Monday, January 18, 2010

Luis Molina and "The Greater Good": The Dilemma of Meticulous (Particular) Sovereignty

“From what has been said you can easily see JUST HOW FALSE THE FREQUENT CHARGE MADE AGAINST ME IS, namely, that because I posit in God a middle knowledge by which He foresaw what the created faculty of choice would do on the hypothesis that it should be placed in this or that order of things and circumstances and aids, I AM THEREBY CLAIMING THAT THERE IS ONLY GENERAL, AND NOT PARTICULAR, PROVIDENCE with respect to those things that depend on the created faculty of choice. Nor do those who make this charge against me pay attention to the fact that included in the very being endowed with free choice and in the order of things and circumstances and aids are all the means of divine providence through which God INTENDS IN PARTICULAR all the good things that He foresees are going to exist because of the freedom of such a created faculty of choice. But since I am not concerned with what anyone reports about me---for what I myself have said can easily be ascertained by anyone who reads the first edition of our ‘Concordia’ or this second edition---I will purposely disregard the many opinions that are FALSELY REFERRED TO AS MINE; in addition, there are many other opinions that I find it unnecessary to apologize for” (Luis de Molina, Disputation 53, Part 4 of his “Concordia, Pt. IV.” Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1988, page 253).

The great preacher Solomon once stated that “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NKJV). And although I read these words many times, I still don’t ever seem to comprehend the full logic of Solomon’s statement---even in the realm of theology.

Molina provides intimate knowledge in his quote above regarding the opposition he faced in his day. I read earlier today that Molina experienced opposition while attempting to publish his “Concordia” because of some of the supposedly shocking claims he made (theological claims that went against the thought of his day).

I must confess: I am quite sympathetic to Molina. And, as a result, I am quite sympathetic to Molinism. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not reading Molina or paying attention to his theological and philosophical system because I feel as if no one has ever given Molina a voice in our world. Molina himself wrote his “Concordia” and his thoughts were published in a book with an orange cover that I’ve been carrying around with me for the last week or so.

But I am sympathetic to Molina (and thus, Molinism, his system) because he articulates very clearly the ever-present idea that humans have libertarian freedom. Humans are allowed to make choices (none of them lying outside of God’s power and control), choices that they are responsible for. God does not create us as “puppets,” make us do things, and then throws responsibility on us in order to escape what He has caused. We make choices, and our actions have consequences. And any theological system (Calvinism particularly) that does not acknowledge this (or, as in the case of Bruce Ware, attempts to minimize freedom to “freedom of inclination”) is, in the words of Arminius, “injurious to the nature of God.” To accuse God of creating a distinct “reprobate” portion of humanity in order to display His glory more fully is ridiculous and absurd. More importantly, I do not think such a view will win the world to Christ; and winning the world to Christ is the believer’s God-given task. Any theology that goes against that (no matter how enthusiastic its advocates are) is still an affront to the nature of God and an impediment to the plan of God.

Now, on to the task at hand. In Molina’s quote above we find that he is charged with holding to a “general” view of sovereignty, which he openly opposes. Molina believes that he holds to a very meticulous (particular) sovereignty of God, that God either causes directly or permits every single act for a purpose.

Molina’s quote above then, sounds like meticulous sovereignty, right? Well, yes and no. While God oversees every little action, God only “intends” the good; He only “permits” evil, which prevents God from being dubbed “the author of sin and evil.”

But this poses a problem. Let’s look at the words “intention” and “permission.”
The word “intention” refers to “goal, meaning, purpose, etc.” According to the Cambridge Online Dictionary, an intention is “something that you WANT and PLAN to do; an aim” (*1+0&dict=a).

When a person “intends” to do something, he or she makes plans. There is a deliberate planning process that occurs. The person planning will see to it that every little detail is laid out, all bases covered. If a family plans to go to Disney World for a family vacation, then the family will plan every step of the way. It is important to plan trips in this manner---that way, the family can spend more time enjoying Disney World and less time worrying about things like money, hotel reservations, etc. God intends that we do what is good. God specifically created the world “good”: Genesis tells us that “God looked upon all that He had made and it was VERY GOOD” (Gen. 1:31, NKJV). From the beginning of time as we know it, God intended nothing but good towards His creation. And in the end, all things God will bring to a good end for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).

