As I wander along the highways and byways of blogtopia [not my term, but a great one!], I see a lot of questions and comments about God’s will and “free will.” I don’t have all the answers, but perhaps I might have one or two thoughts that will help shed some light on this sometimes gritty subject.
[[Something I don’t normally do on a post, but this one is so important that I feel compelled to do this in print:
“Father, we are so foolish, fallible and finite that when we come to the idea of asking questions about how You do things…, we must have Your guidance to understand even the simplest things You have revealed about Yourself. This is anything but ‘simple,’ but deals with things philosophers and thinkers have pondered and discussed for millennia. Open our understanding so that we might know something of the wonder and greatness of Your dealings with us….
“In Jesus’ name, through Whom alone we come into Your presence. Amen.”]]
Some are so focused on God’s sovereign will that they seem to make man little more than a puppet or robot. I knew a brother who would always say, “I was caused to believe in Jesus.” Never would he simply say, with Paul, “I know whom I have believed,…“ 2 Timothy 1:12 (NKJV).
Others are so focused on man’s will that, as it were, they put up a “no trespassing” sign and believe that God cannot do anything in their lives unless they give Him permission. They put limitations on God that they would never dream of putting on themselves.
This latter viewpoint, though much more prevalent than the former, is no more Scriptural.
What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.
Actually, Scripture doesn’t address this issue as such at all. It does say some things about the subject almost in passing, as if there should be no question about it. So, let’s look at some examples of what I mean.
Genesis 50:20, “…as for you, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good….”
This, of course, is Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers, who, because of their hatred for him had sold him into slavery years earlier, then lied to their father about it. In the providence of God, they and their families and father had come to Egypt where Joseph made himself known to them and took care of them for several years. Now Jacob was dead, and the brothers thought they were [rightfully] in for it. The verse above was part of Joseph’s response to them.
There was nothing “good” about what they did to Joseph or how they covered it up. Jacob grieved for many years over the death, as he thought, of this son of his beloved Rachel. Joseph suffered for about 13 years in Egypt, even though God put him in a place where he could save many people alive.
There is no attempt to “reconcile” these two disparate things: the evil that the brothers meant, the good that God meant. They are just simply recorded. The same word is used both times, that what the brothers purposed and willed to do to Joseph, God purposed and willed that they should do to Joseph.
Did God “do” something to the brothers in this? Did His will “force” their wills? No, they did freely to Joseph exactly what they wanted to do. At the same time, without thought or knowledge on their part, they did exactly what God wanted them to do.
Exodus 4:21, speaking to Moses about Pharaoh, God said, “I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” This is indeed a difficult nut for people to crack. What did God mean? How could He do this to Pharaoh?
In order, perhaps, to understand this a little better, we need to look at Pharaoh. Was “his heart” “neutral” in this matter? Was he open to the things Moses said? Was he a “seeker” after truth. Did he want to know about the God of Israel?
No, indeed! At Moses’ first encounter with him, Pharaoh responded, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go,” Exodus 5:2. I imagine the emphasis was on the “I”: “…that I should obey…?”
There was no “harden” button on Pharaoh’s heart that God had to push. His heart was already hard! God just demonstrated that by bringing some things to Pharaoh’s attention that he didn’t want to deal with, namely, that he wasn’t a god himself, and that the God of the Hebrews was God, the only God, the true God, as opposed to the pantheon of gods Pharaoh worshiped. All the plagues against Egypt were against the gods of Egypt, to show their impotence and falsehood. And to show that the God of the Hebrews, as we said, was, indeed, the only true God.
Exodus 31:1-6; 35:6-36:2, With regard to the construction of the Tabernacle, God told Moses, “I have put wisdom in all the hearts of the gifted artisans, that they may make all I have commanded you.” God gave some the artistic ability to craft and construct the Tabernacle, and just underline all the references to “hearts” and “willing,” etc. There are at least 15 such references in the 16 verses of 35:6-36:2. God willed and the people willed. As for the “offerings” to supply the necessary materials, note 25:1 and 36:6, 7 as well.
One more from the Old Testament.
