Monday, October 29, 2012

Causes at Two Levels, Chance, and Free Will

There are various places in Scripture where we can see God saying that he, himself, will do something. Divide the nation of Israel, or bring about what is now referred to as the diaspora, for example. At the same time, historians look at societal forces at that time, and see causes for those things happening. Does that mean that God did not do those things? What was the cause of Job's suffering? As readers, we see Satan making his requests, and there were the Sabeans and Chaldeans who actually killed his children and took his property, but Job himself says "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." and we are told in the very next verse that "In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong." (Job 1:22).

Thus we say that God acts through means. He ordains what happens, but he also ordains how it is that what happens comes about. These are the two levels of cause, then: by the ordaining will of God, and by the societal and/or physical consequence of other things. The second could be divided again, but I do not find it necessary for this point.

Because God Said So

First, this is always a true answer to the question "Why?" but it is still often the wrong answer, and one should avoid giving it as an answer to a question asked out of curiosity in even the smallest degree (my attitude in this respect apparently makes me fun to troll). At the very least, we ought to indicate some aspect of the nature of God that leads us to believe that this is a helpful answer to the question. This answer is getting at the purpose, what is often called the final cause, of things. It is similar to answering a child's question about why their bedtime is so early by telling them "because I said so," or, which is ethical "because you need to get up at such-and-such a time tomorrow, so if you don't go to sleep now you'll be tired and cranky, and that won't be any fun for either of us"

Because Physics Says So

 This still tends to be a true answer to most questions, although, again, the answer ought to be what about physics makes it so. Where "Because God said so" gets at the purpose, "Because physics says so" gets at the causal sequence that led us to the thing to be explained, which is often called the efficient cause. "Why did the ball drop?" "Because I let go of it, gravity, etc." "But why did you let go of it?" At this point we do not have a story about how the physical interactions led to the person's dropping the ball, and, given Quantum dynamics, it may be by chance. In which case we could say that they were not determined to drop the ball.

Necessity/Possibility and Certainty/Uncertainty

In discussing this, let me make a distinction between what is necessary and what is certain, on the one hand, and what is possible and what is uncertain, on the other. What is necessary is that which would imply a contradiction if the reverse were true instead, and all else that we know, up to the time of the decision, were to remain the same. What is possible is what would not imply a contradiction if the reverse were true instead, and all else that we know, up to the time of the decision, were to remain the same. What is certain is what does happen, and what is uncertain is what may or might not happen. For examples: It is necessary that E=Mc^2, it is certain that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, it is possible that I walk out of my room. I would argue that all events that happen are certain, and that there are therefore no uncertain things.

Free Will?

So, there is a sense in which one could say that we have Libertarian Free Will, the power to choose one way or the other, because it is not necessary, but merely certain, what we will choose. I hold that everything is certain because God made it as it is, and thus we are, theologically speaking, determined, but this does not remove the fact that we may have a form of libertarian indeterminism when we are looking purely at the temporal explanation for our actions. This libertarianism holds when we view ourselves from the immanent perspective of God, and is real, but it does not hold from the transcendent viewpoint of God.

God Made the World. Ergo, Theological Determinism

I would like, here, to return to why I believe that God made all of the world in all time as it is at each time.

First, God certainly made the world in its original state. Second, time is a created thing. Therefore, God created time from a transcendent point of view, and thus created all that happens in and through and to time in the moment that he made it. The world is in time, and thus God, in creating time, created all the acts that occur in time, and acted in time in all the ways that he does and has and will, in response to our prayers. That is to say, his act of creation, because it occurs, at least from one perspective, to be transcendent, causes the cause of the world's beginning of being to be indistinguishable in cause and type from its continuing to be, from that perspective.

Libertarian Free Will and Theological Determinism

Thus, it is accurate to say that we have libertarian free will, and are determined by God to do as we do, and this is no contradiction because we are libertarianly free in the immanent view, but not the transcendent one, and theologically determined in the transcendent view, but not the immanent one. In the immanent view, we are called to seek God, but look from the transcendent view and you will see that God is the one who causes himself to be found in the most glorious way, and so we also say that he seeks us, even when we do not want to be found. Immanently, we choose to act, even sometimes rejecting God, but transcendently God is weaving all our lives into a tapestry that shall glorify him forever, even if we do not know how. From here, I would like to explain the five points of calvinism in light of this, and how one's understanding of them may be altered by this combination of libertarianism and determinism.

Total depravity--our wills can only do what is evil apart from God, I have argued that this is by definition: What is good is to glorify God in thought, word, and deed; to do anything that glorifies any other in the slightest, without intending it to be, at the same time and even more, glory to God, is to sin. This remains in both immanent and transcendent views if one agrees with me about what sin is.

