Some people raise another objection to God’s complete sovereignty over all things. They argue that if God not only uses the wicked’s actions to accomplish his purpose, but actually governs their thoughts and affections, then God must be the author of all their sins. And, therefore, when people are merely executing what God has decreed, they are unjustly condemned because they are obeying God’s will.
In this objection, the term “will” is being conflated with the word “rule.” Yet there are huge differences between these two concepts. When Absalom defiled David’s bed, although God was pleased to inflict discipline upon David for his adultery, God did not instruct Absalom to commit incest, even though David speaks in such a way concerning Shimei’s curses of him. While David confesses that Shimei acts by God’s order, David by no means commends Shimei’s obedience, as if such an unreasonable and wicked person was giving obedience to God’s command. David, however, realized that Shimei’s cursing was the discipline of God to which he patiently submitted. Therefore, while God’s secret will is accomplished by the actions of the wicked, they still are held accountable to obey God’s rules, which they violate to fulfill their desires.
People do evil things which are ruled by God’s secret providence. This truth is shown clearly in the election of King Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:20). God condemns the rebellion of the people, who desired to overturn God’s order and revolt against David’s family. And yet we know it was God’s will for Jeroboam to be anointed king. Hence, the apparent contradiction in the words of Hosea (Hosea 8:4; 13:11). Because, while God complained that the new kingdom was built without his knowledge and against his will, he elsewhere declares that he installed Jeroboam out of his anger. How can we reconcile these two things—that Jeroboam’s reign was not of God and yet God appointed him king? Here’s how we can do it. The people could not rebel against David’s line without shaking off God’s yoke. Yet God himself had the power to punish the Solomon’s ingratitude. Therefore, God, while not willing treachery, from another perspective justly wills the rebellion. Hence, Jeroboam, by unexpectedly receiving a sacred annointing, is urged to grasp for power.
For this reason, the Scripture says that God stirred up an enemy to deprive Solomon’s son part of the kingdom (1 Kings 11:23). Ponder both points! God’s will was that the people should be ruled by one king and the kingdom being torn in two was contrary to his will. Yet, his will originated the revolt. Because Jeroboam originally not no desire to rule. But he was urged by the prophet’s word and then anointed as king! What else could he do but aspire to rule? This was accomplished with God’s knowledge and will, who expressly commanded it. Yet the rebellion of the people is justly condemned, because it was against the will of God that they would rebel against David’s line. It is afterwards spoken in the Scripture that when Rehoboam pridefully rejects the prayers of the people, “the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform his saying, which the Lord spake by Ahijah,” (I Kings 12:15). See how the people violated the unity that God willed. While, at the same time, the ten tribes were alienated from Solomon’s son through his will.
Here’s another similar example: the murder of the sons of Ahab. Jehu rightly spoke, “Know then that there shall fall to the earth nothing of the word of the Lord, which the Lord spoke concerning the house of Ahab, for the Lord has done what He spoke through His servant Elijah” (2 Kings 10:10). Yet, Jehu criticizes the citizens of Samaria for assisting in the murder: “Be righteous. Look, I conspired against my master and killed him, but who killed all of these people?”
If I am not mistaken, I have already clearly shown how the same act brings guilt upon people and yet also displays God’s righteousness. Modest minds will always be satisfied by Augustine’s answer, “When the Father delivered up the Son to be crucified, he did it for one reason and Judas did it for another. God is just and people are guilty. Because in the one act, the reasons for which they did it are different” (August. Ep. 48, ad Vincentium). If some people are not satisfied with this explanation—that there is no connection between God and people when people do what God tells them not to do—let them here what Augustine says elsewhere: “Who can keep from trembling at God’s plan when God does according to his pleasure even in the hearts of the wicked, and, at the same time, paying them back according to their deeds?” (De Grat. et lib. Arbit. ad Valent. c. 20).
Certainly, in regard to Judas’ treachery, there is little ground to blame God. Because God was both pleased that Christ should be delivered up to die, and he did deliver him in order to redeem us. Hence, Augustine observes in another writing that when God looks down on people, he sees not only their actions but also their motives. Those who think this teaching is harsh better consider how much their nitpicking should be tolerating. They need to be careful not to reject something that is clearly taught by Scripture and then complain against it. If the truth of God’s complete sovereignty were not useful to be known, God would have never ordered the prophets and apostles to teach it. True wisdom includes accepting whatever the Holy Scripture teach with meekness and without reservation.
“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.