When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong. And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.”’” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
According to Calvinism, God decreed the thoughts and intentions of the brothers, as pure Determinism, start to finish, cradle to grave, having decreed “whatsoever comes to pass,” as per the Westminster Confession of Faith. By contrast, the Arminian view is of God using evil for good, rather than God causing the evil that He uses, insomuch that God did not decree the thoughts and intentions of the brothers, but knowing their self-determined desire to do evil, God provided the slave-traders as a better alternative to death, in order to save both Joseph and his extended family, when God rose him through the ranks of Egypt by the interpretation of the Pharaoh’s dreams. As for what was meant, it is evident that the brothers meant slavery as an “evil” way to dispose of Joseph, while God meant the same act of slavery as a good means of salvation for Joseph and his entire extended family. This concept of God acting upon His knowledge is also evident at Exodus 3:19-20: “‘But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion. So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go.’”
One member of the Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “As an analogy, if my son chooses to sign up for baseball, and means to have fun by it, and I mean for him to learn discipline by it, it does not mean that I made him sign up for it, or that I irresistibly caused him to sign up for it, or that I somehow irresistibly caused him to want to sign up for it. I’m simply taking what he desires and using it in a way that good may come of it. Here is another analogy: My son meant to go to college to party, but I meant for him to go to college to get an education. Does the parallel nature of the statement have us both intending the same thing? Obviously not! Another point that is lost among Calvinists is that God didn’t need for any of this to happen, since God could have easily brought Joseph into power in Egypt a different way, and going to Egypt at all was no necessity upon God, that is, a God who controls the seas, the rains or what have you. There is no necessity at all. Rather, God is simply using the situation to His advantage, in order that His will would be achieved regardless. In other words, what God ultimately did was act in a way that was partially contingent on the free will actions of various human agents involved. In summary, it is perfectly natural–and indeed, the normal meaning–for the performer of an action to intend an action in one way, as the originator of the action, and one who has power to intend it in a different way, that does not involve any instigation or causing of that action. Normally, when one person does an action, and means something for it, and another person who does not do the action, also means something different for the action, there is no suggestion that the person who did not do the action, somehow really did do it, or irresistibly caused and instigated the other person to do it. He takes account of what the actor wants to do, and then responds and reacts to that, and decides to allow it and permit it for another intention. Perhaps he might direct certain aspects of the events to bring about the result that he intends. But he doesn’t instigate the evil. On the Joseph story: I think it is odd that the Joseph story gets brought up so much by Calvinists because it is also pointed to by Arminians as a good illustration of the Arminian position. Both camps appeal to it. I personally think it is a great example of the Arminian position (God using the evil others do and purposing it for good) and fits the Arminian position better.” (SEA, emphasis mine) One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians comments: “This is an example of God turning evil caused by others, not himself, to good. They do the evil freely, and He directs it and fashions it to good. I actually think Joseph’s attempt to encourage his brothers, not to be too hard on themselves, can be reconciled with this view, that Joseph did not literally mean they were not responsible, but was encouraging them in light of the fact of God using it for good.” (SEA, emphasis mine)
Arminian, Roger Olson, comments: “Arminians are well aware of Calvinist arguments based upon the Genesis narrative where Joseph’s brothers meant his captivity for evil but God meant it for good (Gen 50:20). They simply do not believe this proves that God ordains evil that good may come of it. Arminians believe God permits evil and brings good out of it. Otherwise, who is the real sinner?” (Arminian Theology, p.100)
Dave Hunt points out: “Furthermore, the Bible does not say that God decreed that Joseph’s brothers would hate him, desire to kill him, sell him into Egypt, and then lie to their father. It is clear that their evil intent came from jealous hearts. God foreknew their hearts and restrained and channeled their wicked desire to accomplish His will.” (Debating Calvinism, p.52, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, James White, writes: “Their intentions were evil.” (Debating Calvinism, p.45)
Calvinist, James White, writes: “This is compatibilism with clarity: God uses the sinful actions of the Assyrians for the good purpose of judging His people, and yet He judges the Assyrians for their sinful intentions.” (Debating Calvinism, p.44, emphasis mine)
No, it’s compatibilism with deception. Simply ask whether such Calvinists believe that God causes what He uses. According to Determinism, God knows the intentions of the brothers only because He caused all 100% of it. The brothers were therefore free to do only what was determined by a third party, God. They weren’t free to go off and do some other bad thing, but only what is scripted. That’s not freedom. That’s more like compatibilistic slavery. They do what they want, true enough, but Calvinism claims that their wants are 100% determined, just like all 100% of their thoughts are determined for them.
Calvinist, James White, writes: “...since God judges on the basis of the intentions of the heart, there is in fact a ground for morality and justice.” (Debating Calvinism, p.320, emphasis mine)
Dave Hunt responds: “...but Calvinism falsely says that He causes the intentions He judges.” (Debating Calvinism, p.327, emphasis mine)
And if He didn’t cause all 100% of it, then according to James White, God couldn’t infallibly know it.
