Saturday, May 13, 2017

Grace, Free Grace!

One of the issues that often come up when discussing the doctrines of grace with someone who does not believe them, is the misunderstanding that those on the free will camp have of its tenets. Although those of us who believe in what is commonly called "Calvinism" point out that nothing takes place by coincidence or because of man's autonomous, libertarian free will, we are continuously accused of being fatalists. And why? Because in the mind of the free will advocate, if whatever comes to pass has already been preordained by God, then whatever will be will be and we can just sit back and do nothing. Our actions, the thought goes, will make no difference in the final analysis, so why even try.

It is clear, however, that such accusations are derived from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the doctrines of grace truly teach. Furthermore, they also come from not knowing what fatalism is and how different it is from God's sovereign decree. Whereas fatalism tells us that the "Fates"—as the ancient world called them--control everything and that things just happen ("they are written in the stars"), for no particular reason and in no particular order, the doctrines of grace are based on a very personal God and His sovereign will. Things are not happening randomly or by accident. Rather, God has a very definite purpose in bringing about the actions of people in time. Events don't just happen contrary to what a recent writer described as "bad things just happen." Just like bad things don't "just happen" good things don't either. They have a purpose in God's eternal mind.

Aside from that, however, another issue immediately comes to mind. Unless the advocate of the absolute free will of man is an open theist, then he will find himself needing to answer the same questions that the Calvinist does. What I mean is that, according to such an individual, God already has exhaustive knowledge of every single action that will take place in time. Thus, nothing can happen in time other than what God has, in the Arminian sense, foreseen. That being the case, how then can a person be truly free? If I can do no other than what God has foreseen me doing, how am I exercising my autonomous freedom? If God foresaw me writing this article, can I then change my mind and falsify the foreknowledge of God? Of course not. This, though, is one of the logical ends of Arminianism that seems to escape its adherents. Even if God did not have a decree before He created, by the mere act of creating individuals who would perform certain, definite and unchangeable actions, He chose what humanity was going to do and what its end would be.

In Isaiah chapter 10, we read as the Lord speaks in the first person about what He will do with the king of Assyria in bringing him against the people of Israel. After indicating what the king would do as an instrument in His hand, God then makes an astounding statement: "yet, he does not intend to so do" (v7). The king of Assyria, we are told, is not interested in doing to Israel what God wants him to do. Rather, he would just as soon go on conquering other greater nations that can add to his booty and power. Israel to the king of Assyria was not worth the time. Nevertheless, because God had decreed that he would come against Israel, he would have to fulfill God's will. Where then was the king's vaunted "autonomous will?" Either God was wrong in declaring that He would control the king's actions, or the free will advocate is. Take your pick.

But, some may be heard saying, "God only intervenes in the big things in certain situations, but not in the great majority of the decisions of men." Think of the millions of decisions that men all over the world make every single day. Even the most seemingly insignificant decisions bring about long lasting, far reaching consequences. The choice of what tie you wear today could be the decision that leads someone to engage you in a conversation that will eventually lead to their conversion. Was that just a coincidence? If we are to simply say that things happen randomly, and make no mistake that is what we must say if God passively simply foresaw them, then what is the purpose of doing anything since we have no idea where anything is leading. Did God simply look down the corridors of time and see that in the end He would prevail? Did He simply foresee that He Himself would take certain actions within time and then decided to take credit for them? That, by necessity is the logical end of the simple foreknowledge idea.

If events are taking place outside of God's control and sovereign decree, then it is an inescapable conclusion that God could not have intervened in any of those events. Simply intervening in one means that by default he is intervening in all of them. How, please tell me, is that more logical than the fact that God has decreed whatsoever comes to pass and that He is working in time to bring about his purposes in the world? How can the random event advocate have any assurance or any peace when his God is simply reacting to the evil that man does and is trying to make the best of it all? Can he have the assurance that we have when God says that “God works all things for the good of those how love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose?” (Romans 8:28) Why did God create a world full of evil in the first place, if He didn't intend anything purposeful and amazing to come from those evil actions?

I always find it interesting that the free will advocates think they have some sort of moral superiority over the Calvinist because somehow they have convinced themselves that "their God" is not responsible for the bad things that happen in the world. In their rush to "absolve" God from the evil that takes place in creation, they have created an impotent God who is reacting to man and hoping to make the best of the hand He has been dealt. But God is the one that says "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things" (Isaiah 45:7). And He has done so for His own purposes and glory. Now that is a God that man can worship!

                              “The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations;
                                        He frustrates the plans of the peoples.”

(Psalm 33:10)


  1. Mike, there are only three possible positions on this. 1) God exercises his authority to make EVERY single decision for EVERY single man, woman, child, animal, (plant?). 2) Mankind has complete free will and God never intervenes. Or 3) God sometimes chooses to intervene and override our free will. Clearly, 3 is the only tenable position that doesn't lead to logical paradoxes.

    If you hold position 1, then whether you call it fatalism (a word you introduced) or predestination doesn't matter because the implications are the same. Specifically, if God has pre-ordained every minute decision or action that I will ever take, then I am no more accountable for my actions than a rock is for its actions. Position 1 would have us believe that God determines everything I'll do, and yet he goes to great lengths to instruct me in the decisions I should make and even to atone for my sin (which he is responsible for if he made all the decisions). Silly.

