The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Is everything a reflection of God - the first Cause?

This would have to be my debut post outside of the introduction area.

Little intro:
Determinism played a large part in bringing me to a Universalist frame of mind… not to mention the surprise to find so many verses that I overlooked prior to seriously considering Universalism. Questions that led me to determinism were developed from an attempt to reconcile Arminianism and Calvinism. I grew up an Arminian more or less, believing in libertarian freewill and found Cavlinism rather repulsive. Yet Calvinism had many strong verses in support of it, which actually in the end also helped lead me to Universalism.

Exploring the title:
The cause and effect concept within determinism led me to these questions - Why would I chose God over my neighbour? Why would anyone not chose God if He is so desirable? What would be the deciding factor? Am I subject to this factor and my neighbour is not? Apparently so, therefore why is my factor different from the other guy’s? We were made all in the image of God weren’t we? Different, yes, but could God create someone in His image that would never have that factor of being His image? I mean, could God actually create/intend someone who is permanently evil and then call them His image? Maybe Adam was originally made in God’s image and then turned bad? But God called His creation good, therefore how can something that is good become bad? It must have been bad or not made completely good if it had potential to be bad.
On the same lines of thought. If a certain cause has an effect, then wouldn’t that effect reflect what the cause determined it to be? If the effect was not determined by the cause then it must have been a random consequence. However, I believe that our lives are not random, we are beings with certain natures. God being the Creator or first Cause, our natures must have come from God. If God is a consistent God, being the same yesterday today and forever, then wouldn’t He be consistent? Or alternatively does He have random effects emulating from Him as He created the world and us therein? Was He in control, or was He trying to control the chaos He Himself created?

Hence I cannot see how God would create anyone in His image and leave them forever contrary to His nature. As mentioned before, If God is the cause of this world and the world is the effect, then it must ultimately reflect who He is. If cause and effect is not true and therefore causes are not predictable, then how is there any reliable thinking or doing. We would be mere random creatures loosely firing our ever changing wills. Not only us, but God too. Observing “reality” would suggest that things are not so random, there is at least some uniformity.

Therefore I don’t believe anything is ever completely random. Random is only a word for incalculable complexity.

To further explore these ideas, Christ must have been plan A and not plan B. Genesis chapter 1 verse 1-a obviously states “In the beginning God”… thus everything in existence stems from Him and follows that we are made in His image. Everything in reality is the fullest expression of God with the cross being the pinnacle. I believe that God created good and evil as it says in Isaiah or wherever it is. God needed to demonstrate that He is anti-evil and pro good. With that being His “Character” or “Nature”, it HAS to be expressed. The very nature of good will always be ultimately more powerful than evil, because God is good. Love will conquer its enemies, and evil is necessary for the expression of true love. How does it profit to only love those who love us? Christ showed us higher way and that is to love our enemies. Christ’s example on the cross demonstrated and showed us the way to salvation… die to self and come humbly before God.

Coming back to creation being “good”. Even when it had the capacity and surety to be “bad”, I perceive life to be about a journey of seeking and therefore finding God through the many different contexts and paths we take. And God is the author. Some of us find Him sooner than others, but I believe that ultimately all people must become reconciled to God, due to us being made in His image.

two cents :smiley:

Are there any other hard determinists here? Personally I would find it hard to be a Universalist if I were not a determinist. I humbly think that it would be impossible to predict universalism if Freewill was involved. I mean, with Freewill we could change our minds from each moment to the next. Unless God knows the future. Then again, if He has seen the future then it must be solidified and therefore has all ready happened/determined?

Well, determinism has been discussed a lot here; some of us are more deterministic than others, and there are different degrees of the concept, just as there are different degrees of the concept of free will.

My own position on this isn’t easy to summarize, but I develop it in Section Three of SttH, the links to each chapter of which can be found here on the forum.

Like C. S. Lewis, whom you quote in your sig, I’m not particularly deterministic. But I also accept Lewis’ Boethian notion of transcendent omniscience (and omnipresence). It’s important, when working in a supernaturalistic theism, not to accidentally go back to putting God’s fundamental existence within the timestream of Nature; and that’s what the idea of the future being ‘locked’ in or ‘determined’ by virtue of God’s omniscience amounts to. In other words, because God foresees X, God must make X happen (or something superior to God must make X happen???) to ensure X.

