Thursday, March 13, 2008

Does God "cause" or "allow"?

In reading over a comment from someone on one of my previous posts, my husband and I got talking about whether God "causes" or "allows" bad things to happen. After talking around it for about 3 hours, we decided to go to bed - and I promised him I would use this blog as an outlet for my continued thoughts (because I probably could have kept talking the rest of the night!). Now, before you continue reading, let me warn you - what I'm suggesting will come across as offensive. But, as my dear friend, Jenn, always points out, God is constantly offending us - and I don't think that's a bad thing! With that said, though, please read my whole post before you decide I've jumped off the deep-end here! Ok, here goes - and please, tell me what you think on this!

Here's what I believe: God causes bad things to happen (versus allows). (NOTE: I'm discussing here whether you should use the word "cause" or the word "allow" - I'm not saying "cause" is necessarily the best word to use in this sentence. See, you need to keep reading!)

Here's what I'm assuming when I say that:
God is perfectly good, and there is no evil in Him (1 John 1:5).
God does not enjoy causing bad things to happen (Psalm 5:4).
God has good purposes in everything He does (Romans 8:28).
We are held responsible for the evil things we do because our purposes are not always good.
"Cause" means: to bring about. It implies a purpose.
"Allow" means: to permit something to happen or exist. It does not imply a purpose.

Why do I think it's important to say God causes bad things, verses God allows bad things? Saying God causes something to happen shows that He is in control. If was say He simply allows things to happen, I think it demonstrates a lack of control on His part. If I allow the door to remain open, I don't know what is going to happen as a result. If I cause the door to be left open, I do it to bring about a purpose I have already decided upon. There's a whole lot more I could say right now but, in the interest of keeping this first post readable, I'm going to stop there!

Having said that, let me tell you something I just discovered, as I tried to figure out how best to word this - a lot of people who are A LOT smarter than me have been discussing this very topic for centuries! Specifically, how do we deal with God's role in the occurence of evil. John Frame, in his book The Doctrine of God, says this about how we've dealt with this challenge in the past: "Some initial possibilities: authors, brings about, causes, controls, creates, decrees, foreordains, incites, includes within his plan, makes happen, ordains, permits, plans, predestines, predetermines, produces, stands behind, wills. Many of these are extra-scriptural terms; none of them are perfectly easy to define in this context. So theologians need to give some careful thought about which of these terms, if any, should be affirmed, and in what sense." Point well-taken - this is not an easy question to answer. While I'd like to fill in the blank in the following sentence - "God ______ bad things to happen"- the "blank" is apparently not very easy for us, as humans, to fill. If theologians through the centuries have not been able to decide on a specific term, I don't think I'm going to figure it out in one blog post! For me, the key is something else Frame says: "Somehow, we must confess both that God has a role in bringing evil about, and that in doing so he is holy and blameless. . . . God does bring sins about, but always for his own good purposes. So in bringing sin to pass he does not himself commit sin. "

What's my point in all this - God has a plan. Nothing happens by accident. And I am very glad to serve a God who is the ultimate authority on all things, good or bad.


Dennis Norwood said...

I've waited a couple of days, but nobody seems to want to voice an opinion. Since you said "please, tell me what you think on this", I'll take that leap.
Starting at the end of the post, I will say that in isolation, the quote from Frame "God does bring sins about, but always for his own good purposes. So in bringing sin to pass he does not himself commit sin" seems quite disturbing. To me it's like saying "God didn't rape you; He had somebody else do it so He could stay holy, and He knew that the trauma would make you turn to Him for help, so you see, it was actually a good thing." If God was human, that would get him locked up on conspiracy charges. As God, if He "caused" the rape to happen, He would have no right to judge the rapist if the rapist was simply following orders.
I do agree with you that God is perfectly good, and there is no evil in Him. I agree with you that God causes "bad" things to happen, but I also believe that God "allows" bad things to happen. That's probably why there has been centuries of debate. People keep trying to decide which box they want to put God in. Eventually maybe people will come to accept that we are finite and have limited understanding. Some things on this earth are mysteries and will remain that way. God happens to fall into that category. It's not for me to know what makes Him tick. It's simply for me to learn to do what He requires of me as a Christian. When I do what is right, it pleases God. The more I obey His commandments, the more He is free to use me as a vessel to accomplish His will and further His kingdom. I don't limit His ability to accomplish, but I do limit the role that I play in that plan. He allows me that choice. Unfortunately, I make many more wrong decisions than right ones, and I'm sure that somebody else often reaps the blessing that could have been mine had I been obedient. Until I get the basics down like "Love your neighbor as yourself", I really have no business stressing on why or how God does what He does. I can have my opinion, right or wrong, but that's all it is. If somebody wants truth, I'll refer them to the Bible.
I wish you well on finding your answers to the subject of this post, but I unfortunately am not smart enough to give that assistance :-)

