23 December 2005

A slight detour on the question of whether God is ex lex

PyroManiacI'm going to let the comment thread on yesterday's post develop a bit before pursuing the subject of the moral law's continuity. (I'll probably pick up the topic soon after Christmas.)

Instead, today, I want to go back to another related, but totally different, issue that I raised in Tuesday's post. It's the question of whether God Himself operates outside His own law—ex lex.

Gordon Clark wrote a short but very thought-provoking work titled "God and Evil: The problem Solved" (originally a chapter in his book Religion, Reason and Revelation, now also published as a standalone work). The work itself is not on the Web, but a sympathetic review and summary by Gary Crampton may be found here. In some respects, Clark's work is helpful, explaining clearly (for example) the principle of secondary causation and how it relates to the issue of culpability. (This is an important point which, as noted below, Clark then unfortunately proceeds to make moot.)

Clark also gives several clear reasons why it's neither biblical nor rational to argue that God merely "permitted" evil without sovereignly decreeing it.

(Without getting sidetracked on a secondary issue, let me go on record as saying I believe there is a permissive element in God's decree with respect to evil. That is, His decree doesn't make him the author or efficient cause of evil. But, as Calvin said, God's role in the origin of evil is not bare permission. In other words, it's not permission against His will, but a positive decree. In that respect, I think Clark is absolutely right, and his arguments on this point are cogent and persuasive.)

But in the process, Clark makes much of the ex lex argument to absolve God from the charge that He is therefore culpable for the entry of evil into His creation. This, I believe, is not particularly helpful, and a lot of people who have been influenced by Clark and who think he has neatly and easily solved the problem of evil tend to fall into terribly sloppy thinking about divine holiness, God's instrumentality with respect to evil, and the relationship between causality and culpability.

Anyway, I think John Frame's assessment of Clark's famous theodicy is helpful. Here it is. Frame's own footnotes are included in braces {and faint type}:

[Clark's] argument is that God is ex lex, which means "outside of the law." The idea is that God is outside of or above the laws he prescribes for man. He tells us not to kill, yet he retains for himself the right to take human life. Thus, he is not himself bound to obey the Ten Commandments or any other law given to man in Scripture. Morally, he is on an entirely different level from us. Therefore, he has the right to do many things that seem evil to us, even things which contradict Scriptural norms. For a man to cause evil indirectly might very well be wrong, but it would not be wrong for God. {But on this basis, it would also not be wrong for God to cause evil directly. That is why I said this argument makes the indirect-cause argument beside the point.} Thus Clark neatly finesses any argument against God's justice or goodness.

There is some truth in this approach. As we shall see, Scripture does forbid human criticism of God's actions, and the reason is, as Clark implies, divine transcendence. It is also true that God has some prerogatives that he forbids to us, such as the freedom to take human life.

Clark forgets, however, or perhaps denies, the Reformed and biblical maxim that the law reflects God's own character. To obey the law is to imitate God, to be like him, to image him (Ex. 20:11; Lev. 11:44-45; Matt. 5:45; 1 Peter 1:15-16). There is in biblical ethics also an imitation of Christ, centered on the atonement (John 13:34-35; Eph. 4:32; 5:1; Phil. 2:3ff.; 1 John 3:16; 4:8-10). Obviously, there is much about God that we cannot imitate, including those prerogatives mentioned earlier. Satan tempted Eve into seeking to become "like God" in the sense of coveting His prerogatives (Gen. 3:5). {John Murray said that the difference between the two ways of seeking God's likeness appears to be a razor's edge, while there is actually a deep chasm between them.} But the overall holiness, justice, and goodness of God is something we can and must imitate on the human level.

So God does honor, in general, the same law that he gives to us. He rules out murder because he hates to see one human being murder another, and he intends to reserve for himself the right to control human death. He prohibits adultery because he hates adultery (which is a mirror of idolatry—see Hosea). We can be assured that God will behave according to the same standards of holiness that he prescribes for us, except insofar as Scripture declares a difference between his responsibilities and ours.

