Friday, August 7, 2009

The Origin of Sin

As I often do, I’m back to give another quote from the church fathers. Tonight’s quote will come from Clement of Alexandria:

“Neither praises nor censures, neither rewards nor punishments, are right IF THE SOUL DOES NOT HAVE THE POWER OF INCLINATION AND DISINCLINATION AND IF EVIL IS INVOLUNTARY…IN NO RESPECT IS GOD THE AUTHOR OF EVIL. But since FREE CHOICE AND INCLINATION ORIGINATE SINS…punishments are justly inflicted” (Clement of Alexandria, c.195, E, 2.319; from “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” by David W. Bercot, Editor. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, page 287).

Clement makes some interesting statements regarding the free will of man. First, he says that the soul has “the power of inclination and DISINCLINATION”—here, Clement tells us that not only does the soul have the power to CHOOSE ITS OWN TENDENCIES, but that the soul can also CHOOSE AGAINST ITS TENDENCIES. I stated in my post regarding “The Freedom of Inclination” and other posts in “Perspectives on the Doctrine of God” that Calvinists claim that our freedom lies in only doing what the inclination is…and yet, Scripture continually exhorts us that we can RESIST the devil. Scripture clearly can’t be wrong—therefore, if Scripture tells me that I have the power to resist the Devil, then I have the power to resist the Devil…which means that I can RESIST my inner inclinations!

Next, Clement says that rewards or punishments are not needed “if evil is involuntary.” What does it mean for something to be “involuntary”? I found two meanings in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary Online that will be pertinent to our discussion:

1 : done contrary to or without choice

The first definition of involuntary is “done CONTRARY TO or WITHOUT CHOICE.” In other words, the person who does something “involuntary” is not given a choice over it—they are MADE to do it, which is “compulsory.” This would be someone who has a gun put to their head and made to rob a bank. That person is doing what they’re doing out of compulsion, out of forced request—not because they DESIRE it. It is acting on desires that makes us culpable for our deeds. So, if evil is “involuntary,” if, according to the Calvinists, we are made to do evil by the ordination of God and not the choices of men, then we are not responsible. To aid us in the discussion, I’ll give the meanings of the word “responsible” below (also from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary Online):

1 a: liable to be called on to answer b (1): liable to be called to account as the primary cause, motive, or agent; a committee responsible for the job (2): being the cause or explanation; mechanical defects were responsible for the accident c: liable to legal review or in case of fault to penalties 2 a: able to answer for one's conduct and obligations : TRUSTWORTHY b: able to choose for oneself between right and wrong3: marked by or involving responsibility or accountability; responsible financial policies, a responsible job; 4: politically answerable ; especially : required to submit to the electorate if defeated by the legislature —used especially of the British cabinet.

There are some definitions of note for the word “responsible”: first, there is definition 1b: “liable to be called to account as the PRIMARY CAUSE, motive, or AGENT.” When someone is the primary cause, he or she is the one who sets something in motion, someone who starts something, who originates it. If, according to the Calvinist, God is the PRIMARY CAUSE, then God is responsible for the evil in the world—for according to the Calvinist, He is the One who sets all the evil into motion.

Definition #2 is pretty much a repeat of 1b. However, definition 2b is of note:

“ABLE TO CHOOSE FOR ONESELF between right and wrong.”

Notice that the definition starts with the words “able to choose.” These words tell us that responsibility and blame start with someone who has the POTENTIAL to make a decision, choose between two or more alternatives. In this case, the person has the ability to decide whether to do right or wrong, good or bad, correct or incorrect.
Clement then writes the words, “In no respect is God the author of evil.” These lovely words tell us that Clement attests to what Scripture has to say about God’s relation to evil:

“You are not a God who delights in wickedness; EVIL CANNOT LODGE WITH YOU” (Psalm 5:4, HCSB).

“The face of the LORD is set against those WHO DO WHAT IS EVIL, to erase all memory of them from the earth” (Psalm 34:16, HCSB).

