Monday, March 24, 2008

God Decreeing Sin

Note: What follows is an e-mail exchange I'm having with a newspaper reporter about the nature of hell, predestination, and the purpose for which God created the non-elect. The tone of this e-mail response is very direct, but in good newspaper reporter fashion ("just the facts ma'am!") I have responded directly since he likes me to cut to the chase quickly and be forthright in my conversations with him. I have been having e-mail discussions with this particular unbeliever on and off for several years now and they have been fairly productive and charitable in the past. So, out of love for his soul, I continue to use these opportunities to proclaim the truth of the Bible to him as I'm able. My response is below in dark blue.

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Mr. ________ said, "Even after reading Pastor _________ responses, I still have not heard any single good explanation why an all-loving God would create and send people to a 'Hell.'"

Translation: Mr. ________ has not heard an explanation that suits him as to why a god that he’s created in his own image would subsequently send people to hell. Of course, I agree that this god would never send anyone to hell because Mr. ________’s conception of god is a reflection of who he is as a fallen, lost, and sinful human individual and is non-reflective of who the biblical God is.

  1. The Trinitarian God of Scripture is not reducible to a single attribute. Love is not God’s only attribute. And love is not God’s most important attribute. One divine attribute does not rank above another as to their importance. They are equally important. Love without justice would be immoral. Even if, for the sake of argument, love were God’s only or primary attribute, it isn’t possible to be equally loving to everyone even on a human level. For instance, it isn’t possible to be equally “loving” to your mailman, your child, your dog, and Ted Bundy. Also, it’s pretty obvious that even in this life, God is not as loving to every individual as he could be nor is He obligated to be biblically speaking. He gets to do with His creation what He wants (Proverbs 16:4; Matt. 20:15).
  2. As I've already said, love is not the biblical God's only attribute. Holiness is another important attribute, and God’s holiness underwrites His justice. If God does not maintain His justice by punishing criminals that have broken His laws then He is neither just, nor good, nor holy. However, since He is holy, just, and good, then He will accurately and proportionately punish unrepentant sin in a manner that is consistent with His goodness, holiness, justice, and truth. This means that the punishment that a sinner receives in Hell is directly proportionate to the transgressions committed in this life. See John 19:11 for a brief glimpse at this. If a human judge never judged proportionately, accurately, or fairly in accordance with the crimes that were committed by the criminal against the offended parties, would you consider that judge a “good” judge? Of course not. But you are somehow put off by the Eternal Judge described in Scripture who is infinitely perfect and just in His judgments.
  3. Your statement assumes that punishment in an eternal Hell is unjust and unethical if God is “all-loving”. This is a classic example of question begging. Since you assume and import your concept of god into this discussion and then assume that the biblical God should be like your god (namely, “all-loving” and being “all-loving” by definition excludes eternal, conscious torment in eternal Hell), then Yahweh’s punishment of sinners in Hell is unjust and unethical.
  4. As it pertains to the didactic passages of Scripture, we don’t pick and choose what we want to believe about the biblical God as if the Bible (or any other religion) is a buffet-bar. To do so is disingenuous. If you want to understand the biblical doctrine of Hell then you need to set your preferences aside, read the pertinent biblical texts and do exegesis on those texts (or have a good exegete do them for you should you not know how to carry out the process of exegesis), then draw your conclusions from the exegesis of the text versus rejecting the doctrine a priori. You are commanded by Scripture to submit to its teachings versus crafting said teachings to fit into your politically correct image of who “god” should be. David Wells said it rightly,
The loss of the traditional vision of God as holy is now manifested everywhere in the evangelical world. It is the key to understanding why sin and grace have become such empty terms. What depth or meaning, P.T. Forsyth asked, can these terms have except in relation to the holiness of God? Divorced from the holiness of God, sin is merely self-defeating behavior or a breach in etiquette. Divorced from the holiness of God, grace is merely empty rhetoric, pious window dressing for the modern technique by which sinners work out their own salvation. Divorced from the holiness of God, our gospel becomes indistinguishable from any of a host of alternative self-help doctrines. Divorced from the holiness of God, our public morality is reduced to little more than an accumulation of trade-offs between competing private interests. Divorced from the holiness of God, our worship becomes mere entertainment. The holiness of God is the [foundation of reality]. Sin is defiance of God's holiness, the Cross is the outworking and victory of God's holiness, and faith is the recognition of God's holiness. Knowing that God is holy is therefore the key to knowing life as it truly is, knowing Christ as he truly is, knowing why he came, and knowing how life will end.” David Wells - No Place for Truth, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?

