February 13, 2013
iv. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.
Here we encounter a great mystery--as great as any mystery in time or thought. We have said that nothing falls outside the providence of God, which extends to all creatures and all actions. This is evident from the very Godness of God, as well as from many statements that Scripture makes about his sovereignty. Yet this raises a difficult and obvious question: If God governs everything that happens, does this make him the author of evil and the approver of sin?
The Confession begins its answer by asserting that sinful actions--everything from Adam's first rebellion to the "little" sins of omission and commission that I commit every day--are inside (not outside) the providence of God. Otherwise, God could not really be in control.
Nor does God simply permit these sins. On the contrary, in his wise providence he sets limits on the destructive power of sin and uses our misdeeds to accomplish his holy purposes. When considered from the perspective of eternity, what Joseph said about the ungodly actions of his older brothers may rightly be said of all human sins: "You meant evil . . . but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20).
This does not mean, however, that God is implicated in humanity's sin. God does not commit any sin; the guilt belongs only to the sinner. Here it helps to remember a distinction that was made in section two--the distinction between God as the First Cause and all the other causes that operate within his world. The will of the sinner is one of the "second causes" that accomplishes God's purposes. We cannot blame God for what we do. In choosing to sin, each of us bears moral responsibility for our own actions.
None of this completely resolves the mystery, of course. God foreknows and foreordains everything, including evil; nevertheless, he is not the author of sin. The Westminster Confession refuses to give ground on either of these truths because both are taught in Holy Scripture.