Monday, July 14, 2008

Divine Determination - More in Discussion with Godismyjudge

Some Clarification and Discussion of the Topic at Hand

God, in decreeing all that would come to pass, was acting freely: he was not necessitated and he was uncaused. That is to say, there is no preceding cause for the effect of God's decree of Providence, including the special instance of Creation. One can view the eternal decrees of God as God's nature acting on itself (wisdom meeting power, for example), but nevertheless we do not properly say that the nature caused the decree, although we say that the decree flows from the nature of God.

There is no time prior to the decree, because the decree is eternal. The decree, being eternal, is necessarily uncaused: that is to say, it is not something that came to be. Consequently, the label "cause" is not properly applied to the divine decree.

The Divine decree is not compatible with divine foreordination if "fore-" is taken with reference to the decree itself. Instead, the Divine decree is compatible with the divine knowledge by way of logical precedence. God knows what he has decreed will occur, but divine foreknowledge is logically subsequent to the decree. Thus, we might say that God knows what he will do, because He decided to do that. Thus, though God's knowledge is simple and eternal, we divide it according to its object: as to himself God's knowledge is natural and necessary. As to other things, God's knowledge is free, since God was under no necessity (properly speaking) to create. If it had not pleased God to create, God would be in no way less - nor does Creation fill any deficiency in God.

Nevertheless, the will of God (which is free and sovereign) is not arbitrary, but is exercised consistently with the attributes of God.

Thus, as Edwards puts it:
And it may be noted particularly, that though we are obliged to conceive of some things in God as consequent and dependent on others, and of some things pertaining to the Divine nature and will as the foundation of others, and so before others in the order of nature; as, we must conceive of the knowledge and holiness of God as prior, in the order of nature, to his happiness; the perfection of his understanding, as the foundation of his wise purposes and decrees; the holiness of his nature, as the cause and reason of his holy determinations. And yet, when we speak of cause and effect, antecedent and consequent, fundamental and dependent, determining aud determined, in the first Being, who is self-existent, independent, of perfect and absolute simplicity and immutability, and the first cause of all things; doubtless there must be less propriety in such representations, than when we speak of derived dependent beings, who are compounded, and liable to perpetual mutation and succession.

Relation to Discussion with Godismyjudge (Dan)

Dan has provided a new "Gabcast" (link) in which he continues to the discuss the issues we are considering. I find it interesting in a way that Dan chooses to push the idea that by asking for clarification I'm changing or shifting his question, while simultaneously changing my own questions to him. I see no problem with either of us answering only questions that make sense with respect to our respective positions.

Dan's latest clarification suggests that he wants to label as act only those things that are part of a "cause and effect" pair. Dan suggests that God's love of himself is not an act within the sense of his definition. I would respond that if the Father's love of Christ is not an act within Dan's sense, then there can arguably be no first act that is uncaused, by Dan's definition.

How's that? Well, God's love of Christ is itself uncaused, but is a cause for his acceptance of us in Christ. Thus, God's love of Christ is a cause, even though it is not an effect. If failure to be an effect disqualifies something from being an "act" within Dan's definition, then the first act must be an effect that produces another effect ... i.e. a caused cause.

I suppose Dan could seek to evade the force of this argument by simply stating that the only kind of act he's interested in is one that has a direct impact in time/space in the material world. With such a clarification, the first "act" is the act of actually creating the world from nothing.

God said (cause), "Let there be light," and (effect) there was light.

Considering God logically just prior to his actualization of the creation, God had decreed to do what he did. The decree to create, thus, is logically prior to the actual act of creating. Thus, the act of creating was necessary in view of the divine decree, though the divine decree was itself free.

The act of Creation was a temporal act: an act that instantiated time. Thus, as I previously noted, it can be viewed as the first act from that perspective. The heavens and earth were the first created things - the first things that were caused. God brought them forth out of nothing, as he had from all eternity decreed to do.

