God’s Sovereignty vs. Man’s Free Will?

Foreword

I believe, dear reader, that you are weary of the “dilemma” that the title subject presents to you. A simple search on the net will give you lots of conflicting and differing views, and the debate will create in you more questions than it can answer. Christianity has been deeply divided over this issue, to the point of actual physical violence committed on the opponents of opinions. And though the issue arose in the 16th century A.D., it continues to plague Christianity today with increased fury. And then there are those who do not subscribe to either view, and who wonder if and how can those two sides ever be reconciled without compromising the truth. Is there any hope for Christianity to recover from this division that seems deadly to Christ’s body?

To say there is no hope, is to make the statement that Christ is dead (Colossians 1:27). If Jesus is your Lord and you are led by the Holy Spirit, you will have no problem believing that God is omniscient (all-knowing), and that this schism did not catch Him by surprise. He knew all along that this would happen, and surely He has a way to reconcile the two parties. He will be proclaimed Lord of lords, all in all, there is no division in His kingdom, and only those who are completely surrendered to Him will benefit of His promises. There are many who take either side not out of wickedness or bigotry, but rather out of lack of knowledge. It is this kind of people I invite to take a look with me to the truth that sets us free, and which brings us to unity for His glory.

The root of the problem

This problem definitely did not exist in the early church. There were many other problems back then, but this dilemma wasn’t one of them. The debate only took vast dimensions in the 16th century, when the reformers took varying positions on the issue, as a result of focusing on specific parts of the Bible and after taking those parts out of their intended context and spirit. It was like looking at a picture and focusing on certain details, thus missing the entire picture for its details. And isn’t this the same root that has fragmented Christianity to so many pieces, that it seems impossible to ever put it again together? We seem to the outsiders (and even to ourselves) like little children that quarrel over the love of their parents, when in fact their parents love them all equally. And the worst part is that we take the wrong approach over the solution too. Instead of going to God Himself, whom we proclaim wise and sovereign, we try to figure it out by using our own understanding of what God’s will is on the issue. So how about we change this part of the approach for a start?

What is the big issue?

Here is how this problem started and how it continues: There is a part of Christians who say, “God is sovereign, and His will prevails, regardless of man’s approach. In fact, God controls man to achieve His purpose, and there is absolutely nothing that man can do to even slightly influence his own fate”. Then there is the opposite camp: “God has created man with free will; he made him able to decide over everything, and there is little that God will do without man’s agreement”. My intention is not to get into all the intricacies that go together with those arguments; there is ample space on the web full of details concerning that. My purpose is to examine, should we be concerned and involved in the debate, and why or why not? After all, we cannot ignore the deep and destructive outcomes of this fierce debate. So, let’s see if there is a third way, and if there is, what is it.

I’ll take door No 3

For start, let’s take a look at two scenarios – a wedding engagement, and a family with children. I chose these not randomly, but very deliberately, and if you read on, you will see why.

There is a young man who is in love with a young lady. The man happens to be very influential and rich. So, it is a no-brainer that the young lady should accept his proposal. It can happen either way – he can use his power and influence to force her into marrying him; she may not be aware of how beneficial that marriage would be for her, so her opinion on the matter doesn’t count. Or he can propose her, and she rejects his proposal. Her will is strong and she makes no bones about the fact that her decision is final. But the guy is really good and he can treat her in the best possible way anyone could. Yet, her rejection makes him give up and the opportunity for the marriage is lost.

There is a family with the parents and two young children. The parents know what is best for their children, and they make some great plans for them. They have laid out everything in detail, even how the children ought to behave so that they will benefit to the max. It could happen either way – they can use their influence on the children, make them behave a certain way, in other words, force them to be blessed. Or the children can state clearly that they have their own plans, reject their parents’ offers and go ahead with their decisions. The parents give up and the children end up as living disasters, and there is nothing the parents can do to change that.

Do you see now how that debate looks? The young man of the first example is none other than the Lord Jesus, and his beloved is the church. He is the Lamb and we are the bride. The same goes with the family. God is the parents and we are the sons (that goes for the females too, by the way). The scenarios, as you have guessed, represent the debate “sovereignty vs. free will”.