{Oddly, Clark, who is usually accused of being a Platonic realist, at this point veers into the opposite of realism, namely, nominalism. The extreme nominalists held that the biblical laws were not reflections of God's nature, but merely arbitrary requirements. God could have as easily commanded adultery as forbidden it. I mentioned this once in a letter to Clark, and he appreciated the irony, but did not provide an answer. Why, I wonder, didn't he deal with moral law the same way he dealt with reason and logic in, e.g., The Johannine Logos (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972)? There he argued that God's reason/logic was neither above God (Plato) nor below God (nominalism), but God's own rational nature. Why did he not take the same view of God's moral standards?}

[From: Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1994), 166-68.]

Frame concludes that Clark's ex lex defense "simply is not biblical." I think he's right.

Phil's signature


jane said...

You said:

"Without getting sidetracked on a secondary issue, let me go on record as saying I believe there is a permissive element in God's decree with respect to evil. That is, His decree doesn't make him the author or efficient cause of evil. But, as Calvin said, God's role in the origin of evil is not bare permission. In other words, it's not permission against His will, but a positive decree. In that respect, I think Clark is absolutely right, and his arguments on this point are cogent and persuasive."

I would love to see this expanded because this is definitely where I get tripped up in fully embracing Calvinism. What you shared brings the testing of Job to mind, but where I get confused is with the origin of evil, i.e. Lucifer becoming Satan. How could God have positively decreed this? Was evil necessary for his ultimate glorification? That doesn't seem consistent with his character. I'm probably overthinking this.

Steve Scott said...

I think there are some points missed in this argument that can be seen by looking at it from a different point of view. As for exempting Himself from the law He gives us against taking a human life we should see that man isn't forbidden from taking another man's life because it is another man's life. Gen. 9:6 says it's because this man is made in the image of God. Murder is forbidden because it is an assault on God's image, not because it's an assault on another man. In other places in Scripture, God allows man, and even commands man to take another's life (defense of life or property, capital punishment, war against an enemy, etc.).

Also, murder is a form of theft. When we murder, we first steal and take unlawful ownership of the other person in order to assert our will upon him. We steal from God. When God takes a human life, He is already owner of that life, so no theft occurs. When an author writes a novel, he can take as many lives of his characters as he wants, since he is lawful owner and creator of his own story.

As to God being culpable for evil: what do we cry when the government or other human authority uses spying or other intruding surveillance to keep us in check? We cry "Big Brother", a reference to George Orwell's novel, 1984. There's even a TV reality show by that name where everything is caught on camera. It's interesting that we blame the evil on Big Brother but NOT George Orwell, who is the author. Why would we make one exception to our own thinking and blame God for evil instead of the one who commits it?

And as to God being above his own law, God the Son in the human person of Jesus Christ obeyed God's law PERFECTLY while here on earth. In Luke 12, Jesus was approached by a man asking that He make his brother divide the family inheritance with him. Jesus' reply was to ask who appointed Him as authority over the matter. Surely He would hear the case on judgment day as Lord, but as God in HUMAN flesh as a man, He correctly asserted that he had no authority. He respected His own law.

Felipe Sabino said...


Better Than “Ex Lex”

Someone sent me a passage from John Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God in which he argues against a point made in Gordon Clark’s God and Evil. I read Frame’s book a long time ago, and if I remember correctly, I am not sure if Frame fully understood Clark in the first place or whether he represented him correctly. In any case, it is unimportant whether or not this has anything to do with Clark.

According to Frame, to argue that God is “outside the law” is not a biblical response to the problem of evil, because to argue this way would be to ignore or deny the premise that God’s laws come from and are consistent with his own immutable nature.

The following is my response:

I have time to give you only a short answer. I certainly cannot come at it from every possible angle or qualify everything that I say about it. But you should be able to take it further and apply it as needed.

The argument, whether used against ex lex or not, is just plain irrelevant. For the sake of discussion, let us first agree that the moral laws that God has imposed upon humanity come from his immutable nature. From this, let us suppose further, whether it is true or not, that God is actually bound by these moral laws. As is so often the case, the matter is closed when we ask, “So what? What does one thing have to do with another?”

