Unlocking the Secrets of Causation: Strengthen Your Faith with Ultimate Insights

Alright, let’s dip our toes into something a bit deep today without getting too lost in the details. We’re going to chat about the three levels of causation. Remember when I mentioned this in a previous video? Well, it’s time to unpack it: ultimate, proximate, and efficient causes. The goal here is to help us wrap our heads around how causation works in a logical way.

When people start asking whether God causes everything or if He’s behind evil, it’s crucial to dig deep into what they’re really asking so we can give a thoughtful answer. Sure, God is the ultimate cause of all things, but that doesn’t mean He’s to blame for the sins we humans commit. This is where grasping the nuances of causation can really shed light on things. It’s a tough concept for anyone to wrap their head around, regardless of where you’re coming from. And remember, what I’m sharing here barely scratches the surface.

So, it’s a common response to say that God didn’t create evil because the Bible tells us so, and because evil isn’t a part of God’s nature. We can also argue that evil isn’t something created, which gives us a firmer basis for our reasoning. But, in the realm of Christian apologetics, relying solely on “God said so” isn’t the strongest argument. We need to delve deeper to substantiate our stance.

For me, God’s word is rock solid. When He says something, that settles it for me. I don’t question because I doubt, but to deepen my belief. God’s authority is the highest, so when He says something, it’s not circular reasoning to accept it because He is the ultimate authority. With that said, it’s crucial for us to approach these matters with wisdom and careful thought, grounded in a logical framework as much as our human nature allows.

Let me just clarify that as I’m discussing causation, I’m not delving into the philosophical viewpoints of Aristotle or the evolutionary theories of Ernst Mayr. That said, this concept does have roots in Augustinian thought and it’s likely that Aristotle influenced some of Augustine’s thinking. In case you don’t know who Augustine was, he was the bishop of Hippo way back in 396 AD and a profound theologian. However, this doesn’t discredit the validity of the model. Also, I’m not claiming this to be the sole or flawless perspective. Instead, I offer it as a tool for us to better grasp causation concerning humans and God. Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine if this viewpoint aligns with God’s Word and aids you in defending your faith.

Before we dive into our topic, I want to make one final point. I view apologetics differently than some. I lean heavily toward the presuppositionalist apologetic, which asserts that salvation is through Christ alone, by faith alone. In my view, apologetics aren’t primarily about leading someone to Christ. Instead, they serve to sharpen the understanding of those who are already believers. When we engage in apologetics, it’s about strengthening our own convictions and understanding why we believe what we believe. Moreover, when we apply sound wisdom and argumentation from a solid apologetic standpoint, it’s often to challenge opposing worldviews. This doesn’t mean we shut down conversation; rather, it means that often, opponents don’t have a valid argument against the Christian worldview and may even unwittingly borrow from it.

Alright, enough of that. Let’s delve into this topic by starting from the top. What do we mean when we say that God is the ultimate cause? It could mean that God is in total control over every aspect of creation, every minute detail, every action that takes place – literally everything. It could also simply mean that He brought everything into being and therefore is the ultimate cause, knows everything that is going to take place, and has an ultimate plan for His creation. We could blend the two concepts in various formats to come up with other theories as to how God interacts with His creation. That said, there are a couple of things we as Christians must agree upon in the mix of all this. 

First, we must agree that God is in complete control of His creation – meaning there is nothing that surprises Him and nothing that is beyond His perfect knowledge of everything that is and will be. A God who learns would imply imperfection in knowledge, which goes against the very nature of a perfect God. We don’t subscribe to the idea of an imperfect God.

Second, we also must affirm that God is the ultimate authority over all things and possesses perfect power over everything. There is no authority in heaven or on earth that surpasses God — His entire creation answers to Him. In summary, we acknowledge that God set everything into motion, possesses perfect knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, and has an ultimate plan for His creation. Therefore, we all concur that God is the ultimate cause. 

He is the first cause and stands above all other causes concerning His creation. To put it in simpler terms, to paraphrase one author on the subject, if God determined this world with prescient foreknowledge, He still chose to create it, making God the ultimate reason for everything in the world.

It’s on this very point that many Christians tend to step back, to recoil, and label it all as a mystery. It’s also where atheists and other nonbelievers often launch their attacks. So we can’t afford to simply retreat if we’re going to defend our hope with a strong argument. Here’s the good news: this is where the concepts of proximate and efficient cause come into play. Put simply, the proximate cause is what triggers an action, while the efficient cause is what actually carries out the action. Since God never initiates evil or tempts people, He is never the proximate cause when it comes to sin. And since God never sins Himself, He is also never the efficient cause of sin.

A great example to illustrate this is Eve in the garden. God stands as the ultimate cause who created Eve and sustains her life. The serpent, on the other hand, serves as the proximate cause, tempting Eve with the allure of the apple and its promised benefits. Eve herself becomes the efficient cause as she takes and eats the apple.

An even more powerful example is seen in Jesus on the cross. In Acts 2:23, it’s stated, “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of lawless men and put Him to death.” As Peter Sammons points out, this passage reveals three levels of causation and responsibility. God is the ultimate cause of Christ’s death, having predetermined it. The Jews serve as the proximate cause, instigating His death. And finally, the Gentiles act as the efficient cause, physically nailing Him to the cross until He died.

Interestingly, one could also argue that Jesus Himself was the ultimate cause, as He died at the time He determined, as stated in John 19:30, “bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”

In both of these instances, the key question revolves around who bears responsibility – who is culpable – for the evil acts committed. In both examples, some level of culpability is assigned to the proximate and efficient causes. The serpent (proximate) was cursed for deceiving Eve (efficient), who in turn faced consequences for her transgression. Similarly, the Jews (proximate) were said to have been involved in the act of nailing Jesus to the cross, carried out by the Gentiles (efficient) who were labeled as lawless men. At no point is God held accountable for the sins committed by these individuals. Nor did God coerce these agents into their actions. However, we can acknowledge that in the case of the cross, God utilized the evil intentions of men to bring about the most glorious event in history. It’s fascinating and reassuring that the desires of the proximate and efficient causes often run contrary to the plans of the ultimate cause. What they intended for evil, God intended for good!

The unbeliever might still object, arguing that since God brought everything into existence, He bears responsibility for all the crimes committed by humanity. According to this line of thinking, God must give an account for everything He has allowed to happen on this planet. However, if we are to remain logically consistent with this argument, then we must also hold parents accountable for the actions of their adult children. In other words, if an adult child, whom their parents brought into existence, commits a crime of their own volition, then the parents must – if we truly adhere to this view – bear the consequences for their grown child’s transgression.

Before we conclude, I want to leave you with one final thought. If you have a different model of reasoning that you find more compelling, I’d love to hear about it. If you disagree with the reasoning I’ve presented here, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Personally, I find this view helpful for my understanding of causation and culpability. That said, it’s based on my understanding of God’s perfections as expressed in the Bible… combined with my own reasoning and insights from others.

Regardless of whether we all align on these insights, there’s one thing we must agree on: Jesus undeniably died on a cross and rose from the dead three days later. He alone was worthy of such a task to bring salvation to the world, being the Son of God – our very God incarnate. Believe in Him and place your trust in Him as your Savior, Lord, and Master, and you will be saved by His grace.

That’s all for this episode of Five Broken Loaves, until next time stay grounded in the truth and growing in the faith.

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