Richard Coords, “Holiness of God”

, posted by Martin Glynn

James 1:17 states: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” One of the most fundamental objections against Calvinism is with respect to its impact on the holiness of God. For if God predestined all things before there was anything at all, and if it included all sins ever conceived and committed, then how could God remain holy, and in a way that could be meaningful to us? One way is to suggest that God, although decreeing all sin, is not tainted by the sin that He has fixed and determined. The problem with that view, however, is that it is not very compelling, primarily because it is difficult for us to relate to. If God is the creative origin behind the Occult and every monstrous thing throughout all time, then how could God’s character not be tainted by it? Calvinists indicate that there are passive and active decrees of God, and the holiness of God can be maintained by understanding the perspective of first and second causes, in which God is not responsible for the evil deeds which are decreed by means of secondary causes:

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.”191

However, when compared to the matter of David and Uriah, according to 2nd Samuel 11:1-27, David’s use of secondary causes to arrange the murder of Uriah did not seem to remove any implication on his part, as God directly charged him with Uriah’s murder. (2nd Samuel 12:1-15) David could have said: “I didn’t kill him! I merely sent a letter to Joab to place him before the Philistines and then permit their archers to kill him. It wasn’t me. It was the secondary causes!” However, it doesn’t matter how many layers of causation there are, since the true mastermind behind  any crime is always held to the greatest level of guilt. One defense for this, and which is common with Calvinists, is to suggest that you cannot compare God and man. In other words, David may be guilty, but one cannot extrapolate that to mean God is guilty for doing similar things. However, that is yet another unconvincing Calvinist argument.

The implication of Calvinism is that if God is holy and yet decrees sin, in whatever way, then evil must in some way be good. One suggestion to resolve this dilemma is through a holistic approach, in that while the exhaustive determination of all moral evil would seem to be bad, on balance, it is actually good when considered from the broad scale of human history. Calvinists often cite Calvary in such a defense. Calvinists will say that Calvary was the worst act in human history, and yet God decreed it for an ultimately beautiful purpose in the redemption of God’s elect. However, the counter-argument is that Calvary was not a matter of God inventing crucifixion, but instead using the customary evil practice of the day and using it to bring good out of their evil. God’s determination to use Calvary would only be consequent to His knowledge of the evil thoughts and intentions of the primary players involved.

Notice how the two sides contemplate divine holiness in light of absolute determinism:

Calvinism: The Bible says that God is holy, and therefore the sovereign decree of all sin cannot nullify His holiness.

Non-Calvinism: The Bible says that God is holy, and therefore He could not have exhaustively decreed any sin.

Calvinists, therefore, cite God’s holiness as cover for determinism while non-Calvinists cite God’s holiness to refute even its possibility.

The charge against Calvinism is that while Satan is unable to rise to the moral level of God, what he can do, through Calvinism, is perhaps bring God down to his own level, or make God worse, as the ultimate mastermind and creative origin of all moral evil in the universe. Calvinism thus aligns with Satan’s primary objective.


191 The Westminster Confession of Faith, Of God’s Eternal Decree, 1646.