19
Sep
14

A Deterministic God

From time to time, people who believe in the almighty “free will” of the fallen sinner have accused me of believing in a “deterministic God.” I want to go on record here and confess that I indeed hold to such a belief. By that I do not mean that God causes and is responsible for all my actions. God is not the great puppeteer, and I am not a sock puppet. He does not need to cause me to sin since I continue to do such a good job of sinning by myself, but in his infinite wisdom he has taken even my rebellion into account and governs it so that it will ultimately bring glory to him and eternal and spiritual good to me. I am not arguing for philosophical determinism. That is not a view with which I would agree. The view I would argue for is in line with Chapter Three # 1 of The Westminster Confessionof Faith,

God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

The wise man wrote in Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” This verse does not mean God causes all the evil machinations of the king. Like water, the evil designs of wicked men seek their own level. The wicked act freely, deliberately and culpably in perpetrating their evil designs, but not one of their acts falls outside God’s control. Surely Nebuchadnezzar was right when, having had his reason restored to him, he spoke these words,

Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done” (Dan. 4:34-35)?

In the following chapter, Daniel reminds Belshazzar, whose knees were knocking together because he had seen the handwriting on the wall, of what had happened to his father, Nebuchadnezzar, because of the arrogance of his heart. He does not tell him that his father had simply lost his throne and his reason while God looked on passively. God dethroned him and left him in a miserable state until he was sufficiently humbled. In Daniel’s words,

. . . until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored (Dan. 5:21-23).

After Joseph’s brothers had perpetrated their wickedness in faking his death and selling him into Egyptian slavery, God, in his sovereign providence, raised him to a place of prominence and power in the Egyptian government. The day came when they stood before him begging for food. They feared that he would hate them and seek revenge. Instead, we read these words,

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:19-20). He did not say God merely permitted your evil actions, but “God meant it [the evil you intended to do to me]” for good.

You intended evil and you are guilty. God will judge you for your intentions and your actions, but he intended and is bringing to pass something different from what you had in mind. Hear Job’s words. After having experienced what was perhaps the worst day of his life, looking past all the second causes such as Satan, the Sabeans, the fire, the Chaldeans, and the great wind, he said, “‘The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:21-22). Though God employed second causes to accomplish his will for his servant, it was he who was the prime mover. Job acknowledges that God was the giver of all these blessings and that he had the right to take them away. It should be clear, even to a casual observer, that these men believed God was no passive observer who occasionally intervenes to change the course of history. Jesus said, “not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from your Father” (see Matt. 10:29). God’s providence extends to the minutest details. In Romans 9:20-24, Paul has described God as the sovereign potter who has the right to dispose of his creatures as he will. Just as the potter has the right to make of a lump of clay anything he wishes, so God has the right to do with us as he wills. In Romans 11:36 Paul writes, “For from him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” These passages are only a small sampling of those we could have cited to show that “the LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalms 103:19). CREEDAL STATEMENTS Though creedal statements are not authoritative, it might be helpful to read what some who have gone before us have written on this subject. Belgic Confession-Article 13

We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement. Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly. We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits. This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground20 without the will of our Father. In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will. For that reason we reject the damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God involves himself in nothing and leaves everything to chance.

Philadelphia Confession of Faith Chapter 3 Of God’s Decree

1. God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken way, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree. (Isa. 46:10; Eph. 1:11; Heb. 6:17; Rom. 9:15, 18; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5; Acts 4:27, 28; John 19:11; Num. 23:19; Eph. 1:3-5) 2. Although God knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything, because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

Chapter 5–of God’s Providence

God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy. (Heb. 1:3; Job 38:11; Isa. 46:10, 11; Ps. 135:6; Matt. 10:29-31; Eph. 1;11) 2. Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without his providence; yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. (Acts 2:23; Prov. 16:33; Gen. 8:22) 3. God, in his ordinary providence maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at his pleasure. (Acts 27:31, 44; Isa. 55:10, 11; Hosea 1:7; Rom. 4:19-21; Dan. 3:27) 4. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.

London Baptist Confession 1644 III. That God hath decreed in himself from everlasting touching all things, effectually to work and dispose them according to the counsel of his own will, to the glory of his Name; in which decree appeareth his wisdom, constancy, truth, and faithfulness; Wisdom is that whereby he contrives all things; Constancy is that whereby the decree of God remains always immutable; Truth is that whereby he declares that alone which he hath decreed, and though his sayings may seem to sound sometimes another thing, yet the sense of them doth always agree with the decree; Faithfulness is that whereby he effects that he hath decreed, as he hath decreed. And touching his creature man, God had in Christ before the foundation of the world, according to the good pleasure of his will, foreordained some men to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of his grace, leaving the rest in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his Justice. God’s Sovereignty or Human Autonomy God’s sovereignty and human free agency are not incompatible. There is no dispute about the fact that people are able to freely choose what they wish. The issue of free will is another matter. I recently heard a well-known Pastor say, “Most of the time when people talk about free will, what they really mean is human autonomy.” I believe he was right. To deny the doctrine of God’s sovereign control over all his creatures in favor of human automomy is not only a serious theological error but an act of arrogant treason against the king. A.W. Pink wrote,

. . .there is no doctrine more hated by worldings, no truth of which they have made such a football, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on this throne. They will allow Him to be in His workshop to fashion worlds and make stars. They will allow him to be in his almonry to dispense his alms and bestow his bounties. They will allow him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends his throne, His creatures gnash their teeth, . . .for God on His throne is not the God they love (Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 33).

