Round and Round the Mulberry Bush

If you read enough in a given area you learn to recognize patterns, or at least you should. You begin to see the same issues come up or the same solutions more or less, but just in different dress. Once you get the pattern of problems in Origen, it is amazing how pervasive and long lasting they are. People go ground and round for centuries. This is one reason why the theology of Maximus the Confessor is so important and so liberating. Maxmus freed me from these problems. By the grace of God, he can free you too.

Here in John Piper’s remarks, you can see the implicit Origenism. In order for God to be God he must be God over something or more properly a cause of something.

It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all.…

Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all. If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it.

There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired.…

So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect. (Concerning the Divine Decrees, 528, emphasis added. On page 350 of Desiring God) HT to Inhabitatio Dei

I suppose the appropriate set of questions for Piper would be the following. Is creation necessary in order for God to be Lord? Is the Son subodinate in essence in order for the Father to be Father and Lord over someone, lest God’s attribute of being Lord go unrealized? Is it any wonder that modern Arianism (Unitarianism) came out of theology like this? It doesn’t seem to dawn on Piper that he is now advocating a kind of daulism with the good dependent on the evil. What relation has God with the devil? Piper seems to think plenty.  He has fully imbibed it seems the Hellenistic view that morality is dialetically conditioned, good has an opposite. (And people charge that Orthodoxy is baptized Platonism! Where Mr. Piper is this stuff stated in Scripture? So much for Sola Scriptura! ) I suppose the devil must be eternal now in order for God to be God too?! (I must confess I’d pay real money to see an exchange between James White and Piper on White’s claim that God fulfills the conditions on libertarian free will and Piper’s claim that evil is necessary for God to be fully God-Ah, the monkey and the weasel!)

As an aside, Piper’s view is also in principle reemniscient of Open Theism or Process Theism-God is incomplete without the world. Please, someone call Bruce Ware, quick! Who would have thought that Calvinism and Open Theism had so much in common?

Heaven deliver us from such madness. St. Maximus, pray for us!

27 Responses to Round and Round the Mulberry Bush

  1. Karen says:

    I found the quote online. St. Thomas apparently had a vision during the Mass of the Feast of St. Nicholas near the end of his life after which he said, ‘All that I have written seems to me like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.’

  2. Karen says:

    ioannis, Thanks, that makes sense–I wouldn’t have expected this to be original with Calvin and the Reformers! As David B. Hart has said in The Doors of the Sea, Calvin was working within a certain “venerable tradition.” To be honest, though, it is a perspective that breaks my heart. Anyone who has truly begun to love as God loves (and recognize his/her own solidarity in sin with all, even the lost) would begin to respond as St. Silouan. Isn’t it Aquinas, who near the end of his life was accorded the “Beatific” vision of God in which his perspective on all the philosophical theology he had done throughout his life was profoundly altered? Or am I thinking of someone else?

  3. ioannis says:

    xineohp and Karen,

    maybe also Aquinas has played his role here:

    “Nothing should be denied the blessed that belongs to the perfection of their beatitude. Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.”

    “…the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy. And thus the Divine justice and their own deliverance will be the direct cause of the joy of the blessed: while the punishment of the damned will cause it indirectly.”
    Summa Theologica Question 94

  4. Karen says:

    “His goodness will not look so good without the opposite being present.”

    I can understand why our fallen human intellects might construe things this way. Contrasts, trial and error, reward and punishment are part of the learning process for humans who have lost their way and have to grope blindly toward the light. This is a logical extrapolation of our fallen human experience. Unfortunately, it is a poor account of God, Whose glory someone else has said, more aptly I believe, is truly fully seen “in a human being fully alive” (to quote a source whose origin I have forgotten). And, of course, Christ in His Resurrection Life (or even Transfigured on the Mount) IS that glory.

