Calvinists often seek to extol compatibilism and determinism with regard to man’s salvation and yet ever seek to eradicate it, or its entailments, in regard to the origin of sin. For example, Shedd somewhat evades the issue when he writes, “The answer is, that God’s predestinating in election and preterition is his making the origin of holiness in an elect sinner, and the continuance (not origin) of sin in a non-elect sinner.” Additionally, Shedd refers to the meaning of the Westminster Confession with regard to the fall, and existence of sin preceding election and preterition when he says, “Election and preterition, consequently, have reference to the continuance of sin, not the origin of it.”
While he may desire to limit the range of such terms at times, it does nothing to explain how the same does not include the “origin” of sin in the household of compatibilism and decretive theology. Citing statements by others does not help because such inaccurate redundancy does nothing to explain how Calvinism’s reliance upon compatibilism can be satisfactorily reconciled with God not desiring in some significant measure for man to sin, and such desire being distinct from merely desiring in a permissory way. One must not merely explain the continuance of sin but also its origin. Even when Calvinists make a distinction between God’s desire and decrees, such does not satisfactorily address the issue because God desired the decrees also.
Concerning the fall of the angels, which is the real beginning of sin in the universe, Shedd says, “When God placed some of the holy angels upon probation, and decided not to prevent their apostasy by extraordinary grace, they might, nevertheless, have continued in holiness, had they so willed. The origin of their sin is not, therefore, fully accounted for by the merely negative permission of God.”
There are two things to note. First, he says, “God… decided not to prevent their apostasy by extraordinary grace.” This seems to mean that God could have created angels to live in a holy state forever by simply supplying more grace; apparently, the same could be said of humankind, had God so chosen. That is to say, there is enough grace available for God to have created angels (and I assume mankind) so that they would not sin, but sin came because God decided against a universe with angels and mankind without sin and its inevitable suffering. Second, granting that the angels who were tested by God could have continued in holiness if they “so willed” implies a libertarian view of free will, but Calvinism holds to a compatibilist view. Compatibilism entails that in the moral moment of decision, given the same past, the individual could not have chosen differently than he did in fact choose.
Therefore, minus the obfuscating language, according to Calvinism it means they could have continued in holiness had “they so willed,” but the reality is that they could not will to do so without God having created them with a nature that emanated such desires, i.e. compatible moral freedom. These are disquieting realities within Calvinism. In addition, it appears that only some angels were put to the test, which I understand to mean granted the ability to choose apostasy, which again seems to bolster the implication of God’s desire for freely chosen sin among only some of the angels.
Notice also that God’s permission to sin (according to compatibilism and decretal theology) does not fully answer the question about the ultimate responsibility for their freely chosen sin, which they could not by God’s design have freely chosen not to commit. The idea of the permissive will of God within a compatibilist framework disallows any suggestion of otherwise choice; consequently, their ability to will to not sin is only hypothetically or trivially true (which would have required having been given a different nature and past) and therefore, not actually true in the moral moment of decision.
Accordingly, once more, we see the ever-present calvinistically-generated dilemma, which is that God must not have desired to create man and permit the fall against His overarching desire for man (libertarian freedom), but rather He did in fact desire to create man to predeterminately freely choose to sin; conversely, if it had pleased God, He could have desired to create man to inviolably and freely choose not to sin, and both outcomes are reflective of compatibilism.
The explanation I am presenting is precisely consistent with compatibilism; consequently, it does not make the error of saying God “caused” man to sin (i.e. that man did not freely choose) or that God does not employ secondary or tertiary causes. It simply explains the very nature of compatibilism, and therefore, the reason there is the presence of sin in our universe. According to compatibilism, man freely chose according to his greatest desire and is therefore responsible, but in the moral moment of decision, being endowed with compatibilist freedom, he could not have actually chosen differently than he did; of course, this then raises the question of ultimate responsibility, which most plausibly seems to lead to only one place, and that is God. To wit, God’s creation of man with compatible freedom evidences God’s permission to allow sin and His actual predetermining desire for sin to happen to be synonymous; thus, the Calvinist’s difficulty of expounding the origin of sin in a consistently understandable way that does in fact remove any and every sense of God’s responsibility—they simply choose to remain compatibilists and declare such an “inscrutable mystery.”
For clarity’s sake, we all agree that the creation could only come about by God’s desire (including even the permission for beings to choose to sin when they did not have to do so—libertarian freedom). However, the dilemma of Calvinism is that desire of God included the unnecessary dimension of His desire for sin and all of its horror to exist, which was neither necessary nor included in the simple desire to create moral beings as understood by libertarians and evidenced in Scripture.
A better alternative to the Calvinist position which necessitates that it pleased God to create man to freely choose to sin is that He created beings in His image with otherwise choice (libertarian freedom), which seems to include the reality that one cannot guarantee that such beings will not use that freedom to sin so long as that possibility is within their range of options (which is essential to the concept at the point of creation and is not so at the point of eternity). By God’s essential omniscience, He foreknew everything, which included all contingencies of libertarian beings, one of which is that man would choose to sin.
His knowledge of such an eventuality was without His desire for that to be the choice of man beyond the desire to permit it. God, knowing that man would misuse His gift of freewill, freely chose to create man thusly, permitting sin to arise by man’s wrong choice, but He also chose to overcome sin and all of its horror. He accomplished the impossible by His coextensive creation/redemption plan. Thus, we say God desired to create man in His image, with otherwise choice (capable of love, responsibility, blame, honor, etc.,) reflective of His own undetermined choice to create, redeem, and love.
Accordingly, within Calvinism, as God’s voluntary decision to not regenerate some could have been different if such would have so pleased Him, in like manner, He could have created man so that he would not have sinned had such been what He desired (so pleased Him); therefore, Calvinism entails the truth that not only could God have saved more than He did or even everyone, He also could have created man without sin; the only reason that He did neither is because, according to the entailments of compatibilism and Calvinism, such simply did not please God, a disquieting reality.
In a future article, I will explore how it also pleased God to choose to damn people to eternal torment, which He did not have to do.
6.Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed, 91.
7.Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed, 92–93.
9.More formally known as a hypothetical analytical otherwise choice vs. an actual otherwise choice.
10.See article “Can Man Endowed with Libertarian Free Will Live Righteously Forever in Heaven” http://www.ronniewrogers.com/?s=Can+Man+Endowed+with+Libertarian+Free+Will+Live+Righteously+Forever+in+Heaven, posted 9/23/13.