Boethian omniscience of the sort accepted by Lewis (in Miracles: A Preliminary Study 2nd edition for example), doesn’t negate the free will of the creature or reduce it to merely being a capability for behavior. God sees me freely acting (contributing active choices to the set of natural events) at points X, Y and Z, before, during, and after my present moment. (Of course I am also reacting and counterreacting automatically to stimuli beyond human counting at each point; I’m not free from being a natural creature, too.) From my perspective God ‘looks ahead’ to see what I will do, but God presently sees it all at once.

This does however make for some difficulties in communicating to us what is seen; and then sometimes God promises to bring about certain results, but He does so in view of what He can already see occurring thanks to the contributions of various rational creations along the timeline – and in view of God’s own contributions to the whole timeline up to and including (and after!) the point in question.

All of which is somewhat different than (but also related to) the question of how God can make room for even the limited, derivative freedom of creaturely rational action (and not merely creaturely capabilities). My solution to that ancient riddle involves the ongoing self-sacrifice of the self-existent, self-begotten God; following out some hints Lewis (and MacDonald before him) never quite worked out systematically. I was pleased to see that the results seem to mirror the very odd characteristics of quantum percolation and zero-point energy, though! :slight_smile:

Hi Jason, thanks for your reply. When I get a chance I would like to respond. Should I post in an already existing thread? It would save having lots of posts on similar topics. Then again, it makes it easier to find specific topics or thoughts. Hence why I titled this one as a reflection of God. It sounds like Boethius was a hypertemporalist as opposed to an atemporalist?


To the extent that a person, thing, or event is an expression of God’s loving character - yes. So there is, perhaps, a spectrum of reflection (I just made that up, and I’m impressed with myself. Not really)?

The spectrum is different as we go along the Chain of Being (I am most definitely NOT a reductionist)

Physical universe - material has quality “x”
Plants have qualities “x and y”
Animals have qualities “x and y and z”
Mankind have qualities "x and y and z and (?) spirit? mind? soul? Image of God? Will?

I’m not defining the terms - but the additional qualities that are in addition to the material, in addition to plant life, in addition to animal life, are clearly there even to the negligently observant, except perhaps to the most obdurate reductionist. (E.P. Shumacher does a wonderful job on this in his little but powerful book, a Guide for the Perplexed. Highly recommended.) … 0060906111

The whole question of ‘causality’, the definition of ‘God’, even if ‘is’ means ‘is’, makes your OP really difficult to respond to, though it is a great question.

Oh, I’d say this thread; the other ones I linked to would be more obscure.

Hypertemporalist sounds right, in the sense of being (analogically of course) above time but in active relation to it (not merely a-temporal which might mean in no relation to time at all, which would be deism shading into God/Nature dualism.)

EVERYTHING is a gradient . . . continuum . . . spectrum. At least all of creation. So yes, Dave. I agree with you. The older I get the more I see this (hence, I see it a LOT more than I used to back in the days of ancient oldness. :wink: )

Hi Jason, Dave and all!

Jason, I had a quick scan of some of the works you have written, and my goodness! what good amount of work you have done. I don’t really have the time to read through it all, so good summaries of key points I enjoy. I don’t feel rather “qualified” to challenge such a body of work, but I do have my two cents regarding what makes sense to me :smiley: So be patient with my comments as I try to be open to what makes sense lol.

I find it interesting that you seem to use a type of hypertemporalism (where God is presently involved in all events in time) in order to uphold libertarian freewill (correct me if I am wrong). Some deterministic thought uses “freewill” as a description of our active choices (between A,B or C…) we make from our perspective. Even though it says that our choices were always determined. I personally have given up on trying to use freewill in a deterministic sense, simply because it confuses people. Most think of libertarian freewill when freewill is mentioned.

Personally, I cannot see how hypertemporalism enables Freewill. If God is currently experiencing 2004 at the same time as 2014, then the history between 2004 and 2014 must be set because God would be presently seeing the past decade in hindsight from 2014 even if He was involved also in 2004. If God can see all of time/history presently then I would humbly say that it has happened, or else all of time would not exist in any particular format and God would therefore not see “it”. Unless of course we embrace Open theism?

