Is Murder a Choice of Man or a Choice of God?

The following is a question from a respondent to one of my articles. It was asked and responded to in a public forum.

Hello

You said, “Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying. My mother was brutally murdered when I was 8 years old. Are you saying my God wasn’t strong enough to save her or that He cares more about something (namely the free will of man) other than making life perfect and free from sin?”

The following is my response.

I would like to begin by saying how deeply and truly sorry I am about the murder of your mother; add to this the untold hurt you not only experienced from such a brutal act but that you were such small child. When I read your words, I was heartbroken and prayed for you. I am glad you, by all appearance, know our Lord Jesus as Savior and that God will work all things for good. Having suffered things as a small child, I am aware that the consequences of such can be so deep that the hurt continues into adulthood. Please do not think me presumptuous, but I pray that our Lord Jesus continues ministering to you even as we dialogue about the murder of your mother and the macro-issues embedded in your question.

I will not belabor my reasoning for my response to you because I think my article and my responses to other bloggers have sufficiently addressed the basis for my position; rather, I will cut to the chase—so to speak.

The question is not whether God is powerful enough or cares more about something called “free will.” Rather, the question is, does God care about his free choice to create a world in the way he desired? He is powerful enough to have created a world with compatibilism so that man would irresistibly sin (what Calvinism teaches), or he could have created a world with compatibilism so that man would not sin.[1] Both were possible, and he has the power to have created either.

Calvinism says the former is what God chose to create, as is evident since sin is in the world. This means God desired for you, as an eight-year-old child, to lose your mother to the brutal sinful act of murder—and everything that went with that—and that the individual who committed the sin of murdering your mom could not have chosen to not murder your mom. Why? Because God was pleased for the man to sin, your mom to be murdered, and you to be motherless.

This means he was pleased to set up a system in which the sin and heartache happened when it was possible for him to have set up a compatible free system in which it did not happen. This means the murderer is merely the proximate cause (secondary or instrumental cause), but it all happened because God chose for it to happen when he could have chosen for the man to not have sinned if he had been pleased to do so. This makes God the ultimate cause (through secondary causation) of your mother’s murder and every other sin or evil act; all because he was pleased to do so.

Now, while it is possible that God chose to create either of the two worlds described above, it is equally possible that he chose to create a world in which man was created in his image, with the ability to choose differently in many scenarios just as God is able to exercise otherwise choice. This is the world that Extensivists believe he created.[2] The difference can be seen with Adam and Eve. Compatibilism says they chose to sin, but they could not have resisted sinning because it was God’s delighted desire for them to sin, which leaves a holy God pleased with sin as well as its ultimate cause. Contrastingly, Extensivism says Adam and Eve chose to sin, but they could have refrained because God had given them that ability, and he desired them to choose to not sin and warned them of what would happen if they sinned.

One reason for such a permission and eventuality of sin is that it appears to be impossible to create a libertarian free being and guarantee that he will not sin if sin is within his range of options; theologians agree that some things are not options (impossible). This means that God truly only desired holiness from his creation, always desires holiness, and always abhors sin. He foreknew man endowed with libertarian freedom would misuse the good gift of otherwise choice and disobey (which is sin and a bad thing). He overcame this through his coextensive creation/redemption plan.

Therefore, Extensivists maintain that it is not a question of his power but his plan. Secondly, Extensivists maintain that God is not the ultimate cause of sin, but rather man thusly designed with otherwise choice is the efficient and ultimate cause of sin. This means we need look no further than the person who acts for the origin of sin. Man is both the proximate and ultimate cause of sin.

Remember two things about the creation of man. First, whichever nature of freedom God endowed man with, it is intrinsic. So if you remove it from man thusly created, you do not have man. It is not like wool on a sheep; remove the wool and you still have a sheep. Rather it is like the sheepness of the sheep, remove it and you no longer have a sheep. Second, once God chose to create the world a certain way (it exists according to that choice), he cannot in the same sense and at the same time, create it differently. Some choices, once made, eliminate any options that existed before the choice was made.

Why did God not spare your mother? Compatibilism says that your mother was murdered in every precise detail because it was simply God’s pleasure. According to Extensivism, such evil acts are a part of the world God created, but God is not overcome by them. God sovereignly created man with otherwise choice, and this man is the efficient cause of his actions including sin, and God still remains sovereign over every aspect of creation.

If God intervened to stop every sin, then you would not have the world with libertarian free beings that God freely chose to create. That is what your question leads to because everyone on planet earth has the same question as you about a particular sin or hurt—why. You could even ask why he does not stop you or me from sinning and hurting others. Well, if he that did for everyone who asks for him to so act, this would not be a world created with truly otherwise choice humans.

If God would have stopped the murderer before he murdered your mother, all of us can come up with a trillion other “why did God not . . .” questions.  But we would contend that all we love about this world, including but not limited to choice, love, heroism, and compassion are only meaningfully possible in a world where beings have libertarian freedom (the one who did so could have chosen differently).

God is acting omnipotently and sovereignly according to the plan he sovereignly and freely adopted, which is one in which man has otherwise choice, and therefore, as is evident, sometimes chooses to misuse that gift. To stop all sin is to not have such a world; it is to ask for an impossibility—people with otherwise choice where sin is an option and yet no one sins. He can, and does, thwart the choice of man in various scenarios by overriding his free choice, but that means that man is not responsible for that particular choice. We see this in Scripture like when God drove Nebuchadnezzar into the wilderness (Dan 4:32–33).

While God did not stop the murder of your mother, he is powerful enough to have done so; however, it seems that within your question is the implicit assumption that because he did not stop the murder, he did not intervene at all. That assumption seems indefensible. If you think about it, you will probably see it differently. We do not know if the man planned to murder your mother before you were born, or a hundred others were going to do the same and God stopped them. How many times and from how many things does God choose to protect us by either working within the freedom of men (some do heroic acts) or by overriding the desires and will of a perpetrator of evil, like stopping a rape or murder.

We know not how many times, but because we know the nature of God and because we see in Scripture the explicit promises to protect and acts of God protecting people in Scripture, we can be absolutely sure that he is protecting. I now know this with regard to the evil that I saw and experienced as a young child, which I did not understand for many years. I now understand that God did protect me in many ways and at many times; additionally, what he permitted as the outflow of sinful human actions, he has taken and turned into good. He never desired nor was pleased with the sin, but he is pleased with overcoming the evil with righteous good. To think God was pleased with the murder of your mother, I believe to be degrading to God. I also think that to believe he did not work righteously to be dishonoring as well. Although that is not your desire. Even though all of the times and ways are not now apparent, God is good and righteous and only desires and promotes and ultimately causes such.

The real question is, do you believe God set up a system so a man would sin and murder your mother or one in which man chose to so act, and is, therefore, both proximately and ultimately the author of such sin? Does God get pleasure in every rape, murder, and evil act, or does he love holiness and abhor every evil—including the murder of your mother? Will he overcome all evil? Yes!

Thank you for your question and sharing your story in this public forum; may our Lord Jesus express his love to you every day.


[1] Compatibilism is the view that determinism and moral responsibility are compatible. Every thought or act is micro-determined just like it is in hard determinism, but man is also responsible so long as he freely chose according to his greatest desire, even though the desire was determined.
[2] Extensivist and Extensivism are used here to generally include all salvational perspectives that believe each and every person can be saved by grace and God created man with otherwise choice, libertarian free will.