Jenn B said...

I wanted to respond, but only have a very short time to do so, however if I put it off for later, it could be days, so I will write my initial thoughts but pls. Know I don’t intend for them to be biting or ‘know-it-all’. I clearly know little & am not trying to ‘prove’ anything. I just don’t have time to go back & add all the usual ‘hedging’ that I would have done if I were talking vs. typing.

“It's not for me to know what makes Him tick. It's simply for me to learn to do what He requires of me as a Christian. When I do what is right, it pleases God. The more I obey His commandments, the more He is free to use me as a vessel to accomplish His will and further His kingdom.”

John 17:3 "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

I would disagree w/the above quote per the bible quote. Our purpose in life is not to follow rules, but to know God. The more we love and know our Creator, the more we become like Him (Image-bearers), reflecting His Glory. Now, it’s easy to dig into theology to learn ABOUT him and accidentally end up ONLY learning ABOUT Him, and losing the love aspect of it. However, it is just as dangerous to focus on our feelings for him (or worse, our actions = holiness) without care for knowledge about Him. Then you end up with false Gods & being swayed by “every wind of doctrine”. My professor began our first class with the prayer, “Father, let us not seek the Wisdom of God, but the God of wisdom, not the blessing of God, but the God of blessing, not the grace of God, but the God of grace.”

I do NOT think we can understand any or all of this in it’s entirety this side of heaven, but as is all of salvation, it is a continual process…growth that will be fully realized when we are present with God. In the meantime I think it’s imperative we constantly re-evalute during our search for Truth, [not only about what our lives should look like, but about who God is, which many would say is the most important quest] whether this search is “puffing” us up, or rather, as it should -- leaving us in awe singing His praises. Obviously that too will be a constant battle, but one worth fighting, I think….as our actions are dramatically motivated by how we perceive God to be.

As for the rape example….both possibilities suck (sorry for the crudeness) & I can’t even begin to know WHY God uses suffering, really. However, given the choice, I prefer that my God is always working to redeem not only my heart but all of history, vs. there being no intentional purpose to my suffering (except in retrospect), thus I have to fear every shadow around every corner b/c of whether or not I have sinned that day, thus making God unable to protect me should something arise. My actions should arise out of a knowledge of who God is and my love and devotion to Him, not in order to bring His blessing & protection on me.

mr burns said...

First, great thoughts, comments, and discussion by all. The challenge before us is to communicate the limitless with the limited. When we speak of God we can speak truly but not fully. Language fails to capture and communicate the fullness of God. Therefore, we grasp at words, as Dr. Frame shows us, as we seek to describe the infinite.

So, that said, I appreciate all that has been said to this point. I think the only thing I have to offer is some push back in regards to the terms you chose and their definitions.

If I allow the door to remain open, I don't know what is going to happen as a result. If I cause the door to be left open, I do it to bring about a purpose I have already decided upon.

The problem is that both options can have purpose. You allow it to remain open because you have a purpose and you cause it to be open because you have a purpose.

Example: You come home from the store and have 2 children and 6 grocery bags. You walk to the front door and cause it to be open for the purpose of getting said bags and kids inside. As the kids run screaming in every direction you allow (not cause) the door to remain open for the purpose of going in and out to get the rest of the groceries. Both the causing and allowing show purpose and intent.