Not being quantum physicist at all, in fact I don’t know much. I don’t see how the uncertainty of the placement of electrons can support Freewill. To me it simply states that their path is currently not calculable. If it is never calculable then it must be random, because there would be no influence by which to calculate it? I kind of side with Einstein when it comes to explaining some things. He didn’t like the whole “spooky” science stuff.

It may sound like I am a hardcore reductionist. I suppose in one sense I am. However, I don’t like the focus that reductionism can lead to. Such as a focus on the parts rather than the picture it creates. God never wanted us to focus primarily on the parts of creation but on the result of it. In saying that, without reductionism, we can hit many paradoxes simply because we don’t like particular explanations that reduction can highlight.

For me, I tend to think of God more like a panentheistic God (NOT pantheism). In that God envelops, supports, holds together and is within all creation. I am not sure whether this in the form of hypertemporalism in that all time is happening at the same time - all creation not really having a beginning but is simply THERE… a reflection of God. Or whether God is subject to time, in that He travels in time as one particular point for infinity.

I am a social worker in training, so this probably has been influencing me lol. I don’t tend to think of people as necessarily “freely choosing” with their “freewill” but more like people who have histories and very complex lives that lead them to where they are today.


P.S. I too like Lewis, though that doesn’t mean that I agree with everything he says :slight_smile:

Great points here “The whole question of ‘causality’, the definition of ‘God’, even if ‘is’ means ‘is’, makes your OP really difficult to respond to, though it is a great question.”

I would like to mention that the relation between “God” and everything would be a more teleological one. What I mean by that is, even though I believe God intended evil to exist, I do not believe that evil is actually his nature in its finality. Evil in the reflection of God always points towards an end good. Thus God is good and creation is good because of where it is headed. But within the process of the expression of good, evil is there. God is anti evil and therefore needs to be expressed.

Daniel - first let me say that the CS Lewis quote is one of my favorites, I’m glad to be reminded of it.

I like your use of the teleological model for understanding the whole process of what used to be called Providence, if I understand the term correctly. We’ve also kicked around the idea of panentheism here on the forum, and though I am really drawn to that view, it is very difficult to actually formulate what it is, exactly.

The hard hard thing for me to swallow is what a number of forumites have stated, as you did, that God ‘intended’ evil. Teleology gives us kind of a ‘workaround’ that provides a kind of intellectual cushion when we are shocked by the very apparent violent evils, such as are happening with the ISIS atrocities, but it seems that the price of that cushion is to impute something bad to our good God.

I am struck again and again how the problem of evil tends to determine our theology. We take evil as the given, then decide what God ‘must’ be like - I’m not criticizing at all - I am in the same position. My ‘ontological intuition’ is that there is something wrong with that approach though I have not (yet) been able to grasp what that something is.

Ah, I don’t have the answers. I’m going to stick with my first response to your OP, but I’m sticking out of stubbornness more than intellectual clarity. :wink:

Hi all, and great thought-provoking post Dan.

I think Dan’s thoughts on the Image of God in all of creation are valid, regardless of how you define ‘causality’.
The bottom line is that God deliberately chose a detailed, completely foreknown, space-time object called Our Universe (from beginning to eternity), including my sins and other evils (such as the murder of His son), and rejected any alternative space-time realities over this one. This was THE BEST ONE He could create or influence.
Obviously the greater ability you believe God has to influence the course of history, the more ‘options’ he has regarding the finer details of this space-time ‘object’ - from merely choosing between several ‘models’ (as a ‘wind-up clock’ scenario, where God only sets some initial creation parameters and has to do the best He can with that), to being able to completely determine the finer aspects of every soul and every choice (as if God Himself chose the materials and the tools, and has carved every fine detail).
But regardless, our ‘evil’ has been chosen as part of the BEST POSSIBLE expression of God. Christians have to deal with that somehow.
Also, the more you claim that evil is fundamentally opposed to the expression of God, the more you have to say God did not actually carve it Himself and merely chose it as the ‘lesser’ of multiple (but limited) options. In other words, you limit His ability (not just His desire) to actually change evil.