    In any case, the Orthodox perspective reflected in the story of St. Silouan and the hermit who expressed satisfaction at the prospect of nonbelievers burning in hell is one that I deeply appreciate. Obviously upset, the Staretz answered the hermit with a sorrowful countenance: “Love could not bear that. We must pray for all.” This is the heart I see in the account of Christ in the Gospels, Who pled from the Cross, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”

    xineohp, if you (following Piper) were a Calvinist’s Calvinist, the Charlie above is a Calvinist’s Calvinist Calvinist, since he thinks Piper has equivocated and is going to hell! (Yikes!)

  5. xineohp says:

    Regrettably I am a bit late in posting a response and perhaps the discussion has gone past its climax. Nonetheless…. Piper used to be my old Christian “hero” before I became Orthodox. I was thoroughly enthralled with his “The End for Which God Created the World” which is a reprint of Jonathan Edwards’ work edited and footnoted by Piper himself. After that I slowly became a Calvinist’s Calvinist. What I mean by this last phrase is that I found Edwards, and Piper, to take one more step further then most Calvinists. That point is the one in discussion above. Edwards’, and in turn, Piper’s main thesis that undergirds all of their theology is the God predestines all things, even to the tiniest rain drop in order that His glory may be made known in the clearest way. There are a plethora of verses that Edwards uses in the above mentioned book. The thrust of it in relation to good and evil is found in the Epistle to the Romans Ch. 9 when, in question and answer form, it is asked why there is even a hell where people will suffer for all of eternity. Edwards, and Pipers, interpretation is that it is the back drop by which the glory of God will look the brightest and be most manifest. His goodness will not look so good without the opposite being present. Heaven will be the same because in the background of heaven there is “a smoke that rises forever and the worm does not die” where the awareness of the torments of hell will always make the blessedness of heaven that much more blessed. He also cites the example of the rich man and Lazarus. Although there is a great chasm between the two that cannot be overcome Each individual is visible to the other therefore heaven becomes more blessed and hell becomes more tormenting.

    I believe Piper would answer your questions by pointing to verses in the Bible and saying, “This is what the Bible says. If you can refute me from the Scriptures and show me that this is not what the Scriptures are saying then hand me the laver of regeneration.”


  6. s-p says:

    Chris, Ah…I didn’t realize it was a rhetorical question about sovereignty. Indeed it has major issues. Thanks.

  7. Chris Heren says:


    That was not my intent. My intent was merely to try and point out potential problems with focusing on “sovereignty” and making that the sum and substance of theology.

  8. Karen, after reading that post, I must say you’re right. Wow.

  9. Karen says:

    Momojin, 😀 Sorry, the coffee doesn’t help either! You can’t blame Perry for missing the sarcasm when he has commenters like Charlie (see comments under his post “What Orthodoxy is Not.)” Never can take these things for granted in the world of blogdom–sadly, there’s too much insanity out there.

  10. Perry, I think you missed my sarcasm (hence the kool-aid remark).

  11. Momojin,

    If God decrees it, why isn’t he responsible for it, when he could have decreed otherwise?

  12. Hmm… Strikethroughs seem not to work on comments. That “kool-aid” should have been crossed out.

  13. Karen, God decrees sin and evil is necessary, but God is not the author of sin. It’s so simple, really. I can’t understand why this fails to make sense to you. Have some kool-aid coffee.

  14. Karen says:

    Charlie said:

    “So if God willed that evil should exist so that His justice and mercy might be more clearly manifested to both the elect and the reprobate, then that be God’s decision of His own free choice, not out of necessity.”

    Does Reformed Calvinism teach that God wills evil? If so, how is that different than saying that God is the Author of evil?

  15. s-p says:

    Chris, It seems to me that your question makes the attribute of “sovereignty” trump “nature”. In terms of essence and energies the question itself is welll…nonsensical. A lot of other things explain suffering and injustice better (or at least as well) than proposing that God is Satan.

  16. Chris Heren says:


    I am aware that “Reformed” are sometimes used to include Arminians as well by those who go against Protestantism in general. If I have given this impression across myself (and I have elsewhere if not here), I apologize. I often will use “Reformed” the same way Francis Piepper uses the term when referring to Christology, that is, all Protestant groups sans Lutheranism who reject the communication of attributes.

