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The Sovereignty of God and the Free Choice of Man: A Reconciliation (Part 4)


The approach the author of this article takes will be referred to as Christian compatibilism, though it has been advocated by those of a more reformed persuasion for quite some time. The problem that most will level at a reformed (biblical) understanding of foreordination and predestination is that it takes away any kind of responsibility. If a person’s actions are certain in advance then how can they be held responsible for those actions? We can state the problem in the form of a syllogism.

It is certain in advance that s cannot do other than x 
Responsibility implies the ability for s to do other than x 
s is not responsible 

The resolution to the problem is this: s can do other than x in a morally responsible sense because s was not coerced. To put it simply, people are not coerced into doing evil. God did not coerce those who perpetuated the arch crime of history (crucifying the Son of God) to do what they did. It says they were “godless men.” The roman soldiers didn’t have to work that day, they could have done an infinite number of other things rather than crucify the Lord. But the truth is they wanted to. They desired to kill Him, and so they carried out their plan, a plan God had ordained from the beginning. It’s hard for finite creatures to comprehend this truth. If we want to make a future outcome absolutely certain we must coerce something or someone in order to accomplish it. For instance, a mobster, if he wants someone killed, must in advance either pay someone reliable to do it, or do it himself (that is, if he wants to be certain it will happen). From God’s vantage point this is not the case however. God does not have to coerce in order to accomplish His will. He works in such a way that men retain their choice making abilities and make the choice he predetermined at the same time. So the problem, logically speaking at least, has been eliminated. The law of non-contradiction says that things cannot both be true and not true in the same sense and in the same way. In this case, there is no contradiction because God is sovereign over human affairs in two senses. In one sense He foreordains, and in another sense He does not coerce. To boil it down: foreordination does not equal coercion biblically speaking. God made it certain in advance that men would freely choose.

Another charge leveled at those skeptical of the Christian compatibilist position is that there’s no reason to pray or evangelize if God simply decrees what will take place. The answer to this objection is that God ordains the means  as well as the ends (Phil 1:6, 2:12; 3:14; Eph. 2:10; Acts 2:23, 4:27-28; etc.) It’s God who’s at work in the believer’s sanctification process, yet the believer is commanded to pursue greater spirituality. Whilst the believer exercises himself or herself to obey God it is really God at work in them. It is in God’s sovereign plan that the believer will put forth this effort thereby bringing about the intended result. The end (a mature believer) is accomplished through the means (the believers pursuit), yet both are ordained by God. This is true when it comes to evangelism and prayer as well. God has ordained that those things are his means by which he accomplishes an end. So prayer does change things and so does evangelism, yet it is God who is at work in the very process including believers in His divine decree. Eph. 2:10 declares, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” God also ordains evil to reach a desirable outcome (as in the example of the crucifixion).

In conclusion, the Bible maintains that the idea that God foreordains and the idea that man is held responsible are not diametrically opposed. Foreordination is explicitly taught in both testaments (Is. 46:10, Psalm 33:11, Eph. 1:3-14; Rom. 8:28-30, 1 Cor. 2:7; 2 Tim. 2:13; etc.). God’s control over time is just about always (if not always) viewed as a comforting reality. Just think of the alternative! If God were not in control of the future how much comfort would there be in the midst of any tragedy in this world, and how would we know God’s promises would be kept? At the same time, man is morally responsible for His choices and is in fact commanded to choose righteousness. (Deuteronomy 30:19; James 1:13-14; 2 Peter 3:9; Luke 13:3; etc.)

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