Blogging the Institutes | 1.18.1 | Does God Permit or Decree All Things?

Some Scriptures indicate that God uses Satan for his purpose. Not only does God use Satan, but also all the reprobate and wicked. It can be difficult to understand how God remains free of the stain of sin when he uses them for his purpose. He also remains exempt from all guilt, yet he himself can condemn them for their evil. In light of such a predicament, some theologians have invented a distinction between doing and allowing because they find it incomprehensible that God has Satan and all the wicked under his hand, directs their evil to whatever goal he pleases, and even employs their sin to execute his judgment…yet still remains guilt-free. These theologians could have be excused for their arguments to vindicate God’s justice from any semblance of stigma, if they did not defend an untruth. They argue that it seems absurd for people to be blinded by the will and command of God, and yet punished for their blindness. Hence, they further argue that this is only done by the permission of God, not by the will of God. God himself repudiates their evasion, however, because he openly declares that he does such things.

Scripture presents countless passages where people do nothing except through the secret will of God. They do not do anything except what God has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass according to his will. When the Psalms declare that God does whatever please him, certainly his actions extend to all the actions of people (Psalm 115:3). If God is the arbiter of war and peace, who would say that people just act randomly and that God is unconscious or quiet? Let me make the matter clearer by a few examples. In the first chapter of Job, we learn that Satan appears in the presence of God to receive his orders just like angels do (Job 1:6-12). Satan’s methods and goals are different from God, but the plain fact is that he cannot attempt anything without the will of God. While afterwards his power to afflict Job seems to be only bare permission, yet Job proclaims, “The gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). We can infer that God was the author of the trial for Job while Satan and the wicked people were merely his instruments. Satan’s aim was to drive job to despair. The Sabeans wanted to rob his goods. Yet Job acknowledges that he was deprived of all his property and brought to poverty because it was the please of God. Therefore, whatever Satan or evil people plot, God holds the reigns, and makes all their efforts contribute to the execution of his plan.

God willed that Ahab would be deceived. The devil offered his agency for that purpose, and is sent with a command to put a lying spirit in the mouth of all the prophets (2 Kings 22:20). If the blinding and of Ahab is God’s judgment, the idea of bare permission does not hold up. It would be ridiculous for a judge only to permit, and not also decree, what he wishes to be done at the very time he commissions his servants to do something for him. Furthermore, the Jews purposes to destroy Christ. Pilate and his soldiers indulged them in their rage. Yet the disciples confessed that all the wicked did nothing except what the hand of God had decreed (Acts 4:28). Peter also had previously preached that Christ was delivered to death by the counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23). In other words, God who knows all things from the beginning, had determined what the Jews had executed. Peter repeated the same thing elsewhere, “Those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he has so fulfilled,” (Acts 4:18).

In another example, Absalom committed a terrible crime when he committed incest. God, however, declares that Absalom’s crime was an act of judgment against David’s prior sin against Bathsheba. While David attempted to cover up his sin, God would rip the curtain down. He declares to David, “For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun” (2 Samuel 12:12). Jeremiah also declared that the cruelty of the Babylons in Judea was the work of God. The Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, was in fact called the servant of God. God frequently exclaims he incites the wicked to war by his “hiss,” by the clang of his trumpet, and by his authority and command. He calls the Assyrian army the rod of his anger. He calls the overthrow of the Jerusalem and downfall of the temple his own work. David confesses that the curses of Shimei are uttered by God’s orders because he is a just judge. “The Lord,” he says, “has told him to” (2 Samuel 16:11).

Often in the Bible, whatever happens is said to proceed from the Lord, whether it is the revolt of the ten tribes, the death of Eli’s sons, or many other similar things. Those who know the Scriptures will understand that I produced only a few passages for the sake brevity. Yet, these passages should make perfectly clear that substituting the concept of God’s permission his providence does not hold up. God does not just sit idly by, waiting for people to do things so that his will can be fulfilled.

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

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  1. Pingback: Blogging the Institutes: List of Posts | Raising Lazarus

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