Clark on "Permission"

When we examine our own experience of permission we see that always it implies an independent power in another person. We permit a man to do something; that is we do not hinder him from doing it; but his is the power and frequently enough we could not have forced him to do it if he had not wanted to. But there is no power independent of God, in the case of omnipotence the distinction between permission and something else vanishes, and I want to stick by the proposition of the catechism: God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. Further, the introduction of permission, which was intended to relieve God of responsibility for sin, does not accomplish its end. The historic objection to Christianity runs: Either God could have prevented sin and did not want to, or else he wanted to and could not; therefore God is either not omnipotent or not good. I cannot see how permission enables us to escape that dilemma. If we could prevent a suicide but permit it, we seem as morally reprehensible as if we had actually goaded the person to his act. Permission, therefore, does not solve the problem for which it was invented. My own solution — well, at least no one has convinced me of logical error, though that may be due to my stubbornness or stupidity. – Clark to J. Oliver Buswell, Dec. 28, 1935.

It seems to me impossible to produce any definition of the word permission, as distinct from something not permission, that would apply to an omniscient and omnipotent Being. It is one of the standing flaws of those who speak about permission that they do not say clearly what they mean. But of course you will not agree with me here. At any rate, Calvin, I think, is with me.” – Clark to J. Oliver Buswell, Dec. 14, 1948.

Not only are free will and permission irrelevant to the problem of evil, but further the idea of permision has no intelligible meaning. It is quite within the range of possibility for a lifeguard to permit a man to drown. This permission, however, depends on the fact that the ocean’s undertow is beyond the guard’s control. If the guard had some giant suction device which he operated so as to engulf the boy, one would call it murder, not permission. The idea of permission is possible only where there is an independent force, either the boy’s force or the ocean’s force. But this is not the situation in the case of God and the universe. Nothing in the universe can be independent of the Omnipotent Creator, for in him we live and move and have our being. Therefore the idea of permission makes no sense when applied to God.” – Religion, Reason, and Revelation, p. 205. (1961)

Calvin makes it quite clear that there is no such thing as permission with God. One who tries to use this idea is sure to be confused, for when it is logically followed, the result is Arminianism or worse.” – Clark to Tim Deal, 10/28/1982.

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