Tag Archives: sovereignty of God

Channels for God to Work in Ourselves and the World

Many people discuss whether God can intervene in a person’s will. I understand that beneath a person’s belief about God’s sovereign and humans’ will is a vast range of life experiences that no one but one’s self can truly understand.

But the same time, there is a lot about ourselves that we do not understand. I have read that 95% of our brain activity is subconscious. Thus, we are only conscious of 5% of what goes on in our minds. This fact alone should make us cautious about sweeping assertions regarding free will. Can we really use the 5% of mental activity that we are aware of to manipulate the other 95% any way that we desire?

Even if our conscious minds had the theoretical power to control our subconscious minds, I doubt that our natural consciousness has the wisdom to do so. We may feel as though we have free will because we see a range of attitudes that we could adopt. I can, to some extent, choose to make myself righteously angry about something by deliberately thinking about how much damage it causes or how much it frustrates me. In the heat of that effort, I could get some sort of action to result from the anger.

However, in another sense, the anger I conjured up is somewhat of a show. If I was happy before I felt the need to get serious about something, I will still be having happy thoughts even while trying to get more serious, and those happy thoughts compromise any seriousness that I am trying to generate. Even when I am acting upon the so-called anger, I am still simultaneously enjoying the action – I am not really all that stern – and the action itself often reflects that.

So, while it appears that I have free will to make myself angry, my ability to adopt a genuine attitude of anger is often absent, unless there is an event to provoke it. Thus, it is hard for me to say that I really have free will.

Also consider physical forces of nature. I have heard complicated sermons, and sometimes arguments, over how God’s protection over humans works, what humans have to do in order to receive protection, and how that protection is manifested. However, beliefs regarding divine intervention could evolve when it is realized that the natural order itself is more complex than what meets the eye.

An interesting fact is that, as your chairs sits on the floor, there is an upward force (called the “normal force) from the floor pushing up against the chair? I didn’t know that until I took a Physics class. If the chair is stationary, it is because the normal force and the chair’s weight balance.

When we think of the supernatural, we tend to think that we are going about our normal lives until suddenly something happens that defies the natural order of existence. We then term that sudden event “supernatural” and distinguish it from natural life.

But when we realize that there are many forces of nature that we do not know about, and many behind-the-scenes processes in our brains and bodies that we do not know about, then suddenly there are many more channels through which God can operate. The fact that we are unaware of it does not make it any less of a divine presence.

I believe that it is only through the spirit of God that we can live from day to day. There are so many processes inside of our bodies that, were they to go awry, life would quickly end. The heart has to keep beating, whether we’re awake, asleep, idle, exercising, or stressed-out. One’s heart rate can rise up and down depending on activity and circumstances, and everything in the body reliant on it still carries on normally.

Many proponents of Creationism and Intelligent Design say that the natural world could not have arisen by accident. I agree with that. But if creation cannot arise by itself, how can it be sustained by itself? I believe that it is the Spirit of God that enables all of us to be alive right now.

Ultimately, I believe that there are different reasonable views that one could hold regarding God’s sovereignty and involvement in the world. But I think that the complexity of the natural world and our own minds should give us caution about making any sweeping assumptions about what God cannot or would not do. There is much more to life than we are consciously aware of, and over time, we can gain glimpses into how God works through it by reflecting on our experience. This is God’s way of gradually teaching us His wisdom.

Predestination and Human Will – Examining the Options

In the last post, I gave an overview of my views on Romans 9. I stated that, while Romans 9 does not warrant any sweeping conclusions about predestination, there are reasonable extrapolations that may be drawn at ones discretion. In this post, I want to talk about the different options that I have seen or considered regarding what the concepts of predestination or human will mean. This post will examine the extreme views of predestination, the extreme views of human will, and several possibilities in between. At the end of the article, I will describe which options I believe are compatible with Romans 9 and the Bible in general.

The most extreme view of predestination states that God is in direct control of all events, and that He uses humans and spiritual forces (both good and evil) to bring forth His plans. Under this view, humans’ free will is an illusion; people think and feel as if they are free, but ultimately God is directing them. The idea is that evil plays an integral part of God’s redemptive plans by drawing a contrast with righteousness, causing people to appreciate righteousness more fully. The advantage of this view is that it allows the most literal interpretation of Scriptures that reference predestination or God’s purposes (ex. Rom. 9, Eph. 1:11, Dan. 4:35, Isa. 45:7). Many people, however, are concerned about the implications that this view may carry for the character of God. In particular, there are concerns that this view makes God responsible for evil.