From the above assumptions, it follows that “You shall not murder” applies to God. But so what? Frame would say that therefore God is not ex lex. What he fails to note is that this is a command with definite content, and not just some undefined X. What is murder? In the Bible, murder is a deliberate termination of a human life without divine sanction. We may add that this must be done by another human, or at least by another rational mind, since animals cannot really “murder” in the same sense, even if the killing is deliberate. Now, unless God can ever kill someone without his own approval, in which case he would be schizophrenic (so that our problem would be much greater than ex lex), the command will never actually apply. The same goes with “You shall not steal.” There is nothing for God to steal, because he has made everything, and he owns everything.

Frame is considering the problem of evil, or how God can morally cause or “allow” evil. But given the above, so what if God even directly causes evil? What moral law is there that says he must not? Where is it in the Bible? And if found, does it really apply, even if we say that God is “bound” by it?

So my position is not exactly ex lex, but that the greatness and transcendence of God is such that he does not even need to be ex lex.

The passage in question comes from a large section in John Frame’s book on the so-called problem of evil. He goes through a number of options but is dissatisfied with each, and must finally must conclude that the issue is a “mystery” to some extent. In the same book, Frame includes a response from Jay Adams in which he rebukes Frame for both rejecting the Bible’s clear answer on the issue and for wanting more than what the Bible reveals. It is not that Clark is unbiblical, but that Frame rejects the biblical answer.

You can also read my own answer to the problem of evil. Briefly, in addition to what I have stated above, my position is that there is no problem of evil for Christianity. The argument can never be formulated in a way that is logically intelligible. If we pretend to understand the objection, then we can say something about the subject, but there really is no objection to answer at all. The objector never knows what he is asking when he raises the problem of evil, and no one can logically understand him. So the “problem of evil” is defeated on several levels.


Gordon Clark, God and Evil

Jay Adams, The Grand Demonstration

Vincent Cheung, The Problem of Evil

The Author of Sin

The Author of Confusion

Why God Created Evil

Jason Robertson said...

Phil, I wrote on these subjects (Origin of Evil, etc.) some this year because I do think that these issues are extremely important to our understanding of all biblical Theology. Here we find the complex relationship between the holiness of God, sovereignty of God, and righteousness of God.

Felipe Sabino said...

John Robbins correctly said:

When God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, or when he ordered the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child without exception, or when he changed the moral law from one dispensation to the next, what did Abraham, the Israelites, and the Christians do? Did they think to themselves, now God cannot make such commands, since he is immutable, since he has given us previously different commands, and since his moral law is his nature and it cannot change? Or did they understand that God is the lawgiver, and the lawgiver makes the laws, not the other way around?

If Clark did not answer Frame, as Frame claims, it is because the answer is so obvious that even a child, but not a seminary professor, would see it.

Frame is Antichristian in his thinking...

Aaron said...

Some of these issues were alluded to and/or addressed in a book I just surveyed for a college Bible Study called "Providence and Prayer" by Terrance Tiessen. Tiessen presents 10 models of God's providence including such views as semi-deist, openness, Barthian, Calvinist & then Tiessen's own "Middle Knowledge Calvinist" view.
Several of the more liberal positions (semi-deist, process, etc.) had to construct a model of prayer and providence that protected God from any hint of evil. For example, the semi-deist view God like this: If God were to answer my prayer for...say...an act of violence to be prevented, but then God didn't answer (or prevent)another violent act to occur, then this would make God responsible for the violent act that did occur. So, to "protect" God from being responsible for evil, then say that He cannot intervene in the lives of His free creatures.
So, you can see some similarities in these discussions here.
You can visit our college ministry blog here:

and near the bottom of the entry is a link to a word document of an outline/summary of Tiessen's book.
I didn't come to any profound conclusions (I didn't come to any conclusions, actually!), but the outline might peak your interest in the book. It's a good read.
Thanks for your work & ministry, Phil. I'm looking forward to possibly hearing you preach to our college students next year if Lance Quinn can twist your arm hard enough!

-Aaron Wilson

GeneMBridges said...

