#STRask: April 24, 2017

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Published on 04/24/2017

Greg’s on a timer and answers questions about God’s sovereignty over sin, God and time, and organ donation from euthanized patients.


  • How could God decree sinful acts to happen if He is so holy that even a single “minor” sin is intolerable to His character?
  • Is God outside of time? If yes, how does He decide to create? If no, does eternity past imply traversal of infinite days?
  • In Canada, euthanized patients are donating their organs. Would it be ethical to receive such an organ for a transplant?


Melinda: Hello, I’m Melinda the Enforcer. I’m here with Greg Koukl, and this is the #STRask podcast. What are you gonna say? You’re just laughing too much?

Greg: I’m not doing anything, I’m just trying to be a professional.

Melinda: Well professional would be to say hi.

Greg: Hi.

Melinda: He’s trying to make our producer laugh this time, so I thought maybe he was just laughing too much. This is the #STRask podcast, where it just gets a little bit too silly sometimes. This is also the fourth episode of it we’ve recorded in a row, so Greg keeps getting...Now he’s making faces. Anyway, that’s a face I’m not used to. I’m used to a lot of your faces. Let’s just get moving okay, we’re answering questions we get from Twitter, using the hashtag STRask. Greg has four minutes. Let’s just push through, okay? This comes from Square Donut.

Greg: All right, I’m just minding my own business here.

Melinda: I think the oxygen is getting thin in this little booth and that could be the cause of this.

Greg: All right.

Melinda: How could God decree sinful acts to happen if he is so holy that even a single mind or sin is intolerable to his character?

Greg: Well I guess this depends on the definition of the word “decree” and, excuse me I’m not very clever in all of this particular stuff, this is more high theology, beyond my pay grade a little bit, but let me just venture a characterization and that is God’s decrees entail all of the free will choices that men make. So he doesn’t start in a sense with a blank slate and then says, “Here is the way I want it, okay, well I want this, this, and this to happen.” Now that means that a bunch of people are gonna have to do some really bad things. Now I’m gonna make them do these bad things, so they can get this other thing going on here. That’s not my sense, because I think if that’s the way it worked and I think some have characterized it very close to that, well then God would be responsible for evil. The text is really clear that in Him there is no darkness by all.

He’s not tempted by evil, he doesn’t do evil, he is perfectly good, he is a morally perfect creature. That option is not open to me with my classical understanding of the character of God. And so I’m going to say then the decree is going to be God ordaining things in such a way that he gets what he wants, even in the midst of sinful acts of other people. If you ask me to ground that, that is explain how that actually works in the mechanics of the thing, I cannot do that. I don’t know that. This is within the web of the mind of God and I don’t think that mortals have access to that kind of thing. I think it’s just beyond us.

Melinda: Do you?

Greg: Do I what?

Melinda: Have access to that kind of thing?

Greg: No, I’m a mortal, unless you thought I was in-

Melinda: You’re mortal too, oh you are?

Greg: Yes. Quite. Quite the mortal and so I don’t have access to that, I don’t know and I think this is the point where we just have to...Okay we can go no further. If you think of like a wheel and the spokes going to the hub. The hub is in mystery, okay. The hub it’s just shrouded in mystery. Yet, you can travel on the spokes to where the hub is, then where you may already be. Some people want to go stay out there on the rim and say, “Well, it’s all a mystery in there, so we cannot understand anything, we don’t want to take away any mystery.” I think, look, we can still figure out some things based on what God has told us and there’s plenty left for mystery and that’s moving closer along the spokes, closer to the hub. So we can move closer to it, but we’re never gonna be able to penetrate. That is we’re never gonna be able to get it all completely squared away and I’m comfortable with that.

I do think we have these decrees, and we know some things about God and His character and that, and so we’ve got to come up with an answer that holds all of those thing in tension. And trying to refine it much further, it seems, requires that we go deeper into the fog, where we’re not allowed.

Melinda: Compatible with what you were saying, I think a lot of people, what they mean when they say God decrees sinful acts is a way of recognizing God remains sovereign over absolutely everything that occurs. He’s powerful over everything. He has authority over everything. Yet sinful acts still occur, so therefore in some sense in his sovereignty, he has decreed these things to happen, not in the sense that he has ordered them to happen or caused them to happen or gotten involved in those things to happen, but obviously, since He’s in charge, everything happens with His permission. He has permitted these things to happen.

Greg: Yeah, they are allowed and entailed by his sovereign will.

Melinda: Because nothing can happen outside his authority and sovereignty.

Greg: But not caused-

Melinda: Right-

Greg: One way to ground it - that is, to explain how it happens - is to say, well God causes all these things but now you’re into a different place altogether.

Melinda: Right.

Greg: And so that’s not acceptable to me.

Melinda: The next question comes JKwood1, “Is God outside of time? if yes, how does He decide to create? If no, does eternity past imply traversable infinite days?”