Calvinist, James White, writes: “How God can know future events, for example, and yet not determine them, is an important point….” (Debating Calvinism, p.163, emphasis mine)
If God merely determined 99.99% of a person’s thoughts and intentions, then that .01% could be a basis upon which to hold them morally accountable, but Determinism cannot allow even the .01%, or else divine omniscience is forfeited.
Dave Hunt responds: “White denies omniscience in his repudiation of any ‘grounds upon which to base exhaustive divine foreknowledge of future events outside of God’s decree.’ If God must decree the future to know it, He’s not omniscient.” (Debating Calvinism, p.389, emphasis mine)
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.
Joel Ellis explains: “Divine determinism asks us to believe God will manifest His glory, not in spite of the evil in this world but actually through it, through the sin, evil, and suffering of mankind. Thus child rape, abortion, genocide, and terrorism are not merely occasions for God’s mercy and power to be known; he actually ordains these evils in order to glorify himself.” (The Providence of God, emphasis mine)
Calvinism implies that God wanted and needed evil, and decreed it so. This is where Arminianism provides a nice contrast to Calvinism, since in Arminianism, God accomplishes His will in spite of evil, and not even that He needed it, but simply made use of it.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “Just because God did something great with a bad situation, it doesn’t mean that God needed the bad situation to do it. Do they really believe God is so weak that He needs bad things?” (SEA) Another member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “I think this is one of the darkest and most unbiblical and unloving and unkind fruits of consistent Calvinism: The claim that whatever suffering occurs was exactly what God wanted for a good purpose.” (SEA)
This is the logical consequence of Calvinism, and make no mistake about it, Calvinism does indeed affirm that God predetermines all 100% of a person’s every thought, word and deed:
John Calvin writes: “We also note that we should consider the creation of the world so that we may realize that everything is subject to God and ruled by his will and that when the world has done what it may, nothing happens other than what God decrees.” (Acts: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.66, emphasis mine)
Calvin writes: “First, the eternal predestination of God, by which before the fall of Adam He decreed what should take place concerning the whole human race and every individual, was fixed and determined.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.121, emphasis mine)
Calvin writes: “First, it must be observed that the will of God is the cause of all things that happen in the world; and yet God is not the author of evil.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.169, emphasis mine)
Calvin adds: “Whatever things are done wrongly and unjustly by man, these very things are the right and just works of God. This may seem paradoxical at first sight to some; but at least they should not be so offended that they will not suffer me to search the word of God for a little to find out what should be thought here.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.169, emphasis mine)
Calvin writes: “For the man who honestly and soberly reflects on these things, there can be no doubt that the will of God is the chief and principal cause of all things.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.177, emphasis mine)
Calvin adds: “But where it is a matter of men’s counsels, wills, endeavours, and exertions, there is greater difficulty in seeing how the providence of God rules here too, so that nothing happens but by His assent and that men can deliberately do nothing unless He inspire it.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.171-172, emphasis mine)
Therefore, according to Calvinism, God caused Joseph’s brothers to sin:
John Calvin comments: “The conspiracy of Joseph’s brothers when they sold him was a worse than perfidious and cruel crime. But, from another point of view, the cause of his being sold is transferred to God: It is not you but God who sold me, that I should give you food. (Gen 45:5). It follows then that God operates even through those who act impiously, so that they find life in death. As far as lay in them, they had killed their brother; yet from this, life shone forth for them.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.173, emphasis mine)
Calvinists argue that God is not the author of their sin, despite being the “cause” of their sin, such that Genesis 50:20 is intended to mean: “What God caused you do for evil, God meant for good.” While Calvinism must resort to paradoxical logic, Arminianism simply infers that what man meant for bad, God uses for good, all because of God’s wisdom and omniscient foreknowledge. (Acts 2:23)
Dave Hunt points out: “There is no escaping Calvinism’s teaching that by ‘God’s eternal decree’ He caused the evil in the brethren’s hearts and caused them to execute their evil deeds.” (Debating Calvinism, p.52)
Calvin is not oblivious of the implications of his interpretation:
Calvin writes: “But the objection is not yet resolved, that if all things are done by the will of God, and men contrive nothing except by His will and ordination, then God is the author of all evils.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.179, emphasis mine)
In the example of Job, Calvin wishes to form a defense:
Calvin adds: “We learn then that the work was jointly the work of God and of Satan and of the robbers. We learn that nothing happens but what seems good to God. How then is God to be exempted from the blame to which Satan with his instruments is liable?” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.180, emphasis mine)
Calvin writes: “...do you defraud God of the glory of His justice because He works by means of Satan?”
(Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.180)
Why infer that God caused Satan and the robbers to commit evil, or that He caused Satan to enter into God’s presence to incite Him to harm Job? Why not instead infer that Satan did that all on his own, and that God permitted the entire event in order to allow Satan to embarrass himself?
Calvin writes: “...the criminal misdeeds perpetrated by men proceed from God with a cause that is just, though perhaps unknown to us, though the first cause of all things is His will, I nevertheless deny that He is the author of sin. What I have maintained about the diversity of causes must not be forgotten: the proximate cause is one thing, the remote cause another.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.181, emphasis mine)
Calvin writes: “Certain shameless and illiberal people charge us with calumny by maintaining that God is made the author of sin, if His will is made first cause of all that happens. For what man wickedly perpetrates, incited by ambition or avarice or lust or some other depraved motive, since God does it by his hand with a righteous though perhaps hidden purpose--this cannot be equated with the term sin.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.181, emphasis mine)
John Calvin’s reasoning cannot escape what is, at least, joint liability, such that Calvinism, at the very least, makes God the co-author of sin, when they make Him the primary acting agent. However, in terms of primary and secondary causes, consider the analogy of a husband who hires a man to murder his wife. When the crime is fully discovered, often the Hitman will plea-bargain with the Prosecutor in order that the greatest charge be brought against the primary agent, who therefore often ends up getting the longest prison term. Thus, Calvinists who wish to use the secondary-causes defense, in order to defend against the author-of-sin charge, accomplish nothing more than making God even more culpable. By contrast, according to Arminianism, God takes the true authors of sin, and uses their motives to author righteousness instead. In other words, God doesn’t cause sin, but uses the sin of others, so that by it, sin may be undone, and that greater things may come of it. For instance, in terms of Joseph and his brothers, they intended to “put him to death.” (Genesis 37:18) However, God provided the caravan of Ishmaelite slave traders at the perfect moment, so that the brothers would be persuaded of their conscience not to kill him, but instead to sell him (Genesis 37:26-27), in order that Joseph may be taken into Egypt, and in doing so, save their family from the coming famine.
As Calvin struggles to deny that God is the author of what He allegedly decreed, Lutzer weighs in:
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, explains: “When Satan taunted God about Job, the Lord allowed Satan to inspire evil men to kill Job’s servants and steal his cattle; he gave Satan the power to use wind and lightning to kills Job’s children.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.220, emphasis mine)
Lutzer adds: “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)
Dave Hunt therefore asks: “If so, in preventing evil, wouldn’t God be restraining Himself?” (Debating Calvinism, p.51)
Yes, Calvinism makes divine permission incoherent, since it amounts to God not stopping Himself from accomplishing what He has unconditionally decreed. Ultimately, divine permission in Calvinism means that God scripted things to take appearance as if He was permitting someone to exercise self-determination, when in fact, God was determining their “self-determination” for them. By contrast, Arminianism depicts God as allowing independent agents to self-determine unscripted events, but only so far, until God intervenes.
Job 2:3: “The LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.’”
God accepted responsibility for what He allowed, but that shouldn’t be taken to mean that God wants everything that He allows.
Calvin sides against the Permissive Will defense: “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)
And that’s because Calvinism absorbs divine permission with divine determinism.
Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, explains: “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled. Perhaps that on maverick molecule will lay waste all the grand and glorious plans that God has made and promised to us.” (Chosen By God, pp.26-27, emphasis mine)
What if that “one molecule” was sin? What if someone committed an abomination that God never decreed anyone to commit? (Jeremiah 32:35) What if someone committed an act that was beyond what He intended? (Zechariah 1:15) Will these molecules of sin, outside the will of God, shake loose God’s throne in heaven, and give Satan a chance to catch God off-guard? Listen, God is eternal, which means that He dwells independent of time. You don’t have to worry about His sovereignty. He is omniscient and omnipresent. Nothing remains unknown to Him, nor is anything able to find a place to hide from Him. By God’s omniscient, Middle Knowledge, He not only knows what you will do, but also what you could and would do, in any situation. However, Calvinist philosophers, modern and historical, who’ve wished to protect God’s sovereignty, have extended to Him the odious distinction of being the origin of sin, though vehemently denying the guilt of sin, by means of secondary causes:
R.C. Sproul explains: “If is true that in some sense God foreordains everything that comes to pass, then it follows with no doubt that God must have foreordained the entrance of sin into the world. That is not to say that God forced it to happen or that he imposed evil upon his creation. All that means is that God must have decided to allow it to happen.” (Chosen By God, p.31, emphasis mine)
In other words, decreed to permit. Here is how that logic ends:
Calvinist. R.C. Sproul, states: “But Adam and Eve were not created fallen. They had no sin nature. They were good creatures with a free will. Yet they chose to sin. Why? I don’t know. Nor have I found anyone yet who does know.” (Chosen By God, p.31, emphasis mine)