    However, I am aware that the “best of all possible worlds” argument is an Arminian argument. What I would like to know, and I don’t think I’ve gotten a straightforward answer on this one, is can God lie? Scripture says He cannot, yet if God is truly sovereign to such a degree where He can violate His own nature, could God truly just be Satan with a mask on? It would explain suffering and injustice in the world.

  17. Regardless of the context, God is not bound to anyone but Himself. Thus, what Piper is “apparently” saying is necessary is not at all “necessary”. But what God sovereignly decrees is by God’s only sovereign choice, not out of necessity. So if God willed that evil should exist so that His justice and mercy might be more clearly manifested to both the elect and the reprobate, then that be God’s decision of His own free choice, not out of necessity.

    The “best of all possible worlds” argument is an Arminian argument. It is not the Reformed position. God does what He jolly well pleases. This is the world God decreed for His own secret and revealed purposes. Deuternomy 29:29

  18. Chris Heren says:

    It seems odd to me that some Reformed apologists will latch on to the “best possible world” scenario against Orthodox points. How could God, if He were simple (no predication) even ponder such a thought as “scripts” of “other worlds?” This not only goes against Reformed theology, I would think it goes against the notion that there is no gnomic will in the persons (though as Norm Geisler said in “Chosen but Free,” the “person”) of God, only natural willing, thus no deliberation.

    This also betrays a real lack of connection between the Reformed and East; no real incarnation/sacraments. There is no interplay of eternal and temporal. Even they will talk about “eternity past” as if eternity ceased to be when time began. This lack of interplay has led to the idea of a “script” where both God and man are locked into a pre-determined mode of willing and circumstance which God eternally decreed would happen. The Reformed often chide the Arminians for saying you can’t pray for someone to be saved if it were up to them ultimately, yet I ask how can I pray if I am a Calvinist??? Either way, God does not hear my prayers, or if He does He doesn’t answer them, but expects them. As St. Augustine often speaks of in his “Confessions,” God is sovereign and the highest good (true), but how does He then listen to the prayers of us or His incarnate Son if His will is part of His nature (not originating in it) and He cannot then act or change His actions…this puts God in a straight jacket and stops Him from being truly “Our Father!”

    If God is free to act (sovereign), then He doesn’t need to manifest His glory…that would make Him dependent on us! How much more of a man-centered theology could one get??? God always intended to unite with man in the incarnation, but man had been given free choice to follow along or not. This is why Adam is created “in” the image and is not “the” image (Christ). Adam was always created in and for Christ.

  19. Henrique

    The problem is that God has created the best of All possible worlds, and He is the Son of the Theotokos. But must of course, say that the Son of the Theotokos is Who He is, and not another, and thus relates to sinners. But if we say that He must have been related to sinners to be fully Himself, we are making a statement about God ad intra being dependent on sin.

  20. s-p says:

    Henrique said: “What are the exigencies? Human agents who come to apprehend who God is through human modes of learning (see Calvin on accommodation). What are these modes of learning? Sense experience that feeds the rational equipment for reflection.” I think the Patristic anthropology would say that the noetic apprehension of God does not necessitate an experience of or rational apprehension of the “goodness of God contra evil” as a backdrop for its union with God. What Adam and Eve sinned against and did not continue in was the noetic apprehension of God, and it was in fact their “rationality” that brought sin into the world. The scenario you put forth might work as a retro-fit theodicy to explain the post-fall world, but it seems to have some issues with an Orthodox anthropology and what it means to “know God”. It is through prayer, the shedding of the passions, and practice of the virtues that we noetically apprehend God, not through rational consideration of a dialectic of good and evil. Its interesting how our anthropological assumptions can drive parts of our theology.

  21. Henrique,

    The idea that God’s righteousness needs a backdrop of evil for contrast for us to appreciate it isn’t only demeaning of righteousness for its own sake, but it also demeans a human’s ability to appreciate God. Granted that post-fall humans can perhaps appreciate righteousness better after having suffered in the pig-pen for a while, that is not necessarily the case for pre-fall Adam.

