Richard Coords, “Causation”

, posted by Martin Glynn

Causation (first and second causes)

If your question to Calvinists includes, “Did God decree (insert real situation)”, then the answer is “Yes,” but which Calvinists wish for you to consider from the perspective of First Causes and Second Causes, which Calvinists believe would ultimately exonerate God from culpability.

What do Calvinists believe?

Westminster Confession of 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.”68

John Calvin: “First, it must be observed that the will of God is the cause of all things that happen in the world; and yet God is not the author of evil.”69

John Calvin: “For myself, I take another principle: Whatever things are done wrongly and unjustly by man, these very things are the right and just works of God. This may seem paradoxical at first sight to some….”70

John Calvin: “Further what I said before is to be remembered, that since God manifests His power through means and inferior causes, it is not to be separated from them.”71

John Calvin: “But where it is a matter of men’s counsels, wills, endeavors, and exertions, there is greater difficulty in seeing how the providence of God rules here too, so that nothing happens but by His assent and that men can deliberately do nothing unless He inspire it.”72

John Calvin: “Indeed, the ungodly pride themselves on being competent to effect their wishes. But the facts show in the end that by them, unconsciously and unwillingly, what was divinely ordained is implemented.”73

John Calvin: “Does God work in the hearts of men, directing their plans and moving their wills this way and that, so that they do nothing but what He has ordained?”74

John Calvin: “But it is quite frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing but the author of them.”75

John Calvin: “For the man who honestly and soberly reflects on these things, there can be no doubt that the will of God is the chief and principal cause of all things.”76

John Calvin: “But of all the things which happen, the first cause is to be understood to be His will, because He so governs the natures created by Him, as to determine all the counsels and the actions of men to the end decreed by Him.”77

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.”78

John Calvin: “Thinking that the difficulty here may be resolved by a single word, some are foolish enough serenely to overlook what occasions the greatest ambiguity; namely, how God may be free of guilt in doing the very thing that He condemns in Satan and the reprobate and which is to be condemned by men.”79

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?”80

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.”81

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.”82

John Calvin: “Must we then impute the guilt of sin to God, or invent a double will for Him so that He falls out with Himself? I have shown that He wills the same as the criminal and the wicked, but in a different way. So now it is to be maintained that there is diversity of kinds while He wills in the same way, so that out of the variety which perplexes us a harmony may be beautifully contrived.”83

Our reply:

A First Cause involves an active agent while a Second Cause involves a passive agent, such as permission. It is useful to consider the examples involving the Book of Job, King David and also the Prodigal Son according to Luke 15:11-32:

Job 2:3: “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.’”

God permitted Satan to enter Heaven and blaspheme God and Job, and also to harm Job and his family. God is only the Second Cause because He is merely inactively permitting things to continue, within certain defined parameters, until the end of the book when God intervenes. Sure, God could have stopped Satan from entering Heaven, but that alone did not cause Satan’s actions. Satan is the First Cause of entering Heaven, motivated by his own jealousy of God’s protection of Job, and then of blaspheming both God and Job, and finally of harming Job and his family. Satan is the First Cause of all of his own thoughts, and God is merely the Second Cause of allowing Satan to think for himself and to devise his own evil plans.

In Calvinism, though, it’s the reverse. Recall that Calvinists tell us that the answer is “Yes” to all questions to Calvinists, regarding whether, “Did God decree (insert real situation).” So, if we were to ask Calvinists, “Did God decree (every thought and intention that the devil and the demons will ever think, for all eternity),” we are told that the answer from Calvinists is “Yes.” So, then, according to Calvinism, God exhaustively and unchangeably causes all of Satan’s thoughts and intentions, as the true secret mastermind behind all of Satan’s evil actions recorded the Book of Job, scripting everything to occur precisely as it unfolded. Such would hardly exonerate God from moral guilt. However, God would be absolved of moral guilt if He was simply passively allowing an independently party, namely Satan, to think and act according to his own will and intentions.

As an analogy, imagine if I created an evil robot who thinks only the thoughts that I program for it to think. The evil Terminator robot then  goes around killing people. Who do you suppose people will hold most responsible? Is it me, or the robot I made that unfailingly executes my program? The answer is that it would be me. A Hit-Man analogy also applies. If I were to hire a Hit-Man to shoot and kill my wife, who would the courts hold most responsible? The answer is the person who hired the Hit-Man. So, Calvinism’s conception of First and Second Causes does not achieve its intended goal of exonerating God from being the “Author of Sin,” in light of having allegedly decreed all sin.