I’m not sure how alternative views of God’s ‘temporality’, can avoid the fact that God’s foreknowledge of future events does in fact support determinism.
If IN ANY SENSE God ever exists in the present, it doesn’t matter what kind of ‘prior experience foreknowledge’ he has from a future perspective. His present existence makes his knowledge (at least partly) a deliberate decision to create / sustain the conditions that He KNOWS will bring it about - i.e. an ‘infallible predictive’ kind of knowledge.
And an infallible predictive kind of knowledge necessarily results in a deterministic God (as far as I can see). If you believe God is able to intervene intricately with creation now, this conclusion is fairly obvious (to my simple understanding). But even if you deny this (i.e. the wound-up clock from initial creation conditions), God has still (in a strict sense) deliberately been the ultimate cause for all the details of our space-time universe.
The only way to avoid this is to talk about uncertainty or probabilities from GOD’S perspective (i.e. Open Theism), which (to me) makes talking about ‘knowledge’ a little meaningless, and doesn’t do justice to the Scriptures.

Thoughts anyone? Disagreements? Clarifications?

Totally hear you. It does seem weird that we judge what God should be like based on our morals. However that is the reality of our situation and one that is difficult to get away from. I like Lewis’ take in that I believe God has given each of us a moral conscience to varying degrees and that is not to be ignored when pondering what God may be like. I doubt that God would want us to blindly follow Him without thought or critique. In the Bible, He often produced evidences of His character as a reference point to give reason for us to follow Him. Though in the case of determinism, in a way it was a big step away from what I thought God “should” be like, and chose to go with what made sense. However, in thinking about it more I found that it had more hope than the previous Freewill thought.

Previously I thought that Freewill did absolve God of the responsibility for evil. Though, as I thought about it He still allowed evil to happen when He had the power to stop it. If He let it happen because He was wanting to let man have Freewill, it is still hard to accept that He us together in the same fish bowl. Murder, rape, genocide etc. He actually let that happen to “innocent” people. Why not let us experience our own Freewill with some more boundaries attached? Like leave babies out of the fish bowl? In that view, God’s Sovereignty became more like damage control where He allowed Himself to be powerless. He would merely try to make the best of a situation where He chose to have no control over.

Whereas, with determinism there is more hope and positivity (I think), because every event is intended for a greater purpose or good. God’s actions are with purpose, not merely powerless damage control. Don’t get me wrong, determinism is not cushy belief, but it at least gives hope where there would not usually be any. I do not pretend to know what that hope exactly means in every given situation!

I agree that panentheism etc is still rather murky. Though it provides that nuance where God is more connected with creation than the separate “distant God” thought. I like it because it goes more in hand with creation being a reflection of Him. Though as you said, I am not sure exactly how lol.


Thanks for the comment Fe4rG0d. Great points!

I’m not sure about your points at all, fe4r. Those ideas have been kicked around here a lot the past couple of years and there has not been anything close to a consensus. There are a number of threads dealing with those issues already but of course I’m sure we’ll all be happy to see new contributions. :smiley:

Any line of argumentation that goes, simplistically: “God is responsible for everything, so that child molester must be a part of His plan” - and I’m not saying that that is YOUR argument :smiley: - is so ambiguous as to be basically meaningless, imo. I do contend that any statement of the sort “God is responsible for, decreed, needs, etc EVIL” is absolutely wrong headed.

And that is opinion only. Am I prepared to kick a dead horse into the dust over this? Prepared - probably. Desirous of doing it - not at all, but I will gladly look on. :sunglasses:

Hi DaveB :slight_smile: You’re right, I was vague, deliberately.

