Thursday, October 4, 2012

God, Election, and Judas

“God, of course, assigns callings according to his foreknowledge. But although Jesus may have known the hearts and reactions of those he chose, nevertheless his choice of Judas was no different than his choice of John. He said that he knew a disciple would betray him, but he did not cause Judas to fall.”

            This quote comes from a section in Forster and Marston on the biblical concept of election. They argue that the primary use of election in the New Testament is in regards to God choosing someone for an office, which office has a certain task to be done. A person appointed to some office does not have the power to do the task and so such an appointed person must meet a condition given  by God in order for him (God) to give them the power to do the work. The condition is merely that one is willing to do the task appointed to the office. There are several cases of this and one is Jesus’ and God’s appointing of the apostles.
            With this backdrop let us look at what is being said here. So God assigns callings or offices on the basis of his foreknowledge. Although God may have known the hearts of those he chose, “nevertheless his choice of Judas was no different than his choice of John. He said that he knew a disciple would betray him, but he did not cause Judas to fall.” Okay, so God assigns his calling to Judas to be an apostle knowing that Judas would betray Jesus and fall, but merely by knowing God did not cause Judas to betray Jesus or to fall.
            But what was God’s purpose in calling Judas since he knew that he would do these things? Was it that God hoped that Judas would end up not betraying Jesus and falling away even though he knew for certain that Judas would do these things? Surely if the answer is yes to the last two questions, then God is acting irrationally. But if God acts irrationally then God is not perfect. But perfection comes with the job description of being God, and so we know this way of understanding why God appointed Judas though he knew he would fail isn’t a satisfactory way out.
            Perhaps, one might answer, God elected Judas even though he knew that Judas would fall so that God could use Judas’ willful misfortune for other people’s benefit. This says that God uses a person’s misfortune for his own ends. How nice!
This means that even if God isn’t the cause of Judas’ misfortune, and Judas’ own willful choice is the cause of his downfall, yet God elects Judas to an office that God knows Judas will not fulfill (even though God knows that potentially Judas could). Further, perhaps we could say that in one sense God elects Judas to his office because he knows Judas will fail and because God will use that failure to accomplish his own personal ends. In fact Forster and Marston later on suggest something similar when they say, “The great thing about God is that he is able, in his foreknowledge, to make use even of those who rebel against him. Thus, although Judas rejected him, God used this rejection to set in motion the events leading up to Christ’s atoning death” (emphasis added).
            Last night, 10/3/2012, there was a presidential debate between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. Let us suppose that there was some president or other leader who appointed a person to some office knowing that that person would fail, because that president or leader wanted to use that appointee’s failure to accomplish his own personal program. I want to suggest that even if the program that comes about through the president’s or leader’s appointee’s failure benefits or helps other people, there still seems to be something that is intuitively fishy with how the leader accomplishes his/her program. If one shares with me this intuition, the idea of why this is intuitively fishy seems to be that it is not completely morally acceptable to appoint someone to some office, knowing they are going to fail, in order to use that failure to accomplish one’s own ends. Even if the ends are beneficial to many people, it seems that even in those cases, ends don’t necessarily justify means, and don’t massage shady means.
            So if this is the case for some leader, what gets God off the hook of this objection? I am not sure. There may be some nuanced explanation, but I will leave that to someone else to explain. What I want to suggest is what the case is if God can’t get off the hook to an objection like this. This is a hypothetical, and I am asking my readers here to just assume the objection of moral shadiness applies to Forster and Marston’s analysis of God’s appointing Judas (or similar analyses) for the sake of argument. Well if it is shady for a great leader, then it seems shady for God. Someone might say, rightly, that the person who failed did so because of their own neglect or abuse or character. So if this leader does this, though it is intuitively shady to us, well, he didn’t cause the appointee’s failure he merely used the appointees failure to accomplish the ends he so desires. In doing so, he is not acting completely, and in an out and out fashion, immoral. Rather it just seems to us, intuitively, to be shady.
Here is the thing, God is purported to be omnibenevolent. That means that God always lives up to the highest moral standards, and if our shared intuition (given that someone does share this intuition with me) suggest anything, it suggest that there is a better way to go about accomplishing one’s purposes than to set someone up, or appoint them to some position that you know that the person will fail at, (even if it is because of the appointee’s own will that the failure takes place) and then use that failure for one’s own ends. Surely, intuitively, we don’t think that this is the ideally right or moral way to go about establishing one’s plans and goals. But if it is not the ideal, then by definition it is not the best; and if it is not the best or most moral way, then by the definition of omnibenevolent suggested above, God could not do it. Or, worse yet, God is not omnibenevolent.
            I think what someone has to do is either show that the leader case does not really apply to God in the Judas situation. Say that it would apply if God so appointed Judas to the office of an apostle, but that God doesn’t in fact elect or appoint Judas to the office of an apostle (and thus reject Forster and Marston’s analysis). Show that I have not defined my terms correctly, or that my dilemma has no intuitive force to it. Or to just accept God is not omnibenevolent.