From the above assumptions, it follows that “You shall not murder” applies to God. But so what? Frame would say that therefore God is not ex lex. What he fails to note is that this is a command with definite content, and not just some undefined X. What is murder? In the Bible, murder is a deliberate termination of a human life without divine sanction. We may add that this must be done by another human, or at least by another rational mind, since animals cannot really “murder” in the same sense, even if the killing is deliberate. Now, unless God can ever kill someone without his own approval, in which case he would be schizophrenic (so that our problem would be much greater than ex lex), the command will never actually apply. The same goes with “You shall not steal.” There is nothing for God to steal, because he has made everything, and he owns everything.

Frame's point is that no killing authorized by God is arbitrary. It is not unjust. God cannot murder not simply because life is His to give and take as He wishes, but also because all who have sinned deserve death, and that includes all human beings. God is "bound" in this sense by His own justice. He cannot kill a man and have that man stay dead if that man is righteous. Thus, we have the resurrection of Christ. After the atonement His work was finished, the resurrection vindicates Him. The imputation of His righteousness to the justified results in the resurrection of the just to everlasting life.

What is "antiChristian" about this?

Bryan said...

Ah, I enjoy watching the disagreements between Clark's and Van Til's followers as it always brings many important things to light. I still have yet to make up my mind which group I agree with.

Bhedr said...

A tough issue isn't it. You are right there is an inconsistencey in his thought. Evil is the opposite of who he is.

The tough pill to swallow though is God told Isaiah he created Ra'. Some feel that is calamity; yet he was sovereign over Pilot as well as he is Satan and had/has a purpose for all evil.

He asked for an evil spirit{Ra' again} to lie within the false prophets in order that Ahab would believe it and go to battle and die.

When David played the harp the Spirit sent from God{Ra' again} departed.

It is all hard to understand but we know that He himself is not evil and that He is Just because He is God and in the Cross he has proved that we can trust that He is.

pgepps said...

Pretty sure we agree here on the main point, FWIW.

God is not *restricted* by the laws He gives us because He does not require their instruction to know what is loving, just, etc. However, because His love, justice, etc. inform His giving of the law, we may expect that all His actions and instructions will be consistent (allowing for their necessary address to particular historical purposes and situations) with His already-stated actions.

There are errors either way from an affirmation of the irreducible unity of God's being-loving and His will to love, of His being-just and His will to deal justly, etc. It is a singularity in our thought, and we cannot argue from *half* of the unity to any wholly sound conclusion.

What concerns me is that in many kinds of Christian argumentation, this whole point is a preface to an approach to God's decrees which violates the premise: namely, an approach which says "God *must* do X because He is holy" or some such. This violates the irreducible unity of which we just spoke, which so far as I can tell *is* one major content of the term "holy" applied to God.

This doesn't mean that the points argued for on this basis are false, but the argument is tendentious and I hope you'll keep doing a good job of fencing it off.

Thanks much for this interesting inquiry, I hope it's stimulating a lot of useful thought and Bible-searching.

Merry Christmas!

Jeff said...

Monergismo.com/Felipe Sabino: "Frame is Antichristian in his thinking..."

I am sorry you feel this way.

Steve Hays critiquing Cheung's work, with no response from him.

Me thinks you you owe Frame an apology!

jane said...

Did someone answer my comment and I'm just too unschooled in formal theology to realize it? If not, that's okay too...

pgepps said...

I assumed you were hoping Phil would expand that thought in a future post, Marla. I'd be interested to see what he'd say.

Let me say that, as a non-Calvinist, I have come to realize that under any approach we do, sooner or later, regress to the question you pose.

I think the question you pose is somewhat easier if you consider "glorification" to be "expression of character." That is, when we say that God does such-and-so "for His glory," we really are just acknowledging the (a) ultimacy and (b) perfection of God's actions. Or, when God says it in revelation, He is announcing that same ultimacy and goodness.

So while Phil or others may have quite different approaches to the answer, I think we can say that the difference between "bare permission" and "permissive will" has something to do with the difference between these two imaginary rulings from God on the question, "shall Lucifer become Satan?"

1) "Although everything in me revolts against what I am doing, I am unable to change Lucifer's mind, so instead I will allow him to do what he wants and just work around him."

2) "Although everything in me revolts against what Lucifer wants to do, I have chosen to accomplish certain ends in certain ways, and I won't stop him from doing what he wants, as it serves my ends."