    If you hold position 2, then why does God instruct us to pray and tell us that it is effective if he does not exercise any power or influence in the world. And, as you pointed out, there are some clear examples of God stepping in and overriding man's free will from time to time in the Bible (though it seems pretty rare on the whole).

    Position 3 is not only the one that doesn't lead to logical fallacies, but should also seem quite reasonable to us. It's kind of like my own relationship with my children. Most of the time, they make their own choices (and often, even though I'm not omniscient, I know what those choices will be--doesn't mean it wasn't their choice). Sometimes, however, I may decide that I need to intervene to influence their decision, and very rarely, to even force them to do what I want rather than what they want. Just looking through God's word, it is very clear that this is how God deals with us.

    Based on our last conversation, I thought you admitted/claimed position 3, but you seem to have reverted to position 1. If you do take position 3, then any difference we may have is simply one of degrees.

    1. I think you're hung up on the terminology and not seeing that what predestination is, is quite different from fatalism. In your view, since the supposed end is the same, i.e. things will happen the way God determines they will happen and we're powerless to do anything about it, then that means that whatever we call it the effects are the same. The difference is, as I explained in the article, that fatalism is what you advocate. In other words, God has perfect knowledge of the future, but that knowledge comes from outside of Him and therefore He cannot change any of those events. As to whether we are accountable or not, the fact is that we are accountable for our actions because we are doing what our hearts desire. Again, if you believe that God has perfect knowledge of the future, and He does since the Bible indicates that is the case, then He created a fixed, determined time which cannot, by definition, be changed. It will become necessary to ask the question, could God have created something other than what He foresaw, or was He locked into His foreknowledge not being able to do anything about it? You want to somehow shoehorn our accountability with human freedom. I don't know how God's decrees and foreknowledge work with our accountability. I simply know that God is sovereign and I'm responsible. Beyond that, I can't go.

      Why does God instruct us to do anything, if He already foresaw that we're going to do X and not Y? Why does God command us to be perfect as He is perfect although he knows that that is an impossibility (Matthew 5:48)? And again, if God intervenes to override our free will once, then by definition He's doing it all the time. Why? Because to change one action is to change the course of history from that point forward. If the Assyrians did not come against Israel when God wanted them to, history would have taken a very different path. If Judas doesn't betray Christ, the history of redemption would have been very different. If Pilate changed his mind about having Christ crucified, what then? Things are happening either by chance or someone is controlling them.

      We're constantly trying to use ourselves and what we do or not do as an example of how God's mind works and how He would do things. It is natural since we and our world are the only points of reference we have. But the danger here is that we're not dealing with our puny, finite minds. We are dealing with an infinite mind that can only be comprehended by another infinite mind. Since only one of those exists, it is futile to try to fully understand it from our point of view. And again the passive omniscient idea creates a whole host of problems. You either have a God who, at some point took in knowledge of some amorphous future, making Him less than perfect, or one who is reacting to humanity's actions interfering here and not there at will which defeats your premise since now we have God calling at least some shots overriding "free will."

      Here's the bottom line for me, Mark. God brought the Assyrians against Israel, even though that was not the king's intention. Then he turned around and judged Assyria for its actions (Isaiah 10). Joseph said to his brothers that they intended the actions they took against him for evil; but God intended them for good (Genesis 50). Thus, I'm told that God is sovereign and man is responsible. How that works, I don't know. And I don't worry about that. God does what He does without asking my opinion. The one thing that knowing God is in charge does is that I am free to do what He wants me to do without having to concern myself with the result since that is His purview. He decides what the results will be, not me. I'm free to live, love, work without worrying about whether I'm doing enough to be secure in my salvation because He has chosen me and He will see His work to the end (Jude 24-25).

      Grace to you.

  2. While I agree with your statement that "we are accountable for our actions because we are doing what our hearts desire," it flies in the face of everything your are saying. How can I do what my heart desires if I don't have any free will? This is completely inconsistent.

    James 1:13-14 -- Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

    You wrote "I'm told that God is sovereign and man is responsible. How that works, I don't know." God is sovereign and we are responsible, but neither of those requires that man doesn't have ANY free will. You are concluding something that is not found in scripture based on your own limited human understanding of God's foreknowledge.

    You also said "The one thing that knowing God is in charge does is that I am free to do what He wants me to do without having to concern myself with the result since that is His purview." Again I agree with that statement, but if you take this to the illogical extreme that man has no free will at all, one could just as well say that "knowing God is in charge frees me to do whatever I (imagine that I) want since it is really God who's making all my choices for me." In other words, I can easily justify ANYTHING that I do because I had no choice in the matter--God made me do it.

    This idea that man has no free will at all is LOGICALLY inconsistent with the notion that man is accountable for his actions. It's not just that there's some miraculous event that we don't understand or can't explain--that would be different. This is LOGICALLY false. It's like saying that God is both wholly evil and wholly good--one cannot claim both and be logically consistent regardless of one's understanding of God.

    Grace to you, too.