Unconditional grace--If, apart from worshiping God, we can do nothing good, then what good could we do to receive salvation? Salvation is what puts us in the place where our "worship" is no longer abhorrent to God, that is, our "worship" becomes Worship. God has already made certain all of our acts, so that even if we freely will to accept salvation, that was ordained by God, and why should he be kept from ordaining this because we have been sinning in various ways before then? So was everyone else! If he caused none who had been sinning constantly beforehand to be saved, then no one would be saved. Shall we say it was our act of faith? Yes, without faith we would not be saved, but that act is there because, and only because, God put it there for what is really no visible reason to us. There is a sense in which, from the immanent view, God's grace may be seen as conditional upon our acceptance, but our acceptance is worship, and we cannot worship unless God reveals himself to be glorified, and that is from God, not from any human. I may focus in a later post on the temporal order in salvation. This is the point that seems to me to necessitate viewing salvation through both an immanent and a transcendent view.

Limited atonement--really bad phrasing. The work of Christ on the cross and his resurrection are enough for all the world to be saved by, with more left over. However, given that God ordained long before the cross who would finally be covered by Christ's sacrifice, it is not false to say that his sacrifice is only ever going to be applied to some, that is, while any may accept the free gift, and it is offered to all, it is ordained that only some will accept it, and the purpose of Christ in dieing was not to save all, but only those ordained that he save. If his purpose had been to save all, then he failed in his purpose, but because his purpose was to save those whom the Father had given him, he succeeds. The limit is in who will have it applied to them, not how many or who it is enough for. This is in both views, since the Holy Spirit applies our salvation to us in both views, but because of how libertarianism affects Irresistible Grace, holding only an immanent view of salvation which includes this forces you to say that Christ has died for some, who knows how many, but maybe they will be saved, maybe not, and thus it makes more sense, since it reduces to the same thing, to just dispense with it when viewing things immanently.

Irresistible Grace--God's grace in salvation (and all else) is not only necessary, but sufficient, to cause people to be saved. No one, not even the person's own self, can avoid their own salvation when God says "You will be my treasured possession." This is how those who Christ died in order to save are saved, whether with much running, weeping, and fighting, or not. From the immanent view, however, we can say that God's grace is resistible, and many resist for a long time before being saved, and some resist their whole lives, but this is not for want of the power of God.

Perseverance of the Saints--Once God has someone, he has them for good. Any who are truly saved will not die apart from God, and anyone who dies apart from God was never truly saved, though "On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’" (Matthew 7:22-23) By this we know that there are some who will die, and we will all think they believed until their death, but we shall see that they were deceiving themselves and us, and trying to deceive God. In an immanent view, this remains, but if we limit ourselves to judging by what people do, then we must not judge. Who are we to know? We cannot know the mind of a human, that is for God. a person's salvation is between that one and God. Yet we may decide that because of this that we ought to preach and teach as if most of those hearing were totally lost. What can we lose? It is impossible to overemphasize the gospel of Jesus Christ, which affects all of life. Only know that, if you are saved, then God holds you tightly, and you cannot be taken from him.


  1. Hi Ben,

    I think I follow what you're saying here and agree with large parts. However if everything you write here is truly the case, it leaves a vast population of people who God does not WANT to see come to repentance. Aka, created souls in God's own image that he does not desire to be redeemed from evil. I cannot believe that to be true. 2 Peter 3:9

  2. Thank you for the question. This question, and, more broadly, the question of how God can ordain everything without being guilty of sin, is probably the strongest objection to my view.

    It might be helpful to consider God transcendently, as ordaining, and immanently, as desiring and working things out. What he ordains is what happens. What he wishes is what it is right that one desire supposing one to have all the wisdom of God except what depends on what has not yet happened. When he works things out, he acts with regard to our various natures (broadly, not specific to either the nature of the flesh or the spirit), so that what we do does not contradict ourselves. In that working, some are such that they refuse to be saved.

    This is not due to an inability in God, nor, precisely, in those who reject him, but it is because they have a fleshly nature which does not desire the things of God. It would not have entailed a contradiction for them to believe, and God would not reject them if they believed, but welcomed them. Yet, in order that he might be more glorified, by his mercy toward those who believe, and thus that the purpose of all be fulfilled to the greatest degree, he does not cause all people to believe. Though it would be better as regards each person and each time that they be saved, yet it is, for some reason, better with respect to all of time from creation onward that some not be saved, yet he desires that they would be, but not as much as he desires our good in him.

    What cost would be required if all were saved? Then we might not know how much mercy we have received, which I doubt we will understand until Christ's return and judgement. I feel like it would cheapen God's grace to us if we had no way of knowing the extent of God's wrath against sin. We hardly glimpse it on the cross, and how should we feel if only one person was selected? "Glad that wasn't me." But our response to the wrath of God against sinners ought to be, "that could have been me, and there is no conceivable reason why it was not me, except that God saved me, praise be to God."

    Romans 9:19-24