The dilemma has haunted mankind for centuries. So now, does God's sovereignty overshadow man's puny little "free will"? Or does man run around, haphazardly destroying everything, while God helplessly watches?
Sovereignty confidently strides into the ring. FreeWill stands up - and we see that's he's half the size of his opponent. There's no way he can win this one... FreeWill now steps into the ring, and the battle begins! This is the final battle, the "Boss" level!
"Where does a 1,000 pd Buffalo sleep?" "Anywhere he wants to!"
Let's start with the idea that God gets what He wants. God is God, He is all-powerful, and therefore whatever He wills to happen will happen. Let put a disclaimer on that, though. Suppose you wanted a circular square. No matter how powerful you might be, you would not be able to have that. In the same way, we must allow that if God wants two contradicting things, He may have to choose between them. There is a difference between what a person simply wants, and the complex decision of what that person wants. Simply, I want lots of brownies. But, I also want to be healthy and not weigh too much. I cannot always have both, the one would lead to the lack of the other. So, after I think about it, I choose that I want to be healthy more than I want brownies, and I choose to eat brownies only once in a while. God simply wants a lot of things. He doesn't want people to needlessly kill each other. He doesn't want babies to be "aborted." He wants people to obey Him. We don't see this happening in the world.
Does this mean, practically, that God is not in charge? No. It simply means that He wants something more. Some claim that He wants His own glory more, and decrees sin and punishment to acheive that goal. Others claim that God wants to relate to people, wants them to freely choose, and allows sin to achieve that goal. Either way, God's simple or moral will is entirely valid, but is not seen enacted on this earth because God cannot/doesn't choose a contradiction, and enforces His complex will. Like I do, with brownies...
So, let's suppose that God is in charge, and enforces His complex will. With that said, if God rules this planet, the only way we created beings would have any sort of free will is if God wanted us to have it. So, if God wanted to give man free will for some odd reason, and still wanted to remain in charge, is there a way that that could actually work? If that were the case, it would not be a competition between free will and sovereignty. Rather, it would be because of God's sovereignty that free will exists, and free will would be protected by God's sovereignty.
Oh! That reminds me: God is God. He has the power to do whatever. Some may think that if God let man freely choose anything, He would be less sovereign. No way. He could get sick of us and abandon us altogether and still be God! He could have made the world and just let it run and run and "forgotten about it" if He'd wanted to, and He'd still be God. One does not lose power by not using it.
Take me to your leader!
Sovereignty often is similar to kingship. A king is sovereign over his kingdom. So what is a kingdom? How can one be king if the subjects have free will?
I would say that a true kingdom must have free-willed subjects, or else it is not a kingdom. I may write characters in a story, and I would control their actions, but I would not be a king but only an author. I subconsciously control the characters in my dreams, but that is not a kingdom: it is only a dream. It is only me interacting with my own mind. I could control a legion of robots, and yet I would not be a king: I would just be the CEO of a factory.
So, if a kingdom has or must have free agents as subjects, then how can the king claim to be in charge? Simple! He has physical power over the people, usually in the form of a militia or something. The subject can freely choose not to pay taxes, and the king, having more power, can choose to have the subject burned at the stake! Other subjects might then decide that although they want to avoid paying taxes, they also don't want to be burned to death, and therefore might freely choose to pay taxes. He's in charge not because he need to control people's minds, but because he has more power than them, and also can get rid of subjects who don't go with his program.
Think of the american lottery. You and I both buy tickets. Maybe you'll win, maybe I'll win, but either way, the government wins. (Because they get like half of it in taxes) In the same way, a person who is good at being in charge is not threatened by free choice. Maybe the subject will do this, or maybe the subject will do that, but either way the king gets an outcome that he likes. The king is pleased when subjects obey, and the king is pleased to administer justice on those that don't.
I also think of the pet rats I used to have: Captain, Tinker Button, and Shadow. I was in charge of them, and they freely chose to run about and do this or that, but I was the boss. I had very simple ways of dealing with them: If they were nice, I let them run around the room; if they bit me, I would put them in their cage. Either way, they did what they liked, and I remained in charge. And if they bit me enough times, I just got rid of them. That's what happened to Shadow... I did not feel at all threatened by their free will. I was in charge. I was bigger, stronger, more intelligent, had cages, and controlled their food supply.