Greg: I have an answer for this and it’s a little bit more complex question-

Melinda: I figured you might-

Greg: My view is that God participates in temporal action, but that doesn’t require that he has always been temporal. He could have been atemporal until the creation of the earth and the creation of the universe, rather, and that act was His first act of temporality and once He then enters into temporal becoming. When I say becoming I don’t mean that He changes into something else, He just begins to participate in temporal activity. The question has a very astute observation and that is kind of implicit in his question. If God is atemporal, then nothing happens. Time is what keeps all the events from happening simultaneously. If there are events and there is no time, they all happen simultaneously. There’s a name for this, is called the B theory of time. B for bad, because it’s the materialists view of time. Although there are non-materialists that hold it.

Melinda: And our sense of passage of time is a mere illusion-

Greg: It’s a...Correct-

Melinda: Because there’s nothing truly before and after-

Greg: That’s right-

To make it easier to conceptualize that notion, all you have to do is think of a book. A story. Let’s say Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings has before and after relationships to it but no true time relations. There is nothing happening in time. There is no passage of time, there are just events that happen, logically, prior and posterior to each other.

Melinda: In the story, yeah-

Greg: Yeah, so we know that in the story, first one thing happens, and then these other things happen, but it’s only before or after in the story line, the whole book sits there with nothing going on. All parts of the story coexist at the same moment, so to speak.

Melinda: The characters in the story are not experiencing before and after. They’re not changing as the story goes along. They exist-

Greg: There’s no passage-

Melinda: every page in that book-

Greg: That’s right-

Melinda: And that would be the universe, if there was no time-

Greg: Equally add that stage of their personal development-

Melinda: Right.

Greg: Right and so C.S. Lewis characterized God’s relationship in relationship to time like this in Mere Christianity, but with all respects I think that he is mistaken here, because if you have God then outside of the book of time...Here is history and He can flip the pages and he can go for and aft, earlier and later. Well, two things: this means that time doesn’t happen for us that, as you pointed out the passage of time, which seems the most obvious thing to everyone, is just an illusion. No time is passing. That seems so wildly counter intuitive, I could never accept it as being true. Secondly, even if God is moving from one part of the book to another, first He’s observing the beginning, then He’s observing the end and then He’s observing the middle of the book as it were. Or beholding it all at once.

If He’s doing it sequentially, then time is passing for him and if He’s beholding it all at once, then He’s never creating. Nothing is happening.

Melinda: Part of the consequence of-

Greg: He’s just...Everything is frozen.

Melinda: One of the biggest problems with the consequence of the B theory time is that God never created the universe. The universe is eternal as God is.

Greg: Yeah think of that book of history-

Melinda: Because God-

Greg: As always being there forever.

Melinda: And yet we know the universe began.

Greg: Yeah. So I mean that seems to be the best take on it. I think that the idea that God being outside of time has serious problems and there is no biblical reason why we have to say that. The only thing that’s demanded by orthodoxy is that God is eternal. That He had no beginning and He had no end. So this then solves both problems that were raised by the question, the first problem, God is temporal, so he can create, at least at the time He’s creating He is now participating in a temporal universe. Before that He could be atemporal and just existing in a non-temporal way. And therefore there is no problem of past regression accomplishing an infinite...

Melinda: Transversing it. Transversing an actual infinite

Greg: There you go, thank you. Transversing an actual infinite and for some of you, you’re thinking, “What the heck is he talking about?” Well this one’s not for you, that’s all I can say. Those of you who have delved into these issues know what I’m referring to there and William Lane Craig is very helpful in this regard. I’ll just recommend, do we still have that “God, Time, and Eternity”?

Melinda: I don’t know-

Greg: Recording? For a long time we carried a CD of Bill Craig giving a two part lecture called “God, Time, and Eternity” and it was one of the most eloquent lectures I’ve ever heard and so I recommend that.

Melinda: And if it’s not in our store, I bet there’s something on YouTube.

Greg: Yeah, or through-

Melinda: Reasonable Faith-

Greg: Reasonable Faith-

Melinda: Oh yeah, check Reasonable Faith-

Greg: Yeah.

Melinda: Okay, next question comes from John Coogan. In Canada, euthanized patients are donating their organs, he doesn’t mention if this is voluntary euthanasia or involuntary euthanasia, but euthanized patients are donating their organs, would it be ethical to receive such an organ for a transplant?

Greg: Yeah, this is a hard question.

Melinda: That’s why they came to you.

Greg: Yeah, oh good luck. A question like this was raised about things that happened in the past that aren’t happening now, but who’s effect may be for good continues into the present. And can we use that for our benefit? Like some of the studies that were done by Joseph Mengele and the Third Reich that had to do with hypothermia. It was grotesque the way he conducted the experiments, but he got valuable information that we could use now. Is that knowledge tainted because of the way it was gained? My view is no. I think we can take that terrible circumstance and maybe get something redemptive out of it. This circumstance may be different though, and the difference is that it creates a...This might then create a...What’s the word I’m looking for-

Melinda: A market?

Greg: A market, thank you. A market for euthanizing human beings.

Melinda: Because in the case of Nazis or these other, these are past things that are over, it’s taken place, just like some of the vaccines that early on might have been developed with aborted fetuses, aborted babies right?