The crux, I think, of your distinction is that in allowing you assume that you don't know what will happen. This is where analogies fall short in reference to God because he knows all things and knows them fully. So, if God allows the door to be open, he does know what will happen. He knows the beginning and the end (Rev 22:13). While we don't have certain and full knowledge, God does. If he allows the door to be open it is because he knows full well what will happen and he has purposed to do so. It is then that we can rest on the great truths you laid out in 1 John 1:5, Psalm 5:4, and Romans 8:28. God knows all things and is working all things to purpose of His will (Ephesians 1:11).

Again, great thoughts. It is tough to wrestle with God... we usually get hurt when we do... but are better for it... just ask Jacob.

Dennis Norwood said...

Well spoken, Jenn. As to the quote you chose from my comment, it is probably not dissimilar to what I saw in the Frame quote. I said that "in isolation, the quote...seems quite disturbing". I have no idea what his writings are about because I have never read his book. I saw one tiny piece that I could only evaluate standing by itself. With the portion of my comment you used as being in error, I completely agree with your response to it. As I was typing, I could feel that I was in danger of turning a comment into a mind-numbingly loooooonnnng comment, and it's not my blog.
I grew up in church knowing "about God", but I never knew God. It was all do this, do that, don't do this, etc. I couldn't wait to get away from that life. Without rambling away, know that I truly came to know God in 1999, and my desire to please Him is not out of obligation. I am constantly blown away that God chooses to use me in spite of me, and He blesses me beyond my wildest expectations. I personally feel that since I love Him, and He mandated, "if you love me, keep my commandments", that is more important for me to focus on right now. When I can see the fruit of the Spirit outweighing my obvious faults, maybe then I'll start talking to God about whether He "causes or allows", but right now, I just want to see the Spirit overcome the constant battle with the flesh. That's all. I want to please my God because I love my God. I don't care why He requires what He does. I trust His motives. I'm comfortable with Isaiah 55:8-9 -- "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."

jenN said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenn B said...

thx dennis, i had a feeling it was one of those, "not sure he meant to say that...yet there it is..." things. I figured you didn't REALLY think you were earning favor with God through works (though i've discovered of late how deep that motive runs in me w/o my knowledge a lot of the time)....but just in case... ;) (can't help myself)

Dana said...

See, now this is why I think I really enjoy blogging! I would never have been able to have this type of discussion in person because I get nervous when something becomes remotely confrontational and can't think straight! So thank you guys so much for your input! I think, in answer to my original question, I would now have to say neither is perfect! It's interesting to see that the problem is we're trying to understand a perfect, holy, creator God, with created words. "Cause" is not perfect because it implies blame and God can't be blamed. "Allow" is not perfect because it implies a lack of purposeful control, and God always controls and knows what is going to happen. I think the understanding I've come to through all of this is that there is no one, right way to explain God's sovereignty! But, I CAN say that God is sovereign. That everything that happens has a purpose (even if it's really hard to understand what that purpose is, like in the case of a rape). And that, before the event even occurred, God had the purpose in mind and was working toward it. That is a hard idea for us to wrap our finite minds around, but I do believe it's biblical. I heard someone speaking the other day about the story of Joseph. He pointed out how, in Gen. 45:4-5, when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, he words it in a way that really hits home how God's sovereignty and our responsibility work hand-in-hand. Joseph says that his brothers shouldn't be distressed with themselves for selling him there BECAUSE God SENT him. The brothers were responsible (they felt guilt - their purposes were not good), AND God was the one who sent Joseph to Egypt (His perfect purposes were accomplished, through the sinful actions of fallen man). I don't get how that all works, but I do think it's clear that in ALL things, God is in control.

Dana said...

Was washing dishes and had an "ah-ha" moment (there's something about my kitchen that causes me to have deep thoughts when I'm doing dishes and cooking dinner . . . hmm, maybe it's just that I'm always in there!). Anyway - here's my "ah-ha": God both causes and allows. Since He's God, He can cause things without being blamed. And, since He's God, He can allow things while still knowing exactly what's going to happen. It doesn't make sense from a human perspective but, from a "God" perspective, it makes complete sense. I commented to Dave that I think I'm becoming an "all-or-nothing" type person (after debating him for 3 hours over the fact that I thought "cause" was better than "allow"!). He suggested, very sweetly, that I already am. Hmm! Good thing he loves me anyway!