One person explains: “It is clear to me that nothing can occur apart from God’s decree. Anything that happens occurs only because he has either decreed to allow it or causes it directly. So when the Scriptures say, ‘does not from my hand come both blessing and calamity... I am the LORD who does all these things,’ I believe he is telling us that neither blessing or calamity occurs apart from his decree.”
The verse being cited is Amos 3:6, and although God causes blessing and calamity, God does so contingently. Nevertheless, the issue at hand is the assertion that Calvinistic Determinism does not exclude divine permission. However, one question cuts right through that logic.
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer explains: “Calvinists pointedly admit that God ordains evil--this is consistent with both the Bible and logic. In ordinary discussions about human events, we can say that God permitted evil, as long as we understand that he thereby willed that the evil happen. Calvinists agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith that says God ordains all that ever comes to pass. In a word, what God permits, he ordains.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.210, emphasis mine)
Lutzer writes: “Nonetheless, his permission necessarily means that he bore ultimate responsibility for it. After all, he could have chosen ‘not to permit’ it.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.210, emphasis mine)
Lutzer adds: “In a word, what God permits, he ordains.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.210, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes: “The Bible nowhere attempts to defend God’s reputation as we are often inclined to do. When God wanted to punish Israel by using the armies of a wicked power, he did not evade responsibility by distinguishing between what he permits and what he ordains.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.210, emphasis mine)
Actually, that’s not true, since God says that the enemies He sent to punish Israel went too far, by being excessively cruel: “But I am very angry with the nations who are at ease; for while I was only a little angry, they furthered the disaster.” (Zechariah 1:15) Calvinists say that’s just an anthropomorphism. Matt from A Theology in Tension explains: “Bad theology always survives by clothing itself in the garb of good theology whenever convenient in order to keep the controversial dissimilarities as hidden as possible from public view.” (Tim Keller: Private Calvinist, Public Arminian, emphasis mine) This is what some Calvinists do when trying to cloak Determinism with Divine Permission, and the best way to eliminate the trickery is to ask whether God is permitting something that may or may not happen, because if God was only permitting what is internal to Himself, then it is no longer authentic permission, since real permission implies the allowance of an external, independent party to render a self-determined choice. One common example is of the father of the prodigal son, allowing his son to leave. Another example is Romans 1:24, in which “God gave them over” to their depravity, but if God decreed what He is giving them over to, irresistibly, then the idea of giving them up becomes duplicitous, because it creates a known erroneous perception, in order to conceal one’s own nefarious ways. For instance, an older brother may use psychology in order to get his younger brother to do something bad, so that the younger brother would think that it was his own idea. For instance: The older brother may say, “You’re too young to be able to do that,” with the younger brother responding, “No I’m not. I’ll show you what I’m capable of.” The result is that the younger brother is left with the guilt of thinking that it was his own idea, while yet the mastermind who tricked him into it, quietly shrinks away. Matt from A Theology in Tension explains: “For example, John Piper insists that sovereignty means God decrees and wills every evil choice and event in human history–and does so irresistibly. That is to say man’s actions are irresistibly determined and rendered certain by God’s will, and he can no more avoid doing what God has decreed than he can sprout wings and fly to the moon. But later when Piper attempts to explain such a scenario for the mass consumption of his followers he obscures the most controversial element of his argument by dropping the language of decree and picking up the language of permission, saying ‘God has established a world in which sin will indeed come to pass by God’s permission.’  Given the fact that Piper believes that 1) God’s foreordaining mind is the author and origin of everything that occurs, and that 2) God has decreed every thought, desire and choice of man, it is quite silly and disingenuous for Piper to say God permits what he has decreed–as if he had to act as a middleman between His decree and the outworking of His decree. Does God need to get permission from himself?” (Tim Keller: Private Calvinist, Public Arminian)
John Piper frequently speaks up whenever there is a natural disaster, proclaiming God’s sovereignty, and then when pressed, divine permission pops up.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians summarizes Calvinism: “God did not ‘permit’ anything; God insisted. It was his design for man to sin. Can God choose to save before time – not able to know the good or bad choice, then hedge His bet or allow them to do evil? God determined to ‘save’ and knew the individual personally before sin was foreknown (before they did anything good or bad). This begs the question. Then what did God ‘choose’ to save them from?” (SEA) Another member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “Omnicausality certainly is fraught with problems. Hence, like you point out, words like permit, allow, concur, etc., have no room in the language and theology of the consistent Calvinist.” (SEA)
