baptist, C.H. Spurgeon, Charles Spurgeon, christian, christianity, compatibilism, D.A. Carson, evil, philosophy, predestination, reformed theology, responsibility, sermons, sovereignty, suffering, theodicy, theology
I want to resurrect two important but easily overlooked items that were buried in the comments of an old post. The discussion under that post wandered away from the original topic somewhat, and eventually led to the inclusion of two items which I think deserve a post of their own.
The first item was a two-part lecture by D.A. Carson entitled, “On Being Prepared for Evil and Suffering.” The other was a quote by C.H. Spurgeon. These two men articulate, perhaps better than most, the danger of overemphasizing either one of two fundamental truths, usually at the expense of the other: God’s sovereignty, and human responsibility.
That’s not really what Carson’s lectures are about, though. He’s actually examining the problem of suffering and evil in light of the goodness and power of God. If you’ve ever struggled to understand how a good and all-powerful God could allow evil and suffering (a specific branch of theology sometimes called theodicy), I would strongly encourage you to listen to these two messages. They are incredibly good.
In the course of the lecture (and more to the point of this post), Carson briefly discusses the philosophical concept of compatibilism. Compatibilism teaches that the following two propositions are both true and mutually compatible, even if we can’t fully reconcile them:
- God is utterly sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions to mitigate human responsibility.
- Human beings are morally responsible creatures, but their moral responsibility never functions to make God absolutely contingent.
The other item I wanted to resurrect, from the same comment thread, was a quote by Charles Spurgeon. Without ever using the term compatibilism, Spurgeon often made precisely the same point Carson does. Here is part of the excerpt that I quoted from one of Spurgeon’s sermons,
That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other.
If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other.
These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.”
You can read the whole sermon here if you’d like. In conclusion, I think it’s hard for most of us to preserve this biblical tension, but essential that we try. A failure to do so inevitably leads to some distortion of the truth, and results in a lot of unnecessary controversy. Just ask Charles Spurgeon.