The Problem of Evil–Pt. 5–Compatabilism and Free Will

Posted: December 30, 2010 in Uncategorized


If evil is ordained by God, even the evil choices of mankind, then why are we still held accountable?  That is the rejoinder to the position argued above.  A simple response could be to quote Romans 9:21.  “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?”  That response should be included in our reply but it should not be the totality of our reply.

When we listed our ground rules back in the beginning we noted that we must retain the idea that human-beings are responsible moral agents.  We are accountable for our actions.  Throughout the Bible God blesses those who obey and curses those who do not.  We are condemned before God because we have chosen wrongly.  I am currently reading through the book of Judges.  The cycle of sin is sad to watch.  When Israel falls into idolatry and rebellion they are always held responsible for their actions.  This is clear as God sends judgment upon them.  That picture is consistent and clear in the Bible.

As we have argued above, it is also clear that nothing happens outside the foreordination of God.  A couple of texts that pictures the tension are in order.  When Solomon is dedicating the temple in 1 Kings 8, we watch as he prays that God would respond with compassion and mercy (1 Kings 8:50).  Yet, Solomon knows that their response would only come as God turned their hearts to Him (1 Kings 8:58).  In Isaiah 10 the Assyrians are said to be “the rod of my anger.”  They are the instruments of God’s judgment against sinful Israel.  Yet Assyria will be judged because they thought they were doing this on their own (see Isaiah 10:12).  Both these passages, and there are many others, show that God is sovereign and man is responsible.

The view that is being advocated here is technically known as Compatibilism.  It simply means that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are compatible.  In other words, saying that God ordains men to act in certain ways and that men are responsible for choosing as they do is not a contradiction.  And why not?  Because men and women freely choose their actions.

A Brief Discussion of Free-Will                                                   

The issue comes down to the complex discussion of what it means to freely choose.  Libertarian free-will says that we must have absolute power to the contrary.  That is, all options must be open for us.  But, if God has ordained what will happen then obviously those things that fall outside of what He has ordained are not options.  So are we free?  It depends on what one means by “free.”  If you mean are we “free” to do whatever we want to do, then I say, yes.  If you mean are we “free” to want whatever we want, then I say, no.  We are free in the sense that we do exactly what we most desire (want) to do.  D.A. Carson states this as “voluntarism” and explains it as “we do what we want to do, and that is why we are held accountable for what we do.”[i]  (Dr. Robert Reymond has a more helpful and indepth discussion of this in his Systematic  Theology)

So, we acknowledge that evil happens because God has ordained it.  We acknowledge that nothing, not even the evil actions of Adolph Hitler, are outside the control of God.  And we maintain that because men and women do what they want to do, they are held responsible.

With all this in mind, to ask where evil comes from is to possibly locate the mystery in the wrong place.  Evil exists because God wills that it exists.  He has created Satan for a purpose.  He had ordained that Adam and Eve make a sinful choice.  He ordains that I make sinful choices.  And at the same time He is free from doing evil.  The mystery isn’t so much where evil comes from but how God is not culpable. At this point I agree with John Calvin, who I will quote at length:

“But how it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the  author and approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance.”

Institutes of Christian Religion

[i] Carson. How Long O Lord? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1990), 190.


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