God doesn’t make mistakes. But we rarely answer the point, and often open the door to heresy, when we say it

Yesterday, I took a swipe at the test of time argument. I don’t think we should use it. In my view, it isn’t a fair and proper test. Indeed, it proves very little if anything. It is a mere observation that something has been around a long time, it does not help us determine how good that thing actually is.

Well, that brought to mind another line that Christians like to throw around. A line that is factually true, but doesn’t necessarily get us very far in discussions. Which is to say, I’m not sure how helpful it is to employ it either. That line is, God doesn’t make mistakes.

Of course, taken at face value, that is true. God does not make mistakes. He is sovereign Lord of the universe who works all things according to the counsel of his good will. In other words, God makes no mistake. What is, is, simply because he has ultimately determined it would be.

The problem is that this tends to lead to a Pelagian calculation. If God makes no mistakes, then what God makes must be good. God made me. Therefore, the way I am must be good. As a basic syllogism, people think of this way:

  1. God only makes what is good.
  2. God made me.
  3. Therefore, I am good.

In other words, God makes no mistakes and God made me like this, therefore I must be exactly as God intended me to be. It doesn’t take a genius to see how this sort of Pelagianism is applied to all manner of current cultural discussions.

In answer to some of those cultural discussions, believers sometimes argue that God makes no mistakes. So, if you believe you have been born in the wrong body, but God makes no mistakes, the body you have must be the body that God wants you to have. Which seems reasonable until somebody turns around and agrees, God makes no mistakes, and he has given me certain innate desires which must be the kind of desires he wants me to have. Therefore, things God says are not right in his Word are countered with a God-makes-no-mistakes Pelagianism to affirm as good what God calls not good. At which point, we are left spluttering that isn’t what we meant; we were talking about characteristics beyond our control. As the person insists such things are beyond their control, somebody else arrives, hearing that God makes no mistakes over our bodies, and begins to ask about their severe disability. If God makes no mistakes, are you suggesting my disability is good? We might quickly grasp hold of a line that it isn’t part of God’s original design but sin means our bodies don’t work as they ought, at which point the original person says ‘like being born in the wrong body, you mean?’

My point here isn’t to suggest that God does make mistakes. Nor that the argument that God makes no mistakes is fundamentally untrue. Rather, that it is a line that is so capable of misunderstanding and rests on a number of presumptions that we might be best not saying it. Or, if we do say it, only after we have given umpteen caveats about what we actually mean.

The real issue is not really whether God makes mistakes or not. We know he doesn’t, the issue is whether what we see in the world is good or not and, more to the point, how God intends to work through it for his good purposes. The cross, for example, appeared like a big mistake to Jesus’ disciples, but it was in fact God’s redemptive plan in action. Did God make a mistake when Jesus was crucified? No. It’s just that what his disciples expected God would be doing, what they assumed were his plan and purposes, were not actually his plan at all. God doesn’t make mistakes, but we don’t always grasp what he is actually doing.

So, take our trans friend. Does God make mistakes? No. But that doesn’t mean, of itself, God hasn’t put the person in the wrong body. It might mean that. But it might be that the mind is right and the wrong body is what is broken – after all, God is sovereign over the thoughts and inclinations of mankind too. So, God not making mistakes doesn’t settle that issue and makes it something of a moot point to make in our discussion. Which means we have to look for other biblical truths and some objective facts to determine what God might have intended. When we look at the scriptures, we see that Total Depravity since The Fall has impacted the whole of creation, including our bodies, our minds, our thoughts and our inclinations. What God originally created was good without exception, very good in fact, but that sin has since marred and ruined it so that not everything that is made is good anymore. Goodness remains, but it is also all tainted. So, we have to go back to God’s original plan and design to see what was good before The Fall. The issue is not that God makes mistakes, it’s that sin ruins everything. We can only determine what is good and right by going back to God’s Word, reading what it says about mankind, good order and His original design so that we can discern the difference between the good God originally intended and the sin-marred reality that we now live in.

And this same point can be applied to our friend who does not think they are born in the wrong body but who have desires that do not accord with God’s Word. Likewise, this same argument applies to our disabled friend who has a body that doesn’t work as God originally intended. The thoughts in the mind of our LGBT friends, and the body of our disabled friend, don’t change the fact that God doesn’t make mistakes. He undoubtedly has a reason for allowing these things to affect those people in those ways. We don’t have to presume to know what that reason is to nonetheless reckon that God has his purposes – whatever they may be – through them. But the lack of mistakes on God’s part does not mean everything in all of creation is fundamentally good because the Bible tells us that sin has tarnished everything and so what is good – and much of creation does remain good – must be discerned according to God’s Word and his original design. What is not good must equally be discerned by God’s Word, his original design and what he has since told us is not good, a result of The Fall.

All of that is to say, the question of whether God makes mistakes rather misses the point. Indeed, it can actively undermine the point we are trying to make. We cannot claim God makes no mistakes with our external bodies but somehow the mistakes in our minds – which are part of our bodies – are nothing to do with him. If God makes no mistakes and that means are bodies are what they are, Pelagianism surely rules thereafter.

Rather, it seems to me, the issue is about the reach of sin. Sin has affected all of creation – including our bodies of which our minds are clearly a part – and therefore the issue isn’t about God’s mistakes or otherwise, but about the effects of sin. Indeed, it is this emphasis on Total Depravity that will not allow any Pelagian born-this-way get-outs. We are, indeed, born this way. But the way all of us are born is not a result of the very good creation God originally made, but the sin-stained world we now live in and the internal sinful nature we all inherit from Adam. We aren’t all born good and therefore what we are immutably is inherently good. Rather, we are all conceived in sin and therefore what we all are is inherently tarnished by sin. That doesn’t mean we are all as sinful as we might be or that sin has broken everything as far as is possible – good still evidently remains in the world – but all that is good exists in a world where sin touches everything. Which means the real issue is our impulse to call what we are by nature good. All of us are made in God’s image and worthy of dignity and respect – it is God’s great leveller – whilst all of us are conceived in sin and are wrong to assume our innate goodness.

God doesn’t make mistakes. That much is true. But his ultimate goal is his own glory and therefore all that exists, exists because it will ultimately serve his greater glory in the end. How everything does that specifically is above our pay grade and not for us to know, but it will be seen in the end. But that God doesn’t make mistakes doesn’t really help us answer the questions we often use it to address. The existence of sin isn’t a great mistake on God’s part, but a reality that will one day lead to the display of his greater glory. So the effects of sin in the world are not mistakes on God’s part, but means by which his glory will one day be fully displayed either in the salvation of some from their sin or the pouring out of his righteous wrath against unrepentant sin.

That lack of mistake on God’s part, does nothing of itself to help us with the question of what is sinful and what is good. For that, we need other biblical data and other objective data from the world around us. Which perhaps means we need to be a bit more careful when and where we employ the God makes no mistakes argument because we might just be accidentally propping up a Pelagian worldview that will lead people away from the gospel, rather than towards it.