Doing vs. Permitting - The Problem of Evil (Calvin)

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Smeagol

Puritan Board Graduate
I assume most are familiar with the distinction that God does not cause evil but rather permits evil to occur. Calvin has an interesting section in Volume I of his institutes relating to this topic.

The section header is entitled I. No mere “permission”! and appears in Chapter XVIII. My Battles edition has this on pages 228 - 231. Often I have found the distinction that God does not be“will” evil but “permits” evil to be a helpful one. However, Calvin has me thinking.

1. Would someone with electronic access be willing to post that section in this thread in case some need to review.

2. Do you feel Calvin goes too far, by stating that the idea that God merely grants permission to evil is easily repudiated by scripture?

The short quote (pg. 229 Battles):
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.

3. Is there a better way to articulate a response to this raised question beyond the distinction of “doing” vs. “permission”.

I think Calvin raises a valid point, but am still wrestling with the question of if he provides a better solution. This is a common question for both the Christian and the skeptic.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Here is the full section:

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 and 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 their 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 a 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 deliberating accomplish anything except what he has already decreed with himself and determines by his secret direction, is proved by innumerable and clear testimonies. What we have cited before from the psalm, that God does whatever he wills [Ps. 115:3], certainly pertains to all the actions of men. If, as is here said, God is the true Arbiter of wars and of peace, and this without any exception, who, then, will dare say that men are borne headlong by blind motion unbeknown to God or with his acquiescence?​
But particular examples will shed more light. From the first chapter of Job we know that Satan, no less than the angels who willingly obey, presents himself before God [Job 1:6; 2:1] to receive his commands. He does so, indeed, in a different way and with a different end; but he still cannot undertake anything unless God so wills. However, even though a bare permission to afflict the holy man seems then to be added, yet we gather that God was the author of that trial of which Satan and his wicked thieves were the ministers, because this statement is true: “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; as it has pleased God, so is it done” [Job 1:21, Vg. (p.)]. Satan desperately tries to drive the holy man insane; the Sabaeans cruelly and impiously pillage and make off with another’s possessions. Job recognizes that he was divinely stripped of all his property, and made a poor man, because it so pleased God. Therefore, whatever men or Satan himself may instigate, God nevertheless holds the key, so that he turns their efforts to carry out his judgments. God wills that the false King Ahab be deceived; the devil offers his services to this end; he is sent, with a definite command, to be a lying spirit in the mouth of all the prophets [1 Kings 22:20, 22]. If the blinding and insanity of Ahab be God’s judgment, the figment of bare permission vanishes: because it would be ridiculous for the Judge only to permit what he wills to be done, and not also to decree it and to command its execution by his ministers.​
The Jews intended to destroy Christ; Pilate and his soldiers complied with their mad desire; yet in solemn prayer the disciples confess that all the impious ones had done nothing except what “the hand and plan” of God had decreed [Acts 4:28, cf. Vg.]. So Peter had already preached that “by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, Christ had been given over” to be killed [Acts 2:23, cf. Vg.]. It is as if he were to say that God, to whom from the beginning nothing was hidden, wittingly and willingly determined what the Jews carried out. As he elsewhere states: “God, who has foretold through all his prophets that Christ is going to suffer, has thus fulfilled it” [Acts 3:18, cf. Vg.]. Absalom, polluting his father’s bed by an incestuous union, commits a detestable crime [2 Sam. 16:22]; yet God declares this work to be his own; for the words are: “You did it secretly; but I will do this thing openly, and in broad daylight” [2 Sam. 12:12 p.]. Jeremiah declared that every cruelty the Chaldeans exercised against Judah was God’s work [Jer. 1:15; 7:14; 50:25, and passim]. For this reason Nebuchadnezzar is called God’s servant [Jer. 25:9; cf. ch. 27:6]. God proclaims in many places that by his hissing [Isa. 7:18 or 5:26], by the sound of his trumpet [Hos. 8:1], by his authority and command, the impious are aroused to war [cf. Zeph. 2:1]. The Assyrian he calls the rod of his anger [Isa. 10:5 p.], and the ax that he wields with his hand [cf. Matt. 3:10]. The destruction of the Holy City and the ruin of the Temple he calls his own work [Isa. 28:21]. David, not murmuring against God, but recognizing him as the just judge, yet confesses that the curses of Shimei proceeded from His command [2 Sam. 16:10]. “The Lord,” he says, “commanded him to curse.” [2 Sam. 16:11.] We very often find in the Sacred History that whatever happens proceeds from the Lord, as for instance the defection of the ten tribes [1 Kings 11:31], the death of Eli’s sons [1 Sam. 2:34], and very many examples of this sort. Those who are moderately versed in the Scriptures see that for the sake of brevity I have put forward only a few of many testimonies. Yet from these it is more than evident that they babble and talk absurdly who, in place of God’s providence, substitute bare permission—as if God sat in a watchtower awaiting chance events, and his judgments thus depended upon human will.​
—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), I.xviii.1.​
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
@Smeagol

It is commonly recognized that Calvin formulates this (per your citation of his Institutes) arguably differently than CD (I.15) or WCF (3.7). In fact, Ken Stewart, in his Ten Myths of Calvinism, contends that this is the case in what he styles the "Second Myth": that Calvin's view of predestination is identical to what the churches on the continent and in Britain came to confess. To be clear, Stewart means that it is a myth (not true) to think that Calvin's view on predestination became, whole-cloth, that of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches

Does Calvin's rejection of "bare permission" conflict with the confessional doctrine of preterition? This is a point of some debate among historical theologians, but what is not at issue is that preterition is the confessional doctrine, whatever the precise doctrine of Calvin may be. Putting aside whether Calvin and the confessions differ here, I agree with the formulation of the doctrine as found in the First Head of Doctrine (CD) and Chapter 3 (WCF).

No particular theologian, regardless of his greatness, trumps the well-considered doctrines expressed by the churches in their confessions.

Peace,
Alan
 

Smeagol

Puritan Board Graduate
@Smeagol

It is commonly recognized that Calvin formulates this (per your citation of his Institutes) arguably differently than CD (I.15) or WCF (3.7). In fact, Ken Stewart, in his Ten Myths of Calvinism, contends that this is the case in what he styles the "Second Myth": that Calvin's view of predestination is identical to what the churches on the continent and in Britain came to confess.

Does Calvin's rejection of "bare permission" conflict with the confessional doctrine of preterition? This is a point of some debate among historical theologians, but what is not at issue is that preterition is the confessional doctrine, whatever the precise doctrine of Calvin may be. Putting aside whether Calvin and the confessions differ here, I agree with the formulation of the doctrine as found in the First Head of Doctrine (CD) and Chapter 3 (WCF).

No particular theologian, regardless of his greatness, trumps the well-considered doctrines expressed by the churches in their confessions.

Peace,
Alan
Thanks Alan. I do find WCF to be more clear on the matter.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
1. Would someone with electronic access be willing to post that section in this thread in case some need to review.

Oop! I just noticed that @Taylor beat me to it. So I deleted the text but kept the attached Word, and PDF files up.
 

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Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
I don’t think anyone has ever beaten @Taylor to a race to post an article.
Come on it's not that funny, guys. How would you feel if something like that happened to you? I was very embarrassed, upset and humiliated and just plain angry. But I'll keep to myself some of the more harsh feelings that I haven't mentioned here. :(
 
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