John Piper argues that, when kings are “in their God-appointed place, with or without Satan’s agency, they are in the sway of God’s sovereign will.”1 He quotes Daniel 2:20-21; 4:17, and Proverbs 21:1, failing to acknowledge the truth of Hosea 8:4: “They made kings, but not through me; they set up princes, but without my knowledge [יָדַע, acknowledgment, i.e., blessing, approval, consent: they acted apart from God’s will].” How could such people, within John Piper’s theologically Calvinistic system, accomplish crowning kings and establishing for themselves princes without God’s alleged sovereign control? I thought God was deterministically sovereign.
Piper continues: “God is sovereign over the nations and over all their rulers and all the satanic power behind them. They do not move without his permission, and they do not move outside his sovereign plan.”2 (emphases added) Whether one considers the heinous reigns of Nero, Domitian, the cruelties of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, or the regimes of Stalin, Hitler, and currently ISIS, the horrors of war and the problem of evil are, according to Calvinists and their Calvinist theology, the direct cause of the decree and plan and will of God. This is the only consistent view for the Calvinist. Ultimately, whether a Calvinist is a hard or soft determinist, God has decreed, from eternity past, whatsoever comes to pass in our history; all was His idea.
So-called soft determinism, also called compatibilism, is, according to Calvinist John Hendryx, “a form of determinism and it should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism.” (link) (emphasis added) Note very carefully the words of Hendryx: compatibilism is no less deterministic than hard determinism. What is compatibilism? The theory of compatibilism is that God’s predetermination of all events that happen in history is compatible — consistent, suitable, appropriate, adaptable, cooperative — with so-called “voluntary” choice. (link) In other words, our choices are not coerced, that is, we do not choose against our desires, and yet we never make choices or decisions contrary to “what God determines will always come to pass (Eph 1:11).” (link) So, God decrees what we will choose, and we will desire the object of our so-called choice.
How can God decree what we shall desire to choose? Calvinist Wayne Grudem answers: “God influences the desires and decisions” of people.2 (emphases added) Lest anyone imagine that Calvinists have erred from Calvin himself: “Therefore, whatever men or Satan himself devise,” argues Calvin, “God holds the helm, and makes all their efforts contribute to the execution of his judgments.”3 (emphasis added) So, for compatibilists, or soft determinists who attempt to avoid the extremes of hard determinism, God predetermined our thoughts, words, and actions, and then, in time, influences our desires and decisions, so that we want to do what God predetermined for us to do. Oddly enough, compatibilistic Calvinists think that such a theory alleviates God from being a moral or ethical monster, or from being the Author of sin and evil.
The problem with such a theory should be rather obvious, and consistent Calvinists like John Hendryx makes the Arminian case for us, which is the undeniable truth that soft determinism is no less deterministic than hard determinism. In other words, the Calvinist God is the actual problem with the world, though He is presented as the solution to the problems He Himself decreed from eternity past, and brings into reality. This view of God is dubious at best: Calvinism creates its own dilemmas and forces strained and desperately-qualified explanations in order to support its faulty hermeneutic. For instance, instead of viewing quotes from the likes of Daniel or Solomon as general principles, such are treated as exhaustively and meticulously universal absolutes.
This renders God, then, culpable for decreeing all the sin, wickedness, and evil performed among mortals. Compatibilistic Calvinism is determinism, and the theory is a deceptively, deterministic farce: compatibilism is determinism. In a compatibilistic context, God has still decreed whatever occurs in reality; the notion that a person desires to do what he or she does is irrelevant to the fact that, again, in a compatibilistic system, what the person accomplishes (namely, evil) was decreed by God and brought to pass by His irresistible will. Moreover, even the desire of the individual to the enactment of the evil was decreed by God and brought to pass by His irresistible will. In Calvinism, whether compatibilism or hard determinism, God is the problem of evil.
When confronted with obvious passages that contradict an underlying presupposition, e.g., the above example of Hosea 8:4, the Calvinist is constrained toward unwarranted inferences, such that God decreed the Israelites to establish kings and princes without His consultation as a means of judgment when the text explicitly states that such individuals, of their own rebellious hearts, rejected the counsel of God. But even compatibilism rejects any notion of genuine free will: “We should be clear,” insists Hendryx, “that neither compatibilism nor hard determinism affirms that any man has a free will. Those who believe man has a free will are not compatibilists, but should, rather, be called ‘inconsistent.'” (link) So, we think and say and do what we think and say and do because God decreed, from eternity past, what we should think and say and do, and this to the degree of absolute minutiae. God, then, actually works against Himself.
How is God working against Himself? Compatibilist Calvinist John Frame states: “Determinists believe that every event (or every event in a certain category) has a cause that makes it happen exactly as it happens.” (link) In a consistent and ultimate sense, according to the eternal decrees of God, God Himself is the cosmic cause that makes all events happen exactly as they happen, as Frame clearly states, “theological determinists … hold that all events occur exactly as God has foreordained them” (link), referring to the Westminster Confession of Faith as well as Ephesians 1:11 — a verse tenaciously defended by Arminians without any interpretive notion of divine determinism. In a consistently logical sense, then, the reason we have pain and misery and sin and evil is because God decreed for such to happen. This is the uncontested result of Calvinistic ideology. God displays Himself as the Hero of humanity, as He conquers the sin and evil He decreed into existence, which was occasioned by His influencing our desires and decisions to sin in the Garden and meticulously and exhaustively thereafter throughout history.