And similarly for everyone else in history who sins.

Now, does the problem regress? Yes, it does. Why? Because there isn't any rationality to sin, and therefore there is an irrationality involved in trying to answer "Why does anyone sin?" The only ultimate answer to that is a twofold "Because God permits it" and "For no good reason at all." Other answers are either naive about sin or mechanistic about God.

Or at least that's what I've found so far.


pgepps said...

I should point out that that twofold answer was:

God-ward "because God permits it"
man-ward "for no reason at all"

I don't for a moment believe that God permits sin for no reason at all!


Rob Steele said...


"Was evil necessary for [God's] ultimate glorification?"

God's glory does not depend on His creation--He's perfect and complete prior to His making the universe. (That's logically prior as opposed to temporally prior, time being a created thing.)

I think the key you're looking for is in Romans 9:23, just drop the words "What if". They introduce a rhetorical question--the question is the answer.

The upshot is that it's good that there's evil. It comes from God somehow for His own inscrutable but excellent reasons.

I like R.C. Sproul Jr.'s book on this: Almighty Over All. It's very accessible.

Rob Steele said...

Hmm. I should have said Romans 9:22-23 and added that in a perfect world there would be no occassion for God to show his wrath or mercy.

Anonymous said...

Here's a problem that a friend and I have been discussing for a couple of days now.

The snake in the desert.

God very clearly gave the second commandment: "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them;

He was very angry about the golden calf "I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me."

Then in Numbers the LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live."

God told Moses to make a graven image so the people could look at it and live!

No graven image / graven image...

Carla Rolfe said...

This is completely off topic - I just stopped by to say Merry Christmas Phil, to you and yours.


jane said...

PGE, #2 resonates with me, but the irrationality of sin is definitely the sticking point. I know it's not God's will that we sin, but if it's his permissive will, then it sounds like we have choices (i.e. free will) because God works all things for his glory (and our good--Romans 8:28). Or is this just becoming semantics?

Rob, I also found your explanation helpful and I'll add that Sproul book to my wishlist.

Tim said...

Wow! Now here's a great discussion. Lot's of responses. I guess someone has brought up the issue that it seems that many people have with this topic: that is that God is responsible.

The truth of the matter is God is not responsible to anyone. We are responsible to Him. That is the difference. If the Scripture indicates that He forms the vessels as He sees fit and uses them for His own purposes (Rom. 9), then to whom does He give account? No one. Therefore, I don't take it that God is "under law". I think that's where we get tripped up and that's why we use terms like "permit" and "allow" because they tend to take away the real stinging splinter in our minds and that is that we don't like God having the right, in His holiness, to do as He pleases.

Tim said...


One comment on your question. You are right that God does not need the creation to demonstrate His glory. However, could He demonstrate the attributes of His justice or wrath without rebels?

Could He actually demonstrate mercy apart from rebels?

pgepps said...

Marla, if you're looking for a justification for the Calvinist view, I can't help you. I am, myself, very definitely a free-will theist, though I staunchly assert that all the work and all the glory of salvation are God's alone.

Even on such a view, however, there remains the problem of [the origin of] evil. We just regress it a stage, and must grapple with it in somewhat different terms.

Rob's response seems unhelpful to me, and Tim's question (though I don't like Tim's approach to the ex lex problem) is good.

Rob doesn't disambuigate his term "depend," and the result is that he may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Let me use different terms and see whether it helps:

1) God's glory is not received from or attributable to creation. We sometimes fall into a misconception by trying to "glorify God" as if we were supplying, rather than acknowledging, His glory.


2) the Creator's character is expressed in creation in a way that it would not otherwise be. God's glory does, therefore, depend in such a sense on His creation, just as it depends on Christ's Incarnation. He would not have expressed His character in the way He did, had He not done so. This is common sense, but often brushed aside in theology (then recovered in pulpit and life, too).

Merry Christmas!!!

pgepps said...

Ellen, not to be hyper-legalistic, but be sure to read the entire commandment when citing God's law--it often resolves such apparent antinomies.

In this case, note that the commandment says don't make (1) for yourself a graven image (2) to bow down to or to worship.

