Thursday, July 08, 2004

Sovereignty and control

There is a common belief in the church today that I believe is heritical. It is the widely preached, and widely accepted, belief that "God is in control." Now before I set about dismantelling this statement and showing its error, I must define exactly what I am talking about.

God is sovereign, and indeed - as Creator - has control to create or destroy. He is the ultimate power in the Universe. This infinite power gives Him the ability to control everything He so desires - but it does not mean that He does. God's sovereignty means that His rightful place is King and Lord of all, the Most High.

But consider this: Is a king always obeyed by those in his kingdom? Does the fact that he is the king enable him to fully control the actions, even the very thoughts, of those in his kingdom? Of course not! People have every choice to disobey the king, to think poorly of him, or to go about the kingdom committing crimes of every sort.

I believe it is the same way with God and people. In His love, He has given us the ultimate freedom - the freedom of choice, even the freedom to reject Him. Without this freedom, I do not believe we could ever truely love God - for true love can only be given freely, uncoerced. It is our inherent freedom that it seems God respects and upholds - and I believe He never breaks it.

So much does require our freedom, that He will let us reject and disobey Him. He lets us grieve Him - and surely we do. He lets us disobey his command to love others. The free will He has given us can even be used to hurt others, to bomb innocent blood, or to pilot a plane into the side of a building. Yes, I think God knew all about what people would do with that freedom - but so much did He value real love, that He was prepared to suffer the cost - the cost of our rebellion.

Does God control the events in the world? Did God orchestrate the Oklahoma bombing, or the attacks of September 11? Of course not! It would be absurd to think God would do such things! Would He cause a drunk driver to swerve and kill a young child in a car travelling the other way? Such thinking is abhorrent! God does not want such things to happen, and indeed probably tries to stop such things.

The crux is this; God does not allow murders to rampage through schools, He simply gave them freedom to choose - even to choose to not let Him intervene. The responsibility of sin sadly lies with people, not with God.

This is all quite frightening, of course. Aren't we told that God works everything together for good, for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose? (Rom 8:28) Surely God wonderously makes everything happen only be "good" for Christians? In my opinion, this is one of the most mis-understood verses of the Bible. Again in my opinion, I believe the correct connotation of the original Greek is given in the Good News Bible, "We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose."
There are substantial differences here. God is not pulling strings - it is simply a reassurance that in all things - no matter what the situation - God will always act for the good of those who love Him. That word for "good", means eternal good - not just 'good.'

Now do not misunderstand, however, that through God's redeeming Grace, he can take the 'bad' we have experienced and redeem it, for the days are indeed evil (Eph 5:16). This is the wonderful power of God, to take what sin has done (not sin itself), sanctify it and allow it to be used for good.

Indeed, what a marvellous God we serve, who can work such wonder! The miracle of a redeemed life is surely more incredible than healing. Indeed, power to redeem the choices we make with our freedom is a far greater power than merely controlling what we choose. God is Sovereign, and all-powerful, but He has let us control our own lives. This is why we must choose well, for the evidence of humankind's poor use of freedom is surely destroying the people who live here.


Nathan said...

I disagree, but don't have time to reply.

EONsim said...

Nice though personally I both agree and disagree.

On the Macro/overall level I disagree beliving God has full control there (ie god will win/his WILL will be done).

On the Mirco/personal and interpersonal level I agree that god does not directly control all our actions. Having given us free will it therefore allows us to make our own choices. These choices affect the local level and short and medium term but have no real effect on the end result that has been decided by God. The result being that we make our own choices are uncontrolled within the limits created by God wile God's still in control with the result he decided upone occuring but due to his gift of free will the fine details/us are ot totally controled.

Nathan said...

Ok, I've found a bit of time to make a few points:

Ephesians 1 talks a bit about the issue. Verse 11 I quote in particular:
"In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will"
Note that the context is talking about God's eternal plans, not the everyday running of the world. If he wanted to state that all things eternally work out according to his will, he would have said, 'in these things' rather than 'everything'

Controling needs to be differentiated from causing. God never tempts (c.f. James 1), but each one is tempted. Yet at the same time, God allows it. He has the oppurtunity to stop it, yet he lets it happen. The fact that God is omniscient means that the universe must be the way he wants it. He knows the results of everything he does, so if he isn't completely satisfied with it, he can change his actions so that the universe is the way he wants it. Our actions are known in advance, so he must have a choice whether or not to allow the actions, or to change the past slightly.