Moderate Calvinists often wish to invoke the Permissive Will of God in order to explain tragic events. Even in terms of sin, Moderate Calvinists insist that God did not have to work sin in the life of Lucifer or the fallen angels, or of fallen man, and that sin was “already there.” But these same Calvinists will admit their belief that God has decreed whatsoever comes to pass, even from before the foundation of the world. So if God has decreed the action, then by necessity, He has decreed the thoughts that drive the actions. So it cannot be a matter of what is already there, but of what is meticulously decreed. There doesn’t seem to be a logical basis for a Permissive Will within the Calvinist system of all things decreed, and it’s not just the Arminians who notice this, but John Calvin as well:
John Calvin writes: “When he uses the term permission, he means that the will of God is the supreme and primary cause of everything, because nothing happens without his order or permission. He certainly does not picture God sitting idly in a watch-tower, allowing anything to happen. The will which he represents as intervening is active, and could not otherwise be regarded as a cause.” (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 16, Section 8, emphasis mine)
John Calvin states: “From other passages, in which God is said to draw or bend Satan himself, and all the reprobate, to his will, a more difficult question arises. For the carnal mind can scarcely comprehend how, when acting by their means, he contracts no taint from their impurity, nay, how, in a common operation, he is exempt from all guilt, and can justly condemn his own ministers. Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that he directs their malice to whatever end he pleases, and employs their iniquities to execute his Judgments. The modesty of those who are thus alarmed at the appearance of absurdity might perhaps be excused, did they not endeavour to vindicate the justice of God from every semblance of stigma by defending an untruth. It seems absurd that man should be blinded by the will and command of God, and yet be forthwith punished for his blindness. Hence, recourse is had to the evasion that this is done only by the permission, and not also by the will of God. He himself, however, openly declaring that he does this, repudiates the evasion. That men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on any thing but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass by his secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of Scripture.” (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 18, section 1, emphasis mine) John Calvin states: “They deny that it is ever said in distinct terms, God decreed that Adam should perish by his revolt. As if the same God, who is declared in Scripture to do whatsoever he pleases, could have made the noblest of his creatures without any special purpose. They say that, in accordance with free-will, he was to be the architect of his own fortune, that God had decreed nothing but to treat him according to his desert. If this frigid fiction is received, where will be the omnipotence of God, by which, according to his secret counsel on which every thing depends, he rules over all?” (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, section 7, emphasis mine) John Calvin states: “Here they recur to the distinction between will and permission, the object being to prove that the wicked perish only by the permission, but not by the will of God. But why do we say that he permits, but just because he wills? Nor, indeed, is there any probability in the thing itself—viz. that man brought death upon himself merely by the permission, and not by the ordination of God; as if God had not determined what he wished the condition of the chief of his creatures to be.” (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, section 8, emphasis mine)
Calvin writes: “But it is quite frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing but the author of them.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.176, emphasis mine)
The Calvinistic, Westminster Confession of Faith, states: “The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.” (Of Providence, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, explains: “If He decides to allow something, then in a sense he is foreordaining it.” (Chosen By God, p.26, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, similarly argues: “Both Calvinists and Arminians teach that God does not and cannot do evil. Calvinists say that God nonetheless ordains it through secondary causes. Arminians say God only permits it. Nonetheless, his permission necessarily means that he bore ultimate responsibility for it. After all, he could have chosen ‘not to permit it.’” (The Doctrines that Divide, pp.209-210, emphasis mine)
Ken Keathley explains: “Permission is problematic for the Calvinist--particularly to those who hold to determinism--because permission entails conditionality, contingency, and viewing humans as in some sense the origin of their own respective choices.” (A Southern Baptist Dialogue: Calvinism, p.197, emphasis mine)
An all-encompassing decree, in which all things, including the Fall of Man, are predetermined, scripted and otherwise authored by God, leaves no logic basis for permission, and such Calvinists who invoke it, are simply engaging in double-talk.
Calvinists will sometimes suggest that an author analogy isn’t valid because man is a sentient being, unlike a character in a book, but when you get down to the thought level, in which Calvinism decrees all thoughts, then there really is no difference at all.
The philosophy of Concurrence also affects the matter of divine permission. We all agree that God sustains the world in existence, but the doctrine of Divine Concurrence goes beyond that. The question is whether not the wicked can do anything wicked, without God’s enablement, cooperation, and partnership, insomuch as effecting whatsoever comes to pass, both good and wickedness. The negative enablement concept, and the giving of its ability, is very concerning (and goes beyond Jesus’ illustration of the Wheat and the Tares).
