As we continue in our weekend teaching series on the questions that Jesus asked people in the Gospels, we are receiving many good questions from our White Oak family. Though we don’t have the space to address them all, I am grateful for those who are willing to respectfully ask questions in a spirit of healthy dialogue and authenticity. In our asking one another questions (as well as answering the great one which Jesus asks us), we each want to do what Paul suggests in Ephesians 4, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Here's today’s question: Does God’s sovereignty contradict human free will?
God is sovereign. This is stated and acknowledged throughout Scripture. Deuteronomy 3:24 says this, 24 “Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?” God’s ways are higher. He owns what is good and right and true. He possesses supreme power and authority.
Our issue comes into play when we want to redirect God’s sovereignty and bend it toward our own will and desire or our culture’s viewpoints. This is the reality of something also talked about in Scripture: Human free will. Proverbs 16:1 says this: “To humans belong the plans of the heart…” Our plans, our actions, our decisions belong to us. God gave humankind his plan, but he also created us with choice (Adam and Eve knew God’s will, but they had the freedom to choose not to obey it). Genuine love and relationship can only exist with choice.
So, how does God’s supreme power and controlling influence allow for human choice? How do we reconcile examples in Scripture where it talks about God’s hardening of people’s hearts or that some people are chosen for salvation (and therefore some aren’t)? These two realities seem contradictory. What if we approached this dilemma less as contradiction and, instead, as a tension? What if both can be 100% true at the same time? God is sovereign and nothing happens outside of his will. Also, people are in charge of their own actions. Let’s read more from Proverbs 16.
“To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue. 2 All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord. 3 Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans 4 The Lord works out everything to its proper end…”
Paul reiterates this same truth in Romans 8:28.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.
Within his sovereign will, God allows humans to choose. We get to choose to love and follow him, choose right from wrong, and choose to do good or evil. However, God’s plan will always win. He will work around, despite of, or through human decision to accomplish his good plan no matter what! Jesus said that the gates of hell will not be able to withstand the advancement of Jesus’s Church. He will take the what the enemy meant for evil and bring about the advancement of his glory and grace.
When Scripture talks about hardening Pharaoh’s heart, for example (Exodus 10), God is working through Pharaoh’s decision not to release the Hebrew slaves, not overriding it. When Paul talks about people being pre-destined for heaven (Ephesians 1:4) he’s talking about God’s supreme foreknowledge of those who will trust him, not that God has pre-selected people who will or will not get to heaven regardless of their choice.
I think we need to take God’s sovereignty and hold it in tension with human free will. He’s waiting to bring about the completion of his work and will. 2 Peter 3:9 says this,
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Trusting in a patient and good Heavenly Father,
Lead Pastor, White Oak Christian Church