Apologetics is easy, but it is often made difficult by unbiblical traditions and irrational assumptions.
When Reformed Christians are questioned on whether God is the "author of sin," they are too quick to say, "No, God is not the author of sin." And then they twist and turn and writhe on the floor, trying to give man some power of "self-determination," and some kind of freedom that in their minds would render man culpable, and yet still leave God with total sovereignty.
On the other hand, when someone alleges that my view of divine sovereignty makes God the author of sin, my first reaction tends to be, "So what?" Even Christians who disagree with me stupidly chant, "But he makes God the author of sin, he makes God the author of sin…." However, a description does not amount to an argument or objection, and I have never come across a half-decent explanation as to what's wrong with God being the author of sin in any theological or philosophical work written by anybody from any perspective.
The truth is that, whether or not God is the author of sin, there is no biblical or rational problem with him being the author of sin. For it to be a problem, it must make some point of Christianity false, or contradict some passage of Scripture. But if God is the author of sin, how does it make Christianity false? One must construct an argument showing this by citing established premises that necessarily lead to the conclusion that Christianity would be false if God is the author of sin. What is this argument? And what passage of Scripture does it contradict? You can cite any passage you want, but you have to show that it necessarily applies to the question and makes it impossible for God to be the author of sin. Where is this passage of Scripture?
Among the many fallacious replies is the appeal to James 1:13. Using this verse to deny that God is the author of sin is one of the worst misapplications of Scripture, and because this error is very popular and influential, it has caused much damage and generated an unnecessary burden for those who would defend the faith.
Consider the context. James is discussing the practical outworking of the Christian's faith in his letter, and so he often stresses the Christian's direct responsibility, and from the Christian's immediate perspective. James is pointing out what the Christian should consider and address in his struggles as a Christian – he is not dealing with metaphysics. In other words, he is addressing his topics from the standpoint of a Christian relative to his immediate considerations and responsibilities, and not relative to broad metaphysical principles.
However, when we are discussing divine sovereignty vs. human freedom, cause and effect, etc., we are indeed dealing with metaphysics. Of course, the conclusions reached on this level carry necessary implications for practical living, and what the Bible teaches about metaphysics and practical living are completely consistent with each other. Nevertheless, it is true that as long as the discussion remains on the metaphysical level, the reference point is different, so that one must be careful not to invalidly infer a metaphysical principle from a verse of practical instruction.
With this in mind, read the passage again. It does not affirm or deny whether God is the author of sin – it does not address the topic at all, but its concerns are completely different. It just tells you that God is not the tempter, which is altogether different from saying that God is not the author of sin.
That is, if God directly causes you to sin, it does make him the "author" of sin (at least in the sense that people usually use the expression), but the "sinner" or "wrongdoer" is still you. Since sin is the transgression of divine law, for God to be a sinner or wrongdoer in this case, he must decree a moral law that forbids himself to be the author of sin, and then when he acts as the author of sin anyway, he becomes a sinner or wrongdoer.
But unless this happens, for God to be the author of sin does not make him a sinner or wrongdoer. The terms "author," "sinner," "wrongdoer," and "tempter" are relatively precise – at least precise enough to be distinguished from one another, and for God to be the "author" of sin says nothing about whether he is also a "sinner," "wrongdoer," or a "tempter." And for one not to be a wrongdoer by definition means that he has not done wrong. Therefore, even if God is the author of sin, it does not automatically follow that there is anything wrong with it, or that he is a wrongdoer.
However, this is not to distance God from evil, for to "author" the sin implies far more control over the sinner and the sin than to merely tempt. Whereas the devil (or a person's lust) may be the tempter, and the person might be the sinner, it is God who directly and completely controls both the tempter and the sinner, and the relationship between them. And although God is not himself the tempter, he deliberately and sovereignly sends evil spirits to tempt (1 Kings 22:19–23) and to torment (1 Samuel 16:14–23, 18:10, 19:9). But in all of this, God is righteous by definition.
The verse is telling you that when you deal with temptation, you must directly address your lust, and not just blame God and then do nothing, or remain in your sin. Read all of James 1 and see if this is not his obvious emphasis. He deals with joy, faith, perseverance, doubt, pride, lust, anger, moral filth, and being a doer of the Word. He is dealing with the Christian's direct responsibilities in practical living, and he does this by relating it to the internal motives and characteristics of the person.
