Sunday, June 25, 2006

The House of Yahweh

I got an interesting newsletter on my door today. It's from the House of Yahweh. The headline reads: "Nuclear War to Start September 12, 2006." They're serious, too. The first sentence reads, "My Dear friends, we must warn the world of nuclear wars that will start no later than September 12, 2006."

I always find these sorts of things interesting. When I lived in Austin and went to UT, I used to ride my bike to school and back, and I'd pass this Baptist church on the way. One day I was riding home from school, and there was a guy on the steps who hollered at me, "Jesus is coming soon!" which didn't seem too odd to me. People have been saying that for 2000 years, and it's quite normal in Austin to see street preachers. What really got my attention, though, was what he said next. Without pausing, he followed it with, "He'll be here in about seven days!" Woah!

I rode the rest of the way home having conversations with him in my mind. Finally, curiosity got the best of me, and I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to find out if he was crazy or why he thought Jesus would be here in seven days and what he'd do if it didn't happen. I got back on my bike and rode over there, but he was gone. After the seven days were over, I wondered about him. What was his reaction? I guess I'll never know.

People have been setting dates and making end-time predictions for a long time, so it's nothing new really. I never take any of these things seriously. But every time it happens, I always think, "But what if???" I mean it's possible, right?

I have the same attitude toward the lottery. I don't actually think I'm going to win, but whenever I buy a lottery ticket, I think, "What if??? After all, it's possible. That's part of the fun of buying a lottery ticket.

I've heard of the House of Yahweh before, but I really know nothing about them. I want to say something to anybody who is a member of this organization/church/whatever. This kind of stuff is bad PR. Take me for example. I know nothing about the House of Yahweh. My first impression of you is this newsletter in which nuclear war is predicted on September 12. You really shouldn't spread these newsletters around like this because people will think you're a kook. If it turns out that nuclear war starts by September 12, I'll be the first to say, "Wow!" But what do you think my impression ought to be if nuclear war does not start? Don't you think I'd be justified in lumping you right in with the rest of the kooks out there making predictions and setting dates? The truth is, I've already done so. Unless you want everybody in the world to think you're a bunch of kooks, you really shouldn't even take the gamble. If you think your message is important and that it will save lives as you claim in this newsletter, then you really ought to leave these wild speculations out of it. It will do nothing but cause you to lose credibility, and then nobody will listen to the rest of your message.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, part 5

Now I want to answer some of Dagood's questions he brought up in the discussion section of his "check your oil" blog. I had brought up Philippians 2:13 where it says, "It is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure," and I said, "God gives us the disposition to work and strive, and then it is we who do it." He asked a series of question in order to flesh out my thought. I'm going to answer these question in light of everything I've written so far.

1. If God gives us the disposition, can we still choose to not do it?

We can, in the natural sense, choose not to do it, but not in the moral sense. That is, if we are disposed to act in a particular way, whether that disposition got there because God put it there or some other way, we cannot dispose ourselves to do otherwise, even though we may have a natural ability to do otherwise (i.e. nothing is physically stopping us from doing otherwise).

2. If God does not give us the disposition, can we still do it?

We can if we have the same disposition for some other reason. But if we have no disposition whatsoever to do something, then we have a moral inability to do it since the will cannot act without a disposition. We may have the natural ability to do it, but not the moral ability.

3. If God gives the disposition, and the person does not do it, is the person responsible?

This question is based on an impossible premise. It's not possible for a person to not do what he has a disposition to do. That is, of course, unless he has a stronger contrary disposition, or he has a natural inability to act on the disposition. If he has a natural inability, then no, he's not responsible. But if he acts on a stronger contrary disposition, then yes, he is responsible.

4. If God does not give the disposition, and the person does not do it, is the person responsible?

Whether the person is responsible depends on his reason for not doing it. If he fails to do it because he has a natural inability, then he's excused. But if he fails to do it because he has a moral inability (i.e. a lack of disposition), then he is responsible.

5. What exactly IS “giving the disposition”?

A disposition is just a mental state in which the will prefers a course of action. For God to "give a disposition," that just means that God brings it about somehow that the person has such a preference or desire. When he hardened Pharaoh's heart, for example, he created in Pharaoh the disposition to not let Israel go.

The end.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, part 4

If God is sovereign over all events, including human action, then somehow or other, God is the ultimate cause for the motives that cause people to act, whether doing good or doing evil. Granted, God does use secondary means to accomplish his will, but I'm talking about utlimate causes. You can trace all these secondary causes back to God. Does that make God the author of sin? Is God responsible for sin? Is God evil?