But in reality, all is not lost. There is a third way. There is a common element in both stories, and that element is God’s very nature. It is called

LOVE

The young man would never force his beloved lady to marry him, because he loves her. Neither will he give up when she rejects him, but instead he shows his love for her in every possible way. In the end, she is thoroughly convinced of his love, and she is more than happy to marry him. In fact, she cannot wait for it, and he is the only subject of her life – she is obsessed with him. Submitting to him is a non-issue for her, because she knows that he has the best in heart for her. She also sees how desperately lost she will be without him.

The loving parents would never force their children to go along with their plans. Neither would they stop trying when they resist. Instead, they make it clear to them by their actions how much they love them and care for them, the boys realize that their parents’ plans are wise and good for them, and they oblige to obey them, they even go out of their way to please them. They also realize that, by disobeying their parents, their lives will be destroyed, and they need no threats to remain obedient. They are thoroughly convinced.

Do you see it now? This is the third option! Is the young man powerful? Yes, he is! Are the parents in authority? Of course they are. Does the fact that the young lady or the children have their own opinion cancel the other party’s sovereignty? Absolutely not! What we see here is a relationship based not on law, not on rebellion, but on love. That is the measure of perfection. God’s will is sovereign, and everything that He has planned will happen, make no mistake about it. But He chose to carry it out through people, people who are “sold” to Him. So, to answer the question of who is right, the supporters of God’s sovereignty or those of man’s free will, I will say, “both and neither”.

Now, let’s play the game their way. Search the Bible from cover to cover, and one thing pops out: God is love. And in His love relationship with man, He will use His sovereign will in such ways as to woo humanity to Himself. In fact, that is exactly what He has already done – He sacrificed Himself for His own. And who are those “His own”? No, not random people, not some folks whom He arbitrarily chose to make them His own, but all those who respond to His call of love. All those who make their will His, all who put their self, their ego to death, so that He will have His way in them, that He will reign sovereign in them. This transaction involves both parties. This is exactly what we see in that piece of scripture that we repeat in a parrot-like manner, while missing the entire point: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, MKJV). God made the first move (“…so loved…He gave…”), and the response (“…whoever believes…”) determines the future (“…should not perish but have everlasting life”).

Epilog

Now you know. I have just shown you the way out. That is the way out of arguments and debates that do not benefit anyone, and into the deeper life with the Lord who loves you. His way is the only way, but unless you put yourself to death so that He live in you, all of His love and purpose will do you no good. Also, reading the Bible is great, but unless we see the spirit of the scriptures, it will be to us a dead list of laws and ordinances (2 Corinthians 3:6). I pray that all those who read this will benefit and will find life in the Lord.

2 thoughts on “God’s Sovereignty vs. Man’s Free Will?

  1. I’ve experienced that in marriage. I married the girl of my choosing in college and it was a complete disaster that took years to finally fall apart. The animosity was so great, the hurt so deep, I resolved never to marry again, even while I dove into the word and prayer for comfort and healing. In time the Father began to turn my attention to the numbers of marriages in the OT where they were arranged by the Father and how blessed and happy those marriages were. The stories created a longing for such a wife in me – a wife of my Father’s choosing – and I resolved that would be the only way I’d ever remarry. One day He led me to Psalm 45 and the Spirit quickened it to me in such a way as I believed He was promising me such a wife – a princess. So I asked Him “when will I meet her, Lord?” and He led me to Genesis 17 (?) where He told Abraham concerning the birth of Isaac “this time next year” … Oh I was upset about that! “I don’t want to wait a year, I want to meet her now!” But there was no reply. And so over the course of the year, I forgot about that experience, with so much going on in my life and as I was learning real contentment to be single and live alone.

    And then I met her. You know, when the Lord arranges such a marriage, between 2 people He has made for each other, the love is ALREADY there – it’s instant – though it takes a short while to recognize it for what it is. And the courtship is NOT for falling in love, rather it’s for simply getting to know each other better.

    So I’ve experienced my own will for myself, which was disastrous, and I’ve experienced God’s will for me which is blessed beyond anything I could have asked for. And I’ve also seen that my youthful choices, which had every potential to ruin my life, were all corrected by God’s contingency (smile) plan for my life, which did a complete reset of sorts and set me back on the path He had for me in the first place. It took 45 years, but He brought to completion the work He ordained me to do when I was just 15 or 16. It amazes me to think about – how radically He has changed my life for the better – His relentless pursuit of me to ensure His will for me was completed.

    In my case, His sovereign will overcame my free will through patience and love. 😉

    Thanks for this post!

    Jack

    Liked by 1 person

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