Author of Sin
This charge first appeared in the affirmative by the Gnostic, Florinus (c. 180), which was immediately attacked by Irenaeus (130-200) a church father, who published a discourse entitled: “God, not the Author of Sin.” Florinus’ doctrine reappeared in another form later in Manichaeism, of which Augustine, was initially a member for nearly a decade before converting to Catholicism.
Calvinists make a lot of denials about the logical implications of their theology, and can become quite indignant whenever non-Calvinists refuse to accept those blanket denials. However, logical implications are part of the reason why many non-Calvinists reject Calvinism, and therefore, baseless denials and appeals to mystery simply won’t do.
What does Calvinism teach that draws the charge of implicating God as the Author of Sin? It is the teaching that God decreed “whatsoever comes to pass,”40 including every act of immorality ever perpetrated. The existence of moral evil in our world, therefore, obliges Calvinists to explain how sin could be compatible with the works of a holy God. John Calvin himself wrestled with the matter when he wrote:
John Calvin: “…how foolish and frail is the support of divine justice afforded by the suggestion that evils come to be, not by His will but by His permission…It is a quite frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing, but the author of them…Who does not tremble at these judgments with which God works in the hearts of even the wicked whatever He will, rewarding them nonetheless according to desert? Again it is quite clear from the evidence of Scripture that God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills just as he will, whether to good for His mercy’s sake, or to evil according to their merits.”41
John Calvin: “But the objection is not yet resolved, that if all things are done by the will of God, and men contrive nothing except by His will and ordination, then God is the author of all evils.”42
John Calvin: “We learn that nothing happens but what seems good to God. How then is God to be exempted from the blame to which Satan with his instruments is liable?”43 John Calvin: “Certain shameless and illiberal people charge us with calumny by maintaining that God is made the author of sin, if His will is made first cause of all that happens. For what man wickedly perpetrates, incited by ambition or avarice or lust or some other depraved motive, since God does it by his hand with a righteous though perhaps hidden purpose–this cannot be equated with the term sin.”44
Calvinists, who brush back against the accusation that Calvinism necessarily makes God into the author of sin, respond in a number of ways, such as by accusing non-Calvinists of: (1) denying God’s sovereignty, (2) denying that sin has a purpose, (3) denying the mystery of transcendence, and (4) asserting that non-Calvinists are essentially rationalists. Finally, Calvinists ultimately rest their argument on Circular Logic:
(1) Calvinists allege that unless God sovereignly determines all sin, the world is simply spinning out of control. However, if God requires being the architect and orchestrator of all sin in order to maintain divine sovereignty, then that is a subtle implication that God is neither all-wise nor all-powerful.
(2) Calvinists allege that sin must have a purpose, or else the world would be filled with purposeless sin. However, Calvinists are theologically committed to saying this, or else they would have a purposeless decree. So the fact that Calvinism teaches that God has decreed everything necessitates a belief that everything must have a divine purpose, or else the decree is unintelligent.
(3) Calvinists admit that they do not know, or cannot explain, the mystery behind omni-causation in relation to human freedom in a way that does not implicate God as Chief Sinner and resolve to attribute the solution to divine transcendence. This is also known as Special Pleading.
(4) Calvinists allege that non-Calvinists are rationalists, who hypocritically demand neat and logical answers to their opponent’s problems while being perfectly willing to live with their own logical inconsistencies. This is essentially a “You Too” fallacy, which alleges that the other side has similar problems, though which is not necessarily the case.
So, the following question emerges from deterministic Calvinism: If “holy” means set apart, in what sense, then, is God set apart from the sin that He allegedly, meticulously decrees for a “purpose”? In response, Calvinism applies the following syllogism: (1) The Bible shows that God is morally good and completely holy; (2) theistic, absolute determinism is biblical; (3) therefore theistic, absolute determinism cannot be cited as a basis to assert that God is morally evil or unholy. The obvious flaw (resulting in Circular Logic) is (2), which is the assumption of the biblical nature of theistic, absolute determinism.
While non-Calvinists agree with Calvinists that God uses sin in His plan, disagreement occurs over the suggestion that God causes what He uses, since otherwise if God causes what He uses, then He is merely using His own moral evil, rather than using someone else’s moral evil.
