Q&A: God Made Me Do It

God Made Me Do It

Question

I had a couple of questions about man's responsibility and freedom; could you provide a couple of thoughts on interpreting John 15:18-27? —

18"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23He who hates me hates my Father as well. 24If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.'
26"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

I am curious about the implications on responsibility in these passage. Also regarding your analogy of Mike and Billy, what happens to Billy's responsibility when Mike actually physically overpowers Billy forcing him to do the grafitti?

It would seem to me that the forcing closely resembles God's relationship to us in our actions ultimately. Who can resist him? (Rom. 9) And John 17:12 seems to indicate that Judas was doomed to destruction because the Scripture had to be fulfilled. Is Billy's liability reduced any more? completely? at all? Because at that point he no longer has any decision to make.

Answer

On John 15:22-24, I think Jesus is not talking about sin generically. Obviously the people he's talking about would have been guilty of original sin and actual sins even if Jesus had not come to speak to them. But in context he's talking about the specific sin of persecuting Jesus and his disciples. He is saying that some of the chief persecutors will be those who had heard Jesus' words and seen his mighty works. Those experiences greatly magnify their liability. Obviously any murder is sin, but liability for the murder of Jesus and the persecution of his disciples is greatly increased by the revelation given through Jesus. So much is that liability increased that Jesus can say (somewhat hyperbolically) that apart from that liability they would not be guilty at all.

He is, of course, building up rhetorically to the Scripture quotation of verse 25, "they hated me without a cause." That's the main point.

As for Mike and Billy, I think that if Mike actually manipulates Billy's arm to make the graffiti, Billy bears no liability. Billy is still responsible in the sense of accountability, but on this particular point he would not be accounted guilty of sin.

Now God does control all our actions, so there is a parallel between Mike's action (in your revised illustration) and God's action. But here's where the parallel breaks down: in controlling Satan (to choose the most relevant example), God is not making Satan do anything against his will, as Mike is making Billy do something against Billy's will. Similarly Judas.

And, of course, we must also take into account the author/character model, the "creaturely otherness," and other points I made in Chapter 8. God's control of creatures is not simply a matter of grabbing their arnms and making them do something. The experience of God's control is quite different from that, and the reality of the relationship is also quite different. Compare the discussion of "robots" in my Doctrine of God Chapter 8.

Answer by Dr. John M. Frame

Dr. John M. Frame is Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.