Blogging the Institutes | 1.18.3 | Objections to the Fact that God Wills All Things

I have written about what Scripture unambiguously teaches. Those who disagree with what I have written need to realize the kind of rebuke they deserve. What greater arrogance could there be than to disagree with the authority of God? For instance, to say “I think about things differently” or “This topic should have be broached.” What could be gained by assaulting heaven? Yet such childish behavior is not new. In all ages, wicked and profane people have rabidly assaulted this doctrine. But what the Spirit declared long ago through David, they will feel by experience to be true—God will overcome scrutiny (Ps. 51:6). David indirectly rebukes the views those who live only for themselves. They not only argue against God but believe they even have the right to criticize God! At the same time, he briefly describes their blasphemies. Instead of reaching God, their blasphemy only goes to show his justice when their arguments are destroyed. Our faith, because it is founded on God’s sacred word, is superior to everything in the whole world. Our faith transcends such frivolous arguments.

They hold up a few objections. First, they argue that if nothing happens except through God’s will, then he must have two wills that oppose each other. One will decrees by secret counsel what he openly forbids in his law. This objection is easily disposed of. But before I get to it, I want to remind my readers that these objections are not directed against me, but against the Holy Spirit, who certainly dictated Job’s confession, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.” After being robbed, Job acknowledges the injustice that has occur but that it was a just correction from God. What does Scripture say in other places? The sons of Eli “would not listen to the voice of their father because the Lord desire to be put them death,” (1 Sam. 2:25). Another prophet also exclaims, “Our God is in the heavens: he does whatever he pleases,” (Ps. 115:3).

I have already shown clearly enough that God is the author of all these things. (And they don’t happen only because he permits them to happen). He testifies that he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil (Is. 45:7). He claims that no evil happens which he has not done (Amos 3:6). They should try to answer this question: Does God exercise judgment willingly or unwillingly? Moses teaches that even those who are killed by an axe head by accident have been delivered into God’s hand (Deut. 19:5). Luke writes that Herod and Pontius Pilate conspired “to do whatsoever your hand and your counsel determined before to be done,” (Acts 4:28).

Furthermore, if Christ was not crucified by God’s will, would we even be redeemed? God’s will does not contradict itself, however. It undergoes no changes. God’s will is one and undivided to himself, but it appears like he has multiple wills to us because our feeble intellect. We cannot comprehend how, he wills and not wills the very same thing. For example, Paul describes the calling of the Gentiles as a hidden mystery, which was a display of the diverse wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10). Because of the dullness of our intellect, God’s wisdom seems diverse, or multiform. Yet, should we dream up the view that there is variation in God, as if he either changed his will or disagreed with himself, just because we have trouble understanding it? When we cannot comprehend how God can will that which he forbids us to do, we must remember our stunted reasoning ability and that the light in which God dwells is inaccessible while we are shrouded in darkness (1 Tim. 6:16). Therefore, all solid believers would agree with Augustine’s sentiment: “People of good will sometimes desire something which God does not will. For example, like when a good son wishes his father to live, while God wills the father to die. Sometimes, the will of a bad person correspond to the righteous will of God, like when a bad son wishes his father would die, and God also wills it. The good son wishes what God does not will, and the bad son wishes what God also wills. Yet the good son’s love for his father is more consistent with the good of will God, even though he desires something different than God does. The lack of love from the bad son, although he desires the same thing that God does, is not consistent with the will of God. God’s commendation or condemnation depends on how much a person’s inner character reflects God’s character, what God’s will actually, and what the goal of a person’s desires are. God accomplishes the things he wills by the evil wills of bad men”—(August. Enchirid. ad Laurent. cap. 101).

Augustine had spoken a little about this issues before (cap. 100). He wrote that the rebellious angels and all the reprobate, as far as they themselves were concerned, did exactly what was against God’s will. But, in regard to God’s omnipotence, it was impossible for them to do so. While they acted against the will of God, he accomplishes his will through them. Therefore, Augustine exclaims, “Great is the work of God; exquisite in all he wills! So that, all that is done in the world that is contrary to his will actually accomplishes God’s will. What a mystery! Because something could not be done unless he permitted it. And he does not allow things unwillingly, but willingly. God, who is good, would not allow evil to be done, unless he were strong enough to bring good out of evil” (Augustin. in Ps. 111:2).

“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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