But “intention” is different from “permission.” The Cambridge Dictionary Online offers the following definition:

“the act of allowing someone to do something, or of allowing something to happen” (*1+0&dict=A).

In the case of evil, however, to “permit” takes on a somewhat different idea; Cambridge’s dictionary provides the following idea for “permission” as “allowing a wide range of choices, especially in an area where there have traditionally been rules that had to be obeyed.” What this definition shows us is that sometimes, against the will of say, our parents (for example), we are given the right to go on a school trip or go to a movie, etc. Although our parents do not want to see us make certain bad choices (whether it be investing in a bad car or dating someone they think is wrong for us), they grant what we want. Why do they do it? Because, in most cases, they want us to be able to make choices, to help us mature in life and be able to discern good from bad, right from wrong, truth from error. If our parents disapproved of our every action and never granted us power to make any choices, they might get what they want (which is to make sure every choice we make is good)---but their constant oversight in every little decision will hurt us later in life, as someday, we will find ourselves in life without them and have to make our own decisions without their influence. God is no different: when He permits evil, He does it in order that we would grow to discern good from evil. He doesn’t desire that we sin (He desires the opposite!), but, because He has granted us free creatures libertarian freedom, He will not rescind the power He gave us (even if He knows we’re making a bad choice).

As we’ve seen, when God intends something, He specifically designs it with a purpose; when He “permits” evil, however, He doesn’t design it with a purpose; rather, despite His reluctance to see us sin, He will allow it because He has granted choice to His human creation. To take it back would be to renege on His Word. And God is faithful, even if we aren’t---because His nature demands it (2 Tim. 2:13).

If evil is against God’s plans for us, and He doesn’t do anything evil or give us evil (James 1:13-14), then He cannot “design” evil with a set purpose. And yet, this is what we find Molina saying in his “Concordia”:

“in addition, evil acts are subject to that same divine predetermination and providence to the extent that they cannot exist IN PARTICULAR unless God by His providence permits them in particular FOR THE SAKE OF SOME GREATER GOOD” (Luis de Molina, “Concordia,” Disputation 53, Part 3, Section 17).

What Molina has admitted to here is that God has a “greater good” in mind for these evils that He supposedly “allows.” But if God has a greater good in mind for these “evils,” then He “needs” evil in order to bring about something greater than what He could have brought about if He just prevented the evil altogether. And this is problematic because God’s essence is good; in Genesis, God made everything “good”---and He didn’t need evil in creating the world. If God didn’t need evil when everything began, why does He now need evil in our world? If every good and perfect gift comes from above (James 1:15), then how can we turn around and claim that God gives evil to bring about greater good?

When we use the “Greater-Good” argument, we make evil more important in God’s plan than good is. And in God’s eyes, there is nothing good about evil. Scripture tells us that the Lord does not do evil (James 1), the Lord punishes the ungodly (Psalm 1), and the Lord’s death on the cross was to take away our sins and make us righteous (2 Cor. 5:17). The Lord’s only concern through the history of the world has been to take away sin and do away with evil, not keep it around for some “grand design.”

It’s obvious why (looking back to our beginning quote of Molina’s) that he is labeled as holding to a “general view” of divine sovereignty. How can one hold to meticulous sovereignty (where God directs every itty bitty single act of life) and yet, claim that God “permits” evil? Calvinists here are truly consistent: if God “plans” every little event in the world, then God “plans” evil (and thus, the Greater Good argument, at least to them, works beautifully); but if God does not plan evil (He is not the author of sin and evil), then God cannot possess “meticulous” sovereignty over the world. The only “meticulous” sovereignty God can have is the kind where He is the one who allows man to make decisions that often go against His desires for them.

When we claim the Greater Good argument, we must understand that God is being implicated in evil (He plans evil, gives it purpose). If God doesn’t however, then we must hold to a general sovereignty. After all, God has decided of His own good pleasure that He not be the only determining moral agent in the universe...

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