An Impermissible god

“From other passages, in which God is said to draw or bend Satan himself, and all the reprobate, to his will, a more difficult question arises. For the carnal mind can scarcely comprehend how, when acting by their means, he contracts no taint from their impurity, nay, how, in a common operation, he is exempt from all guilt, and can justly condemn his own ministers. Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that he directs their malice to whatever end he pleases, and employs their iniquities to execute his Judgments. The modesty of those who are thus alarmed at the appearance of absurdity might perhaps be excused, did they not endeavour to vindicate the justice of God from every semblance of stigma by defending an untruth. It seems absurd that man should be blinded by the will and command of God, and yet be forthwith punished for his blindness. Hence, recourse is had to the evasion that this is done only by the permission, and not also by the will of God. He himself, however, openly declaring that he does this, repudiates the evasion. That men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on any thing but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass by his secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of Scripture. What we formerly quoted from the Psalms, to the effect that he does whatever pleases him, certainly extends to all the actions of men. If God is the arbiter of peace and war, as is there said, and that without any exception, who will venture to say that men are borne along at random with a blind impulse, while He is unconscious or quiescent?…And hence it appears that they are impelled by the sure appointment of God. I admit, indeed, that God often acts in the reprobate by interposing the agency of Satan; but in such a manner, that Satan himself performs his part, just as he is impelled, and succeeds only in so far as he is permitted…The sum of the whole is this,—since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religon 1.18. 1-2

“Ancient writers sometimes manifest a superstitious dread of making a simple confession of the truth in this matter, from a fear of furnishing impiety with a handle for speaking irreverently of the works of God. While I embrace such soberness with all my heart, I cannot see the least danger in simply holding what Scripture delivers. When Augustine was not always free from this superstition, as when he says, that blinding and hardening have respect not to the operation of God, but to prescience (Lib. de Predestina. et Gratia). But this subtilty is repudiated by many passages of Scriptures which clearly show that the divine interference amounts to something more than prescience. And Augustine himself, in his book against Julian, contends at length that sins are manifestations not merely of divine permission or patience, but also of divine power, that thus former sins may be punished. In like manner, what is said of permission is too weak to stand. God is very often said to blind and harden the reprobate, to turn their hearts, to incline and impel them, as I have elsewhere fully explained (Book 1 c. 18). The extent of this agency can never be explained by having recourse to prescience or permission. We, therefore, hold that there are two methods in which God may so act. When his light is taken away, nothing remains but blindness and darkness: when his Spirit is taken away, our hearts become hard as stones: when his guidance is withdrawn, we immediately turn from the right path: and hence he is properly said to incline, harden, and blind those whom he deprives of the faculty of seeing, obeying, and rightly executing. The second method, which comes much nearer to the exact meaning of the words, is when executing his judgments by Satan as the minister of his anger, God both directs men’s counsels, and excites their wills, and regulates their efforts as he pleases. Thus when Moses relates that Simon, king of the Amorites, did not give the Israelites a passage, because the Lord “had hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate,” he immediately adds the purpose which God had in view—viz. that he might deliver him into their hand (Deut. 2:30). As God had resolved to destroy him, the hardening of his heart was the divine preparation for his ruin.” Inst 2.4.3

“Here they recur to the distinction between will and permission, the object being to prove that the wicked perish only by the permission, but not by the will of God. But why do we say that he permits, but just because he wills? Nor, indeed, is there any probability in the thing itself—viz. that man brought death upon himself merely by the permission, and not by the ordination of God; as if God had not determined what he wished the condition of the chief of his creatures to be. I will not hesitate, therefore, simply to confess with Augustine that the will of God is necessity, and that every thing is necessary which he has willed; just as those things will certainly happen which he has foreseen (August. de Gen. ad Lit., Lib. 6, cap. 15). Now, if in excuse of themselves and the ungodly, either the Pelagians, or Manichees, or Anabaptists, or Epicureans (for it is with these four sects we have to discuss this matter), should object the necessity by which they are constrained, in consequence of the divine predestination, they do nothing that is relevant to the cause. For if predestination is nothing else than a dispensation of divine justice, secret indeed, but unblamable, because it is certain that those predestinated to that condition were not unworthy of it, it is equally certain, that the destruction consequent upon predestination is also most just. Moreover, though their perdition depends on the predestination of God, the cause and matter of it is in themselves. The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should: why he deemed it meet, we know not. It is certain, however, that it was just, because he saw that his own glory would thereby be displayed. When you hear the glory of God mentioned, understand that his justice is included. For that which deserves praise must be just. Man therefore falls, divine providence so ordaining, but he falls by his own fault. The Lord had a little before declared that all the things which he had made were very good (Gen. 1:31). Whence then the depravity of man, which made him revolt from God? Lest it should be supposed that it was from his creation, God had expressly approved what proceeded from himself. Therefore man’s own wickedness corrupted the pure nature which he had received from God, and his ruin brought with it the destruction of all his posterity. Wherefore, let us in the corruption of human nature contemplate the evident cause of condemnation (a cause which comes more closely home to us), rather than inquire into a cause hidden and almost incomprehensible in the predestination of God. Nor let us decline to submit our judgment to the boundless wisdom of God, so far as to confess its insufficiency to comprehend many of his secrets. Ignorance of things which we are not able, or which it is not lawful to know, is learning, while the desire to know them is a species of madness.” Inst. 3.23.8.

