Saturday, May 29, 2010

Free Will and God's Sovereignty

So a while back I wrote a post that seemed extremely Calvinistic (for me) about the sovereignty of God and the way we have downplayed it in our society and our churches for our own gratification.

Now, I want to try and reconcile what I said there with what I also believe to be true- that we as people have free will. I think this is true primarily for philosophical reasons- I think the absence of free will entails a logical absurdity and would require us to all be either skeptics or completely irrational. However, I also think that belief in free will is in line with the teaching of scripture (which also supports this very strong sense of God's sovereignty that I discussed before). In essence, what I am going to say is that there is a tension between these things in scripture itself, a tension that I think is true to our life experience as well, and that tension is one that I don't feel we can resolve.

So in very, very broad terms, here is how this tension seems to play out to me:

  1. God is sovereign. He chooses whom he will to be his. This has nothing to do with their meriting being chosen, it is entirely up to God and his purposes.
  2. People are free. God's choosing us may not be up to us, but fulfilling our being chosen is. God's choosing people is not a blank check, it’s a calling with great responsibility and high expectations. Whether we will be true and faithful to that calling is what we choose. The fulfillment or working out of our salvation is up to us (at least in the sense of cooperation) even if the initial calling is not.

We see this played out in scripture, for instance, in the example of the people of Israel. Read through Deuteronomy and you will notice both these themes coming out over and over again- Moses tells the people they have been chosen by God (and not because they deserve it). Then he urges them repeatedly to choose to follow God in their calling and to be faithful to what he commands. The New Testament seems to me to suggest a similar tension. What's more, our lives seem to reflect this tension. God has worked mightily in our lives as Christians in a way that perhaps we did not seek and certainly we did not deserve. Yet, it seems all too apparent to most of us that we are responsible for how we live out and work out our lives after that (and before it). And unfortunately it is all too apparent that we frequently live and work out our lives badly. Thankfully, God is not limited by us, nor does he abandon us. The Grace that found us also wants to transform us. That has to be a process that we choose to cooperate in, however.


  1. So, is "free will" the ability to choose otherwise or doing what you actually want?

  2. Austin,

    I think the second option is a little redundant- we are always going to choose what we actually want (we at least to some extent "want" everything we choose). That definition of compatibalism side-steps the real issue that compatibalists are trying to solve- figuring out if we can be responsible for our choices if they are determined. The answer that as long as we "wanted" the choice we can be just pushes the question back a step- where does the "want" come from? If our "want" is determined as well, I don't think we have gotten any closer to showing that we are responsible. And if it is not, then we have the ability to choose otherwise because we had the ability to "want" something else. So all to say that by free will I do not mean compatibalism.

    Does that help?

  3. As i keep studying over this issue, ill keep that in mind :)


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