The debate is usually framed as between sovereignty and free will and it can be both perplexing and painful. If humans have free will, how can God be sovereign? If humans don’t have free will, are we not mere automatons? Using a question and answer format, the apostle Paul thinks through some of these questions in Romans 9-11. “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?” (Romans 9:19-20).
Anyone who’s done even an introductory study into this tension knows one must proceed slowly and carefully, giving due diligence to everything the Bible says about the doctrines involved. Slide too far in either direction and one ends up with an inflated anthropology or a deflated theology or both.
In their book, Decision Making & the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View, Garry Friesen with J. Robin Maxson give this helpful illustration of the truths at work,
“The sinner who tries to defy God’s plan may shake his fist to the heavens, but God will determine how many times he shakes it and whether that man will live to shake his fist tomorrow (James 4:15).”1
In his book, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis touches on the influence humanity might have on God. If God is, as we say, “out of sight and out of mind,” does this mean he is totally out of the picture? Lewis responds,
“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell. But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces.”2
I fear some people understand God in a way that, if they don’t bother him, he won’t bother them. You might want to rethink that one.
“But if . . . an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” – 1 Corinthians 14:24-25.
- Garry Friesen with J. Robin Maxson, Decision Making & the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View (Portland, OR, Multnomah Press, 1982), 202.
- C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HaperCollinsPublishers, 1996) 46.