I’m often asked where I “land” on the issue of God’s sovereignty and human freedom. How much free will do we actually have as humans? If God is all powerful and all knowing, if God knows the end from the beginning, if God has predestined us to come to faith, doesn’t it follow that humans are simply along for the ride? As a Christian, it’s clear to me that God is powerful enough to accomplish his goals without limit (see Daniel 4:35, Romans 9:15-16, Ephesians 1:5-6, and Romans 1:9-11). I call this power of God to accomplish whatever He wants the “Make Sure” Will of God. But if God is in complete control of every aspect of our lives, how do we answer the following questions?
When people fail to come to faith, is it God who is preventing them?
When evil happens in the world, is it God who is responsible?
How could God ever hold us responsible for anything?
Is the ‘will of God’ a divine plan for our lives?
While the Bible affirms the sovereignty and power of God, it also provides examples when God does not seem to be able to accomplish something He desires. In Matthew 23:37-38, Jesus seems to be unable gather Israel because they were unwilling. In 2 Peter 3:8-10, We are told that God does not wish that anyone of us should perish (but that all of us should come to repentance), yet we know that many people in our world will NEVER accept Jesus, never come to repentance, and simply will not be saved. So what’s up with God’s sovereignty? How can it be that something can be within ‘God’s will’ (God can desire something) yet He seems to be unable to make that something happen?
I think the Bible actually describes two kinds of “will of God”. The first is what I call the “Make Sure” Will of God, the second is what I have come to call the “Sure Wants” Will of God. God wants all of us to be saved; He wants all of us to come to faith in Jesus; He wants all of us to reflect his moral precepts; He wants all of us to love one another. But he also knows that none of this is truly possible unless each and every one of us is allowed to have the ‘freedom’ to love, obey and follow (see Mark 3:34-35, 1 John 2:17, Ephesians 6:5-6, Romans 12:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 and 1 Peter 2:15-17). Without ‘free will’, humans are simply robots who respond according to pre-programming rather than from a position of true love and obedience.
Yes, it is God’s will that no one should be lost (it’s something that God ‘sure wants’), but this does not mean that God will ‘make sure’ that all come to faith. Yes, it is God’s will that no evil should exist in the world (it’s something that God ‘sure wants’), but this does not mean that God will ‘make sure’ that evil is eliminated. Yes, it is God’s will that we should live a certain way and seek to know His heart and character, but this does not mean that he will ‘make sure’ that no one behaves immorally. There are two kinds of ‘will of God’ passages in the scripture. Some describe God’s sovereignty and some describe God’s moral character and desire for our lives. While it is certainly within God’s power to eliminate all evil, to control our behavior and to allow none of us the possibility of rejecting Him, to do so would eliminate the possibility for something precious to God: the ability to love. (I’ve written more on this in the section on Evil here at ColdCaseChristianity.com)