In verse 13, he is instructing the believer on how to rightly approach a temptation – he is not trying to explain the metaphysics behind it. Or, he is considering the believer's responsibility concerning the inner factors in sanctification, and not the metaphysical cause or principle for these. But the metaphysical cause or principle is exactly what we are discussing when we consider whether God is the author of sin. Therefore, James 1:13 is not directly applicable to our topic. If one still wishes to deny that God is the author of sin, he will have to use another verse.
Those who cite James 1 to assert that God cannot be the author of sin might use verse 17 to reinforce their understanding of verse 13; however, if verse 17 is interpreted in a way that is consistent with their interpretation of verse 13, then this would make verse 17 contradict Isaiah 45:7. But if verse 17 is correctly interpreted so that it does not contradict Isaiah 45:7, then it no longer reinforces their false interpretation of verse 13. A more detailed examination of verse 17 will have to wait until another time, but what I have just said already renders their interpretation of verse 17 impossible, so I need not say more for our present purpose. The point is that nothing in this passage from James denies (or affirms) that God is the author of sin.
The admitted motive and effect of the popular Reformed answer is to satisfy human standards of fairness and righteousness. Dabney, Shedd, and others admitted that their answer is meant to satisfy human intuition. If not for the fact that God's absolute sovereignty is repugnant to sinful human intuition, made defective by the noetic effects of sin, the "author of sin" question would have no logical entry point into theological discussions at all.
In contrast, the biblical approach to this type of questions and objections is not to justify God, but to rebuke man for questioning and objecting in the first place.
Our passage from Isaiah 45 is one example:
I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God….I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things….
Does the clay say to the potter, "What are you making?" Does your work say, "He has no hands"?
Woe to him who says to his father, "What have you begotten?" or to his mother, "What have you brought to birth?"
In other words, "I am the only God. Whether it is prosperity or disaster, I am the doer of all these things – there is not another God to do them. Dare you question me about this? Who are you to object?"
Although this verse might not conclusively settle every detail, unlike James 1:13, it does have something to do with metaphysics. He is the only God, and this is inseparably connected to the fact that it is this one and only God who causes "all these things," including both prosperity and disaster. He is the doer of them all. This is a denial of any type of dualism – there is not another power that can cause prosperity or disaster.
Contrary to the traditional explanation, God does not say, "Oh, no, I am not the author of sin. Although I am the ultimate cause of all things, I distance myself from directly causing evil by establishing secondary causes and free agents. So although I create and sustain all things, men freely sin by thinking and acting according to their own dispositions. The evil dispositions come from Adam. As for how Adam got his evil dispositions…well, it will just have to remain a mystery for you." If this is the answer, why not jump right to the mystery and save us all some time?
The Bible never responds this way to this type of questions and objections. There are many biblical passages saying that God causes all things, and the metaphysics behind it is explained by God's omnipotence – the same omnipotence that created everything. On the other hand, all the passages that people use to deny that God is the author of sin or to prove compatibilism are always just descriptions of events and motives, without dealing with the metaphysical cause of those events and motives.
Instead of giving the popular answer, which is weak, evasive, incoherent, and confusing, God unashamedly declares, "Yeah, I do all these things. What are you going to do about it? Who are you to even ask me about it?" When it comes to metaphysics, including God's relationship to human decisions, whether for good or for evil, this is how the Bible responds.
Then, we read from Romans 9:19–21:
One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?"
But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'"
Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
Again, this has something to do with metaphysics (determinism, freedom, etc.), since the context has to do with election and reprobation, and the making of the elect and the non-elect, as the potter makes pottery out of clay.
And contrary to the typical response, Paul does not say, "Oh, no, you don't understand. Although God determines all things, he causes all things only by having you freely make decisions according to your own nature, which came from Adam, whose nature mysteriously turned from holy to evil, so that God is not the author of sin, but so that you are responsible for your own decisions and actions."
Instead, Paul says that God's control over both the "noble" and the "common" is as the potter's control over a lump of clay. And just as a lump of clay cannot question the potter, Paul's response to the objector is not, "But you made yourself evil" or "But you freely perform evil according to your own nature," but instead he says, "Shall the creature say to the Creator, 'Why did you make me like this?'" And Paul does not say, "But God is not the author of sin," but instead he says, "God has the right to make one person righteous and another person evil, to save one and damn another. Of course no one can resist his will! But who are you to talk back?"
This is the Bible's approach. It rebukes the objector and answers the objection at the same time. But the answer does not deny that God is the direct cause of sin; instead, it boldly says that God has a right to make whatever he wants and do whatever he wants. Instead of stepping backward or sideways, it steps toward the objector and slaps him in the face!
This is God's answer. It is strong, direct, simple, coherent, and irrefutable. It is perfect.