I must admit, you do have a valid point - God's soverignty does not impede on our free will, nor our personal responsibility. We still get to choose our paths, and we still have to take responsibility for our actions. But at the same time, God is in control. It is very hard to understand - how can God's decisions and man's be congruent, and yet both of them maintaining their own free will? I loved the cartoon Jess posted a while back, because it illustrated this supposed contradiction very well, looking at satan and the like.

The thing is, God allowed the universe to happen this way. I can imagine were thousands of possible universes he could have created, but he chose this one. Why this one over other ones? I can only assume that the universe as it is is the best (Whatever 'the best'). A lot of people would take your view because it lets God off the hook so to speak. If its mans choice that resulted in all this bad stuff, then we can just blame ourselves, and not him. So God is a God of love after all. I don't think any such view can let God off the hook. He knew what would happen when he gave us free will, and he chose to give it to us. The universe must be the way he wanted it.

Why did he want it this way? I think the reason its so badly mucked up is so that people will be able to fully appreciate how good he is. If we can appreciate how things are our own way, we will be able to understand how good he is, and how good his ways are.

Nathan said...

More things to add:
God doesn't coerce us into loving him, but rather has chosen that we will love him. (or, has chosen a universe in which we will love him)

God's control does not equate to him dictating everything directly, but is the result of his omniscience.

But I agree with your conclusion - we need to choose well, we cannot get away from our own personal responsibility, because we still have choice

Fraser Dron said...

That makes sense. But how would one explain something like this to a non-christian? Not that it necessarily has anything to do with Reuben's post :P but I think we'd do well to consider it, seeing as one of the most common questions used to bait christians seems to be, "If God is so good, why does he let X happen?".

incognito said...

Nathan, I'll take a moment to go through your ideas. I will present these as my own opinions, although I endevour to justify them. Firstly, Eph 1:11 is clearly referring to Salvation. The Greek for 'all things' is in the individual sense, not the collective sense. In context, it seems quite clear that it is referring to all the things that Christ did to achieve our Salvation- not everything that happens in the Universe.

This is interesting:
"The fact that God is omniscient means that the universe must be the way he wants it. He knows the results of everything he does, so if he isn't completely satisfied with it, he can change his actions so that the universe is the way he wants it."

... especially put up next to:
"The universe must be the way he wanted it. Why did he want it this way? I think the reason its so badly mucked up is so that people will be able to fully appreciate how good he is."

OK, let's take a reality check. Every hour hundreds of people are abused, murdered, cheated, robbed, and hurt in a world rank with sin. I hardly think God likes that - I hardly think that is the way God 'wants' it do be. Now just because God is omniscient it does NOT mean that the universe is the way He wants it. Case in point, all the abuse, murder, etc He has to watch everyday. As for an explaination of this, you'll have to wait for my post on this topic.

Furthermore, you say that, "God is a God of love." That's nice, but let's not forget that's only PART of God's character. He is also jealous, just, and quite capable of anger. Many times in the OT, God's anger burned against people for their rebellion... Nobody get's angry at something they wanted to happen. "Letting God off the hook" is a moot point by the way - He is the Judge.

You sound very confused about all this:
"We still get to choose our paths, and we still have to take responsibility for our actions. But at the same time, God is in control. It is very hard to understand - how can God's decisions and man's be congruent, and yet both of them maintaining their own free will?"

Because it seems like you are holding on to two conflicting doctrines. 1) That people have completely free will, to be righteous OR to sin. 2) That God controls the universe, and by implication, people. The first of these is biblical, the second of these is not. After an extensive period of research on this, I found nowhere in the Bible where it states or implies that God is in control of all people on Earth - in fact, I find the opposite. Certainly, He guides the steps of the righteous - but that's guides, not dictates.

The word for "predestined" is almost always used in context with the FOREKNOWLEDGE of God. The meaning of predestined is literally, "declared beforehand." Prophesy is a handy example of how predestination works - predestination does not cause the event, it simply states what it is before it happens.

I must go now, for I have written enough. I will takle God's omniscience in my next post.

incognito said...

By the way, I assume your 'macro' view contains creation, Salvation, and judgement.

Nathan said...

Ok, I did sound confused, but I'm not confused.
God's soverignty and mans free will sound contradictory, but can co-exist. Its a paradox (according to my 7th form definition: apparant contradiction, but is acutally true)

I guess you've already looked at pharaoh, and God hardening his heart. Calvinists claim that God hardened his heart, whereas arminianists claim that pharaoh hardened his heart. Problem with that is that it was God's plan well before hand to harden pharaoh's heart. The passages actually seem to interchange 'God hardened pharaoh's heart' and 'pharaoh's heart was hardened' and 'pharaoh hardened his heart'. What I get from this is that God and Man's choices are congruent. God's soverignty doesn't interfere with man's free will, man's free will doesn't interfer with God's soverignty.