Based on that understanding of kingship, it is not hard to understand that God could be King over subjects who could still choose freely. It is very easy to understand why He has conditions for this or that sprinkled throughout His Word: no matter which condition is the case, He wins!
The awesomeness of conditions:
- If you are male: You have to give me $10,000
- If you are not male: You have to buy me a brand new car, that I like
Well that's all good and fine, but what if the Sovereign wants a particular action to happen or not to happen?
That is great question! Let's look through history and find some times when that particular dilemma has come up.
Case 1: There was this one time when God wanted the Jews not to be slaughtered in the time of Esther. He used Esther to prevent the massacre.
What if Esther hadn't wanted to go before the king? Would God's plan have crumbled? Or would He have overridden her will somehow?
Esther 4:14 "For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
God would have simply used someone else to deliver the Jews. The last statement holds much significance also. If God from eternity past had known that Esther would have remained silent, perhaps He would have put another girl in her position in the kingdom instead.
God, you must remember, chooses where and when any of us are born. If God knew that Pontius Pilate would not have condemned Jesus to death, why would God allow Pontius to be at that time in history, in that position? He wouldn't. God shuffles history. He chose the line of the Messiah - He chooses who your family is. No matter what man chooses, God's plans happen.
Sometimes, God even directly intervenes, to make sure that His will happens. He does not, however, seem to enforce His will by "secret instigation." I see throughout the Bible and real life that He seems to prefer straight-forward external methods of persuasion. And when I say "persuasion," I mean that God is fine with putting a gun to someone's head... or in this case, putting their head in a fish.
Case 2: Do you remember the time when God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh, and Jonah didn't want to go?
Did God respect Jonah's choice and just give up on His own plan? God forbid! Did He override Jonah's free will, or give Him some irresistible grace or something? God forbid!
Instead, He simply made a storm, and then had Jonah swallowed by a big fish, who transported Jonah to exactly where God wanted Him. Now Jonah, in the belly of the fish, finally sorta repented and agreed to do what God asked, even though he really didn't have the best attitude about it. I'll come back to that point later. God used eternal methods of persuasion, and let Jonah choose for himself what choices to make.
Also, since God controls physics and stuff, He doesn't always need to persuade people or shuffle history. He could just stop them...
Case 3: Consider missionary biographies as well. I've read several accounts of supernatural protection. God wants the missionary to remain alive, and some people want to kill the missionary.
Does God give up His plan of keeping the missionary alive? Of course not! Does He choose to over-ride human free will, "restrain the evil in their hearts," or give them irresistible grace to do right? Again, no.
The stories always say that He physically retrains them. One time the missionary was guarded by nine angels, who the bad guys could see, and fled from. Another time, an attacker raised his arm, holding a knife, but then was unable to move his arm! God's plans happen. That's right, and if God's plans include man having free will, that's going to happen too!
God is very powerful, shuffles history, (And hey - if He can shuffle history, I'm sure He also do other card tricks with history) throws people into the bellies of animals, and paralyzes them. If He wants something to happen or not happen, He is perfectly capable of making it happen without preventing people from determining their own choices.
Basically, free will does not automatically beat sovereignty due to the fact that bad things happen on the earth. A Sovereign with a complex, rather than just simple, will would allow things He did not want to get something that He wants more. Secondly, free will only can exist if the Sovereign wants it to exist. A King does not lose kingship because His subjects freely choose, but remains in power because He has more power. Finally, if a Sovereign can shuffle time and space, drop pianos on people's head, or break the laws of physics, He can have anything that He wants to happen happen without any need to override free will.
Again, let me say that in this blog, I am not trying to prove that the world actually does work this way. I am only saying that it could quite possibly operate this way. Perhaps sovereignty and free will do not co-exist. However, it is very possible that a Sovereign could freely and powerfully reign over free subjects and still remain in control without taking away free will that He wanted them to have.
Sovereignty and FreeWill leave the ring and sit down side by side together.
And so, in the end, the lion has lain next to the lamb. The lion does not cease to be a lion: it does not cease to have teeth and be dangerous. But it freely lets the helpless lamb lay safely and peacefully next to him.