There are many misunderstandings about Calvinism/reformed theology. Two questions people often have for Calvinists:
Is God the author of sin? Did God predestine/arbitrarily send people to Hell?
For information about God’s decree I would direct you to chapter 3 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession:
I stumbled across an excellent explanation on a reddit thread and I want to share it here. It’s an older/archived thread but I thought it was an interesting discussion.
Here is the link:
I’ve provided the discussion here below:
“Hello brothers and sisters, I was wondering if someone could explain to me what first and second causes are and give examples from the Bible. I kinda knew it, but forgot it and I’m not sure anymore…it’s kinda weird”
“First (or “primary”) and second (or “secondary”) causes describe the agents in an effect. The first cause is the ultimate (more indirect) cause, and in this case, is always God. The second cause is the more direct cause, done by a created thing.
God has a decree, and he executes his decree through creation and providence. So, primary and secondary causes mostly appear in a study on concurrence, one of the three acts of God within the work of Providence. In executing his decree in providence, God (primary cause) works in and through a thing (secondary cause) to achieve his will. This is called concurrence.
Though God is the primary cause, of things, he is not the direct agent of things. He works in a secondary cause according to its nature and properties. When a dog barks, God has decreed that the dog bark at that moment, and works in the dog to have it bark. He doesn’t have it meow, or chirp, because it is in the nature of a dog to bark. He created the dog with properties such that it barks. So, he works with things according to their nature. But his “working in the dog” is such that the dog’s action is from itself, of it’s own volition, and properly ascribed to the dog. So when a dog barks, we can say that it is both from God, and from the dog, but is performed only by the dog. God doesn’t bark, the dog barks.
This is all over in the Bible. It might be helpful to look at, say, (Psalm 65:9-10 ESV) “You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it. 10 You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.”
This passage is speaking about God. So when it says “you visit the earth and water it,” it’s saying “God visits the earth and waters it.” Same thing in verse 10. The actions are ascribed to God, yet he does so through means. He greatly enriches the earth how? He visits the earth and waters it. He waters things how? He softens things how? With showers. He uses showers to soften the furrows. He uses rain to bless the growth on the earth. He works in the showers, according to their nature, such that they cause softening, settling, and growth. Water has the property of aiding growth, and God works in the water to do so. Yet, the “blessings its growth” and “greatly enriching” are both ascribed to God, yet the actions (of watering) are performed properly by the rain. So, the earth grows. What are the causes of its growth? The primary cause of its growth is God. The secondary cause is the rain.
A few other biblical examples wherein the same reasoning can be found:
(Genesis 45:5 ESV) And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.
(Exodus 4:11-12 ESV) Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”
(Joshua 11:6 ESV) And the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.”
(Proverbs 21:1 ESV) The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.
(Ezra 6:22 ESV) And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
(Deuteronomy 8:18 ESV) You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
(1 Corinthians 12:6 ESV) and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
(Philippians 2:13 ESV) for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
I’m sorry if this question sounds dumb, but is God the first cause of sin?
It’s not a dumb question, it’s one that needs to be asked if the rest of this is true. It may sound wrong, but God decrees even sin, so we say yes. But there are a few comments and qualifications. First, it must be remembered that the action is properly ascribed to the second cause. Just like when rain waters a plant, God ordained it, but God is not the water that waters the plant; the water nourishes the plant. When a dog barks, God isn’t barking, the dog barks. When people sin, it’s according to his decree, but people sin.
Second, it has to be added that he isn’t the first cause of sin in the same way as he is in other secondary causes. Normally, he provides a kind of “energizing” needed for the second cause to act, according to its own will, according to its own nature. But when someone sins, he simply “gives them up” to their sin. It’s more like a “Oh, you want to do evil? Is that what you want? Fine.” So he doesn’t will sin in the same way he does non-sin.
We see an example of God “giving them up to their sin” in Romans 1 (specifically verse 24):
22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.
Same with Psalm 81 (specifically verse 12):
11“But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. 12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. 13 Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!
In both cases, God has decided, it is in his decree, to give them over. And so he is the first cause. But in a way in which he is blameless in the act.
And God does decree, and even uses sin, though we must remember and trust that he does so for good purposes. Like a good-guy thwarting a bad-guy in the midst of his own evil act. The ultimate example in Acts 2 (specifically verse 23):
22 Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
So, the answer is yes. He is the first cause of all things (he has decreed, and he is sovereign, after all), but that doesn’t make him the author of sin. The author is the second cause, since the action properly belongs to the second cause.
Thanks brother, now I understand it a little bit better! So in every action God is always the primary cause, but sometimes or most of the time uses secondary causes, right?
Yes, most of the time he uses secondary causes (most of what happens falls under ordinary providence).
Though things like miracles, signs, wonders, etc. only have a primary cause (God), since he is working directly in something by divine power (this is rare, and falls under extraordinary providence). For instance, the Resurrection. Rising from the dead is not a normal property of bodies, or the natural order. He doesn’t work through a created thing to raise someone from the dead, but does so directly by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But miracles were done by God through the apostles in Acts. I’m reading through Acts now and I’ve come up across verses that God likes this “God was performing miracles through Paul” or something of the sorts. That’s also using second causes, right?
What about regeneration?
Astute question! Though we have to be precise: 1) What effect was caused, and 2) what, then, caused the effect?
We can use Acts 3 as an example, where the lame man is made to walk again by Peter.
1) The effect that was caused was the healing of a man’s legs. 2) Technically, the cause of the healing was divine power.
Remember how secondary causes work: If it’s a secondary cause, God is working naturally through a thing’s properties or nature. If we were to identify Peter as the secondary cause of the healing here, we would have to say that God was working according to Peter’s nature, or his natural ability to heal legs. But by nature, humans don’t have that kind of power, property, or ability.
So, it’s not quite the same as watering trees. If we used the scheme above for watering trees, we’d say God uses water to nourish the trees. So 1) the effect produced is a nourished tree, and 2) the nourishment effect was caused by water, according to its natural properties.
So, in the case of Peter and the lame man, God performed a miraculous healing. The cause of the healing was divine power, but the occasion of the healing was Peter’s words.