James wrote,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:13-17).

The attitude James describes here is an arrogant insistence on human autonomy. It describes intentions that are honorable in themselves. Hard work with a profit motive is not a bad thing. The problem is a failure to acknowledge that whether we live or die, succeed or fail is dependent on God’s will, not ours. “The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts” (1 Sam. 2:7). We cannot even guarantee that we will live until tomorrow, much less continue a year. We should say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live.” Our lives are like a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes. If memory serves, it was Matthew Henry who wrote, “Man proposes; God disposes.” There is nothing wrong with making plans, but we must be ever aware that our plans are subject to God’s plan. We should say, “If the Lord wills, we shall. . .do this or that.” James tells us that failure to acknowledge God’s sovereign control in all things is arrogant boasting and all such boasting is evil. If we know to thus acknowledge him as the sovereign potter but do not do it, for us it is sin. As I have read these verses in James about this arrogant denial of God’s control over all things, it has brought to mind the famous poem by Wm. Henley titled “Invictus (Unconquerable).” Perhaps motivated by his bitterness over having lost a leg due to tuberculosis, he wrote the following,

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Early in the 20th century, a little known poet named Dorothea Day, wrote a poem titled, “Conquered.” This is the confession that should be echoed by every child of God.

Out of the light that dazzles me,

Bright as the sun from pole to pole,

I thank the God I know to be,

For Christ – the Conqueror of my soul.

Since His the sway of circumstance,

I would not wince nor cry aloud.

Under the rule which men call chance,

My head, with joy, is humbly bowed.

Beyond this place of sin and tears,

That Life with Him and His the Aid,

That, spite the menace of the years, Keeps, and will keep me unafraid.

I have no fear though straight the gate:

He cleared from punishment the scroll.

Christ is the Master of my fate!

Christ is the Captain of my soul!

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6 Responses to “A Deterministic God”


  1. September 19, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Randy,

    I enjoyed this post and you bring up many good points. Can I ask you to define determinism? And in what way God is a “deterministic God”?

    Free will does not require an “almighty” ability to choose anything only to choose otherwise, nor does it mean that there are no influences on us, nor that when we choose that the outcomes are not under God’s control. It simply means we have the ability to wrestle with competing desires and influences and factors and make a choice. The choice is ours. It was not determined (ie caused by factors external to the will).

    • September 20, 2014 at 3:56 pm

      Mike,

      I have enjoyed our discussions very much. Unfortunately, I have participated to the detriment of my work on my Hebrews Commentary. Once I am back on schedule, I will have more time for interaction with you. For now, let me try to briefly answer your questions and concerns.

      First, let me say that “determinism” is not a term I would normally use to describe my views. I use it only because it is a term that has been used by those who reject the doctrine of God’s sovereignty to describe my views. I am not using the term in the sense of philosophical determinism. That is another issue altogether. It is my position that though God does not need to cause those acts and events that would occur as the result of sinful nature, he, nonetheless, controls them. For example, to accomplish his righteous purpose, he did not need to cause the wicked actions of Joseph’s brothers. He simply decreed to use their wickedness to accomplish what he had intended.

      Though I cannot cite for you a page number since I no longer own the book, Thomas Watson used the illustration of a rabbit hunter using a hound to hunt his prey. Since he knows it is the nature of the hound to chase rabbits, he simply places the hound in a place where he knows rabbits live, and lets him follow his nature. He does not need to beat the dog and force him to chase the prey; he simply leaves him to his nature, and the hound fulfills both his desire and the desire of the hunter.

      In my view, it is not that God merely permits the evil that people choose to do but that he has, in his wisdom, decreed to permit those events that will bring glory to him [i.e., that will manifest in one way or another the sum of his glorious attributes] and spiritual and eternal good to his people.

      Additionally, he has decreed to prevent or restrain all those actions of the wicked that would spiritually damage his people. When Satan tests or afflicts God’s people, he does so only with God’s permission and within his decree. In this sense, the child of God can rest in the security that whatever the second cause, God is the prime mover who uses even those actions he condemns to accomplish his purposes. Think of Job who said, “. . .shall we receive good from the LORD’s hand, and shall we not receive adversity, calamity?”

      Not only are the outcomes under God’s control; the choices and actions are also under God’s control [not causation]. Those actions necessary to bring about his desired ends that would not occur naturally, he actively causes.