Greg: The question-

Melinda: It was done. So should we benefit from it now? But these things have passed, they’re over, they’re not continuing. In this case, the euthanizing of patients is continuing and we create a market-

Greg: Right, okay, so here’s-

Melinda: We can actually encourage-

Greg: Okay, so here is the question and I think this will be a good way of putting it. If there was a person who was murdered. Who’s organs were available for us to use, would we have trouble using those? Moral difficulties using those organs, given the fact that the means of death was immoral? I think most people would say no. The man’s dead. He’s dead. Okay, but now we can make good use of the organs. Okay. However, if there was an organ business, that went around murdering people to get organs...And actually there are things like that that happened with kidneys, now the person’s not murdered but they’re put in an ice bath and they have their kidneys stolen from them and there’s terrible stories like that that people hear...Well that’s different, because now the use of the organ is abetting an industry that continues to do wrong. Okay. So the question here is, is the use of the organs abetting the industry? Encouraging or increasing the industry? Or is it simply the making the best of a bad situation.

If people are going to get euthanized for their own reasons, I don’t see any problem with using their organs for someone else. If they are encouraged to get euthanized or they are being euthanized against their will-

Melinda: Or without their permission.

Greg: Or without their permission, so this could be...There’s active euthanasia...There’s voluntary, let me back up and put it this way. There’s voluntary. There’s non voluntary and there’s involuntary. Voluntary is when a person says, “I want to die, euthanize me.”, they’re making the choice to get euthanized for their own reasons, regardless of what’s gonna happen to their body parts. I don’t see a problem using body parts, organ donations for that. Others are euthanized without their permission, but not against their permission, so this is non voluntary. Maybe they’re in a coma for a long time and so then they just decide, “We’re gonna pull the plug on this person, we’re not gonna feed them, we’re gonna make them die.”, and we’re going to use their body parts for donation. That to me is more questionable, because it begins to look like maybe they’re taking a person who is in a tough spot and they are euthanizing them in order to get the cash crop. And the third category is when people say, “No, I don’t want to die.”, and they kill them anyway and this is happening all over the world.

Great Britain famously. And in Netherlands et cetera-

Melinda: Holland, yeah-

Greg: And in those cases, these people are dying against their will. Even when a person dies against their will, murder for example, I don’t think it’s wrong to use the organs for donation, but if they’re getting killed to get the organs, now that’s a problem. Probably the safest place to be on this question is to say, “Well, if it’s voluntary euthanasia, okay. If it’s non voluntary or involuntary euthanasia, that looks dirty and I’m not going there.”, that would be the safest place to go. Though I can think of circumstances even with non voluntary and involuntary where using the organs would be morally legitimate. As long as it wasn’t a motivation for killing the person and continues to be the motivation to kill other people. That’s the issue.

Melinda: On euthanasia, I think the safest place would be just to say no, period, even for voluntary. Because what we’ve seen, over and over, every place that euthanasia’s been legalized, even if it was only legalized for voluntary euthanasia, it eventually slipped into involuntary euthanasia-

Greg: And the non voluntary, right-

Melinda: We are seeing the slippery slope every single time voluntary euthanasia has been...And so it just seems to me even if we try to restrict this to voluntary euthanasia cases, this whole issue just seems to slide down the slippery slope really fast and we have no controls on it.

Greg: Yeah, I know that happens and I agree with you in principal. It isn’t clear to me at all that organ donations have anything to do with that sliding down that slippery slope-

Melinda: No, no, I’m not saying it does, I’m just saying-

Greg: You just stay-

Melinda: Because voluntary seems to slide so quickly into non voluntary and involuntary. I just even if we drew a fair moral line at voluntary, I think it just becomes...It can’t so easily create that market and that would incentivize non voluntary and involuntary euthanasia.

Greg: There you go. There’s a number of different issues there for people to consider and people have to make their own mind, but at least now you’ve got more to work with-

Melinda: Theres’ some issues-

Greg: Yeah-

Melinda: Right.

Greg: It’s sticky.

Melinda: Yeah it is. It would just be good if we didn’t have euthanasia at all and then we wouldn’t have this question-

Greg: A similar question comes up with the remains of aborted children. Very similar kind of thing.

Melinda: Right and so watch it’s the same kind of reasoning.

Greg: Yeah I think largely. You can make good use of a corpse as long as the use that you make of the corpse doesn’t encourage more corpses.

Melinda: Encourage more corpses. Right.

Greg: The production of more corpses. You cannot encourage a corpse, because you know...Dead.

Melinda: Okay, so-

Greg: You know what I mean.

Melinda: On this very tragic topic, the end of the podcast-

Greg: Have a nice day-

Melinda: #STRask, excuse me. Send us your questions on Twitter using #STRask. Greg has four minutes or less to answer them. Sometimes we give him a little grace on this one, because it’s an important topic. New episodes on Monday and Thursday. I’m here with Greg Koukl, and I’m Melinda the Enforcer and we’re both with Stand to Reason. Bye bye.