What I would like to accomplish in this post is simply how I believe God remains sovereign while man remains responsible for sin. I want to look at some passages to see how God ordains all things, but how this keeps God unstained by sin or allowing God to be the author of sin. I will use both biblical narratives and explanation of those narratives biblically and also take a look at some quotes from Turretin and Calvin to help us better understand how this all "meshes."
The first to establish is that God is completely sovereign and in control of all things. This cannot be overlooked, nor can this be taken lightly. The Arminian confirms this, but then fails to carry it out all the way to salvation. The libertarian free will thinkers just cannot allow this to be carried out in either their orthodoxy nor their orthopraxy. The reason is because the man can resist God and His call to the sinner, in the belief of all synergistic and libertarian free will thinkers. To the Calvinist this simply does not make sense.
Some of the verses that ascertain God's complete control of all things are (understand this is not exhaustive):
I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth;
And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Since his days are determined, The number of his months is with You; And his limits You have set so that he cannot pass.
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.
“Alas, who can live except God has ordained it?
Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, How then can man understand his way?
We see these mentioned and our minds, at least mine does, asks, "If all is ordained and determined by God, then how can I be responsible for my sin?"
This is where we understand the permissible will of God. If there was no more understanding than these verses, it would be harder to explain. But, once you take some of the prophetical and narrative sections of Scripture and put it to the light of these passages, one can get a better handle on how God determines all things, yet still can punish those who are guilty by their own sin. Before we look at these verses, know that all good comes from God. Nothing that happens, that is good, happens apart from the direct hand of the Lord.
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
To get a better understanding of the permissible will of God, I will first give a small commentary on 3 passages and then give you some quotes from Turretin and Calvin, thanks to my friend David Ponter.
First, to look at this, we must come to one of the greatest passages dealing with this and that is Genesis 50:20
“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.
This actually is a great living example of the above mentioned verse, Romans 8:28.
Joseph's brothers did some very evil things in their hearts and actions against their brother. But, through Joseph's dreams and through the end result, and especially this verse, we find that the brothers meant evil, and Genesis 50:17 shows that the did actually sin in their actions, but Genesis 50:20 shows that this was all by God's hand. God's permissible will, allowed the brother's to carry out their hatred towards their brother to perfectly extend God's will to Joseph. This word, "meant" is the exact same word for "reckon" or "impute" and is used in the famous verse Genesis 15:6
Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
This word is not used in the sense that God was hoping all this would come to pass, but it is more forceful in its use, and is also used of Joseph's brothers as they "reckoned" evil to their brother.
The second passage is in Jeremiah 25:1-17 (I will simply link so this post isn't abnormally long)
What we find here is God showing His power over, not only His own people, but even to His people's enemies. In verses 9-17, which is where God is showing that He is going to send Babylon to punish Judah, God uses the terms: I will send, I will punish, I will destroy, etc. 11 times! God is showing that He is sovereign over these men's decisions. How do we know that God is not literally causing these people to sin? How do we know that God is not tempting, which would go against James 1? Habakkuk 1 actually shows us that the Babylonians were like this. They were an utterly sinful people who loved to destroy and mock nations (Hab 1,2). So, we can see that how God used the Babylonians was to simply remove his hand of protection from Judah and allow the Babylonians to carry out the evil plans that they already had in their heart. It is the same idea that we find in Hebrews 4:7
“Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.”
It is the hardness of man that causes sin and destruction and ultimately death in hell, not God. This also helps one to understand the dichotomy of how Pharaoh's heart was hardened. Was it God or Pharaoh? In reality, it was both. (Ex 4:21; 7:3; 8:15; 8:32; 1 Sam 6:6; Romans 9:17,18) Both Habakkuk 1:11 and Jeremiah 25:12 which state:
‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the Lord, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation.
“Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, They whose strength is their god.”
We can see the hand of the Lord directing the Babylonians to defeat and punish Judah for their sin, but we also see that the Babylonians did not escape punishment for their sin, because this sin was already in their heart to destroy. What is said of Satan, as far as the reason he sinned?
But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north.
Lastly, we have the greatest providence of God ever predestined and set forth. Shown in Acts 2:22,23
Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
Notice that we have here that God predetermined (there is no way around this word) the cross. We actually have the same seen in Revelation 13:8
All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.
Notice that the book of life and the Lamb who was slain (they must be together) were determined before the world was formed. So, these two passages show God's sovereignty, but notice also this does not release the men from their sin. At the end of Acts 2:23 we see that God, through Peter, says, "you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men..." This shows the permissible will of God allowing the men to do what they had determined in their heart to do, all while God is still completely sovereign.
For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
One of the most simple verses that molds these all together is found in Proverbs 16:9
The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.
The word, in the Hebrew, for "directs" can be also translated as "determines." This verse shows us how God is completely sovereign yet man is still culpable for his sin.
Here are some great quotes from both Turretin and Calvin on the subject:
In this question, which all confess to be the most intricate and difficult among those agitated concerning providence, two extremes occur which are equally dangerous and to be avoided. First in defect, wherein an otiose permission about sins is ascribed to God. The other in excess, when the causality of sin is charged upon God. The former clashes with the providence of God, but the latter with his justice and holiness. Into the former, the Pelagians, who refer the method of God’s providence about evil to a bare and idle permission, run (as if he put forth no action in reference to it, but only indifferently beheld and permitted it). On the latter, however, the Manichaeans, Simonians and Priscillianists formerly struck who made God the cause of wickedness and of sins. This sinners readily seize to excuse their crimes: as Homer’s Agamemnon, “I am not to be blamed, but Jupiter and fate”… and Lyconides in the Aulularia of Plautus, “God was the instigator, I believe the gods wished it” (The Pot of Gold [Loeb, 1:310-11]). This impiety is indulged by the Libertine of the present time.
