Friday, February 27, 2009

7 reasons why God permits sin

Samuel Rutherford gives these reasons in his A Sermon Preached before the Honourable House of Commons.
if permitting sin had not been,
1) The beauty of free grace and 'pardoning grace' had never been made obvious.
2) There had been no employment for 'the mercy of a soul-redeeming Jesus'.
3) We had not have had occasion to exalt 'the new Psalme of the Praise of a Redeemer'.
4) By this permission, the human creature of self-dependence is cried down, whereas God is exalted.
5) By this, the broken and humble heart is necessitated to kiss Christ, who binds up the broken hearted. 6) Then, we as poor pupils improve our dependence upon so kingly a Tutor.
7) Therefore, when clay triumphs over Angels and hell through the strength of Jesus Christ, 'Satan hath faire justice in open patent court'.

In his Catechism Rutherford writes just as concisely.
has God any hand in sin? A. He suffers men to sin, and punishes sin and
directs it to his own glory; but he neither allow, loves, nor commands sin'. Q.
But is not God the author of sin when he hardens men's hearts? Q. Not at all,
for God, as the ruler of the world and judge, leaves men to harden their own
heart, and so punishes sin by sin (Psa. 81:11,12; Rom. 1:24; 2Thess. 2:11,12)
as that no guilt cleaves to him'. ...Q. How can God then be free of sin if he
works in sin? A. The Lord can touch a serpent and not be stanged, (i.e.
stung), and as a good painter drawers black lines in the image to make the
white appear more beautiful, and the physician extracts good oil out of
poisonous herbs, and the musician makes the mistuned harp to send out a
pleasant sound, even so God in the hardening of men's heart does the part of
a judge justly and holily.

This is a complex area and the Reformer Ursinus is very helpful and careful in it:
The evils of guilt as far as they are such, that is, sins, have not the nature of that which is good. Hence God does not will them, neither does he tempt men to perform them, nor does he effect them or contribute thereto ; but he permits devils and men to do them, or does not prohibit them from committing them when he has the power to do so. Therefore these things do indeed also fall under the providence of God, but not as if they were done by him, but only permitted. The word permit is therefore not to be rejected, seeing that it is sometimes used in the scriptures.
...But we must have a correct understanding of the word lest we detract from God a considerable portion of the government of the world, and of human affairs. For this permission is not an indifferent contemplation or suspension of the providence and working of God as it respects the actions of the wicked, by which it comes to pass
that these actions do not depend so much upon some first cause, as upon the will of the creatures acting; but it is a withdrawal of divine grace by which God (whilst he accomplishes the decrees of his will through rational creatures) either does not make known to the creature acting what he himself wishes to be done, or he does not incline the will of the creature to render obedience, and to perform what is agreeable to his will. Yet he, nevertheless, in the meanwhile, controls and influences the creature so deserted and sinning as to accomplish what he has purposed.

He further defines a little what this withdrawal of divine grace is by which God,
1. Does not make known to man his will, that he might act according thereto.
2. He does not incline the will of man to obey and honor him, and to act in accordance with his will as revealed. "If a dreamer of dreams shall arise among you, thou shalt not hearken unto him, for the Lord your God proveth you." "The Lord moved David against Israel to say, Go and number Israel and Judah. (Deut. 13:1,3; 2 Sam. 24:1.) Why did he afterwards punish David? That he might be led to repentence.
3. He nevertheless influences and controls those who are thus deserted, so as to accomplish through them his just judgments; for God accomplishes good things through evil instruments, no less than through those which are good. For as the work of God is not made better by the excellency of the instrument, so neither is it made worse by the evil character of the instrument. God wills [by permission] actions that are evil, but only in as far as they are punishments of the wicked. All good things are from God, All punishments are just and good. Therefore they are from God...

The Westminster Confession (6:1 also Larger Catechism Q19) declare that God 'permits' sin, but that it is not a 'bare permission'.(5:4) A 'bare permission' (such as Arminians believe) would make it an involuntary decision whereas it was possible not to permit it.

Turretin is characteristically concise: 'Two extremes are to he avoided. First, that of defect, when an otiose permission of sin is ascribed to God. Second, that of excess, when the causality of sin is ascribed to him. Between these extremes, the orthodox hold the mean, who contend that the providence of God extends to sin in such way that he does not involuntarily permit it, as the Pelagians say, nor actively cause it as the Libertines assert, but voluntarily ordains and controls it'.

Boston is characteristically rich: "God's providence is most holy. "The Lord is righteous in all his ways and holy in all his works" (Psalm 145:17) Even though providence reach to and be conversant in sinful actions, yet it is pure; as the sun contracts no defilement, though it shine on a dunghill. For God is neither the physical nor moral cause of the evil of any action, more than he who rides on a lame horse is the cause of its halting. All the evil that is in sinful actions proceeds and flows from the wicked agent, as the stench of the dunghill does not proceed from the heat of the sun, but the corrupt matter contained in the dunghill."

Jonathan Edwards writes: "To permit the event of sin, or not to hinder it, implies, that the cause of defection is not in the permitter, but in the permitted; not m the governor, but the governed." What is very interesting about Edwards' views is that he believed that "the glory of the divine rectitude, towards the intelligent and moral part of the universe, considered as accountable, and to the full extent of its moral capabilities, could not be manifested without the permission of sin. The full exercise of equity must necessarily leave the moral system to its own tendencies and operations." Note the following: "Without the permission of sin, restoring benevolence, or the exercise of mercy, would have been impossible; and consequently the glory of that perfection, which can be fully displayed only by its exercise towards the miserable, would have been eternally concealed".

Finally, Witsius expresses it attractively in saying "it is peculiar to divine wisdom
and power not only to do good but much more, to make the evil devised by others, to answer a good and valuable end, and manage those things which appear to be evil to the greatest advantage".

But lest these thoughts should lead us to any smaller or weaker views of the exceeding sinfulness of sin itself as the greatest evil and our own responsibility for it, read The Absence of Sin in Present Day Religion.