There are views which uphold the idea of predestination, but seek to avoid the problematic implications for God’s character. One such approach is to claim that all events (including human decisions and actions) are produced by a cause or a combination of causes. In other words, decisions and actions are constrained to occur by various factors (such as psychology, physiology, social influences, knowledge, experience, etc.). Under this view, human history is deterministic, meaning that, if you were to rewind history then hit play, the same events would unfold the second time. Furthermore, human history is predictable to an omniscient agent who sees everything happening. History could be seen as a chain reaction designed by God. In this view, God initiated human history, and from there, human decisions and actions unfolded through the principle of cause and effect. Some of these effects involve humans seeking God for help and exercising their spiritual authority as believers to cause other things to happen. Even though this view claims that all decisions and events were designed to occur through cause and effect, it does not claim that God was acting in every situation. The idea of this view is that it upholds the concept of predestination without claiming that every event and decision occurred via God’s power. This view allows room to say that humans, or various spiritual forces, were the direct cause of a given event, and that God’s power was not operating in that situation.

Some people may feel that this view still makes God responsible for evil. I think that you could address these concerns by modifying the view to say that, even though history is deterministic (with all events and decisions formulaically occurring through cause and effect) not every event and decision was designed by God. You could say that God designed some events (such as individuals coming to know Christ), but not all events. You could take this a step further and claim that, even though history is predictable to an omniscient agent, God did not specifically design anything to happen; all He did was get the process started. This view could still uphold the concept of predestination (albeit in a more metaphorical sense), by reasoning that God knew how everything would unfold and decided to let it happen, knowing that righteousness would prevail over evil when all was said and done. Under this view, a given event happened because God initiated history and one thing led to another. However, God did not initiate history in a specific way such that the event would occur, and God’s power only intervenes in the world if humans’ spiritual activity prompts it to. Humans’ decisions to engage in such spiritual activities occurs as a result of various factors.

However, some may find it problematic for a person’s life to be deterministic in any way or form. If so, there is a view which allows which acknowledges that people make actual choices that do not simply result from a confluence of factors. However, there are constraints upon the range of options that a person would select. For example, a person may have some problem that causes him to make foolish decisions in certain situations. Now, the exact decision that he makes is up to his own will – nothing can cause him to make a particular bad decision. However, because of certain psychological or spiritual problems, whatever he chooses in certain situations will be a foolish decision. Under this view, God chooses certain people to come to know Christ in this life, and when they come into the faith, they begin to be liberated from the constraints upon their will and they are given a new nature from which they can make wise decisions and overcome problems.

Lastly, some believe that there cannot be any constraints on the human will, at least where decisions regarding faith are concerned. They believe that for a true relationship between humans and God to exist, an individual must be fully capable of choosing God by his or her own will. The rationale for this view is that it is the only view that truly makes humans responsible for their actions; all of the other views are seen as giving people a way to excuse their bad decisions. Proponents of this view often claim that, with the exception of certain divinely-ordained events, God leaves it up to us to determine the future and what He sees are the different outcomes that would arise from different courses of actions we may choose.

As to where I stand in this debate, I think that both the extreme predestination view and the extreme free will view are difficult to reconcile with Scripture when the whole council of relevant passages are taken into account. Regarding the extreme view of predestination, I do not have a way to decisively refute it from the Bible. However, when people raise Biblical concerns about it damaging the character of God, or taking away human responsibility, I am not able to give a Scriptural response to those concerns that makes a lot of sense. I think that the three middle views of predestination described above work just fine with the Biblical passages on predestination and they enable more discussion from Scripture about the need for human action and accountability. Regarding the strong free will viewpoint, which gives humans the full inherent ability to make decisions regarding faith and to determine the future, I find that I am unable to make this jive with the view of the Book of Romans that I described in the previous post.

So, by writing this article, I want to show how there are different ways to look at the issue of predestination and human will. Many people only know the concept by the two extremes, and I think that it is important to see that there are other options.