A Sovereign and Personal God

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

If you have been a believer for at least a few years, at some point along the way you have likely entered into a conversation (er, debate) over the seeming contradiction between God's sovereignty and human responsibility. I've had countless interactions of this nature over the past 10 years of my life. Typically the end result is that the well-meaning Christian, attempting to defend God, actually presents a caricature of God. (I'm not just pointing fingers here; I've been there and done that myself.) Some Christians attempt to defend God's sovereign authority by undermining Bible passages which emphasize human responsibility and choice. Other Christians attempt to defend God's sinless nature by undermining Bible passages which emphasize God's sovereignty over all things.

There is a third group of Christians: those who attempt to balance these two Scriptural truths. While I applaud this effort, it seems to me that there is both a right way and a wrong way to harmonize God's sovereignty and human responsibility.

The wrong way is to postulate that God is somewhat sovereign and that humans are somewhat responsible (50-50). Or to postulate that God is mostly sovereign and that humans are a little bit responsible (80-20); or vice-versa. Here's the problem: can you imagine if we reasoned the same way about other seemingly contradictory truths in Scripture? It is heresy to argue that Jesus is 50% God and 50% man. It is wrong to argue that the Bible is 80% the Word of God and 20% the product of man. To "resolve" the tension of God's sovereignty and human responsibility in this way is actually to deny both truths.

Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. The Bible is 100% the Word of God and 100% penned by man. Similarly, an investigation of the whole of Scripture must lead us to believe that God is 100% sovereign over all things, and that humans are 100% responsible for the choices they make. I cannot explain the divine-human confluence in the nature of Christ or the nature of Scripture. Nor can I explain the divine-human confluence in human activity. We must accept by faith that there are certain truths that cannot be fathomed by merely human minds: "The secret things belong to the LORD our God" (Deut. 29:29a). I cannot promise you that even in heaven we will have the ability to fully comprehend these mysteries. However, we are accountable for the truths contained in Scripture: "but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29b).

D.A. Carson has written the best Scriptural summary of this topic that I am aware of in his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation. In chapter 9 of this book, titled "A Sovereign and Personal God," Carson explores numerous Bible passages which present both divine sovereignty and human responsibility side-by-side. Carson's summary of these passages and his concluding thoughts are worth the price of the book. Here is a sample of Carson's introduction:

(1) God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in Scripture to reduce human responsibility. (2) Human beings are responsible creatures - that is, they choose, they believe, they disobey, they respond, and there is moral significance in their choices; but human responsibility never functions in Scripture to diminish God's sovereignty or to make God absolutely contingent. My argument is that both propositions are taught and exemplified in the Bible. Part of our problem is believing that both are true. We tend to use one to diminish the other; we tend to emphasize one at the expense of the other. But responsible reading of the Scripture prohibits such reductionism. (p. 148)

After surveying Genesis 50:19-20; 2 Samuel 24; Isaiah 10:5-19; John 6:37-40; Philippians 2:12-13; Acts 18:9-10; and Acts 4:23-30. Carson concludes:

Our two propositions concerning God's sovereignty and human responsibility are directly tied to the nature of God. If God were sovereign and nothing more, we might all become Christian fatalists, but it would be hard to carve out a place for human interaction with Deity, a place for human responsibility. If God were personal and more - talking with us, responding to us, asking and answering questions - it would be easy to understand how human beings are responsible to him, but it would be harder to grasp just how this sort of God could be transcendent, sovereign, omnipotent. The wonderful truth is that God is both transcendent and personal. He is transcendent: he exists above or beyond time and space, since he existed before the universe was created. From this exalted and scarcely imaginable reach he sovereignly rules over the works of his hands. Yet he is personal: he presents himself to us not as raw power or irresistible force, but as Father, as Lord. When he speaks and issues a command, if I obey I am obeying him; if I disobey, I am disobeying him. All of my most meaningful relationships with God are bound up with the fact that God has disclosed himself to be a person. (p. 159)

"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen." (Romans 11:33, 36)


"Do It Again!"

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life.

"Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, 'Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

"But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.

"It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun: and every evening, 'Do it again' to the moon.

"It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.

"It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

"The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore."

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

HT: Justin Taylor


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