An even better test case would be the cherubim which adorned the Ark of the Covenant, BTW.

However, in either case, the response would be the same:

(1) Moses was instructed by God to make it for a specific purpose; that is not the same as taking it upon oneself (as Aaron did with the calf, or Jeroboam later) to make an image. "Don't buy any candy for yourself" doesn't preclude my buying you candy, or my telling you to buy candy. [this is the weaker of the two, language scholarship would help]

(2) regardless of (1), neither the serpent nor the cherubim were made to be bowed down to or worshiped. The serpent was to be looked at; the cherubim were themselves bowing to the presence of God in the Temple.

Some have misinterpreted the 2nd Commandment as proscribing religious art or iconography of any kind, but what it forbids is the fashioning of objects to be worshipped.


Anonymous said...

That's the reading I first read into it - but then had new thoughts when I read in the New Testament that Christ referenced the serpent as an archetype of Himself.

(And no, I've never taken the second commandment to mean any graven image - including the little line drawing of Jesus that my kids colored at Sunday School.)


pgepps said...

Type, not archetype. Big difference.

There's no reason that Christ's reference in John 3 would change the analysis.

Christ uses the serpent typologically in this respect: the serpent had to be lifted up so that those who would be saved could look at it; Christ also had to be lifted up so that those who would be saved could look at Him.

Don't expand types unnecessarily, or you'll end up with questions such as: Jesus was the Son of God, so why wasn't the serpent Deity? Jesus was born of a virgin, so why was the serpent hammered out of bronze?

All of these would be as workable (mis)readings of typology as expecting that because Jesus is worshipped, a hunk of hammered bronze would also have been worshipped.

Merry Christmas!

Rob Steele said...


I'm with you on 1) and 2) where you say "the Creator's character is expressed in creation [...]". I'm not sure about what follows.

You seem to imply God needs to express Himself. He did indeed express Himself but that doesn't mean He needs to or benefits from it. Sure, He made us so we need to but so what?

The question of why God bothers with creation has bothered me for years. The better I know Him the less it bothers me but still... I mean, creation was easy, right? Dead simple. So He makes it complicated. He adds evil, redemption through His Son's blood and the rest so that the whole creation will know the truth about Him: He's not just mighty and powerful, He's humble. He really loves mercy and He really hates evil. That's great for us but what has it added to Him? Nothing, right?

I'm happy to take it on faith that He knows what He's doing and that this is all a good thing and worth the trouble in the long run. But it takes an act of faith--it's not obvious. I think that's what Job is about.

pgepps said...

Rob, I think we're using "expressed" in slightly different ways.

My usage is more like a math teacher saying "express 2 + x = 35y in slope/dividend form" than a free-verse hack saying "I just want to express myself." We could also say "embody" or "realize" (in the sense "make real").

A hypothetical pre-creation God (upon whom we have no data, since "in the beginning God created" is the extent of our data) could not be called the Creator, since He hadn't created anything. The God who we know is the Creator.

Therefore, to the extent that it is inseparably part of God's glory to be known as the Creator, a God who didn't create wouldn't have that precise kind of glory.

God's glory does, therefore depend upon [His act of] creation, in such a sense.

God didn't need to create to be [some kind of] God. But He did need to create to be Creator God.


Rob Steele said...


Granted that God would not be a creator if He didn't create. Would that diminish Him? I don't think so. He had all the community there is in His own three persons. He fully knew and was fully known and creation has not altered that at all.

Note that I'm using the past tense in a way that makes no sense when talking about God's being in Himself. He transcends time just as much as space or any other thing He made. There is no "before" and "after" creation. We can't get our minds around it but at least we can bow in that direction.

So, on to my point, and I'm pretty sure I have one. Oh yes, I want to wrangle about words. Well, actually I don't. Never mind.


Heidi said...

Marla, this will be slightly off topic & I'll make it short, but as I understand the 'bondage of the will' it is not a bondage of faculty, but of morality. In other words, in the image of God, we do have free will or agency; but we are bound to use it according to our nature. As Luther put it, we are a lame beast: God is the Divine Mover, and He moves all things according to their nature. So He moves us in accordance with our lameness. In other words in the Divine Economy, we are ordained to do exactly what we choose to do. So in regeneration, God does not override our wills. He gives us a new nature.