The orthodox hold the mean between these two extremes, maintaining that the providence of God is so occupied about sin as neither to idly to permit it (as the Pelagians think) nor to efficiently to produce it (as the Libertines suppose)m but efficaciously order and direct it…
The orthodox hold the mean between these extremes, maintaining that the providence of God is so occupied about sin as neither idly to permit it (as the Pelagians think) nor efficiently to produce it (as the Libertines suppose), but efficaciously to order and direct it. However, in order that this may be readily understood, we must treat of it a little more distinctly.
Second, this permission must not be conceived negatively, as if it was a mere keeping back (anergia) or cessation of his will and providence in evil works (by which God, sitting as it were on a watchtower, should behold only the event of the permitted action and who, therefore, would be left uncertain and doubtful-as the old Pelagians thought and as their followers of the present day hold obtruding upon us the comment of an otiose and inert permission; cf. Bellarmine, “God does not hold himself towards sins positively to will or nill, but negatively not to will” (”De amissione gratiae et statu peccati,” 2.16 in Opera 4:107). But it must be conceived positively and affirmatively; not simply that God does not will to hinder sin (which is an otiose negation), but that he wills not to hinder (which is an efficacious affirmation). Thus the permission involves a positive act of the secret will by which God designedly and willingly determined not to hinder sin, although he may be said to nill it as to the revealed will of approbation. In this sense, our divines do not refuse to employ the word “permission” with the Scriptures. And if at any time they reject it (as Calvin, Beza and others), they understand it in the Pelagian sense of otiose”permission” which takes away from God his own right and sets up the idol of free will in its place. Hence Beza: “if by the word permission is meant this distinction (to wit, since God does not act in evil, but gives them up to Satan and their own lusts) that I repudiate not in the least. But if permission is opposed to will, this I reject as false and absurd; its falsity appearing from this, that if God unwillingly permits anything, he is not certainly God, i.e., Almighty; but if he is said to permit anything as not caring, how much do we differ from Epicureanism? It remains, there, fore, that he willingly permits what he permits. Will then is not opposed to permission” (A Little Book of Christian Questions and Responses, Q. 179 [trans. K.M. Summers, 1986], pp. 72-73).
Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1992), 1:515, 516-517.
It is indeed true, that the proximate cause of reprobation is the curse we all inherit from Adam; yet, that we may learn to acquiesce in the bare and simple good pleasure of God... Calvin, Commentary Romans 9:11.
Here again I entreat the honesty of my readers, to compare my language, and the whole strain of my teaching, with your garbled articles. Thus, when your calumny is detected, all the odium which you labor to excite, will vanish of its own accord. Meanwhile, I do not deny, that I have taught along with Moses and Paul, that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Here you expostulate with me to the contempt of Moses, and treating his word as of no account, ask “When the same Moses declares, that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, why have recourse to that violent interpretation—God hardened Pharaoh’s heart?” Now I need go no further for an explanation, than the ninth article, which while you quote, you either distort or misunderstand. For if the will of God is the highest, or remote cause of hardening, then when man hardens his own heart, he himself is the proximate cause, I everywhere distinguish between primary and remote causes, and those which are mediate and proximate; for while the sinner finds himself the root of depraved feeling, there is no reason why he should transfer his fault to God. Calvin, The Secret Providence of God. Article 8, Calvin's Reply.
Because God’s wisdom appears manifold (or “multiform” as the old translator renders it), ought we therefore, on account of the sluggishness of our understanding, to dream that there is any variation in God himself, as if he either may change his plan or disagree with himself? Rather, when we do not grasp how God wills to take place what he forbids to be done, let us recall our mental incapacity, and at the same time consider that the light in which God dwells is not without reason called unapproachable [1 Timothy 6:16], because it is overspread with darkness. Therefore all godly and modest folk readily agree with this saying of Augustine: “Sometimes with a good will a man wills something which God does not will … For example, a good son wills that his father live, whom God wills to die. Again, it can happen that the same man wills with a bad will what God wills with a good will. For example, a bad son wills that his father die; God also wills this. That is, the former wills what God does not will; but the latter wills what God also wills. And yet the filial piety of the former, even though he wills something other than God wills, is more consonant with God’s good will than the impiety of the latter, who wills the same thing as God does. 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.” A little before he had said that by their defection the apostate angels and all the wicked, from their point of view, had done what God did not will, but from the point of view of God’s omnipotence they could in no way have done this, because while they act against God’s will, his will is done upon them. Whence he exclaims: “Great are God’s works, sought out in all his wills” Psalm 111:2; cf. Psalm 110:2, Vg.]; so that in a wonderful and ineffable manner nothing is done without God’s will, not even that which is against his will. For it would not be done if he did not permit it; yet he does not unwillingly permit it, but willingly; nor would he, being good, allow evil to be done, unless being also almighty he could make good even out of evil.” Institutes, 1.18.3.