“For indeed, LORD, your enemies—indeed, YOUR ENEMIES WILL PERISH; ALL EVILDOERS WILL BE SCATTERED” (Psalm 92:9, HCSB).

“He protects the lives of His godly ones; He rescues them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 97:10, HCSB).

“But as for those who turn aside to crooked ways, THE LORD WILL BANISH THEM WITH THE EVILDOERS. Peace be with Israel” (Psalm 125:5, HCSB).

“To fear the Lord is TO HATE EVIL” (Proverbs 8:13).

“The LORD DETESTS THE PLANS OF AN EVIL MAN, but pleasant words are pure” (Proverbs 15:26).

“Wickedness is atoned for by loyalty and faithfulness, and one turns from evil BY THE FEAR OF THE LORD” (Proverbs 16:6).

“Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. REMOVE YOUR EVIL DEEDS from My sight. STOP DOING EVIL” (Isaiah 1:16).

“I will destine you for the sword, and all of you will kneel down to be slaughtered, because I called and you did not answer, I spoke and you did not hear; you did what was evil in My sight and chose what I did not delight in.” (Isaiah 65:12)

“"I will pronounce My judgments against them for all the evil they did when they abandoned Me to burn incense to other gods and to worship the works of their own hands.” (Jeremiah 1:16)

“Your own evil will discipline you; your own apostasies will reprimand you. Think it over and see how evil and bitter it is for you to abandon the LORD your God and to have no fear of Me. [This is] the declaration of the Lord GOD of Hosts.” (Jeremiah 2:19)

“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, men of Judah and residents of Jerusalem. Otherwise, My wrath will break out like fire and burn with no one to extinguish [it] because of your evil deeds.” (Jeremiah 4:4)

“For My people are fools; they do not know Me. They are foolish children, without understanding. They are skilled in doing what is evil, but they do not know how to do what is good.” (Jer. 4:22)

“"For the Judeans have done what is evil in My sight." [This is] the LORD's declaration. "They have set up their detestable things in the house that is called by My name and defiled it.” (Jer. 7:30)

“Yet they would not obey or pay attention; each one followed the stubbornness of his evil heart. So I brought on them all the curses of this covenant, because they had not done what I commanded [them] to do." (Jeremiah 11:8)

“Seek good and not evil so that you may live, and the LORD, the God of Hosts, will be with you, as you have claimed.” (Amos 5:14)

“You have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet you ask, "How have we wearied [Him]?" When you say, "Everyone who does evil is good in the LORD's sight, and He is pleased with them," or "Where is the God of justice?" (Malachi 2:17)

“The world cannot hate you, but it does hate Me because I testify about it—that its deeds are evil.” (John 7:7)

“God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways." (Acts 3:26)

“who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” (Galatians 1:4)

“This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.” (Ephesians 6:13)

“But the Lord is faithful; He will strengthen and guard you from the evil one.” (2 Thess. 3:3)

“Watch out, brothers, so that there won't be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12)

“No one undergoing a trial should say, "I am being tempted by God." For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn't tempt anyone.” (James 1:13)

“because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:12)

“Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” (3 John 1:11)

All of the above work shows us that evil is ANTITHETICAL to God’s nature, which is “Good.” Clement’s words, then, ring true—for God is NOT RESPONSIBLE for evil. If God is not responsible, then someone has to be. In that case, the “someone” would be “mankind,” for James 1 tells us that mankind is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed.

Last but not least, Clement tells us one more thing regarding sin itself: “Free choice and inclination ORIGINATE sins.” This, my friends, is the ORIGIN OF SIN—man’s choice and his inner inclinations!
This is why we see Cain murder his brother Abel in Genesis 4 after the Lord’s counsel to Cain. This is why we read of the Lord’s judgment in Genesis 6, when it says that violence covered the earth and every thought of man’s was evil continually.

Clement then, is right in his statement concerning God’s separation from evil, and
man being the originator of evil itself. For those who wanna see more church father quotes, stick around for more to come…

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