Friday, June 12, 2009

What God permits He wills

I am often asked about those texts of Scripture that tell of God "willing" a wicked thing (Acts 4:27-28) or "sending" a wicked spirit (1 Sam 16:14) or using wicked men to accomplish His purpose (Acts 2:23). These are deep mysteries and reveal the distance between our minds and the mind of God.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! 
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
Romans 11:33-35
Time and again the Scriptures assert God's sovereign control over all that comes to pass. But how then do we guard the notion that God is not the author of sin? How do we hold up the truth that God is not guilty of the sins of His subordinate creatures? It must be acknowleged from the start that unless we embrace a certain level of mystery then we will surely wander into error. But that is not to say that God has left us entirely ignorant on this matter.
Calvin writes:
God so Uses the Works of the Ungodly, and So Bends
Their Minds to Carry Out His Judgments, That He Remains Pure from Every Stain
1. No mere "permission"!
From other passages, where God is said to bend or draw Satan himself and all the wicked to His will, there emerges a more difficult question. For carnal sense can hardly comprehend how in acting through them he does not contract some defilement from their transgression, and even in a common undertaking can be free of all blame, and indeed can justly condemn his ministers. Hence the distinction was devised between doing and permitting because to many this difficulty seemed inexplicable, that Satan all the impious are so under God's hand and power that he directs their malice to whatever end seems good to Him, and uses theire wicked deeds to carry out his judgments. And perhaps the moderation of those whom the appearance of absurdity alarms would be excusable, except that they wrongly try to clear God's justice of every sinister mark by upholding falsehood. It seems absurd to them for man, who will soon be punished for his blindness, to be blinded by God's will and command. Therefore they escape by the shift that this is done only with God's permission, not also by His will; but He, openly declaring that He is the doer, repudiates that evasion. However, that men can accomplish nothing except by God's secret command, that they cannot by delibeating accomplish anything except what he has already decreed with himself and determines by His secret direction, is before from the psalm, that God does whatever he wills [Ps. 115:3], certainly pertains to all the actions of men...
God's will is not therefore at war with itself, nor does it change, nor does it pretend not to will what He wills. But even though His will is one and simple in Him, it appears manifold to us because, on account of our mental incapacity, we do not grasp how in divers ways it wills and does not will something to take place...
"There is a great difference between what is fitting for man to will and what is fitting for God, and to what end the will of each is directed, so that it be either approved or disapproved. For through the bad wills of evil men God fulfills what he righteously wills" [quoting Augustine].
I have been blessed in reading once again Calvin's Institutes. If you have never read the Institutes then I encourage you to do so. In my opinion, outside of Scripture, there is no other theological writings that compare in depth of insight, devotional wisdom, and doxological affection.

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