Saturday, February 27, 2010

God's control of evil

When I finished yesterday's post and noticed that today's schedule was only for two sections, I thought about going ahead and reading all of chapter 18.  I am glad that I did not.  These first two sections were about all my mind could handle this morning.

Calvin takes a different approach than I was previously familiar with Christians (except for Luther) having in the relationship between God and evil.  Calvin takes the stance that not only does God permit evil, but he also directs it.  This is very much against the beliefs held my most mainstream Christians today, and apparently against a large group that Calvin was addressing in his own day.  Christians try to distance God from any sort of evil.  Calvin believes that God is not the author of evil, nor is he the implementor of evil, but he so directs Satan and his minions that he directs evil.  He thinks that there is a false dichotomy between "doing" and "permitting."  Calvin states that if God is only granting permission, he is not really in control.

Calvin cites a number of passages from the Bible to support his belief.  The classic example is Job.  Satan and his angels presented themselves before God at the beginning of the book.  Job recognizes that God was directly involved when in Job 1:21 he states: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.  The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." Another example is in the case of Ahab in 1 Kings 22.  God directed a lying spirit to direct the false prophets.  In a prayer from the book of Acts, the disciples recognized that God had been directly involved with the deeds of Pilate and Herod : "Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen."  Calvin cited a number of other passages to support this belief.

He opens the next section by stating that Proverbs 21:1 applies to all people, not just kings: "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases."  It is God who moves our hearts.  I have had the story of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart explained to me (which I have later told others) as God removing his protective hands and permitting Satan to actually do the hardening of Pharaoh's heart.  Calvin thinks this is foolish because Scripture clearly states that it was God who hardened Pharaoh's heart and not Satan and not Pharaoh himself.  God may have used Satan to carry out the hardening, but God sent him to do it.

Book 2, which we will start on Monday, will get much more detailed about free will or lack thereof.  Calvin ends this section by stating, "To sum up, God's will is said to be the cause of all things, I have made his providence the determinative principle for all human plans and works, not only in order to display its force in the elect, who are ruled by the Holy Spirit, but also to compel the reprobate to obedience."

Tomorrow's reading: 1.18.3-1.18.4

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