I don't know if that is exactly what you were looking for, but it confused me for a long time - I thought it might help.

pgepps said...

Hey, Rob, 'scool. Peace.

I don't agree with the way you put God's relation to time (I know it's a commonplace, but have you ever tried to warrant it from Scripture? not gonna happen), but your broader point is correct nonetheless. There is no meaning in the comparison between God Who Created and a hypothetical God who didn't.

Which means that the correct answer to your question, "If God hadn't created, would that diminish Him?" is not "No" and not "Yes"--but, rather, as with many hypotheticals we can think up but which, upon examination, are incoherent assemblages of verbal noise, "The question makes no sense."

God did create. His glory is that of a Creator God. Don't try to think of Him as ever having been otherwise, because He *is* the God that He *is*.

hz's rendering preserves the problem I see in Luther's Bondage of the Will: God seems to be bound by the nature of things, when it is convenient for Luther's argument; or to transcend or alter the nature of things, when it is convenient for Luther's argument. It's special pleading.


Heidi said...

pgepps, you obviously know more about all of this than I do - but I am not sure that the idea of being 'bound' to the nature of things is the best way to conceive of what I am saying. We are bound to our nature: God is not bound to our nature. He works through, not against, it. But as the Creator, He has both the right and the omnipotent power to change it, to make it new. All of this He does with perfect freedom, out of His own nature. If He is not free, there is no sense in which we are.

pgepps said...

Sorry, hz, I broad-brushed you. I was really looking over your shoulder at Bondage of the Will, which you were talking about.

Luther suggests, and you seem to be following him, that God is in no way responsible for the acts of His creatures because He merely "moves" them according to their "natures."

Luther runs into a problem here, though, by his appeal to the (Aristotelian) notion of God as a "mover." The question naturally arises, "How do these beings come to have such natures?"

God created them, of course. So God creates a being who, if moved, will move in such-and-such a manner; and God moves that being in the manner in which God created that being to be moved.

I defer the question of whether God would do such a thing (see "free-will theist," above).

I would simply point out that Luther's "moved according to their nature" only translates the question "Why would a good God intend that His creatures sin?" into "Why would a good God intentionally create creatures such that, if He moved them at all, they could only be moved to sin?"

I think I'm going to let this string of comments rest, with a thank-you for absorbing conversation and a "sorry" for holding forth so long.

May you see Christ's hand guiding you into the New Year!


pgepps said...

Sorry, one more post, just to bring the discussion full circle to Phil's original topic. Luther seems to answer the question Marla raises, and some of us have commented on, in a manner which sharply disagrees with Phil's. I think Phil's right on this one, and Luther's flat-out wrong:

The same answer will be given to those who ask — Why did He permit Adam to fall? And why did He make all of us to be infected with the same sin, when He might have kept him, and might have created us from some other seed, or might first have cleansed that, before He created us from it? —

God is that Being, for whose will no cause or reason is to be assigned, as a rule or standard by which it acts; seeing that, nothing is superior or equal to it, but it is itself the rule of all things. For if it acted by any rule or standard, or from any cause or reason, it would be no longer the will of GOD. Wherefore, what God wills, is not therefore right, because He ought or ever was bound so to will; but on the contrary, what takes place is therefore right, because He so wills. A cause and reason are assigned for the will of the creature, but not for the will of the Creator; unless you set up, over Him, another Creator.


Mike Pitzler said...

Phil, have you visited Vincent Cheung's site? It's well worth it.

Heidi said...


Thanks again for the response. I didn’t mean to put forward the analogy as an explanation of how God is not responsible, so much as for God is sovereign, and we are free, at the same time. I think it is a good analogy to illustrate how that works: whether it is equally good with regard to God not being the author of evil, I’m not prepared to say. It is not Biblical, so far as I know; so I’m not going to stand on it if it goes under. I don’t know that we can answer some questions… if that is our (created) place. I think that may be at least some of what Luther is getting at in the section you quoted– but I am looking forward to future posts on the topic.