Mr. _______ says, "God created each of us, giving each of us our strengths, weaknesses, etc. He created the heavens and the Earth and all the temptations we have to contend with. He knows from before He gives us our first breath who we are and what we will be, meaning He knows the kinds of decisions we will make long before we were ever created. And from that, He sends people to a Hell He created to punish people for doing precisely what He knew they would do before they were ever created?"

Now, it’s important to take a look at what you’ve brought to bear in light of your statements above. Indeed, God does not entice men to sin (James 1:13), but through various means, He makes them so wicked they can do nothing but sin. As it is written,

The plowing of the wicked is sin. (Proverbs 21:4)

When a wicked person simply plows his field, he is sinning, because whatever is not from faith is sin and in doing things apart from the glory of God, it is sinful (Romans 14:23). Unbelievers are in a perpetual state of faithlessness. That's why even the “good” deeds of sinners are no good in the sight of the biblical God (Isaiah 64:6). Everything they do is sin, and God is the one who made them that way through His eternal decree working through different means. Many will say that God does not make anyone sin through the means of secondary causes. Well, they need to inform the prophet Isaiah of that, because Isaiah was convinced God made them sin.

O Lord, why have You made us stray from Your ways, and hardened our heart from Your fear? (Isaiah 63:17)

Isaiah did not ask the Lord whether or not He caused them to sin. Isaiah asks why He caused them to sin, to “stray from Your ways.”

King David is another man most Christians need to inform concerning this biblical truth because God Himself told David that He would cause someone to commit adultery with his wives.

Thus says the Lord: "Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house, and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor; and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun." (2 Samuel 12:11-12)

The Lord orchestrated this massive adulterous affair stating, I will do this thing,” and what is He talking about? He decrees that Absalom commit fornication with David's ten concubines (2 Samuel 16:21-22; 20:3). If you don’t like this, then you have a problem with the God-breathed text of Scripture.

Likewise, David did not pray in vain,

Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men who work iniquity. (Psalm 141:4)

David knew God does incline man's heart to wicked things, and so he asks the Lord not to do so with him. Yet, the Lord did so, even with David. Besides the adulterous affair with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of Uriah in 2 Samuel 11 which the Lord caused (Proverbs 20:24), later it says,

Again the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, "Go, number Israel and Judah." (2 Samuel 24:1)

The following verses reveal David sinned when he did this act which God “moved” him to do. We read in 1 Chronicles 21:1 that Satan moved David to number Israel, indicating that God was the primary cause of David’s sin and Satan was the secondary cause. Therefore, the Lord clearly moved David to sin, albeit through the means of Satan. In fact, God moves all men to sin whenever they sin. As it is written,

O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. (Jeremiah 10:23)

Man's steps, man's actions, are not of himself. If the steps of man are not his own, whose are they? They are God’s and His doing. As it is written,

A man's steps are of the Lord; how then can a man understand his own way? (Proverbs 20:24; see also 16:9)

When men make a step to do evil, it is ultimately “of the Lord.” This is the clear teaching of the word of God.

Some will object and immediately say, “The will to sin always stems from the sinner's own heart, not from God. He is never the author or efficient cause of evil.”

Without denying the above or God's efficient cause, it is true, at the same time, that the will to sin stems from the sinner's own evil heart (Jeremiah 11:8). That’s all the unregenerate sinner’s evil heart can will to do, sin (Proverbs 17:11; Jeremiah 13:23). That’s the reason, at least in part, why the way of man is not in himself. He didn’t create himself, and he didn’t give himself his own evil heart that is only and solely inclined to do evil (as in Genesis 6:5). But, many will not believe this and claim that God “is never the cause of evil,” when the Lord God Almighty says otherwise,

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7, KJV does a good job here of a literal translation; Hebrew, uvorê' râ`, “and create evil”)

Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not? Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good? (Lamentations 3:37-38, KJV)

Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? (Amos 3:6, KJV)

Even though He takes no pleasure in wickedness (Psalm 5:4) and is holy and righteous (Psalm 145:17), He is nonetheless the creator of evil, as Isaiah 45:7 explicitly states.