    God the Son and the Holy Spirit do not need to have experienced evil to appreciate the Father, and neither did the Incarnate Word. It seems that Adam and Eve did feel like they were missing something, and if we take the teaching that their end was predestined to be Incarnationally united to Christ, then I don’t see why we have to think evil could at all enhance that intended experience. The fact that that hadn’t happened yet can be sufficient cause for their sin in that they hadn’t reached a mature, intended relationship with God yet, and were thus vulnerable to desiring a shortcut. Their sin made it harder, not easier to commune with God.

    We do not know what would have happened if Adam had succeeded in obeying the first commandment. I suppose he would have advanced in maturity and moved on to the next levels of union, not just conversation, with God. Without sin, I do not believe he would have experienced any lack, as Christ didn’t. But I used to believe as you do.

  22. Henri,

    I am not sure I agree. Even if true, it is still problematic. This is the best world when God could have achieved the same result without sin? Really? Why not create everyone predestined to perfection without sin?

    Second, his statements still seem to indicate that apart from sin, God’s righteousness and hatred of sin wouldn’t be capable of being manifested. That sounds like talk about how God is apart from creation, not on a kind of consequent willing.

    Third, this kind of thinking pops up now and then in the Reformed tradition-que Edwards for example on creation.

    Fourth, the highest happiness of the creature doesn’t require sin as a contrast since the good is incomparable in the first place and second is just what it is evil or no evil.

  23. Cyril says:


    Shades of Leibniz!! Is this really his theodicy? In this case then, God is constrained by either a lack of imagination, or by the limitations on what could be the ‘best of all possible worlds.’

    I seldom side with Voltaire, but when I do, I do it with a Dos equis (wait, wrong phrase)…


  24. Henrique says:


    I don’t think you’ve read Piper correctly here. Either that or I have not read you correctly, though I think I have.

    To begin with, Piper is an heir to the position that God set out to create the best of all possible worlds. On this view God chose the greatest possible “script” for his intended outcome, which again is the best of all possible worlds for his elect. So from the onset we should be hip to the fact that Piper is not extending his analysis of necessity to God ad intra. Strictly speaking, Piper is referring to a necessity that appears only AFTER God has freely chosen to create, and freely chosen a particular “creation package” or “script” as I called it earlier. Indeed, this necessity – that is, for evil to be a backdrop against which God’s glory can shine forth most brilliantly – is necessitated by the exigencies of this “script.” What are the exigencies? Human agents who come to apprehend who God is through human modes of learning (see Calvin on accommodation). What are these modes of learning? Sense experience that feeds the rational equipment for reflection. What this means is that while Adam was told by God that God is good, the Exodus narrative tells Moses and the Israelites in a far grander way that God is good. This doesn’t mean that God requires sin, or to continue the example, that God needs a pharaoh figure in order to remain God – what it does mean is that God needs sin, or a Pharaoh figure, to communicate most fully to THESE people created in THIS script. God the Father knows how loving God the Son is, he doesn’t need the incarnation, the death, or the resurrection of the Son to tell him – but we do, at least if we want to appreciate his attributes most completely. It is important to emphasize again that on this view God was not under compulsion to create.

    A helpful analogy might be to consider an author who wants to write a novel about overcoming odds. In order to achieve these ends, he will need to produce a story which involves elements that will allow his theme to emerge. In this way his communication will be successful, and he will go about doing so in the best possible way. Any analogy at this point is inadequate because God places himself as the main character of human history in a way that doesn’t happen with our fiction writer, but the analogy succeeds in showing that once an outcome has been decided for a story, certain elements are written in to secure the outcome.

  25. “If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it.”

    Which is as much as to say that Christ is dependent on sin–or that the revelation is dependent on sin. But if that is true, God is dependent on Sin.

  26. trvalentine says:

    As soon as I see necessity imposed on God:
    … it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty … should be manifested.
    I know the writer is discussing his man-made god.

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