Frankly, Calvin was ambivalent about the role of secondary causes. As we saw above in his treatise against the Libertines, Calvin could speak of the laws of nature and grant that each element has its own particular property. In the 1559 Institutes he explained that ‘the several kinds of things are moved by the secret impulse of nature, as if they obeyed God’s eternal command, and what God has once determined flows on by itself.’ In both his treatise against the Libertines and in the Institutes he argued that God works through the evil intent of the wicked and that providence does not excuse us from taking precautions. A godly man, he said, ‘will not overlook the secondary causes.’ And finally when describing God’s guidance of the world and especially the church, Calvin explained that providence ‘is the determinative principle of all things in such a way that sometimes it works through intermediary, sometimes without an intermediary, sometimes contrary to every intermediary.’…He maintained that nature is an instrument to which God directly imparts effectiveness. Referring to the fecundity of nature Calvin argued that ‘all this wonderful operation, co-operation, and continuance, can certainly never be thought to proceed from any other cause than the directing hand of God.’ The general or universal providence which Calvin grudgingly admitted was never and independent effectiveness of nature or an interconnected series of causes.” Susan E. Cschreiner,The Theatre of His Glory: Nature and the Natural Order in the Thought of John Calvin, Baker Books, 1991, 30-32


  1. Perry,
    Cool, look forward to your more fleshed out post/thoughts on predestination/omniscience.

    For the second point, ok both are good and divinely willed, but one has to win out, or are you meaning there is a distinction between the divine will and actual outcome? With sin, this would usually be handled with antecedent/consequent will distinction, but I’m unclear as to how the divine will willing 2 good, yet incompatible, options works – was it ever possible the cross would not win out over preservation, and if not, how can both options be said to be divinely willed in the same sense?

  2. JohnD,

    Since I reject the simplicity that motivates much of the linking of omniscience with predestination I try to keep those two things separate.

    I have been working on a separate answer but it is not all worked out yet. Here are some things to keep in mind though.

    Since I reject the notion of glossing God’s timelessness as simultaneity, that is, that God exists at a present or eternal now, God is completely timeless.

    Second, since I don’t think God is being, which is oneof the major reasons for rejecting the simultaneity gloss, God’s knowledge can’t be cashed out in terms of present tense propositions, which is why the kinds of objections to Molinism and the problem of freedom and foreknowledge can’t even get of the ground.

    As to your second question, the divine will wills both options, which is why both are good, preservation and the cross.

  3. JohnD, I can’t answer for the first, but I think the second can be answered thusly:

    Would not disobeying the divine will itself be a sin (as in the original Garden?) even if the substance of the act done – as eating a fruit for instance – is not inherently sinful?

    I think if you read Lewis’ Perelandra he thinks this through very carefully.

  4. Hi,
    So what is the common EO view on predestination and God’s sovereignty/omniscience? I had thought it was similar to the Molinist view but have seen Perry post elsewhere about issues with that (in that it doesn’t really preserve LFW if God’s counterfactual knowledge is grounded in the person’s essence and so essence determines (no PAP) person’s actions in all possible worlds). What grounds God’s knowledge of people’s future actual and contingent actions then?

    Another question that is kind of tangential – I know EO would not say that the divine will “overrode” or “kept in check” the human will of Christ in order for him not to be capable of sinning, but rather that he had no gnomic will to his human nature. And so in the garden, he genuinely willed 2 non-sinful actions – self-preservation and the redemptive plan – but then submitted his human will to the divine will. But that still seems off somehow, that if his human will for self-preservation continued unabated, there would be no sin even though it would be an action not in accord with the divine will, so I must be missing something basic in view here.


  5. I am always struck by the rational reductionism applied, as in Physics reducing an equation results in clarity, but Theology is not a set of theorems of that kind.

    For one, isn’t it a similar approach to that of behavioralism? Since in some cases there is a kind of causal relationship, i.e. true prayer drawing forth the mercy of God, a reduction is applied and axioms are asserted which remove the action of wills…

    In this case, it is as though the sovereignty of God must be expressed in command, instead of how Christ shows us at his passion. He permits but does not command his arrest, he permits but does not command his conviction, he permits but does not command his execution. It is as though maybe we’re made to believe that (gnostically?) this is an illusion and on the deeper level God is working it all like a puppet-show.

    There is a deep inconsistency there with Christ showing us reality; it seems like if you take Calvin seriously here, God is lying to us to make us obey. That’s not reality; From the start God told us truth when he asked us to obey (the fruit and its consequence.) even if we think he predetermined our disobedience.

    I guess we can conclude that the Apostles and Evangelists weren’t Calvinists. 😉

  6. “The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should: why he deemed it meet, we know not. It is certain, however, that it was just, because he saw that his own glory would thereby be displayed.”

    To think that I used to believe this…:(

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