Job knew this. He knew God is the cause of all, even evil. Job said,

With Him are strength and prudence. The deceived and the deceiver are His. (Job 12:16)

Job was not talking about some deistic possession of God. He was talking about God’s absolute cause and control of everything. Read the context of Job 12:16 in Job 12:13-13:1. Besides, God Himself says,

If the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. (Ezekiel 14:9, KJV)

God says, "I the Lord have deceived that prophet," and the result of that deception is the deceptive words coming out of the prophet's mouth. And, even though God is the one that “deceived that prophet,” He will nonetheless hold that prophet accountable for what he hath spoken and will destroy him for what he said.

So then, even though God Himself cannot lie (Titus 1:2), He nevertheless leads people into deception through various means in order to accomplish His sovereign will. For examples of this see 2 Chronicles 18:18-22 (1 Kings 22:19-23); Isaiah 30:28; and 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12. The word of God is clear. God is indeed the cause of all, even lies, sin, and the punishment of people in hell for those things that He predestined that they do.

Again, many will object that God actively and directly causes evildoers to be evil through various means (i.e., Satan, wicked people, etc.), but such an improper (2 Peter 3:16) view of sovereignty creates a biblically unknown evil power greater than the Almighty Himself. How is this? When a person claims that God does not actively and directly cause evildoers to be evil through various means, the actions of these men are no longer actively decreed by God (Isaiah 46:10). They are no longer actively of, through, and to Him (Romans 11:36). They are no longer actively the creation of God Himself (Isaiah 45:7). They are no longer actively upheld by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). They are no longer actively His works (Psalm 104:23-24). But rather, they become actions that lie outside the sovereign truths of God. If they are outside these truths, there is an evil power greater than God Himself. That power could only be the power of Satan, the evil one. Since this is impossible, God indeed is the ultimate cause of all things, including sin and evil. Thus, the very hell that He created to punish unrepentant sinners in was all predestined for His glory as a display of His glorious justice. Mr. _______, I realize that this will be a huge stumblingblock to you, but the Scriptures have spoken. May God open your eyes and grant you repentance.

The Lord has made all for Himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of doom. (Proverbs 16:4)

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. (Jeremiah 17:9)

For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth. (Colossians 1:16)

The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. (Psalm 58:3)

You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created. (Revelation 4:11)

Now, you had said in an earlier e-mail something to the effect that it didn't make sense to you why the biblical God would knowingly create people for eternal torment in hell.

The Biblical answer is this: He does it for His glory.

Although it is true that God is kind to both the wicked and the righteous (Psalm, 145:8-9; Matthew 5:43-45), it is also true that before the world was created, God chose to love only a few people and destine them to eternal life in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:13-14; Romans 9:6-23; Ephesians 1:4). He chose to hate the rest of mankind and destine them to hell for eternity (Matthew 7:13-14; Romans 9:6-23). This choice was not based on any action on the part of those whom God chose (Romans 9:11, 16, 18), but rather it was based on God's own good pleasure and purpose (Ephesians 1:4-5). It was not based on works (Romans 9:11, 20-23; Ephesians 1:5; Philippians 2:13; Psalm 115:3). In this sovereign choice of God choosing the few for eternal life and the rest for eternal condemnation, it should be understood that the "few" actually makes for an overall very large number (e.g. Revelation 7). The number of people who will be saved will be many (Romans 5:19), but it is few in comparison to the many who will be lost (Matthew 7:13-14).

The Lord Jesus Christ created all that exists (John 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:2) for Himself (Colossians 1:16). He is the Almighty one and only true God (1 John 5:20; Hebrews 1; 1 Timothy 6:14-16; John 8:58; 20:27-29) and everything exists for the express purpose of showing forth His glory (Psalm 147,148, and 150; Romans 9:22-23).

The non-elect/reprobate/lost will give glory to God in hell for all eternity, for every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord "to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:11). In other words, those who die in unbelief were created for the very purpose of being "captured and killed" (2 Peter 2:12) and "to this doom they were also appointed" (1 Peter 2:8). They are "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (Romans 9:22).

There's more that I could say, but my brief statements above along with the accompanying Biblical references should be more than enough. If you have any follow-up questions I'd be glad to entertain those as I'm able. Take care!