What do Calvinists believe?
R.C. Sproul: “To be sure, God uses the evil inclinations and evil
intentions of fallen men to bring about his own redemptive
purposes. Without Judas there is no Cross. Without the cross there
is no redemption. But this is not a case of God coercing evil.
Rather it is a glorious case of God’s redemptive triumph over evil.
The evil desires of man’s hearts cannot thwart God’s sovereignty.
Indeed they are subject to it.”45
In other words, despite the hideous nature of the suffering of the Cross, Calvary is altogether beautiful in how it accomplishes redemption. In other words, everything comes from God, both good and bad, but since God is good, everything must also be in some way altogether good. The central premise is that everything comes from God, both good and bad, but like most Calvinist arguments, that is simply assumed. God, for His activities, is observably good. It is wrong to simply presume that God is pulling the strings of evil people when yet He may simply be permitting evil people to make their own choices, and then God redeems good from the evil of others. Instead of permitting evil, Calvinism makes God into the mastermind of all evil.
Dave Hunt: “Would God not be culpable, at least as a partner in crime, for causing man to sin? No, says the Calvinist, because we can’t apply our standards to God.”46
What do Calvinists believe?
John Calvin: “What I have maintained about the diversity of
causes must not be forgotten: the proximate cause is one thing, the
remote cause another.”47
Calvinists assert that a proper understanding of divine sovereignty in relation to human freedom requires an understanding of first and second causes, in which God executes sin through secondary agents. However, this view suffers from a biblical weakness. For instance, King David had ordered the death of his servant, Uriah, as a first cause, while the act itself was carried out by second causes, such as his general, Joab, and the Philistines, and yet God did not grant David any special defense, but instead directly charged David with murder.
2nd Samuel 11:27: “But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD.”
2nd Samuel 12:9: “‘You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon.’”
So if God did the same thing with His own decree, by conceiving and decreeing all sin through second causes, how would God avoid using the same measuring stick that He also used to charge David with sin? Think of all of the remote causes that David could have invoked: “I didn’t kill him! I merely wrote a letter to Joab. The enemy archers are the ones who killed him!” The Calvinist answer is that God can do things that men are forbidden from doing. However, that seems like a weak answer because God not only sets moral standards, but keeps them as well, to serve as a living example of who we are to be and what we are to be like.
What do Calvinists believe?
Whoever commits a sin must be punished. God never commits a
sin. God may cause a sin but He never commits a sin. There is a difference
between what is caused and what is committed.
Calvinists must resort to semantics, by contrasting the concepts of commits vs. causes, all for the purpose of protecting the morality of their theology. In other words, if God, according to Calvinism, decreed “whatsoever comes to pass,” and rendered it certain, then it is difficult to envision any meaningful difference between commits vs. causes, because God (according to Calvinism) would be the sole actor in causing whatever is committed. By contrast, if there is autonomous, libertarian free-will, and if God is interacting with the self-determined causation of independent agents, then commits vs. causes takes on real meaning, because now God is no longer acting as a solitary determining force.
What do Calvinists believe?
Hypothetically speaking, what is wrong with God being the author
of sin? Not that we believe that but what law or what aspect of His nature
would God have violated that would make Him not good if He had, in fact,
actively determined all things, including sin, in a deterministic framework?
John 1:1 states: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That is the law being requested. For God to abandon His own Word is to defy Himself. And for God to defy Himself is to forsake His own divinity. And for God to forsake His own divinity would be to lower Himself to a level unsuitable to be a judge over anyone and on any matter of morality. God must be true to Himself. So if God was to say that He is “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17) and “in Him there is no darkness at all” (1st John 1:5) such that “He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13), then for God to tempt people, as a factor of having determined all things, either directly or indirectly, by first causes or by second causes, necessarily would make God into His own opposer, and a Satan to Himself.
40 Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 3, On God’s Eternal Decree, I
41 Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster
John Knox Press, 1997), 176, emphasis added.
42 Ibid., 179.
43 Ibid., 180.
44 Ibid., 181
45 Chosen By God (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1986), 147
46 Debating Calvinism (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2004), 312.
47 Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 181.
This post has been excerpted with permission from Richard Coords, Calvinism Answered Verse by Verse and Subject by Subject, © 2020.