A big part of my point was to demonstrate the ambiguity of our terms. It IS vague to say that ‘God is responsible, therefore it is part of His plan’. But it is also vague to say that God is NOT responsible for / needs / decrees evil, or that just because God foresees something doesn’t mean he ‘caused’ it.
Because the concept of ‘causality’ and ‘determinism’ and ‘evil’ and God’s ‘plan’ are so broad, I don’t see how we can get around some kind of fundamental ‘determinism’ when it comes to God (whatever that means), and I don’t think we can escape some kind of fundamental ‘Image of God’ within ‘evil’ (whatever those two things mean).
What I hope to see is a clearer definition of exactly what we do / don’t think is true regarding God’s ‘determinism’ and ‘Image’ and ‘Evil’. This is where I was angling with my comments. Its more useful (and fun) digging into specifics, instead of vaguely avoiding the concept :slight_smile:

Do we accept a determinism where God doesn’t intervene except at creation? Do we accept a determinism where God directly causes every ‘free-will’ decision, like a puppet? Do we accept a determinism where God accepts alternative ‘inputs’ to his world that are outside his control (i.e. our ‘Free Will’), then designs the best possible world around them to reflect Himself as well as possible (without removing those ‘free will’ inputs)? I personally accept a determinism where God designs people with certain properties (e.g. soulish, free agents) and then respects those properties (i.e. doesn’t control us like puppets), while still maintaining absolute unlimited control over our wills due to his wisdom, creativity, and the use of the process we call ‘life’.
When it comes to evil, do we think of it based on the ultimate outcome, or the intended purpose, or the temporal process? Do we think that God can directly ‘DO’ evil? Do we assume that ‘evil’ and ‘good’ are actual polar opposites? I personally think evil and good a defined by God for each unique perspective, so that the same ‘thing’ or ‘event’ can be good and evil in multiple ways - so God can do ‘evil’ from our perspective (and call it evil), without it being ultimately ‘evil’ and without being ‘evil’ himself.

In particular, I’m really keen to hear what it is about ‘Evil’ that you don’t like it being (somehow) a reflection of God. I know its a big deal, and I really don’t want to make the mistake of charging God wrongly, or unnecessarily damaging his reputation.
And I’m really keen to hear from Jason Pratt, how ‘limited’ God has allowed himself to be, when it comes to his ‘determinism’ and expressing Himself in the Universe, and (if there are any limitations) why God needs to be limited that way.

I agree that ambiguity has its uses; some questions are so BIG, and so pivotal, that a premature judgment on them, and premature actions taken as a result, can be harmful and/or disastrous.
“Can we say that ‘evil’ is a ‘reflection of God’ ?” - is THE pivotal question for my entire worldview. And to have ambiguity at this point is, it seems, unavoidable, though one can be justified in choosing among the ambiguities.

Central to my thinking about this ‘reflection’ idea are two essays that bear indirectly but forcefully on this issue; indirectly, because they take the knots out of Calvinism and ECT, showing those theologies to be false and lacking; forcefully, because in doing their main task, they marshal arguments that also work against the ‘evil reflects God’s character’ statement.

The two essays are: The Moral Argument against Calvinism. Channing: … sermons/31

Based in great part on those two wonderful essays, I have to consider the essential question of whether evil is inherent in the creation, or whether goodness is inherent. In other words, do we affirm that ‘We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth’, who created and then pronounced 'It is very good"? If we do, then I do not see how we can claim that evil is an inherent, intended part of the created universe.
I DO see how we can claim that evil is a perversion of the goodness of the created universe.

This is for me Step 1. I don’t see how to proceed rationally unless this question is answered. And it is a tough b*****d to answer. :sunglasses:

Good essays, Dave. Thanks for sharing. I’m working through the first one al momento. I’ve read a good bit of the second some time ago.

Here’s a better link to an easier format: … inism-1809 :smiley:

And for future consideration, a page of links to other of his main writings on religion. … -1780-1842

“This is for me Step 1. I don’t see how to proceed rationally unless this question is answered. And it is a tough b*****d to answer.”

I think we need to define what “good” is first. Is it functional verses dysfunctional? Is it a moral absolute good? Is it an unchangeable system not subject to perversion? Or is it a teleological good where the process results in something greater than what could be created in an instant?
And I am sure there would be other types of good…

Ultimately, God’s idea of calling creation “good” did include the possibility of being perverted

Daniel you are certainly right that there was the possibility of good being perverted; I don’t know that we can speculate further that the perversion was intentionally built into the good fabric of the universe.

The major point of The Moral Argument of Channing is that ‘goodness’ CANNOT be one thing for God and something different for His creatures. Greater goodness in degree, yes by all means; different in kind, though…it’s very hard to defend that position imo. I think GMac would agree with Channing on this btw.

