“But you are full of the judgment on the wicked; judgment and justice seize you.
Beware lest wrath entice you into scoffing, and let not the greatness of the ransom turn you aside.
Will your cry for help avail to keep you from distress, or all the force of your strength?
Do not long for the night, when peoples vanish in their place.
Take care; do not turn to iniquity, for this you have chosen rather than affliction.
Behold, God is exalted in his power; who is a teacher like him?
Who has prescribed for him his way, or who can say, ‘You have done wrong’?
“Remember to extol his work, of which men have sung. (Job 36:17-24)
Theologically, it makes a big deal whether God is or is not the Author of Sin. Yet, even if the dust will settle on this topic and my rebuttal to Vincent Cheung's rationalistic hypercalvinism, some might not see the differences between the two views. After all, God is the ultimate cause of sin either way, so does it matter whether it is "direct" or "indirect?" For Arminians like Roger Olsen, what difference does it make whether God directly caused sin, or indirectly superintends sin?
Theology is not merely abstract. Theology of course must start with the abstract, but it continues into the practical realm, for God is always immensely true and His Word always practical. So, if it is a big deal whether God is the direct cause of sin or the indirect superintendent of sin, then what practical differences would result from the two views? I suggest that it is in how one deals with trials and tribulations in life that the differences between these two views would be manifested.
In the wisdom literature, we read in the account of Job how he struggled with his unjust suffering. Job's three friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar) applied the retributive principle to Job's suffering, and inferred that Job must have sinned because he was suffering. Their dialogues are basically variants on the accusation that Job must have sinned against God and he needs to repent, while Job insisted on pleading his righteousness before God.
In contrast to Job's three friends, his fourth friend Elihu did not so rebuke Job. Rather, he rebuked Job for presuming he could demand an explanation from God, that God is answerable to him. When God finally responds out of the storm, God similarly rebukes Job for his presumption in questioning Him, exposing Job's total inadequacy in the areas of knowledge and power (Job 38-41). It is thus understandable that God did not rebuke Elihu, while Job's other three friends were rebuked (Job. 42:7-8). Elihu's rebuke of Job is fully in line with God's rebuke to Job, and thus it is to Elihu's words that we want to focus our attention here.
In Job 36:17-24, we see here that Elihu rebuked Job for letting his judgment of the wicked descend into a self-righteous exoneration of himself. In Job's bitter affliction, Job has crossed the line from pleading for justice to demanding justice. Job's affliction has turned in this sense into iniquity. Elihu's rebuke, and God's rebuke, is not because Job called for justice and pleaded his cause, but because in his vehement cry for vindication, he has elevated himself to the position of a judge instead of remaining the supplicant.
Thus, we see here that there is nothing wrong with calling for vindication before God. There is nothing wrong with facing trials and tribulations with anguish and calls for relief. All of these are not sinful unless they become demands where we become the judge demanding that God must act (or worse still, take matters into our own hands). But if everything is ordained by God, shouldn't the response to trials and tribulations be resignation and trust in God, instead of anger and anguish and cries for relief?
Here, we see one practical difference between Cheung's direct causation model of sovereignty, and the biblical Reformed model of full sovereignty through both primary and secondary means. Under Cheung's model, one should approach trials and tribulations with a certain sense of "resignation," trusting in God to bring good out of the trials and tribulations. Since everything is directly caused by God, to be angry at the means is to be angry at God, for the means are mere occasions for God to act. But in the biblical model, since the means are not directly from God, but that God superintends all things, then there is nothing wrong with being angry at the means. Anger at sin, anger towards oppression, anguish at suffering — all these are legitimate emotions to be expressed. Cries for vindication from God for what one perceives to be unjust suffering, like in the sufferings of Job, are not sinful in and of themselves. Of course, one has to have faith and trust in God that all things would work together for good (cf. Rom. 8:28), but this trust is not contradictory to having legitimate feelings of anguish and an attitude of questioning. We are after all not Stoics. In Job's case, Job's bitter anguish and suffering coexists with his own faith and trust in God as his redeemer (Job 19); the two are not mutually exclusive.
It is thus in this very practical aspect of life that the differences between Cheung's direct causation model and the biblical Reformed model can be in my opinion most clearly perceived. Cheung's model, while it might not lead to fatalism, certainly necessitates a certain soft form of resignation. After all, how can one be angry at the means if God is the one directly bringing about the means? Can one be angry at God? If I know that all things work together for good, then I would infer that persecution would work together for good, so should I be angry at the persecution of Christians around the world? Why should I if God is directly causing it for good?
Only in the biblical Reformed model that we can both trust God and yet have questions and anger at injustices. We live in a fallen world, not in the realm of God's decrees and sovereign will. Emotions of anguish and bitterness are natural. Instead of striving for artificiality in the Christian life, we should not have any issue with so-called "negative emotions," but rather cultivate faith in God as the deeper anchor for our souls in the many storms of life, so that our faith would bring us through the trials and tribulations that we face in this world.