Saturday, March 10, 2018

For The Glory of God

I found a somewhat interesting article by apologist Timothy McCabe that made me do a double-take when I read it.  McCabe takes a stance on free will that sounds strikingly different from what the vast majority of Christians hold.  The way I read it, he flatly denies that there is free will.  The title of his post, and the question that is purports to answer is: If God has a "divine plan" for everyone, then does that mean he controls humans and animals to meet his plan?  McCabe wastes no time in answering that question.  He says, "Definitely."  So he says that God determines our actions and choices, but he's not a determinist in the same sense that I am.  While I believe that our actions play out according to physical laws, McCabe believes that God decides what will happen, and everything that happens is for the glory of God.

What specifically does McCabe have to say about free will?  He makes no bones about it.  God is in full control of everything that happens.  He knows exactly what he is doing, and he knows all future outcomes:
The Biblical God is in complete control of everything. In the book of Ephesians, we see that God "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 12:6; Psalm 135:6).

With God being the singular cause of the beginning (John 1:3), and given that He knows and has always known every detail about the future, He has clearly caused (at least in the ultimate sense) everything that has ever come to pass, knowing full well that that was exactly what He was doing. - McCabe
This appears to be fatalism, which is in opposition to what almost all Christians believe - that humans have free will.  Fatalism is the "view that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do.[1] Included in this is that humans have no power to influence the future, or indeed, their own actions".  And that would appear to be consistent with what McCabe says.  But if my understanding of Christianity is correct, the whole idea of Jesus dying is to save us from the sins that we commit by our own choice.  And I don't think McCabe disagrees with that, except for that part about sinning by choice. (After all, this is Christianity we're talking about. Who says it's supposed to make sense?)

Is McCabe a Calvinist?  At least partly, it sounds like he is.  Calvinists hold a position that might be called theistic compatibilism.  They say that people have free will, and by that they mean that in the absence of external coercion, we are free to act in accordance with out own nature.  But it is our nature that determines what choices we make, and our nature is something we have no choice about.  This is not libertarian free will, which is what most Christians believe in.  It is much like my own deterministic compatibilism.  Here is an explanation by Michael Patton of Calvinistic free will that denies we are free to choose against our own nature.  As far as I can tell, the difference between theistic and deterministic compatibilism is that the determinist thinks our nature is governed by the laws of physics, and the theist thinks our nature is established by God's choice.  Note that the difference between compatibilism and fatalism is that compatibilists believe we have a role in influencing outcomes, while fatalists deny that we can to anything to change what happens.  At any rate, Calvinists are not fatalists, as noted in Patton's article.

In a different article McCabe actually agrees that there is some kind of free will, but in the present article, he says that God is in "complete control" of everything we do, which sounds more like fatalism.  I'm not sure how to reconcile those two things.  More importantly, I'm not sure that McCabe can reconcile them.  In my mind, it makes no sense to say that we have free will (of any kind), and also that God is in complete control of everything that happens.  But McCabe doesn't seem to have a problem with it.

McCabe acknowledges that God causes us to sin.  Why would God do that?  Doesn't that imply that God himself is evil?  Of course not, he says.  God is not bound by the dictates of morality that he imposes on man.  Whatever he does is for his own glorification.  Apparently, anything he does glorifies him, no matter how evil it seems to us.  He can cause all manner of terrible things to happen.  He can dictate what is good and moral for humans, and then make us disobey that dictate and send us to hell for it, and that somehow glorifies God, according to McCabe.
He will either glorify Himself through you by demonstrating that He cannot tolerate sin, and condemning you to an eternity in hell, or else He will glorify Himself through you by demonstrating that He is compassionate and forgiving, and will take on the penalty for your sin through His only Son. - McCabe
If this makes sense to you, then I'd say you must be a Christian.  To me, it sounds like a contortion of logic.  Making us disobey him and then sending us to hell glorifies God?  Only in the mind of someone who is sick and twisted.  But if you're in love with the moral monster who would do that, then whatever he does seems wonderful, no matter how horrifying it seems to the rest of us.  Love is blind.  Blind to faults, and blind to reason.  God makes us sin against his own commands, and the Christian in love calls that "free will".  God could be the most atrocious monster you could possibly imagine, and all the Christian in love sees is God's glory.  This is why it's impossible to have any kind of reasoned discussion with people like McCabe.  Reason isn't in the equation.

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