You do definitly have one side of the coin sorted. But I believe there are two sides. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive. God is really big, I have no problem believing he is beyond our comprehension.

But I don't see how you can believe in the soverignty of God, and yet claim that God didn't allow all the bad stuff that happened. God had the option to stop lots of the bad stuff in the world, but he doesn't.

Anyways, I don't think this will be resolved on blogger, but I'm looking forward to your post of the omniscience of God.

incognito said...

Indeed, it's a little complex to sort out here. However, as to my understanding of the sovereignty of God, allow me to illustrate.

Imagine there is a great king, whose kingdom is very very big. Millions of people live in his kingdom. The king wants to ensure his kingdom remains civilised, so that people can be happy, so he sets down several laws. Those that break these laws will be punished accordingly.

Now, as far as I understand, in this situation - the king is sovereign - i.e. there is no higher power than him in his kingdom (we're leaving God out because this is an analogy for God). However, the people in the kingdom are not forced to obey his laws. In fact, consider there was an uprising by a large group of evildoers. Even if they captured the king and tied him up, putting themselves on the throne, it does not change who is actually king. The king is still Sovereign, even if some people don't think so. Of course, God is omnipotent, and so this analogy only stretches so far as to illustrate my point, because no-one could overthrow God, naturally.

So you see, I think sovereignty is all to do with the highest power, and not neccessarily to do with control. Of course, come Judgement, his power will presumably be exemplified by control.

Nathan said...

With regard to the last bit, you don't think God will let us willingly serve us in heaven? I am of the opinion that we will be just as free (but more free as we will be free from sin) in heaven.

Perhaps a question will enable me to understand more:
Is the universe in the state that God intends it?

The problem with the analogy is that a King isn't God. A King can't see everything, so when he gets tied up he knows he's king, but is not sure of his victory. Whereas at the fall, God handed over authority and knew exactly what was happening, and what would happen.

Looking for common ground... God can do whatever he wants. This means he is in control, but not that he controls people

(hehe - lets go for a comment record!!)

Philotas said...

Ok! I LOVE Predestination convos! :) Im gonna throw in my two cents here, which will sound very uninformed compared to you guys, but here it is.

God can do ANYthing. omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient (all powerful, All present, All seeing). He CAN do anything, but he DOESNT. He lets us live in free will, and he must let us live with the results of our free will, because even though He does not like a lot of the stuff going on here, He wants us to find out for ourselves.

If God stepped in any time something went wrong, (which he could) then we could complain that we are not really free to make our own decisions. God does not let bad things happen, but he lets people do bad things even though He would be feeling wrath against them. (thats saved up for judgement day).

Time to us is a line, time to God is more like a ball in front of Him. All things have happened, and He can see how they fit together to fulfill His purpose, and our destiny.

The King analogy - nice, but the thing is, God Can stop things. He can, but He doesnt. He CAN control the thoughts, but He wont. He CAN stop every bad thing from happening. to say He cant do this means He is not all powerful. to say he wont, may make him sound cruel, but it is US as humans who are the cruel ones, it is US who take all Gods gifts, and then choose to disobey.
Even those who dont know about God or Jesus, show throught their actions that they are choosing to disobey (see Romans 2:12-16)

Ill just finish by saying we are often guilty of transferring human emotions and standards to God, when in reality it's the other way around. some may think He is cruel, but this is by Human standards. Even the King analogy is based on Human standards:

Isaiah 55:8-9 (GNB)
"My thoughts," says the Lord, "Are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours."

Scotty said...

Nice post, but I'd probably have to disagree with much of it as well. The more I have thought about this issue, the more I have come further round the spectrum. God does allow bad things to happen. They are all within his control. Look at what happened to the Israelites in Egypt. He made it get worse before it got better.

God did control Pharaoh. Look at the appropriate chapter of Exodus. Exodus 9:13-19 shows that God is controlling Pharaoh. Then again in Romans 9 it talks of how God hardens Pharaoh's heart.

Also check out Romans 9:19-23 Someone may ask, "How can God blame us, if he makes us behave in the way he wants us to?" But, my friend, I ask, "Who do you think you are to question God? Does the clay have the right to ask the potter why he shaped it the way he did? Doesn't a potter have the right to make a fancy bowl and a plain bowl out of the same lump of clay?" God wanted to show his anger and reveal his power against everyone who deserved to be destroyed. But instead, he patiently put up with them. He did this by showing how glorious he is when he has pity on the people he has chosen to share in his glory.

Scotty said...

Oops should have read ALL the other comments before posting.