William Birch, in his article, In Calvinism, God is the Problem of Evil, writes, “They made kings, but not through me; they set up princes, but without my knowledge [יָדַע, acknowledgment, i.e., blessing, approval, consent: they acted apart from God’s will].” How could such people, within John Piper’s theologically Calvinistic system, accomplish crowning kings and establishing for themselves princes without God’s alleged sovereign control? I thought God was deterministically sovereign. Piper continues: “God is sovereign over the nations and over all their rulers and all the satanic power behind them. They do not move without his permission, and they do not move outside his sovereign plan.”
Birch avidly describes any Calvanistic view of God as being morally bankrupt when it comes to reconciling the problem of evil. He alludes to what he believes are two illogical premises inherent in Calvinism’s view of God and His attributes.
First, because I know most will not read this article in full, I want to address the issue of the problem of evil. Perhaps the most popular dilemma unbelievers have presented against Christianity, can essentially be summed up as follows:
1. GOD IS COMPLETELY GOOD.
2. GOD IS COMPLETELY POWERFUL.
These two premises do not in themselves create any contradiction. The problem arises only when we add the premise:
3. EVIL EXISTS (HAPPENS).
So, it must be noted that it is absolutely necessary that anyone (unbeliever/arminian) who wants to present this problem of evil against Christianity/Calvinism, must without simultaneously destroying the preconditions for intelligibility, prove evil exists. Thus, the question must be asked, “Who is evil actually a problem for?”
Unbelievers (which are not my primary focus) fail to prove that evil exists due to not having a transcendent, objective standard of morality to determine good vs. evil. Dr. Greg Bahnsen writes:
“Perhaps the unbeliever takes “good” to be whatever evokes public approval. However, on that basis the statement “The vast majority of the community heartily approved of and willingly joined in the evil deed” could never make sense. The fact that a large number of people of feel a certain way does not (or should not rationally) convince anybody that this feeling (about the goodness or evil of something) is correct. Ethics does not reduce to statistics, after all. Ordinarily, people think of the goodness of something as evoking their approval — rather than their approval constituting its goodness! Even unbelievers talk and act as though there are personal traits, actions or things which possess the property of goodness (or evil) irrespective of the attitudes or beliefs or feelings people have about those traits, actions or things….The unbeliever might turn, then, to an instrumental or consequential understanding of what constitutes objective goodness (or evil). For instance, an action or trait is good if it tends to achieve a certain end, like the greatest happiness of the greatest number. The irrelevance of such a notion for making ethical determinations is that one would need to be able to rate and compare happiness, as well as to be able to calculate all of the consequences of any given action or trait. This is simply impossible for finite minds (even with the help of computers). But more devastating is the observation that good may be taken to be whatever promotes general happiness only if it is antecedently the case that generalized happiness is itself “good.” Any theory of ethics which focuses on the goodness of achieving a certain end (or consequence) will make sense only if it can establish that the chosen end (or consequence) is a good one to pursue and promote.”
For the Arminian, in hopes to relinquish God from being the author of evil, he has created a godling. A godling isn’t omnipotent or omnibenevolent. How can the Arminian account for uniformity in nature, scientific evidence/research, laws of physics, existence of miracles, etc., if God isn’t in complete sovereign control of the universe and all its creatures? Why is it that everytime we squeeze a tube of toothpaste, the paste actually emerges from the tube? If we do not have a sovereign God controlling the affairs of this world, we would be left with the atheist’s random, chaotic, pure chance view of the universe; which leaves us with no logical reason for expecting toothpaste to emerge from the tube. If the Arminian were consistent with his implicit pure chance presuppositions, he wouldn’t have any logical basis for expecting paste to emerge from the tube without hesitation as he does.
If God is not sovereign over nature, what reason can the Arminian give for expecting nature’s laws to remain in a consistent manner, to the extent that human experience isn’t chaotic and random? Not only does the Christian need a transcendent, immutable, omnibenevolent standard of morality, but the Christian also needs a sovereign God who isn’t in an ongoing power struggle with the laws of nature (as if those laws were in operation apart from God’s sovereign control).
So, the Arminian cannot present this problem of evil arguement against Calvinism, due to not being able to account for an omnipotent God. Likewise, the unbeliever shows that the problem of evil is ironically a problem for his own worldview due to not being able to account for evil without presupposing the Christians presupposition of a transcendental God who contains an immutable standard of morality within Himself.
Again, Dr. Greg Bahnsen observes, “The problem which men have with God when they come face to face with evil in the world is not a logical or philosophical one, but more a psychological one. We can find it emotionally very hard to have faith in God and trust His goodness and power when we are not given the reason why bad things happen to us and others. We instinctively think to ourselves, “why did such a terrible thing occur?” Unbelievers internally cry out for an answer to such a question also. But God does not always (indeed, rarely) provide an explanation to human beings for the evil which they experience or observe. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29). We might not be able to understand God’s wise and mysterious ways, even if He told us (cf. Isaiah 55:9). Nevertheless, the fact remains that He has not told us why misery and suffering and injustice are part of His plan for history and for our individual lives.”