But this discussion is evidently not what Dan wants. Dan appears to be interested in the question of whether God could have decreed (prior to the decree) to have created a world in which on May 31, 2008, it did not rain.

God could have, if he had desired, so decreed. God is omnipotent. God freely decreed according to his good pleasure. No one constrained him. He did what he wanted to do. There is no "cause" assignable to his act of decreeing, instead we view the sovereign decree of God as itself uncaused but the cause of all things that come to be. On the other hand, if such a decree would not be the wisest and best, God - by his nature - would be constrained from doing so.

One may here object by claiming that such a limitation is some form of necessity, but the objection is fruitless. As Edwards explained:
That all the seeming force of such objections and exclamations must arise from an imagination that there is some sort of privilege or dignity in being without such a moral necessity as will make it impossible to do any other than always choose what is wisest and best; as though there were some disadvantage, meanness, and subjection, in such a necessity; a thing by which the will was confined, kept under, and held in servitude by something, which, as it were, maintained a strong and invincible power and dominion over it, by bonds that held him fast, and that he could, by no means, deliver himself from. Whereas, this must be all mere imagination and delusion. It is no disadvantage or dishonour to a being, necessarily to act in the most excellent and happy manner, from the necessary perfection of his own nature. This argues no imperfection, inferiority, or dependence, nor any avant of dignity, privilege, or ascendancy. It is not inconsistent with the absolute and most perfect sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God is his ability and authority to do whatever pleases him; whereby "he doth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and amongst the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What dost thou?"
Thus, the answer to Dan's question, as best understood, is simply that we don't know whether it was possible or impossible (in the sense Dan wants to use the term) for God to do what Dan has hypothesized, because to answer that question, we would need to plumb the depths of God to determine whether such a decree would be consistent with the attributes of God.

Everything happens for a reason. I don't know the reason God ordained rain on May 31, 2008, but I know that the rain had a purpose as part of his most wise and excellent plan. To use Edwards distinctions, God had the natural ability to do whatever he wanted, and God exercised that natural ability consistent with his moral perfections.

At the end of the day, let's return to Dan's original question, which was:

Given whatever existed before the first act, was it absolutely impossible for God to create a world which didn’t include rain on May 31, 2008[,] in the afternoon?

What we have seen is as follows:

1) By first act, Dan means God's decree to create.
2) By "absolutely impossible" Dan apparently does not want to include possibility based on God's power, but only the compossibility of God's power in connection with everything else that God is (for example, the compossibility that God would be wise and that God would decree according to Dan's counterproposal for May 31).
3) By "before" Dan is only interested in logical (not temporal) priority.

With all those clarifications, we have discovered that the answer would require us to know whether Dan's alternative is consistent with the rest of what God is. While we can freely acknowledge with Dan that God is all powerful, God freely acts only in a way that is most wise and holy. While we cannot see anything unwise in Dan's counterproposal, we simply cannot find any clear evidence that makes us definitively say that God could have adopted Dan's counter-proposal for the day.

On the other hand, we know that God's plan for the day was wise, which makes us suspect that Dan's alternative may have been less wise. Since it would be inconsistent with the moral perfection of God to freely do that which is less wise, we would not say (using Dan's definitions) that it was "possible" for him to do that, though of course it was within God's natural power to do so, and consequently was possible.

Hopefully this definitively answers Dan's question.

I don't think this answer will be particularly helpful, though, to the average reader because of the unnatural sense in which Dan is using the terms "before," "act," and "impossible." Nevertheless, I await Dan's response, if any.

-TurretinFan

3 comments:

natamllc said...

As I read this TF, I am reminded of one instance in Scripture and one instance in my personal history that should shed some "Light" on this idea of "absolute impossibility".

The Biblical instance and as I start to quote it several others come to mind. I will confine myself to my first impulse and not go to the others. Don't tempt me or I just might go there! :)

Here it is:

Jdg 6:36 Then Gideon said to God, "If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said,
Jdg 6:37 behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said."
Jdg 6:38 And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.