2 Kings 11:29-36; 12:15, 24, though you should read both chapters.
This has to do with the reason for the breakup of Israel into two camps: the two tribes, who became known as Judah, and the other 10 tribes, who retained the name Israel and were also known as Ephraim or The Northern Kingdom.
King Solomon had been unfaithful to God and had introduced idolatry into Israel, probably at the instigation of his pagan wives. In 2 Kings 11:9-13, God promised judgment on his line and on the nation for this sin. He finally died and his son Rehoboam took over.
Solomon had heavily taxed the people in order to finance his lavish lifestyle. The people understandably asked Rehoboam to lessen their load. (And you thought complaints about taxation were something new!) Rehoboam asked counsel of some who had served his father. Their advice was to listen to the people. Then he asked some of his friends what to do. Their advice was to tell the people, in effect, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
Rehoboam, being young and stupid (though he was 40 or so), followed the advice of his friends, who were also stupid and arrogant. 2 Kings 12:15 says, “So the king did not listen to the people; for the turn of events was from the LORD, that He might fulfill His word, which the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”
Naturally, the people didn’t care for this, so they said, “See ya’,” and went their way. Rehoboam called out the army to go and bring them back by force.
In chapter 12, God forbade this. Too bad Rehoboam didn’t seek God before. Anyway, through another prophet, God told him, “You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel. …for this thing is from Me.”
Rehoboam’s arrogance and stupidity. The anger and decision of the people. All their own. Yet God’s will, as well.
Now to the New Testament.
When I was a young student at a Bible College, struggling with these concepts, I came across some verses. My roommate and others were also struggling with these ideas. The verses are
2 Corinthians 8:16, 17, In the context of Paul’s instructions to the church at Corinth, he wrote, But thanks be to God who puts [or, “has put”] the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. For he not only accepted the exhortation, but being more diligent, he went to you of his own accord.
Once again, we see the interconnection of God’s will and man’s will. God worked in Titus’ heart. Of his own will, Titus did something. This activity of God neither negates, diminishes nor undermines the choices and activity of man.
And there is also
Revelation 17:17, For God has put it into their hearts [the “ten kings” of vs. 12, 13] to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. Here is a clear verse about the will and purpose of God and the will and purpose of man.
However, someone might say, “Well, yes, there are some verses like what you say. But in salvation – ‘whosoever will.’ Christ is standing at the door of our heart, knocking for admission.”
That’s true. “Whosoever will.” At the same time, please read the rest of that verse. How many people do you know in the world, or even in the church, for that matter, who “thirst” for the water of life?
As for Revelation 3:20, it’s in the context of the Lord’s words to His churches, especially the church at Laodicea. This church was so filled with itself that it didn’t even realize that Christ was on the outside. There are lots of churches like that, so filled with programs and personalities that they don’t even miss the Lord Jesus.
Two final verses, and they are about “salvation”.
John 6:39, 40, The Lord Jesus says, This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Our Lord has no difficulty with divine sovereignty and human activity. He never sought to “reconcile” them; they’re not enemies. He never tried to “explain” them or make them palatable to fallen human nature. He just simply taught that they are both true. So does the rest of the Bible.
In John 6:39, 40, there are on the one hand, those indeed whom the Father chose and gave to the Son to redeem. (By the way, in a nutshell, the biblical doctrine of election is that had God not chosen some to be saved, nobody at all would be saved.) On the other hand, the door to salvation stands wide open. There isn’t a single verse in the more than 30,000 – if memory serves me – verses of Scripture preventing the salvation of the worst sinner who ever lived. The difficulty lies with us, not with God. Those who believe in the Son have eternal life; those who do not, do not. It’s as simple as that.
Conclusion: There is SO MUCH more that could be said on this subject. I’ve just barely scratched the surface. And I’ve probably raised questions, as well as trying to answer some of them. I’m sorry.
Whether you agree with what I’ve written or not, remember that we’re “discussing” God. Do you really want a God you can get your mind around? One that little?
Oh, if we can’t “understand” what God has told us about Himself, can we at least “trust” Him? After all, isn’t that what “faith” boils down to, trusting Him and His Word?
God bless this study, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.