2nd Samuel 11:14-15: “Now in the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. He had written in the letter, saying, ‘Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down and die.’”

2nd Samuel 11:24-25: “The messenger said to David, ‘The men prevailed against us and came out against us in the field, but we pressed them as far as the entrance of the gate. Moreover, the archers shot at your servants from the wall; so some of the king’s servants are dead, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is also dead.
Then David said to the messenger, ‘Thus you shall say to Joab, “Do not let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another; make your battle against the city stronger and overthrow it’; and so encourage him.”’”

The Bible is honest about biblical heroes. Their lives are to teach us and be examples of what to do and not to do. In this case, the death of Uriah was planned and premeditated, though the evil Philistines, not David, were the ones that were designed to be the Second Cause. So, would Calvinists be willing to say that David did not sin, after all, since he was merely the First Cause, using a Second Cause to carry out the act of murder? God certainly felt that it was a sin, and instructed the prophet, Nathan, to tell him exactly that. (2nd Samuel 12:1-15)
Next consider the example of the father of the Prodigal Son, we find that the father allows his son to leave with his demanded share of the inheritance:

Luke 15:11-13: “And He said, ‘A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.” So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.’”

So, the First Cause of leaving is with the son. The father is the passive agent in his son’s departure. The father is the Second Cause because he could have put a stop to it. In other words, if the son uses his father’s money to do evil things, then the father is somewhat responsible, since he gave him the money, but the father is morally innocent because he is not causing his son’s evil spending. That is an extremely important point. Notice the comparison to Job 2:3, in which God similarly took responsibility for allowing Satan’s demands to proceed, but God was nonetheless morally innocent because He wasn’t causing Satan’s evil thoughts and intentions. Similarly, in the case of the Prodigal Son, it is the son who is the First Cause of all of his own debauchery since the father didn’t cause him to desire any of that, nor to even leave in the first place, and his father was certainly glad to see his repentant son return home. This is the true way in which God’s sovereignty and holiness are both reasonably preserved. Calvinism cannot say the same.

Ezekiel 28:15-17: “‘You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you. By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you.’”

In terms of God’s preserved holiness in non-Calvinism, realize that while God created the angel, Lucifer, it was Lucifer who killed and created Satan in his place, “from a certain point of view.” God didn’t create Satan. God created Lucifer as an autonomous, libertarianly free being. Lucifer then used his God-given freedom to rebel and worship himself over God, thus becoming Satan. Therefore, iniquity was “found”(not placed) in him. God-given freedom grants created-beings the ability to be self-determiners. As self-determiners, we bear the responsibility for that which we cause. God is no more responsible for our sins, than a father who chooses to have a son, is responsible for that son’s own sins.

What do Calvinists believe?

When we speak of God’s decrees concerning humanity, we speak of how God and man relate to sin. Therefore, texts such as the one involving David’s arrangement for Uriah is not applicable since it involves dealings between two men.

Our reply:

So, we cannot use the Bible as a guide? The human experience does not properly equip us to be able to relate God? Is that saying that God does not live up to the standards that He declares for humanity? It would seem that Calvinism sets up God to be hypocritical. In non-Calvinism, however, God lives what He preaches, and is the ultimate guide and example for those who would follow Him. We are made in God’s image; hence, He is who we should strive to be like and who wants us to reason together with Him.

Calvinists use the same logic when defending against the charge raised from Luke 10:30-37. When pointing out that Calvinism’s doctrine of “pass by” Preterition is akin to the “pass by” cold indifference of the priest and the Levite, rather than like the compassion of the good Samaritan, Calvinists point out, essentially, that God’s will does not operate on the same level as ours. In other words, we cannot make that comparison. However, God doesn’t shun the example of the good Samaritan for Himself; He lives it. Jesus lives out His words, rather than living in defiance of what He commands us to do. Therefore, it seems that Calvinism’s Second Causes explanation is untenable, when used to defend against the charge that Calvinism renders God as the Author of Sin.


66 The Crossway Classic Commentaries: John (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 24.
67 The Doctrines That Divide (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 231.
68 Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter III – Of God’s Eternal Decree.
69 Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 169.
70 Ibid., 169, emphasis mine.
71 Ibid., 170, emphasis mine.
72 Ibid., 171-172.
73 Ibid., 173.
74 Ibid., 174.
75 Ibid., 176.
76 Ibid., 177, emphasis mine.
77 Ibid., 178.
78 Ibid., 179.
79 Ibid., 179.
80 Ibid., 180.
81 Ibid., 181, emphasis mine.
82 Ibid., 181, emphasis mine.
83 Ibid., 184.