Remember that the will is the proper object of command since the will is the faculty of choice. What makes a person worthy of praise is that they act on a good motive (i.e. make a good choice). What makes them worthy of blame is that they act on a bad motive (i.e. make a bad choice).

Now let's go back to that post I mentioned a while back on "Debunking Calvinism." The author said that if God causes John to kill Bill (whether by decreeing or implanting the desire), then John is blameless. God killed Bill.

But as we can see from my arguments, two agents were involved since two wills acted from two desires. God is ultimately responsible for Bill being killed, but God was not the one who actually killed Bill. John killed Bill. Since two different persons with two different wills were involved in Bill's death, we have to assess them individually to determine whether we should praise or blame them. We have to look at the individual motives that caused them to act.

The reason is because whether a person is morally justified in their action or not depends on the motive they acted on. That's why we always want to know what somebody's intention was. We ask, "Why did you do that?" And when we have inadvertently caused somebody else harm, we justify ourselves by saying, "I had a good reason for doing that," or "That's not what I meant to do; it was an accident. I meant to do something else." If they intended good, then we praise them, and if they intended bad, then we blame them. When looking at God and John, we are looking at two different actions. God's willful action was to decree or implant a desire in John. John's action was to kill Bill.

In the story of Joseph in the Bible, we find that God had a different intention than Joseph's brothers did in selling him into slavery. God meant it for good, but Joseph's brothers meant it for evil. God's intention was to save lives. Joseph's brothers intended to take out their jealousy on Joseph and rid him from their midst. Likewise, God's intention for having Judas betray Jesus was to save people, but Judas' intention was to make money.

So, to answer the question of whether God is the author of sin, he is in one sense, but not in another. He is not the author of sin in the sense of being the doer of a bad thing. God never acts on bad motives. God always acts on good intentions to bring about good results. However, God is the author of sin in the sense of bringing it about that others sin. This, however, does not make God wicked since God does it for good and praiseworthy ends. God is responsible for sin, not in the sense of committing it, but in the sense of disposing the world in such a way that others commit sin.

Part 5

to be continued...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, part 3

In case you didn't read that, let me explain the difference between a natural ability/inability and a moral ability/inability. If I have a natural ability to do something, that means I'm physically able to do it. If I have a natural inability, that means I'm physically unable. For example, if I have no legs, I have a natural inability to walk.

A moral inability consists in lacking the desire or inclination to do something. Since the will always acts on a motive, it cannot act without a motive. I have a moral inability to walk if I lack any inclination whatsoever to walk.

Okie dokie, with that out of the way, let's move on. We've seen (or assumed or taken my word for it) that we can be morally responsible even if we are unable to do otherwise provided the inability is a moral inability, and not a natural inability. Whereas we would excuse somebody for not walking since he had no legs, we wouldn't excuse somebody for not walking just because they had no desire to walk. The lack of desire amounts to a moral inability and doesn't excuse disobedience. As long as we have a natural ability, we are responsible even without a moral ability.

The proper object of command is the will, since it's the will that either obeys or disobeys. It's the actions of the will, then, that determine whether a person is worthy of praise or blame. A person is morally praiseworthy if they act on good motives and blameworthy if they act on bad motives. As we've seen, though, the motives themselves are not under the control of the will. They are caused by something else.

Since a person is morally responsible for acting on a bad motive even though the motive is caused by something other than the will, then it doesn't matter what the cause is. We cannot be praised or blamed for events that occur outside the will, so the causes of our motives cannot be the basis upon which we are excused or held responsible. Remember, the will is the object of command, not those things that lie outside of the will, including the causes for our motives. What makes us responsible, regardless of how the motive got there, is that our will is engaged in acting on the motive.

Whether the cause of our motives is our DNA, our environment, another person, or God, they all amount to the same thing--a motive that we did not choose. Since we can be held responsible for acting on motives that we did not choose, God's sovereignty is compatible with human responsibility. God may, either by causing or allowing, by direct or indirect means, create in us a motive to do wrong. But that does not excuse us, since we still act willfully.

God intended for Joseph's brothers to sell him into slavery, he intended Pharaoh to refuse to let Israel go, he intended Judas to betray Jesus, and he intended the Romans to crucify Jesus. If God's intention brought these events about, then ultimately God was the cause for the motives these people acted on in doing these things. Yet they were morally responsible.

Part 4

to be continued...