  1. Okay. Your objection seems to be that God is using people in a cruel way, and even if the ends are good, that means is questionable. I wonder if part of the response might be that in cases like Judas, Pharaoah, and Nebuchadnezzar, God is using their evil intentions for good, thus not only redeeming evil but also justly ensnaring them. After all, their intentions were not simply good but misguided-- they were wicked.

    However, it is also the case that God would use confused people in this way-- bumbling bureaucrats like in your presidential appointee example. Frankly, if God can turn my short-comings into good, I can't say that I would mind it. I think God can be off the hook for this because He has the moral fortitude and exhaustive knowledge to do it perfectly, and also because He has the unique responsibility of redeeming evil which we don't have.

    1. Response to Cody part 1: I see your strategy for getting God "off the hook" so to speak. It partly seems to be an appeal to mystery, which never seems satisfying to me, but the strategy seems to be taking the “dilemma doesn't really have intuitive force” route. Good. The way that you do this is to say that the people who God ensnares are really wicked, and so he ensnares them justly (in the one example) and in the second that the appointee's incompetence is being turned to good, so that God is helping him out.
      I will start with your second point first. I think that this might be a way of viewing this that would be consistent with my point. The way you set the example up doesn't eliminate position that the bureaucrat, once in the position, has God do damage control for his/her good or neutral intended failures. So this interpretation doesn't seem to take into account that the leader who appointed them (let’s just say God) knew for sure that this person would fail, and appointed them for the purpose of their failure in order to get some desired end out of their failure. There might be some reconciliation from the fact that some screw up I made God turns to good, but the fact that God knew I would screw up and so appointed me to such a task because he so knew (i.e. for the purpose of my screw up), and the because is that he had some end in mind that he would do through my screw up, still seems shady to me. Not only does that seem so, but intuitively we think that this is not the ideal way of going about to achieve one’s planned. If a politician did this, we would say that he is shady and deceitful. Quantifying God’s attributes, in my opinion at the moment, doesn’t really give an escape from this conclusion. If a politician did this, we might not vote for him/her again. On the issue of God and the ideal, I gave a line of thought in relation to God that follows if he does not use the ideal way of doing things.

    2. Response to Cody part 2: I think the response to the Judas example in your first paragraph (I will only deal with him) partially suffer from the same issue. God knew that Judas would fail when he elected him to the office of an apostle. He knew Judas would betray Jesus. Judas just didn't randomly betray Jesus while God was sitting back waiting to see what happen. Next, after Judas betrayed him, then and only then God does damage control. Bill Ury says that this whole affair wasn't plan B. It is plan A! Again, this doesn't seem to be the ideal way of choosing to accomplish one's goals. If you schemed that you would appoint me to some office that has some task, knowing that I am evil and will not fulfill the task and thus fail at my office, and then I actually do the evil and fail in the appointed task. You knew beforehand that I would fail, and how that failure could benefit your ultimate plan. And you know that your plan would help lots of people. So you so appoint me and everything go as you design. Are you saying that your use of me in that situation, even though that I am evil, is itself the paradigm of justice? I think not. Is not my actual failure in this office not partially your responsibility? And that because you so appointed me in order for me to fail? It seems to me that the answers to these questions are yes. My actually being a bad guy doesn't get one of the hook of using my badness to produce further badness to accomplish some good. The ends do not necessarily justify the means. I know I am writing too passionately, and I apologize. And my frustration is not aimed at you Cody, but at this sort of sweeping under the rug of mystery such ideas.

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  3. Cody, I think we missed each other when we first wrote these things because we were operating on different conceptions of goodness. When you talk about redeeming evil for good being itself a good I think we need to think about what is meant by good. I think that for most theists, good just is whatever God does. So God's plan and actions are seen as redeeming evil (which is a good) ipso facto. However, this seems to me to not actually deal with the objection. The objection talks about how, to us, it is not ideally good to accomplish one's plans by putting someone you know for sure would fail in a given occupation in that very occupation in order for that person to fail and so you can monopolize his/her failure for your ends. In any ordinary circumstance, this is not seen as ideally moral. However for God we just take it for granted that it is moral. Why is the case different for God?