute contoller over all that which He has created. God makes some pots to damn them. But the vast majority of those who call themselves “Christian” seek their own glory by attempting to rob God of His redemptive glory by saying that pots are “permitted” to fit or damn themselves.

God Is Not Required to Defend Himself

The very transcendence of God plays a significant role in biblical responses to the problem of evil. Because God is who he is, the covenant Lord, he is not required to defend himself against charges of injustice. He is the judge, not we. Very often in Scripture, when something happens that calls God’s goodness in question, God pointedly refrains from explaining. Indeed, he often rebukes those human beings who question him. Job demanded an interview with God, so that he could ask God the reasons for his sufferings (23:1-7, 31:35-37). But when he met God, God asked the questions: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (38:3). The questions mostly revealed Job’s ignorance about God’s creation: if Job doesn’t understand the ways of the animals, how can he presume to call God’s motives in question? He doesn’t even understand earthly things; how can he presume to debate heavenly things? God is not subject to the ignorant evaluations of his creatures.5

Chris: So, in view of this Dr. Frame, how can you shy away from the Biblical teaching of God’s active causation of sin? Do you charge God with injustice because He actively causes sin, hardening whom He will harden?

The Potter and the Clay

It is significant that the potter/clay image appears in the one place in Scripture where the problem of evil is explicitly addressed.6 In Rom. 9:19-21, Paul appeals specifically to the difference in metaphysical level and status between the creator and the creature:

One of you will say to me, “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will? But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”‘ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (Rom. 9:19-21)

This answer to the problem of evil turns entirely on God’s sovereignty. It is as far as could be imagined from a free will defense. It brings to our attention the fact that his prerogatives are far greater than ours, as does the author/character model.

Chris: Yes. The “problem of evil” is explicitly addressed in Romans 9:19-21 and it does turn entirely on God’s sovereignty. And not only is it “as far as could be imagined from a free will defense,” it is as far as could be imagined from a “permissive will” in God and “compatibilist free will” in man defense.

A Sense in Which God “Authors” Evil

One might object to this model that it makes God the “author” of evil. But that objection, I think, confuses two senses of “author.” As we have seen, the phrase “author of evil” connotes not only causality of evil, but also blame for it. To “author” evil is to do it. But in saying that God is related to the world as an author to a story, we actually provide a way of seeing that God is not to be blamed for the sin of his creatures.

Chris: I certainly do not want people confusing two senses of “author.” I also do not want people confusing two senses of “causality.” Frame says that the phrase “author of evil” connotes causality and blame. And in one of the senses this is true. The gunman is the cause and blame of the death of the one whom he shot. BUT in another sense, it is NOT true that “author of evil” connotes causality and blame. For God is the One who actively caused the gunman to pull the trigger, and this causality of God does not imply or connote blame in any way, shape, or form.

Three Biblical Responses to the Problem of Evil

This is, of course, not the only biblical response to the problem of evil. Sometimes God does not respond by silencing us, as above, but by showing us in some measure what evil contributes to his plan, what I have called the “greater good defense.” The greater good defense refers particularly to God’s Lordship attribute of control, that he is sovereign over evil and uses it for good. The Rom. 9 response refers particularly to God’s Lordship attribute of authority. And his attribute of covenant presence addresses the emotional problem of evil, comforting us with the promises of God and the love of Jesus from which no evil can separate us (Rom. 8:35-39).

Chris: Certainly God caused certain individuals to crucify His Son. And certainly God uses this sin to glorify Himself in the Person and Work of His Son in bringing many sons to glory.

End Notes:

1 Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994, 321-22.

2 Think how many writers of TV programs would be taken from us if such a legal basis were valid. No further comment.

3 As my friend Steve Hays points out in correspondence, the dark aspects of Shakespeare’s dramas also add to his stature as an artist. Our admiration of Shakespeare is partly based on his understanding of the sin of the human soul and his ability to expose and deal with that sin, not trivially, but in ways that surprise us and deepen our understanding.

Chris: It is points like those made by Steve Hays that justify the Calvinist Reformed consensus that watching wickedness in the form of television and/or movies is adiaphora, a matter of “Christian freedom.” Any disgusting director and/or screen writer can add to his stature in, and his admiration by the Calvinist Reformed community by putting forth all kinds of perversion on the silver screen, just so long as it is not done “trivially.” Calvinists like John Frame and Steve Hays need to go out and watch the most grizzly gore and/or sex and violence they can find, since that would “deepen” their “understanding of the sin of the human soul.” Most Calvinists are engaging in that wickedness already, even those of a pernicious Puritan’s mind.

4 The metaphysical difference between the creator God and the world of which evil is a part may indicate the true connection between the ethical and metaphysical, as opposed to the false connection of the “chain of being” thinkers mentioned earlier in this chapter. It may also indicate a grain of truth in the privation theory: there is a metaphysical difference between good and evil, but it is not the difference between being and nonbeing, but rather the difference between uncreated being and created being.

5 To say this is not to adopt the view of Gordon H. Clark that God is ex lex, or outside of, not subject to, the moral law. See Clark’s Religion, Reason, and Revelation (Phila.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961), where he argues that because God is above the moral law he is not subject to it. Certainly God has some prerogatives that he forbids to us, such as the freedom to take human life. But for the most part, the moral laws God imposes upon us are grounded in his own character. See Ex. 20:11, Lev. 11:44-45,Matt. 5:45, 1 Pet. 1:15-16. God will not violate his own character. What Scripture denies is that man has sufficient understanding of God’s character and his eternal plan (not to mention sufficient authority) to bring accusations against him.

Chris: God makes the laws; the laws do not make Him. In the Old Testament God allowed polygamy. In the New Testament God forbids it. In the OT polygamy was not adultery (as evidence by regenerate men such as David); in the NT polygamy is adultery.

6 The problem is raised, of course, in the Book of Job and many other places in Scripture. But to my knowledge, Rom. 9 is the only passage in which a biblical writer gives an explicit answer to it. Job, of course, never learns why he has suffered.

Chris: There is no “problem of evil” in the sense of WHY God caused it to come about in the fall of Adam. He caused it so that He might save those for whom Christ died and He caused it so that He might destroy those for whom Christ did not die. Romans 9:1-24 is so clear on the reason for evil, sin, and suffering. Multitudes twist the clear teaching of these verses because they do not want the God of the Bible to be their God.