A Tale of Two Books

Consider the following hypothetical:

On Day1 of Creation, God created light, separated it from night, called one ‘Day’ and the other ‘Night’. All in a day’s work.

Suppose an angel came along at that time and said “Lord – You know all things. Please – write for me a book of everything that will happen over the next 10,000 years. Please include every detail.”

God honors his request and then continues on to Day 2 of Creation. He made the waters and the expanse, separated the waters from the waters, etc. The evening and morning were the second day. Etc.

Fast-forward 10,000 years. The New Heavens and the New Earth are now in full swing. Death and hell have been thrown into the lake of fire, the sheep are in heaven and the goats in hell, and Christ reigns on the throne. Etc.

Suppose an angel came along at that time and said “Lord – You know all things. Please – write for me a book of everything that has happened over the past 10,000 years. Please include every detail.”

How might those two books compare to each other?

Both the Arminian and the Calvinist agree that these two books would read the exact same, sentence for sentence, word for word, letter for letter, from start to finish. Granted, they would explain the agreement via rather different processes. The Arminian would say that God used His perfect foresight and foresaw every detail. The Calvinist would say God used His omnipotent sovereignty and appointed every detail.

Furthermore, while the Calvinist states that God is either the Primary or Indirect cause of everything that is (both good and evil), the Arminian insists that God is only the cause of all that is good, while satan or mankind is the primary cause of all that is evil. Because man has free-will, he, not God, is the Primary cause of all that is not good, and he, not God, is morally culpable for all that is not good.

But there are several points about free will and foresight worth wrestling over:

  1.  On Day 1, the instant God foresees all future events, God has at least 3 choices in front of Him:
    1. Continue with Creation and let everything come to pass just as He has foreseen it.
    2. Tweak the elements He’s just created so that they yield a different outcome.
    3. Scrap everything and refuse to continue on to Day 2 of Creation.
  2. Regardless of which choice He makes, the choice is completely up to Him, and because He answers to no one, He is free to choose whichever option He wants.
  3. On Day 1, when God foresees all future acts and then proceeds to continue on that path to Day 2, He is forever locking in place all future events. Deliberately. Since He exercised His free will in Point #1 in such a way that the existence of all things – both good and evil – are the result of His actions, we can fairly ask the following questions:
    1. How is He not liable for the cause of all things, both good and evil?
    2. How is He not liable for changes that would have brought about a “better” outcome?

In my discussions with Arminians, they see man’s free will as the means by which God is not morally connected to the actions of men. I’m not sure that explanation is logically sound. We ask the question because in both human and Biblical situations, we consistently see a moral connection between the one doing the cause and effects of that cause, even in situations where the negative effects couldn’t have known with 100% certainty:

  • Bartenders are held liable for the accidents caused by drunk drivers, even if they couldn’t have known with 100% certainty whether the drunk would wreck or not.
  • The owner of a bull is liable for the damage done by his bull, even if he couldn’t have 100% control of his bull (Exo 21:28-29).
  • Even though satan was the agent of Job’s afflictions, he did his evil with God’s permission and stayed within God’s appointed boundaries. Whether or not this fact influenced Job, Job sees God as the one who brought these disaster into his life (Job 16:7-8 – My Arminian friends willfully forget that God said twice that Job spoke rightly of God (Job 42:7-8) , even though – unlike the bartender – God knew with 100% certainty what satan would do to Job).
  • The author of the book of Job sees God as the one who brought disaster into his life (Job 42:11. My Arminian friends insist the author of Job was mistaken. Apparently they think the Holy Spirit was on vacation when the author penned that verse).
  • While the Hebrew word ‘ra’ can be translated as “evil” or “calamity”, we can’t deny that Isaiah 45:7 needs to factor into this discussion: I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things   (Isa 45:7 KJV). Modern translations will say “calamity” or “disaster” instead of “evil” because “evil” connotes moral evil, while calamity can be a tornado or such. But… if I sent a tornado to your house, knowing full well it would kill your family members, would you take me to court for restitution (as you would if a tree in my yard fell in a storm and broke your fence), or would you try to have me thrown in jail (as you would if I purchased a bazooka and deliberately shot your home)? I daresay you’d do the former! So I’m hard pressed to see a distinction between ‘evil’ and ‘calamity’ in this passage.


How should we handle the question of God’s moral culpability when considering the combination of His foresight and His free will as He willfully and freely chooses to continue down a path that He knows will result in the creation and propagation of evil?

What I see consistently in the Bible is that God is seen as the deliberate cause of all things, including secondary consequences. I also see that while He creates all situations, even evil situations, the attribution of the morality and the attribution of the event are handled differently:

  • The creation of all events and situations are attributed to Him
  • All moral good is attributed to Him
  • All moral evil is attributed to man or satan

It is clear, Biblically, that God is never seen as morally culpable for evil.

The Arminian (and some Calvinists) see man’s free will as the means by which God is not morally culpable for the presence of evil.

It is my conclusion at this point in time that the disconnect between the seeing God as the creator of evil situations and the moral attribution of evil to Him is by divine fiat. While I don’t care for the logical implications of this conclusion, I see it as consistent and – at this time – undeniable. It seems to me that man’s free will in a situation is irrelevant, because God’s free will in setting up the situation (in the full knowledge of how man would “freely” handle the situation) predates and trumps man’s free will in the moment of the situation.

Thoughts are welcome.

[ed: I wrote this several years ago. I find Aquinas has some good insights to this, and will write on it. ..someday. In the mean time, check out a really good summary of Divine Simplicity by Dr. James Dolezal:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTn4yI2XqYA&t=564s ]

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2 comments to A Tale of Two Books

  • Jones

    Any parent knows how to understand this seeming unfainess of G’d. We know our children and we know their tendencies. Thus imagine I have two kids. One is strong willed and has self control. The other lacks will power and has a sweet tooth. I leave a tray of freshly baked cookies on the table to cool and tell both my children not to eat them while I’m gone but that upon my turn we will eat them together. Both children agree and I run some errands leaving the kids alone. Upon my return I’m not at all surprised to find one cookie missing! In an attempt to be fair I ask both children who ate the cookie. They both deny eating it. As a parent I knew before I left that this would happen and also which child would not obey and would steal the cookie. I didn’t force that child to eat the cookie and sin, just as I didn’t force the good obedient child to have a strong will and wait. Just because G’d knows all things doesn’t mean he caused them.

    • admin

      Hi Jones. Thanks for the input.

      I agree that God knows all things. However, the Bible frequently is not content to only have God as ‘knowing’; it more often puts God in the drivers’ seat on such issues. Phrases like “command”, “send”, “appoint”, “ordain”, and “plan” are not passive verbs (Isaiah 10, Is 50, 51; Acts 2, Acts 4). These verbs are quite active. And frequently, God does His work unbeknownst to the humans who are unknowingly doing His will (Is 10). Yet they, not He, are culpable for their actions. Considering the consequences they suffer, I’m quite content to say that it’s rather unlike a parent raising his child.

      Thomas Aquinas writes about this in his Summa Theologica. I think his insights are worth exploring. Check out YouTube lectures by James Dolezal on Divine Simplicity (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTn4yI2XqYA&t=564s) or Matt Marino (The Reformed Classicalist: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBMJIGHp580FMCTB10LCndw)


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