I have to admit that some scripture still confuses me. In particular, that used to espouse predestination, such as Romans 9:16 - 21. Salvation declared as not dependent “…on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” I get that, but then to declare that some “vessels” are destined from the very beginning of time to heaven or hell, presumably regardless of the person they become or the life they live, or their hearts are “hardened” and they lose the capacity to respond more appropriately, is beyond me. (And yes, I am aware of God’s response to Job’s similar questions – ‘Who are you to judge/question me?’ But I am not challenging God’s will. I am, however, trying to understand – as best I can – a somewhat un-understandable theological teaching concerning God. Acknowledging the truth of Is. 55:8,9, yet never ignoring the preceding verses. “Seek the Lord… call on him… Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him… for he will freely pardon.”)
In writing to Timothy, and using similar literary allusions, Paul again speaks to the fact that there are indeed various household instruments made for noble and ignoble purposes; but in comparing those to functioning human beings, he assures him that if a man is cleansed by faith and faithfulness to Christ, he will be transformed into “…an instrument for noble purposes.” 2 Timothy 2:20,21
I understand that God uses some people to emphasize His glory and others to demonstrate how things shouldn’t be done – thus receiving judgment. And in reading Israel’s history, it’s evident that God used her enemies to punish waywardness through oppression and war. But does that mean every incident of aggressive behavior by a neighboring country is evidence of God’s displeasure and a means of punishment? (Think Hitler and the atrocities he perpetrated across Europe or Stalin in Russia and Mao in China. Did God allow those things so we could learn from mistaken politics and policy or did he make those things happen?)
The fundamental question being: Does God make evil happen to bring about good? Or does he use the evil that occurs in a fallen world, turning it on its ear and bringing forth the good. (See Romans 8:28) Scripture explaining how God is too pure to even look on evil and thus unable to tolerate wrong. (Habakkuk 1:13) So how could he inflict it on us – even to bring about good? (And yes, I remember the story of Joseph; how the evil perpetrated against him by his brothers was meant by God to bring about good. (Genesis 50:20) But did God predestine their envy, jealousy and hatred – which manifested itself in deranged betrayal – or did he orchestrate it to bring about their undeserved salvation?)
The Psalmist wrote, “The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.” Psalm 18:24 Jesus himself assuring us that, at his return, he would reward each person according to what he had done. (Matthew 16:27 See also 2 Corinthians 5:10) How could that be if the individual being judged had no choice in the matter? And speaking directly to salvation, doesn’t Paul declare, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”? Romans 10:13 Echoing Jesus assurance that, “…whoever believes…” will “…have eternal life.” John 3:16
If indeed, my calling, response and salvation are completely predetermined (although offered exclusively by His grace), what’s the point of witnessing, evangelization, mission work, church attendance and preaching? (A question John Calvin, the leading proponent of predestination in the early church, struggled with himself.)
I understand that God’s will cannot be circumvented, even in the midst of discord, sorrow, pain and destruction. (See Romans 8:35-39) God’s ultimate, over-all plan for mankind will be fulfilled. But is it specifically God’s will that bad things – even horrific ones – be inflicted on good people? Can a good and holy God act contrary to his nature as revealed in scripture and actually cause all the daily thefts, assaults, accidents, illnesses, murders, rapes and wars that plague us as human beings?
I certainly believe that some catastrophes are a direct result of God’s anger and punishment – or even instructive testing as with Job – but are none the result of our living in a fallen world, being at the wrong place at the wrong time; or inflicted on us – by us – as a natural outgrowth of bad choices and faulty reasoning?
It’s similar to the business concept of micro-management vs. macro-management. Does God plan out every single detail of my life or have an ultimate plan which will be realized in the end, allowing for individual responses to the circumstances of life as they present themselves?
A.W. Tozer, considered by many to be one of the most influential authors and evangelists of the twentieth century offered answers to these and similar questions in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy.1 In it, he poses the basic question: Within the framework of God’s overall sovereignty, does God allow independent thinking and freewill? As part of his answer, Tozer first affirms that, “God’s sovereignty is the attribute by which he rules the entire creation, and to be sovereign God must be all-knowing, all-powerful and absolutely free… to do whatever he wills to do anywhere at any time to carry out his eternal purpose in every single detail without interference.” (In other words, wield limitless authority.)
Which might seem to conflict with the idea of “free will” while raising questions about “permitted evil.” For if man is “absolutely controlled”, how can he be held responsible for his actions or even express genuine repentance for some of them; not to mention heart-felt love, commitment to a cause or relationship, and dedication to a Savior?
Could it be that, “God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, …” allowing him the freedom to choose within the framework God has established? The overall itinerary set by God’s absolute sovereignty, the specific path followed to achieve our destination – either heaven or hell – realized through the “limited freedom” God allows us. The end result predetermined, one of only two places available for us to choose between, the particulars as to how we get there not so much.
Mr. Tozer further explains, “Since He is omniscient, there can be no unforeseen circumstances… As He is sovereign, there can be no countermanded orders, no breakdown in authority; and as He is omnipotent, there can be no want of power to achieve His chosen ends.”
“In the meantime, things are not as smooth as this quick outline might suggest. The mystery of iniquity doth already work. Within the broad field of God’s sovereign, permissive will the deadly conflict of good and evil continues with increasing fury. God will yet have his way in the whirlwind and the storm, but the storm and the whirlwind are here, and as responsible beings we must make our choice in the present moral situation.”
He then finishes by declaring, “Certain things have been decreed by the free determination of God, and one of these is the law of choice and consequences. God has decreed that all who willingly commit themselves to his son Jesus Christ shall receive eternal life. He has likewise decreed that all who love darkness and continue in rebellion won’t.”
1Harper Collins Publishing
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