Saturday, December 18, 2010

Free Will *is* God's Sovereignty Proved

Time to make good on my promise of a rich full treatment of this concept.  So that we are on the same page I'm going to define for you the meaning of the key words I'm going to use.

Sovereignty- The ability to carry out or affect all things desired.  God is sovereign over creation Rev 4:11, because of His power Phil 3:21 which He created alone for His pleasure Ps 135:6, Ps 115:3 and purposes Prov 16:4.  He is sovereign over the weather Gen 6:17, Ex 10:21, Ex 9:23-26Job 38:22, Mark 4:35, over the elements Ex 13:21, 2 Kings 2:8, events, Prov 16:33, John 1:7, Luke 13:4.  He is sovereign over animal creatures Ex 32:35, 1 Sam 6:4, Ps 104:21, 1 Kings 17:4-6. He is sovereign over Satan Job 1:12, Ps 103:20.  He is sovereign over nations Ps 47:7-9, Dan 2:20-21.  And yes, over men Ex 3:21, Ezekiel 7:27, Prov 16:33.  In fact in these select verses we have said nothing of God predestining nations and people, of choosing them by His grace alone.  All we have done is show that when God wants something He gets it.
Piper says it like this
God "works all things after the counsel of his will" (Eph 1:11) which includes the fall of sparrows Matt 10:29, the rolling of dice Prov 16:33, the slaughter of his people Ps 44:11, the decisions of kings Prov 21:1, the failing of sight Ex 4:11, the sickness of children 2 Sam 12:15, the loss and gain of money 1 Sam 2:7, the suffering of saints 1 Peter 4:19, the completion of travel plans James 4:15, the persecution of Christians Heb 12:4-7, the repentance of souls 2 Tim 2:25, the gift of faith Phil 1:29, the pursuit of holiness Phil 3:12-13, the growth of believers Heb 6:3, the giving of life and the taking in death 1 Sam 2:6, and the crucifixion of his Son Acts 4:27-28. 
 But I say it like this
Whatever God wants to do, He does. Dan 4:35
Agency- A person appointed to act on behalf of someone else. We are appointed to act as a ruler on behalf of God over the animals, rocks, plants, and created order.  Gen 1:28.  We are given charge to carry out the will of God.  We are His hands, as it were 1 Cor 12:27, Col 2:19.

- an act or thought worthy of praise or condemnation, depending on how it squares with God's character.  Because God is worthy of praise 2 Sam 22:4, Ps 18:3 He is moral, and because we are made in His image Gen 1:26, we are moral, and our actions are worthy of praise Matt 25:21.

Free- uncoerced by sin.  John 8:36, 2 Peter 2:19.  Sin finds it's origin in our hearts Acts 5:4, Mark 7:21-23, never in God who is utterly pure and incapable of sin. Hab 1:13.  God is therefore the truest free being in existence. 

Will- the part of us that takes our volition and desires, and effects them. God often speaks to this part of us when demanding our perseverance, see 1 Sam 7:3 as an example.

From our definitions above we know that free will is that part of us that takes our desires and actualizes them and is untainted and uncorrupted by sin. But Scripture says unequivocally that we are by nature slaves to sin, so this is wrong, our will is by no means free John 3:19-20, 1 Cor 2:14, 1 Cor 12:3 to name a few.  Is that what the protest is over?  No.  What people most often mean when they speak of free will is the power to affect and accomplish what I please.  Notice what that is (look above)- it's sovereignty.  "How can Free Will and God's sovereignty coexist?" is therefore reduced to, "if God has unlimited power, how can He make us in His image and give us power to carry out His will for ourselves?" To ask it is to answer it. 
What you are seeing when you look at free will is actually an expression of God's sovereignty.  The problem has resolved itself because we are no longer seeing two different things in conflict, but the same thing from different perspectives.
Once we grasp that it is easy to put everything into a right perspective and draw the application.  Say for example, I want my daughter's room picked up, so I tell her to clean it.  Does she then have control over which toy goes in what box?  Yes, clearly. Does her freedom to do as she pleases in there mean that my sovereignty over her is fake? On the contrary, she has been given power and responsibility in order that she may do my will, and her freedoms are at that very moment proclaiming the supremacy of my sovereignty.  Does the fact that she is expressing my sovereignty in the form of cleaning as she pleases make her a robot?  Hardly.
God's working out his plan by giving sovereignty to His agents so they can act on His behalf is the truest and most complete expression of His sovereignty there can be.  In other words, our freedom is not only established and upheld by Him, it's Him expressing His sovereignty through us in an unparalleled, astonishingly magnificent fashion.  What does scripture say? Phil 2:12-13: "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure"
Here His desire is to have us do a task for Him- to use our freedom over ourselves to work out our own salvation.  By His unfailing strength He will make us succeed, but because it's His power flowing into and through us to enable us to accomplish His desires.  He tells you to do it, gives you the enabling freedom, and then you do it. His will, His expression, His achievement, our action.  The thrust of the passage is His sovereignty, understood through the lens of our agency.

Therefore I conclude: our free will is
  1. Better called our sovereignty, which is an image, or shadow of His own
  2. Established and upheld by His sovereignty
  3. The way He carries out His supremely sovereign plans
The unbeliever Arminian will argue further by saying that this arrangement of us freely doing what God wants is either not God retaining His sovereignty, or is not us retaining our freedoms.  He will insist that the two wills may not be one under the other, but must be equal. But this is to demand that the creature is as glorious as God Himself.  It's a hecklers veto- "if I cannot be God then no one shall be, for I shall be sovereign, I shall be like the most high."  Paul answered precisely this in Rom 9:20.  There is no real questioning at that point, it's simple rank rebellion. To deny that we are free is to deny that He could make us free and still retain control- it's to limit His power.  To deny that He is sovereign is to limit His power again.  To place them one under the other, and show that one is an expression of the other is the way out of the trap. 

Why then has God appointed this system to exist?  I submit because it makes Him more glorious. 
If His plan included rocks and water and hail and snow doing certain things at certain times and He was able to control them and use them for His purposes we would see that He is indeed great and glorious. 
If it included animals that act and have volition, pleasures and stimulus to do His bidding and carry out His plan it would be another, even greater thing. 
But God shows us how utterly huge and magnificent His mind is by using other sovereign agents to achieve His ends. It gives us a frame of reference to understand Him that would not be possible otherwise.  "Look man, you have this much power, which is a great deal, that allows you to reshape the world as you desire.  Think of the myriad of ways you do, think how you use the sand to make microchips, and quadrature amplitude phase modulation to manipulate microwaves to talk to each other over your wireless internet.  Consider that.  In the same way that you have power over the elements, I have power over you."

So there it is.  The question that asks how can there be free will and God's sovereignty is easy to answer: because God is sovereign and created us in His image.  For whatever reason it's a lot easier to think rightly about your sovereignty than your free will, perhaps because in the first case your mind is drawn upward, and in the second drawn inward. The trick to resolving the difficulty is to rid yourself of the sinful component in your mind that demands you be equal with God.
May God be praised as we meditate on the magnitude of His sovereignty. 

PS: The $9 each man pays already includes the bellhop's $2 fee.  To add it again is to double count it, which is wrong.
PPS: I understand the cavil that argues that God cannot will evil or evil to exist, therefore God cannot be sovereign in giving men the ability to rebel.  I will post about this in the future. It's a lot easier to answer than you might think.

No comments:

Arrival, Humanity, and Jesus

I recently rented Arrival (a worthy movie about aliens coming to Earth to communicate with us) and was immediately struck by the forcef...