The Arminian displays a lack of faith in God by refusing to accept that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists in the world. Birch goes on to say, “Piper continues: ‘God is sovereign over the nations and over all their rulers and all the satanic power behind them. They do not move without his permission, and they do not move outside his sovereign plan.’ (emphases added) Whether one considers the heinous reigns of Nero, Domitian, the cruelties of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, or the regimes of Stalin, Hitler, and currently ISIS, the horrors of war and the problem of evil are, according to Calvinists and their Calvinist theology, the direct cause of the decree and plan and will of God. This is the only consistent view for the Calvinist. Ultimately, whether a Calvinist is a hard or soft determinist, God has decreed, from eternity past, whatsoever comes to pass in our history; all was His idea.'”
Birch, in a rather conspicuous and fallacious way, has severely down graded the Calvinstic explanation of God’s sovereign decree. God has an element to His will which has been called by theologians as His “permissive will.” God does possess a “causal will,” whereby He directly causes events to take place, as opposed to indirectly permitting events to take place. Essentially, God permits evil to exist in the world for a morally sufficient reason.
Consider the story of Abraham when God ordered him to sacrifice his only son. Think of Job when he lost everything which gave his life happiness and pleasure. In each case God had a perfectly good reason for the human misery involved. It was a mark or achievement of faith for them not to waver in their conviction of God’s goodness, despite not being able to see or understand why He was doing to them what He did. Indeed, even in the case of the greatest crime in all of history — the crucifixion of the Lord of glory — the Christian professes that God’s goodness was not inconsistent with what the hands of lawless men performed. Was the killing of Christ evil? Surely. Did God have a morally sufficient reason for it? Just as surely. With Abraham we declare, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). And this goodness of God is beyond challenge: “Let God be true, though all men are liars” (Romans 3:4).
Birch, gives his explanation of the Arminian solution to the problem of evil, “God sovereign? Of course God is sovereign. What we learn from Scripture, however, is that the sovereignty of God is not tantamount to determinism. God is most sovereign over our free will thoughts, desires, and actions, as His exhaustive foreknowledge of all events, coupled with His exhaustive and meticulous plan for all the ages and everyone existing in those ages, supports both His sovereignty and our free will….(my emphasis, everything Birch has said thus far isn’t in opposition to Calvinism, but he hasn’t fairly presented Calvinism to say the least, my emphasis) Though we cannot choose contrary to what God foreknows we will freely choose, our decisions are ours, and not those that God has decreed for us to choose, as Scripture reveals in countless places, and as is denied by Calvinists.”
A sinner chooses what he wants. A sinner has free will according to Calvinism. However, a sinner is totally depraved and unable to choose to believe the gospel and repent of his sins. That decision, according to Calvinism, requires a supernatural act of God, whereby He changes the sinners heart and grants him the ability to choose between faithful obedience or disobedience to God. Prior to God regenerating an unbeliever, he is not going to choose God on his own accord. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11). We all act according to our inward desires unbeliever and believer alike. However, for our desires to change from evil to good, God must supernaturally intercede on an unbeliever’s behalf. “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Romans 9:14-16
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”Ephesians 2:1-6
Prior to regeneration, the Bible says we are dead in our sins. What can a dead man do? Exactly. The Bible also uses the analogy of being a new creation after regeneration. How many of us decided to create ourselves into existence? Jesus told Nicodemus that a man cannot inherit eternal life unless he be born again. How many of us decided to be born into this world? These are analogies, I realize this, but why do you think ths Bible uses analogies that are consistent with the Calvinstic view of regeneration? Prudent silence.
Birch, like the unbeliever, continues to perpetuate the sin which brought evil into this world initially. Birch refuses to accept that the secret things belong to God, and demands that God must be logically explained first by submitting to his own finite intellectual authority and moral evaluation. In conclusion, Bahnsen describes how Birch is categorically no different than an unbeliever in ascribing the Calvinstic view of God as being morally irreconcilable:
“The problem of evil comes down to the question of whether a person should have faith in God and His word or rather place faith in his own human thinking and values. It finally becomes a question of ultimate authority within a person’s life. And in that sense, the way in which unbelievers struggle with the problem of evil is but a continuing testimony to the way in which evil entered human history in the first place. The Bible indicates that sin and all of its accompanying miseries entered this world through the first transgression of Adam and Eve. And the question with which Adam and Eve were confronted way back then was precisely the question which unbelievers face today: should we have faith in God’s word simply on His say-so, or should we evaluate God and His word on the basis of our own ultimate intellectual and moral authority?”
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?