Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cain, Sin, & the Will of God, Part 2

The question of God deceiving Cain was brought forward last posting:

Gen 4:6-7: And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

The question of what ‘if’ actually entails was answered. Now, another related question arises:

“I don't see how God can plead with all mankind to come to Him, full knowing that he's determined that some would not come to him. The problem I have with your theology is that it forces us to see God as a deceiver.”
This is a fair question. It is a common question. Unfortunately, it is not a simple question. God & His ways are not simple nor always amendable to so-called ‘common-sense’. Romans 11:32ff: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! 34 "For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?" Or Isaiah 55:8: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. 9 "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Why is this important? I am explaining that my upfront commitment is to the Word of God. When a passage speaks beyond my comprehension, I should submit to it. Of course, I should study it first within the context of the interpretive community of the church (for no man is an island) and because sin can darken my interpretation of verses. The Bible is my touchstone and logic is her handmaiden. Logic should not dictate what is possible or impossible before I approach the text.
Now, the complexity of this question about Cain, sin & the Will of God first manifests itself with the idea of “will”. What is God’s will? Typically, Christians distinguish between God’s secret will & His revealed will. I was reared on such a distinction even though I was not a Calvinist at the time. Classically, it is rooted in Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Thus God has His own unrevealed reasons for allowing sin, cursing David through the mouth of Shimei (2 Sam. 16:10,11), of not miraculously feeding the starving children in Africa, etc.
However, it has always been understood that God has one will. It only appears as two wills to man’s finite understanding because of the differing objects with which God relates. Speaking more theologically, the will of God is normally expressed in conservative Reformed systematic theologies as the decretive will and the perceptive will. The decretive will is “that which God wills to do or permit himself; the latter [prescriptive] what he wills that we should do.” [Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, p.220.] Thus there are two different objects in view: Himself & ourselves.

We could make a similar distinction with a father and a rebellious son. Sometimes teen-agers have to learn things the hard way. So, the father gives the son permission to drive the car with the knowledge that the son will most likely speed. The rebellious son is jailed for one night for reckless driving. The father knew as much and let the son “sweat it out” overnight. The father’s prescriptive will is: Do not speed. The father’s decretive will is: I will permit you to drive. I will permit you to be in prison. We do not say the father is schizophrenic. Nor would we say he has two “wills”. And we would not accuse him of deception. Likewise, there is no deception in God; he is speaking the truth (see the first posting).
This illustration naturally dovetails into the original question about Cain’s sin & God’s will. Man’s default position is sin. All have fallen in Adam (Rom. 5:12ff.). All are born children of wrath (Eph. 2:1ff.). Yet this does not change the Law of God. Men are not to murder, steal, lie, etc. Nevertheless, God permits such evil. In fact, the question of the morality of God predestinating all things (the basic question) is a question unavoidable to any person who takes the Bible seriously. If I were to see a man chase a woman but I did nothing about it—I “allowed” it. Would I not be guilty? Yes! If I find my enemies ox astray, but do not help it, I am in violation of the law of love (Ex. 23:4). How much more am I in violation if a woman is in need? Yet, if God “allowed” things (as most Arminians admit) the morality of the situation is the same.

Yet, in a real sense there is a difference: man, being born in sin, deserves nothing. God is not morally bound to rescue him from his physical plight let alone man’s spiritual plight.
In fact, with respect to Cain, God was under no obligation to rescue Cain from sin. So, when God reminds Cain that if he would have done the right instead of the wrong, God is only bringing Him under greater condemnation. When that rebellious child is in prison overnight, he missed his part-time job at Wendy’s. He does not get paid. In fact, he gets fired. He complains to his dad. The father rightly replies: If you were not in prison, you would have kept your job. The father is not saying: you could have broken out of prison, and kept your job. Rather, he is chiding the child. Men have cut themselves off from any good work—any movement toward God—through their own fault. Any punishment for sin will occur.
In fact, the question of God being “deceiving” is a very real question for any Christian who takes God’s foreknowledge seriously. If he knew ahead of time that Cain was not to chose the good over the evil, why not say to Cain: “I knew you’d do that! In fact, since I know you are not going to change at all I am no longer interested in talking with you or giving you the mark to protect your life (since your life will be protected anyway).” But God did not do that, so the Christian (not only the Calvinist) is asked by the unbeliever: is your god playing games with Cain? Why the deception?
It is very much related to the question of fatalism: if all is predestined, then why bother doing anything? Rejecting God’s eternal plan (Eph. 1:3ff.) but retaining God’s prescience does not solve the problem. To know the future means the future is “set in stone”. Arminians simply believe something (or someone?) else set the course of history. But the problem of foreknowledge and action is still the same.
However, following the Bible’s categories of primary and secondary causes (for lack of better names), one reads 2 Sam. 24:1 & the parallel account of 1 Chron. 21:1ff. with a sense of understanding: God predestinates the means as well as the ends. In fact, without God’s all-controlling plan and power, the ends would never be accomplished. That is the subject of the next installment.

No comments: