Over and over and over again I am told that I do not truly believe that God is sovereign. Sure, I think I believe it, but God cannot really be sovereign if He doesn’t minutely control every little thing that comes to pass. Besides, didn’t King George’s sovereignty mean that he caused each blade of grass in his kingdom to move? I digress.
My intent here is to define as succinctly as possible my personal perspective as to the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our freedom to choose. This does not define the position of all Arminians, or even all the members of SEA. This is my understanding. Let any flaw you find be on my head and no others. Let us begin.
Pure and simple, sovereignty means that you are king, hence the King George comment above. I find it interesting that Calvinists have attached attributes to the meaning of sovereignty that could never apply to an earthly king. It is alright to say that such attributes are a logical result of God being king, but it is a gross error to attach them to the definition of the term. However, what makes one a king?
A king is one who has the authority, right, and power to demand, and there in cause, his will to be manifested within his realm with the objective of maintaining the quality of life for the citizens within that realm.
So, what would it mean for God to be king? It would mean that whenever God decrees something to happen, it will happen. Here’s the rub: it does not demand that everything which happened is what God decreed. That is an illogical leap. This is also important, if God did not decree everything, that means if something happens which He did not decree, it does not necessarily go against His sovereignty.
Ok, let’s say I accidentally drop this fantastic cup of milk which I am drinking. If God decreed that I shall drop the cup, and I drop it, God is still sovereign. If God decreed that I shall hold on to the cup, and I drop it, then I have just undermined God’s sovereignty. However, if God has said absolutely nothing about whether I drop the cup or not, and I drop it, then God is still sovereign as long as we maintain the fact that He could have decreed it if He had wanted to.
God has the right and power to do whatever it is He pleases, and if God pleases not to decree something one way or the other, it is His right and power not to. We have no right to say that he must decree it or He forfeits His sovereignty. That’s silly (at best)! No, we declare God to be sovereign, regardless of how He chooses to do things or not to do things.
I don’t like to talk about free will too much. I don’t think it is an apt focus for what it is we are trying to say. I would agree with the definition of free will as contrary choice, but even then, I would say that the basic point is that our will has true consequences as to what one will be in the future, no matter how slight those consequences may be. Therefore, what I prefer to talk about is human contingency.
Human contingency is the understanding that God has determined that particular events and ends shall be contingent upon the human will. What is important to note is that only particular events and ends are contingent, which means that others are not. The ones which are and the ones which aren’t are determined by God. However, those which are, are truly contingent.
Now there are a lot of things which are left up to the human will. For instance, I agree with Martin Luther that the color of my socks were probably determined by me. What’s important to the Arminian position is that whether or not one will have saving faith is contingent upon the will of that one. After all, that’s what makes us Arminian. But the point is that those things are contingent on our will because God either lets them be (because He doesn’t care about the color of our socks), or because God explicitly decrees that this end will definitely be contingent because He wants it that way.
But, no human will is completely free. We are restricted by boundaries. Think of a baby in a play pen. Within that play pen, the baby can do whatever he wants, but there are boundaries set up by the sovereign parents that prevent the baby from certain activities. Additionally, what else is in the pen is determined by the parents, not by the baby. Likewise, God puts boundaries on us that we cannot cross. The general ones are as follows:
- Natural laws: God has set up His universe in a very particular way that we cannot change. I cannot fly under my own power, shoot lasers out of my eyes, or lick my own elbow. There are physical laws, established by God, that prevent me from doing so.
- Particularity: Each of us are born to a particular place, at a particular time, as a particular gender and nationality and with access to a particular set of people. I cannot meet George Washington. I cannot become a woman. I cannot be something other than Irish (though why would I want that anyway). No, I was born here and now because God caused me to be born here and now, so that I may seek Him, as the Word says (Acts 17:26-27). I cannot change this. It’s part of what makes me human.
- Consequence: Though there are events which are contingent on my choice, there are established consequences for that choice. Some are written in the physical world like splatting, if I choose to jump off a building, or going bankrupt for making unwise investments. Others are exacted by God, for He is the judge of the universe, and He judges what we do both in this life and in the next.
- Established events and ends: God allows particular events and ends to be contingent on the human will, but He also decrees certain events and ends to come to pass, and once God decrees it, we cannot stop it. God’s sovereign power is irresistible when he exercises in that manner.Consider for a moment the dreams of Pharaoh told to Joseph. He dreamt two dreams and they meant that the events foretold in the dream were established. This means that if he didn’t have two dreams, then the events would not necessarily come about. Therefore, some events are established, and some are not. But the ones which are, we cannot prevent.
What I want to know, what I am dying to know, is how God is not sovereign given the descriptions above? I fail to understand this accusation, given to us time and time again. So please, explain: how?
See post and its comments here.