One of the reasons, I understand, for the opening chapters of Genesis was to show clearly, to surrounding pagan cultures, that the true God did not impose form on pre-existing matter, nor was there a battle between equal and competing ‘gods’ that would yield an explanation of evil; rather, there was the One, full of light and goodness, who created a universe out of that light and goodness. No ambiguity.

I have to start with that initial and profound clarity, born out of the unapproachable Light, to give me at least a starting point. That’s just me and I’m only stating a position, but I think it is a warranted position. :wink:

Hi Dave, I read those articles, and really enjoyed them! I agree wholeheartedly with the main flow of each :slight_smile:
However there are several important flaws with both which need pointing out, because it makes them far from conclusive when it comes to God ‘creating’ or ‘desiring’ evil.

The ‘moral argument against Calvinism’ argues well for our ‘basic moral sense’ and that we can, to some degree, ‘judge’ the goodness of God based on what He does.
It fails to account for the fact that REAL LIFE by itself (without even considering the ‘end outcome’ of eternity) is already incredibly confusing when it comes to judging the goodness of God. There already exist overwhelming ‘evil proofs’ regarding God’s character, as well as ‘good proofs’. ALL theologies (not just Calvinists) have the uncomfortable job of explaining away the existence of evil which God has allowed, or of ‘balancing’ it with ‘good’ proofs. We ALL have to reach the conclusion that some ‘evil proofs’ simply don’t necessarily ‘prove’ God is evil.
Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. Isn’t this the point of faith - acknowledging that ‘evil’ proofs exist, but choosing to trust (based on the ‘good’ proofs, such as Christ) that there is some form of reinterpretation (which we possibly can’t see currently) where it does NOT mean God is ultimately evil. Its not saying we ignore our innate ‘judgement’ of good and evil. Its saying that our judgement of ‘good’ is enough for us to reinterpret what we see as ‘evil’, OR to trust that it will not ultimately prove that God is evil.
Calvinism does just the same thing, but extends it into the afterlife. The goodness of Christ, they say, is enough for us to reinterpret the evil of predestined torment OR to trust that it will not, ultimately, serve to prove God is evil.
However, I think they should still acknowledge that OUR CURRENT best understanding of it DOES imply an evil God, and more so than the evils we see in this life. For some people, the weight of ‘good proofs’ is simply not enough to generate the necessary trust to push through this. But I don’t think its wrong of Calvinists to have such trust themselves.

The ‘Justice’ article does a great job of arguing for God’s ultimate purpose of mercy EVEN IN justice.
However, again, he doesn’t take into account the reality of our world, where God’s actions actually do NOT fully and perfectly and instantaneously reveal every aspect of His character at once. God may be fully merciful and fully just, and He will work to best express that in the full picture of eternity. But this does not mean that God can’t at times act in a way which does NOT reveal infinite mercy in isolation. The author does not adequately deal with the possibility that non-merciful actions (from minor things, to the existence of Evil, to eternal torment) MAY (somehow) actually serve as part of the big picture, to best display his infinite mercy.
Also, the author places a lot of emphasis on God’s mercy and justice as if they were the only two things causing God to allow or punish evil. God could well be more than mercy and justice - He is not merely ‘good’, He is EXCLUSIVELY good. And since God must work to display the fullness of His character in everything He does, He must also work to express this exclusivity in the grand scheme of things.
I realise there may be other ways to do this than ‘punishing sin’, but I do struggle to see how it can happen without sin / evil existing. This is why, I believe, God has allowed / created evil.

I don’t see any reason to doubt that evil is deliberately inherent in creation because of God’s determinism (in some sense), and thus it must (in some sense) reflect God’s image. God can certainly create and pronounce the creation as ‘very good’, and yet it still have evil inherent in it. And I expect we would do the same if we saw everything from an eternal / global perspective. Good and Evil are simply not always polar opposites, especially if you mix your perspectives up.
In fact, your comment about Genesis contrasting with pagan myth is quite appropriate. GOD created the world and everything in it. As I see it, evil did not originate from some other independent ‘warring’ or ‘competing’ source. In fact, evil only exists from a temporary perspective, as part of God’s creation to bring about His good ultimate purposes.