One person explains: “But God is only involved in the same way that He is involved in any act. No act can take place without God’s involvement to some degree. God effects the act, makes it possible, enables it, empowers it, sustains it, so that it can happen. He does not suspend the laws that He continually upholds in order to prevent it. Rather, He upholds all that which makes the act possible, just as He does for any act. Adam could not reach out to take the fruit without God enabling his hand to stretch out. Nor could Adam chew without God enabling his jaw to move. But that doesn’t mean that God is the cause of the act.”
I think the difference lies in the macroscopic vs. microscopic understanding. I hold the former, and the latter doesn’t make sense to me, because if we grant that fallen-man is Totally Depraved, why would fallen-man need God’s help and partnership on a microscopic scale, in order to carry out his wicked intentions? I would think that God could withdraw Himself (to a macroscopic level), and fallen man would be fully capable of evil, without God’s microscopic assistance. I think that the issue boils down to some people needing “purpose in evil,” and the microscopic view helps to meet that end. However, I don’t think think that it has been adequately explained why evil needs a purpose. For instance, what if there is just a bunch of purposeless evil out there (which evil will some day be judged)? So what? What’s the problem with that? That’s what I’m failing to understand. It’s seems as if some people need a little bit of Determinism, in order to help make the universe go round. Now, God is fully capable of using purposeless evil, in order to turn it around, and achieve good by it, but I’m not ok with the idea that God needs evil, and must have it, so that He can achieve His purposes. For instance, I don’t think that Adam and Eve ever “had” to fall, in order for God to get His way. I think that the purpose of the testing was for man to form good moral character, and I think that God will some day show us, exactly what life would have been like, had Adam and Eve never fallen, and how much more blessed both God and man would have been for it, but that even with the alternative, in our present world, God still gets what He originally intended, though now with the cost of a great portion of mankind being lost forever. I think that the idea of “purposeful evil” (predetermined and decreed from everlasting), inevitably requires that Hell was, in fact, partly created for mankind, in violation of Matthew 25:41, because if evil was necessary for mankind, then so must the consequences of said evil, and hence, Hell was partly created for mankind, which is a violation of Scriptural text.
Consider the following, regarding divine permission:
Sproul writes: “The dreadful error of hyper-Calvinism is that it involves God is coercing sin. This does radical violence to the integrity of God’s character.” (Chosen By God, p.143, emphasis mine)
So that’s Hyper Calvinism, which sometimes also gets attributed to non-Hyper Calvinists, but only due to Calvinist’s own confusing double-talk, through such phrases like “decreed to permit,” in which (perhaps unintentionally), passive and active expressions are fused together, until the listener has no idea which shell contains the bean. But Calvinists often do this, in order to escape theological dilemmas. So, then, you’ll ask the Calvinist, “By ‘decreed to permit,’ do you mean that God decreed to permit something that might or might not happen?” That’s how you can smoke-out the theological funny-business that’s going on. Notice a perfect example of how an active decree and passive permission are intentionally blended, so as to blur the distinction between active and passive:
One Calvinist points out: “God willingly permits that which is against His will. Hence, evil is a result of God’s decree to permit evil and thus evil is God’s will. The WCF says that evil exists not because of ‘mere’ permission but because God decrees it.”
So God permits evil, and God decrees to permit it. Thus, evil is God’s will. Evil exists not just because of mere permission, but primarily by God’s will. That’s how Calvinists spin people in circles. They just blend passive and active terms together, so that passive terms become active terms.
Questions regarding Divine Permission & the account of the father of the Prodigal Son:
One way to answer this is to recast the question into something else (which has Calvinism presumed), and then address it that way. Or not.