      Of course, sinners in a state of nature have the ability to wrestle with competing desires. That really says it all. They are like people moving around a jail cell with a ball attached to their ankles. They may choose anything they wish within the cell. They are free to choose anything they desire. “Desire” is the operative word in your sentence. God never forces anyone to choose anything he does not want. What they are not free to choose is that which they abhor or regard as foolishness. Jesus stated the problem with sinners when he said, “. . .but you wish not to come to me that you might have life” (John 5:40).

      Of course our choices are affected by forces external to the will [I am not talking about external constraint]. The will is not an isolated and autonomous entity within us separate from our personality. All we choose and all we do is determined by what we are. The root determines the fruit.

      Paul wrote in Eph. 4:17-19, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Why do unconverted Gentiles think, feel and act as they do. Notice the statement encompasses the entire human personality, intellect [effecting and affecting what we think], emotions [effecting and affecting what we feel], and will [effecting and affection what we choose].

      Intellect–“darkened in their understanding.”
      Emotions–“callous”
      Will–“they have given themselves up to sensuality etc.”

      He tells us their ignorance of the things of God is due to the hardness of their hearts. It is not that they have insufficient light, but that they have willfully blinded themselves by choosing darkness. And all of it can be traced back to the heart [meaning the inner man]. No aspect of the human personality is autonomous. What we think, feel, and choose is determined by what we are at heart.

      God’s promise in Ezek. 36:25-27 tells us God will do exactly what you have said he does not do.

      “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

      The promise is a promise for cleansing and renewal. It corresponds to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus “born of water and of Spirit” and to Paul’s words to Titus, “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” I think there can be little question the promise refers to the work we call “regeneration.” It is a work that involves a radical change a person’s control center.

      It involves cleansing.
      It involves a radical change in the inner man, no less radical than a heart transplant.
      It involves the implantation of a new spirit [I take this to refer to a disposition from which flow new thoughts, new feelings, and new choices].
      It involves God putting his Spirit within us.

      God says, I WILL CAUSE you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my laws. He does not say “I will enable you to choose whether you will obey or not.” Instead, he promises to bring about our obedience.

      Paul, tells us that this divine activity continues in the sanctification process. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2: 12-13).

      Though we are fully responsible to obey in the process of sanctification, we must understand that even as believers we are not able to produce this obedience or even the desire for it on our own. Jesus said, “severed from me , you can do nothing.” Thank God, we believers are not severed from him. Because of our vital union with him, God continues to work in us by his Spirit to cause our obedience. He gives us both the desire to obey “both to will” and the ability to obey, “and to do for his good pleasure.” This does not mean we don’t act freely, but it does mean God causes every choice we make that is in accordance with his revealed will.

      Horatius Bonar expressed this well when he wrote,

      All that I was, my sin, my guilt,
      My death, was all mine own;
      All that I am I owe to Thee,
      My gracious God, alone.

      The evil of my former state
      Was mine, and only mine;
      The good in which I now rejoice
      Is Thine, and only Thine.

      The darkness of my former state,
      The bondage, all was mine;
      The light of life in which I walk,
      The liberty, is Thine.

      Thy grace first made me feel my sin,
      It taught me to believe;
      Then, in believing, peace I found,
      And now I live, I live!

      All that I am, e’en here on earth
      All that I hope to be,
      When Jesus comes and glory dawns,
      I owe it, Lord to Thee.

      • September 23, 2014 at 12:06 pm

        Randy

        Thanks for the detailed explanation. That is a lot to think about. The definition of determinism is nuanced from its typical meaning – a chain of causal events, whether caused by natural laws, divine plans, etc. At the heart of it all I think we agree that a person chooses based on who they are and the various influences acting upon them. I am not sure if you agree that at a given point in time a person can choose differently or if they are locked into choosing what God determined. I still see a person as being able to do the choosing outside of a fully determined plan (I tried to write more about what I thought in my new post).

        That said I kept this short b/c I do not want to cause a delay in your other writing projects. But I will ask – what commentary series are you writing for?

      • September 23, 2014 at 2:17 pm

        Mike,

        As I have tried to make clear, I don’t believe there is anyone who is forced to choose anything he does not desire. A person is perfectly free to choose God and righteousness or sin. What he is not able to do is choose what he does not want. Sinners don’t want to leave their sins and come to the light. They hate the light and will not come to the light. Unless and until their basic desires are changed, their choices will always be the same.

  2. November 9, 2016 at 12:42 am

    A little compelling but my choice to stay in the Foreknowledge view remains the same. God knows and decrees it but doesnt cause it.
    Its a little tricky for calvinist to accept the idea that god looks in the future and passively allows what he predicts will happen.as I mentioned before it doesnt make him any lesser then a god that is a mastermind.
    Not saying he is
    Just making a statement.

  3. November 9, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Read what I have written carefully. You will see that I don’t believe God causes everything he has predestined. Additionally, you will find that the major Calvinistic confessions of faith have agreed with that. Read the following statement carefully. “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;[1] yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,[2] nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.[3]” WCF


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