One argument against Calvinism is that if God is completely sovereign, that would make Him the author of sin. Here, we will answer this objection and reference Gordon Clark’s thinking.
There Is a Difference Between Being the “Author” of Sin and Being “Guilty” of Sin
Because God is completely sovereign over His creation, there is a sense in which God is the “author,” or “cause,” of sin. However, we have to be careful how we define the word “author.”
When we say that God is the “author” of sin, we are saying that He is the ultimate cause of sin. We are not saying that He is guilty of sin in any sense. It is the being who actually commits the sin who is guilty of the sin.
An Author and His Story
One way we can illustrate this concept is with an author and his story. When an author writes a story, he is the “author,” or “cause,” of every single event that happens in the book, including the actions of the villains.
However, we would not say that the author is guilty of the villains’ actions. Rather, the villains are the ones who commit the evil and they are the ones who are guilty of the evil.
Gordon Clark on Whether God Is the Author of Sin
Below are some quotes from Gordon Clark on this subject. These quotes are from his essay, God and Evil, which can be purchased from The Trinity Foundation. Clark distinguishes between God being the “cause” and “author” of sin, which is just a slightly different way of stating the point above.
God Is the Sole Ultimate Cause of Everything
Let it be unequivocally said that this view certainly makes God the cause of sin. God is the sole ultimate cause of everything. There is absolutely nothing independent of him. He alone is the eternal being. He alone is omnipotent. He alone is sovereign. Not only is Satan his creature, but every detail of history was eternally in his plan before the world began; and he willed that it should all come to pass. The men and angels predestined to eternal life and those foreordained to everlasting death are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished. Election and reprobation are equally ultimate. God determined that Christ should die; he determined as well that Judas should betray him. There was never the remotest possibility that something different could have happened.
Whatever the Lord pleases he does, in Heave and in Earth (Psalm 135:6)
All the inhabitants of the Earth are reputed as nothing; he does according to his will in the army of Heaven and among the inhabitants of the Earth. No one can restrain his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35)
I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil; I, the Lord, do all these things (Isaiah 45:7)
The Lord has made all things for himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of evil (Proverbs 16:4).
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who has resisted his will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? … Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? (Romans 9:19-21)
Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God (Romans 11:22).
Immediate vs. Ultimate Cause of Sin
One is permitted to ask, however, whether the phrase “cause of sin” is the equivalent of the phrase “author of sin.” Is the latter phrase used to deny God’s universal causality? Obviously not, for the same people who affirm causality deny the authorship. They must have intended a difference. An illustration is close at hand. God is not the author of this book, as the Arminians would be the first to admit; but he is its ultimate cause as the Bible teaches. Yet I am the author. Authorship therefore is one kind of cause, but there are other kinds. The author of a book is its immediate cause; God is its ultimate cause.
First and Secondary Causation
The terms “first and secondary causation” are terms that come from the Westminster Confession of Faith.
This distinction between first and secondary causation—explicitly maintained in the Westminster Confession—has not always been appreciated, even by those who are in general agreement. John Gill, for example, who is so excellent on so much, failed to grasp the distinction between the immediate author and the ultimate cause. For this reason there are some faulty passages in his otherwise fine work. Such is the difficulty of the problem and so confused are the discussions from the time of the patristics to the present day, that some of the best Calvinists have not extricated themselves completely from scholastic errors. Not only Berkouwer, but even Jonathan Edwards, in spite of Calvin, still spoke about God’s permission of sin.
When, accordingly, the discussion comes to God’s being the author of sin, one must understand the question to be, “Is God the immediate cause of sin?” Or, more clearly, “Does God commit sin?” This is a question concerning God’s holiness. Now, it should be evident that God no more commits sin than he is writing these words. Although the betrayal of Christ was foreordained from eternity as a means of effecting the atonement, it was Judas, not God, who betrayed Christ. The secondary causes in history are not eliminated by divine causality, but rather they are made certain. And the acts of these secondary causes, whether they be righteous acts or sinful acts, are to be immediately referred to the agents; and it is these agents who are responsible.
God Is Not Responsible or Sinful
God is neither responsible nor sinful, even though he is the only ultimate cause of everything. He is not sinful because in the first place whatever God does is just and right. It is just and right simply in virtue of the fact that he does it. Justice or righteousness is not a standard external to God to which God is obligated to submit. Righteousness is what God does. Since God caused Judas to betray Christ, this causal act is righteous and not sinful. By definition God cannot sin. At this point it must be particularly pointed out that God’s causing a man to sin is not sin. There is no law, superior to God, which forbids him to decree sinful acts. Sin presupposes a law, for sin is lawlessness. Sin is any want of conformity unto transgression of the law of God But God is “Ex-lex.”
A Human Who Causes Sin Is Sinful
True it is that if a man, a created being, should cause or try to cause another man to sin, this attempt would be sinful. The reason is plain. The relation of one man to another is entirely different from the relation of God to any man. God is the creator; man is a creature. And the relation of a man to the law is equally different from the relation of God to the law. What holds in the one situation does not hold in the other. God has absolute and unlimited rights over all created things. Of the same lump he can make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor. The clay has no claims on the potter. Among men, on the contrary, rights are limited.
God’s Laws for Humans Do Not Apply to God
The idea that God is above the law can be explained in another particular. The laws that God imposes on men do not apply to the divine nature. They are applicable only to human conditions. For example, God cannot steal, not only because whatever he does is right, but also because he owns everything: There is no one to steal from. Thus the law that defines sin envisages human conditions and has no relevance to a sovereign Creator.
Scripture: God Causes Sin, But Is Not Responsible for It
As God cannot sin, so in the next place, God is not responsible for sin, even though he decrees it. Perhaps it would be well, before we conclude, to give a little more Scriptural evidence that God indees decrees and causes sin. 2 Chronicles 18:20-22 reads, “Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’ The Lord said to him, ‘In what way?’ So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And the Lord said, ‘You shall persuade him and also prevail; go out and do so.’ Now, therefore, look! The Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these prophets of yours, and the Lord has declared disaster against you.” This passage definitely says that the Lord caused the prophets to lie. Other similar passages ought easily to come to one’s remembrance. But that God is not responsible for the sin he causes is a conclusion closely connected with the preceding argument.
God’s Consequences for Sin Cannot Be Applied to God
Another aspect of the human conditions presupposed by the laws God imposes on man is that they carry with them a penalty that cannot be inflicted on God. Man is responsible because God calls him to account; man is responsible because the supreme power can punish him for disobedience. God, on the contrary, cannot be responsible for the plain reason that there is no power superior to him; no greater being can hold him accountable; no one can punish him; there is no one to whom God is responsible; there are no laws which he could disobey.
The sinner, therefore, and not God, is responsible; the sinner alone is the author of sin. Man has no free will, for salvation is purely of grace; and God is sovereign.