I would say that the father’s principles dictated that if his son wanted to leave with the money, then his son has already left, in his heart, and that it would be wrong (and potentially dangerous) to hold him back, against his will. But does permitting him to do this, make the father complicit, in any way, with his son’s actions? On the one hand, if the father had put a stop to the whole thing, then the thieves and prostitutes might never have gotten their hands on the money, and misspent it, however they willed. So the father bore some responsibility, since it was his money that was ultimately flowing into the wrong hands, but it should also be pointed out, that the father never wanted for that to happen. All the father did was to consent, allow and permit the son to have his way, not that he caused his son’s poor choices, in any way. But I think that what Calvinists do is that they first assume Calvinism, and then proceed accordingly. So that way, God has a decree, number 1, and all is determined. Check. Now if God should “permit” something, then this “permission” must necessarily be consistent with the decree. Check. Now if God does permit something, then He has “decreed to permit it,” and thus even His permission is the “outworking of the decree,” and so the resulting choices also can trace their way back to the decree. So in this way, everything is decree-driven, in the Calvinist’s mind. Since this is the foundational presumption, certain “proofs” will be needed to support it, and thus questions arise, such as, “If God knew what people’s choices would be, then He must necessarily have determined those choices.” But the logic doesn’t follow, as it still remains to be proven, that God’s knowledge in any way causes people’s choices. Then it is asked, “Why did God create people (and certain angels), knowing what they will choose?” Well that’s God’s prerogative, to create beings that will be faced with choices, but simply being given choices, does not require that God determine what they will make of their choices. For instance, God created good angels. With their choices, 1/3 fell. God’s permission didn’t make their choice for them, no more than His permission made the 2/3’s remain loyal. In terms of humanity, why did God allow people to be born, that He knew would ultimately reject Him and perish? Again, this question springs from the necessity to provide a proof-text for the “immutable decree,” since that is the essential foundation for any Calvinist. Nevertheless, the answer is addressed in the parable of the “Wheat and the Tares,” as people are interconnected, and God chooses to wait until the end, to sort it out. As a practical illustration, imagine if God knew that a particular father would reject Him, and perish. But what if God also knew that the son or daughter of that father, would instead accept Christ and receive eternal life? By preventing the birth of the father, the hypothetical child will never be born. So, in this way, people are interconnected. However, back to the point of divine permission, it has long been the protest of Arminians, and non-Calvinists, that Calvinism is logically inconsistent with “divine permission,” and I feel that this criticism is absolutely fair and reasonable, and Calvinism lacks a sufficient answer, other than to relegate everything to an eternal decree, which is the world-view of every Calvinist.
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes: “Scripture explicitly teaches that God actually ordains the evil choices of men. In the case of Judas, for example, God allowed (or used) Satan to put the idea of the betrayal in his heart. ‘The devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon to betray Him’ (John 13:2). That Judas had to betray Christ is clear from repeated statements that say this happened that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. Even in such cases, however, it is reasonable to suppose that Judas had made many prior deceitful decisions so that the activity of Satan was quite compatible with his own inclination and desires. The same applies to the many instances in the Bible in which God says the wicked do what he predetermined would happen.” (The Doctrines That Divide, pp.190-191, emphasis mine)
Calvinists can be tricky. What Lutzer left out is that Calvinists also insist that God predetermined the “many prior deceitful decisions” as well, meticulously scripting every one of them. Therefore, the Compatibilism argument simply doesn’t tell the whole story. In order to prop up Determinism, Calvinists seem to enjoy pinning every sin ever committed on God. The other issue is that Calvinists don’t tell the whole story on the issue of prophecy. While it is true that if something is prophesied, it must happen, what the Calvinist fails to consider is the fact that prophecy is a foretelling of what already happens in the future, in terms of what self-determined individuals freely do, and also how God intervenes, which means that if God says that you are going to do something in the future, He is saying it because He is in the future watching you freely do it, as your own unscripted, self-determined choice. As an illustration, if a couple of sports fans are watching a previously recorded event, that they had not seen before, and if I walk into the room and announce the conclusion (because I had already seen it), means that it has to happen only because I saw the ending, and can relay back what I saw the players do on the field. Obviously, I didn’t cause what the player do, but only relay back what I saw. This typically upsets Calvinists, to the point where they end up dragging out the “crystal ball” metaphor, but this also fails to consider that God doesn’t need to peer ahead into the future, but rather that all time stands before God, as a factor of God being an eternal Being. He is independent of what is otherwise our linear time.
The father of the Prodigal Son helps me a lot to understand the nature of permission. God is big enough and powerful enough to prevent anyone's defection, but God is also big enough and powerful enough to allow it as well. For instance, the father of the Prodigal Son could have put a stop to the whole thing about the inheritance request and leaving, but the father instead submitted and acquiesced to his son's demand, and which brought him great sorrow and loss, but even greater joy upon seeing him return. This is why I don’t subscribe to the “decreed to permit” perspective, since it doesn’t seem to allow God to be God, in terms of God condescending in a manner that brings Him the most joy. With Calvinism, God never really condescends in true relationships, but is just a master manipulator. That’s just my perspective. So when I see Matthew 23:37, to me that is just God being God. But Calvinists have instead at times considered that as God being “impotent” and “weak,” but I think it’s short-sighted because it ultimately limits God from condescending in a manner of His choosing.