We should all know the story. Gideon asks God to do two unnatual things with the weather.

My personal story goes something like this. I was working with a business associate on a house out in the country in the early Spring.

This guy told me of stories about God answering his prayers during jobs where he needed Divine Attribute and intervention to change the weather so that it would not rain on his jobs while he was completing them.

He tells of a time when he needed to pour cement foundations and the weather changed and dark clouds came up and it was going to rain. He said he prayed, "God, don't let it rain on my job site". He said after prayer, it rained all around his job site but not on his job site.

He tells of another time with similar results.

Well, Love believes all things and I am so full of Love for Him and all mankind, even my enemies, I did not doubt this friend's stories though I had never experienced such a display of affection from God so that He would do such an unnatural thing with weather when asked.

Now, here I am on a job site and out in the distance I could see the weather change and the rain clouds form. It was very visible and having lived in this area for over 50 years I know when I see clouds form like that and the temperature changes, it's going to rain.

I am up on this job site on the side of a high hill looking down over the valley below and off into the distance is the Pacific Ocean. The storm was moving quickly and towards us.

My friend wasn't at the site. So I called him to tell him of the weather changes. He said, "it's ok, I was listening to the weather reports earlier and I prayed to God and I am convince it will not rain on you today. You just go ahead and do your work as though it were sunny outside. It will be ok."

To my amazement I watched this weather darkened all around our site and pass it by but what was very unusual was the dark clouds and rain were all around us but no rain came on us and in fact when you looked up all you saw was blue sky directly above our site!

That's a true and accurate account of what I experienced that day.

So I would say that on any given day, let's say on May 31, 2008, it was raining where Dan was, but if Rod was anywhere near him doing a job, God, if Rod asked Him, as I have heard him repeatedly says of God when he asks Him, it would not be raining where Rod is working but all around and where Dan was that day. Dan's head would be wet. Rod's would be dry!

We seem to bog down in the natural and the supernatural trying to explain God's Sovereignty and Grace.

God is Sovereign and God answers prayer changing the natural order of this temporal world Sovereignly. This in no way changes God, as, God is, nor does God "acting" on the Prayers of His Saints change any of His Eternal attribute or character or moral welfare of Them. They are. That's that.

What is this whole debate all about?

I do see your point clearly TF and others have mentioned it too that Dan seems to want answers that fit his reasonable intelligence and not accepting your answers because they just don't fit them.

Somehow there has to be at one place in this debate an agreement to which can be built a consensus of Truth. We all know Who He Is, right?

Why not again offer what that might be or if you are reading this Dan, offer that what that might be as common agreement again and go from that basis and edify the Church with that who are reading this back and forth debate!

It does seem to me we are now going around and around and around.

Are we?

If I am off here, I am open to correction. :)

michael

Magnus said...

I assume that the point is to say “Aha! See God is free to do as He pleases and His decrees are free… This proves that since we are made in His image that we are free in the LFW sense.”

Of course we are not autonomous independent beings; we act and choose in accordance with our nature. It seems that what the LFW advocates want is to make God schizophrenic and have no reason for what He does or decrees. They want a God that changes His mind and goes along with the flow of His creation. One that doesn’t sweat the small stuff and just cleans up after everyone, the sad part is that the Bible is missing in all of their hypotheticals and “common” everyday examples. I just want to see a LFW advocate put together a clear, concise exegetical argument from the Bible that shows LFW instead of using “common sense” and “everyday examples”. Surely they can prove it using the Bible and if not they should submit to what it does say and just move on.

Oh well, I for one thank you for your post and for taking the time to respond to their arguments.

Turretinfan said...

Magnus,

I hope that you're edified by the exchange. Frankly, I cannot see how the LFW advocate hopes to establish LFW this way: even if the decree of Providence is an example of what they mean by LFW, man doesn't have eternal, uncreated decrees.

-TurretinFan