The idea for God being both the problem and the solution in the world originates with Dr. Dale Wayman who, as a licensed counselor, has seen firsthand how Calvinism “breaks down” in the counseling office: “The very source of deliverance in their situation is the source of their problems [i.e., God is the very Source of their problems]. Hence, I’ve seen people on the verge of turning against God or already turned against Him.” In the previous post I noted the thought processes of a consistent Calvinist who at times hates God for decreeing the thoughts and desires and actions of a particular individual. This is utterly tragic. If Calvinists could be delivered from the false teaching of their error of the so-called deterministic sovereignty of God, much of the rest of their theology could be amended to reflect early Church theology (prior to the father of Roman Catholicism, St Augustine, in the early fifth century, who originates the novel teachings we call Augustinianism, as well as Calvinism). How do we know determinism is false?
John Piper believes that a person will waste a tragedy, like having cancer, if ones does not believe that cancer is designed for the person by God.4 These are his words, penned by his own hand, and not my interpretation of his words or thoughts. “It will not do to say that God uses our cancer but does not design it.”5 He also confesses that God does not always heal cancer because that may not be His deterministic will for someone. One may think that being brave during the debilitating and painful experience of having cancer is worth it for the glory of God if at least one can be assured that God will heal the person. Not so in Piper’s worldview. God gives cancer to whom He has willed to give cancer, and if that person does not acknowledge that God is the one who decreed by particular design for her or him to have cancer, then the tragedy brought upon the individual by God will be wasted. In the case of those whom God decreed not to heal, from the cancer given to them by the eternal decree of God, God is not even the solution to the problem He caused.
That such a person could come to trust God, to say nothing of love this kind of God, is shocking, amazing, perplexing. How can one trust a God who has allegedly, from eternity past, decreed some of the most heinous and deplorable events in human history? Child sacrifice, abortion, murder, lust, greed, theft, sexual abuse, molestation, child abuse, child and infant rape, hatred, prostitution, demon-worship, corruption, drug-abuse and the like were all decreed in the mind of God from eternity past before He even created the world. Why (or, better, how) were these thoughts in the mind of a holy, righteous, and just God? How does common sense alone not inform Calvinists of their errors? What kind of God have they invented — a nature and a character of the essence of a God that concocted the most disgusting, deplorable, and devious events known to humanity?
I do not think that God views Himself as both the problem and the solution to humanity. He asks the Israelites of old: “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” (Isa. 5:4) There is no tender way to state this: Calvinists cannot answer this question of God’s without an unwarranted qualification and a faulty inference. Simply, to suggest that God, from eternity past, decreed for the Jewish people of old to disobey Him and become, at times, an object of scorn in His own eyes, is near to insanity. Does God work against God? Is He double-minded? Is He schizophrenic? Does He command the Israelites to obey Him having decreed from eternity past that they disobey Him? What of the integrity and justice of God? You cannot argue, “Well, the Israelites desired to disobey God.” According to consistent Calvinism, they only desired to disobey God because God influences our desires and decisions in order to bring to pass what He has, allegedly, decreed from eternity past to occur in history. In a statement: Calvinism doesn’t work.
The prophets of old, namely, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Hosea, present a view of God that is void of divine determinism (see linked posts). They teach a consistent, biblical view of God’s sovereignty that is not threatened by free will, as is Calvinistic theology. For instance, the LORD said, “Indeed, long ago you threw off my authority and refused to be subject to me. You said, ‘I will not serve you.’ Instead, you gave yourself to other gods on every high hill and under every green tree.” (Jer. 2:20 NET, emphases added; cf. Jer. 2:29) But how can the Israelites reject God’s sovereign authority? How can they refuse to be subject to Him, since He has strictly foreordained all that comes to pass, according to Calvinists? God, allegedly, foreordained their rebellion, which they, allegedly, “freely” committed, and then God punished them for it — a most unjust act for the character of God that reflects absolute justice.
Moreover, they even sacrifice their infants by fire to a false god. The LORD responds, “That is something I never commanded them to do! Indeed, it never even entered my mind to command such a thing!” (Jer. 7:31, emphasis added) More to the point, YHWH explicitly rejects Calvinistic ideology by insisting: “which I did not command or decree [דִבַּ֔רְתִּי, to speak, command, counsel], nor did it enter into my mind” (Jer. 19:5, emphasis added). Yet they did it! How? By God’s predetermined decree or by their own wickedness? Arminians affirm the latter, biblical response, while Calvinists espouse the former error. The Hebrew scriptures even affirm that some of God’s intentions do not come to fruition, despite Calvinists’ promotion to the contrary. The LORD says, “For, I say, just as shorts cling tightly to a person’s body, so I bound the whole nation of Israel and the whole nation of Judah tightly to me. I intended for them to be my special people and to bring me fame, honor, and praise. But they would not obey me.” (Jer. 13:11, emphases added)
Is God sovereign? Of course God is sovereign. What we learn from Scripture, however, is that the sovereignty of God is not tantamount to determinism. God is most sovereign over our free will thoughts, desires, and actions, as His exhaustive foreknowledge of all events, coupled with His exhaustive and meticulous plan for all the ages and everyone existing in those ages, supports both His sovereignty and our free will. Though we cannot choose contrary to what God foreknows we will freely choose, our decisions are ours, and not those that God has decreed for us to choose, as Scripture reveals in countless places, and as is denied by Calvinists. In the Arminian perspective of God, the ultimate solution to our myriad problems is God the Father, in and through the Person and work of Christ, activated by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He does not create problems for us, by an eternal decree, in order to then appear as the Hero of the world. The problem of evil belongs to us, not to God, and we look to Him for an eternal answer.
1 John Piper, “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God: Ten Aspects of God’s Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan’s Hand in It,” in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 19.
2 Wayne A. Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 143. See also The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III. Of God’s Eternal Decree: i., ii.
3 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 1.18.1.
4 Piper, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, 207.
5 Ibid., 208.