Divine Sovereignty And Human Choice: What Tension?

“If I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is foreordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other.”        -Charles Haddon Spurgeon- 

            It seems more and more we live in a day in which we consider God’s Word as true and authoritative only as long as it agrees with our own opinions and understanding.  There are many issues related to God and our understanding of Him that are mind blowing.  But isn’t that the way it should be?  He is God after all.  In the last chapter of his book, Twelve Ordinary Men, a book about Jesus’ disciples, John MacArthur discusses the life of Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus.  As it relates to this betrayal, Scripture makes clear that though it was foreordained by God, it was carried out freely by Judas.  MacArthur says, “God’s plan and Judas’ evil deed concurred perfectly.”  Jesus affirmed both God’s predetermined plan and Judas’ responsibility for his evil actions (Luke 22:22).  As MacArthur sought to explain the tension between divine sovereignty and human choice he used the above quote by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.     

            There are certainly passages of Scripture that are difficult for us to reconcile in our minds.  Consider how the Bible records Jesus’ statement that no one can come to Him “unless the Father draws them” (John 6:44) but also teaches that a person is condemned because of their unbelief (John 3:18).  What about how the Lord’s desire is that none perish but that all reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9) yet while teaching clearly that not all are saved.  And how could Jesus’ crucifixion be God’s plan and the Jewish leaders still be held responsible for carrying it out?  What about all of Romans 9?  When we read these passages, the doctrines of divine sovereignty and human choice may appear to contradict, but they don’t.  They may seemingly appear irreconcilable, but they’re not.  There are no contradictions with God nor is there any need for the passages that support each of these doctrines to be reconciled.  We accept them because the Bible teaches both.  What is needed is our submission to the realization that God really is beyond our full understanding.  I like the way Kent Hughes puts it when he says that “if anyone completely understands the ways of God, the Trinity will have to make room for another member.”  Consider the following verses: 

–          “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) 

–          “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!  For who has known the mind of the LORD, or who has been His counselor?  Or who has given Him a gift that He might be repaid?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.  Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36) 

            The above passages underscore the impossibility of our being able to fully comprehend God’s ways.  It would be a mistake however to let this fact dissuade you from the deep study of God’s Word.  We must go as far as the Holy Spirit takes us, realizing at the same time our full understanding and for that matter, opinion or belief is not the basis of the truth of God’s Word.  It never has or ever will be.  So, as to the tension between divine sovereignty and human choice; it is only ours, not God’s.  Spurgeon goes on to say  concerning divine sovereignty and human choice, that they are “two lines that are so nearly parallel that the human mind that pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge, but they do converge, and they meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.”  God is amazing.  Aren’t you glad we have a God who is beyond us?  What kind of God would He be if His ways were our ways, if His judgments were searchable, and if He needed our counsel?  Could we then appreciate the greatness of His grace?  I don’t think so.  But thankfully such is not the case.  Our God will always be beyond us and because the words of Scripture are His words, they are beyond us as well.  Isn’t that just as He and they should be?

2 thoughts on “Divine Sovereignty And Human Choice: What Tension?

  1. Great post!

    I had a seminary professor who would say, “I’d rather worship a God I cannot fully comprehend than one I can figure out.” The point — biblical truth (and its tensions) should lead us to worship.

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