The discussion concerning God’s sovereignty usually spurs more arguments than decent dialogue. Place a Calvinist and an Arminian in a room to discuss God’s sovereignty and an hour later nothing was settled except the agreement to disagree. Why is this so?
I have no hope whatsoever that Calvinists and Arminians will ever reach an agreement on determining the boundaries of the definition of God’s sovereignty. Most Calvinists will not budge from defining the term as meaning God’s absolute control over every event in the known universe, including the choices which human beings make.
On the other hand, Arminians are determined (no pun intended) to maintain that God can remain sovereign (in control) over His creatures even while granting them the freedom to make their own choices. After all, the Arminian will argue, where is it written that, in order for God to be sovereign, He must control the choices which people make?
Now, I am not speaking here of a person’s choice of whether or not to receive Christ Jesus as Savior. No one can, of their own freedom of choice, without the grace of God, choose to believe in Jesus whenever they choose. Sin has affected the nature of human beings and, therefore, they are in desperate need of the grace of God if they are to be saved. I am merely speaking of everyday choices (what to eat, what to wear, where to go, etc.).
Let us take an example from the Old Testament. God had just told the Israelites how they are to behave in the world through His prophet Moses. He concluded, “When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you” (Deut. 30.1-3 TNIV).
Notice that God is sovereign in the scattering of His people, restoring their fortunes, and gathering them unto Himself; but also notice that He remains sovereign even while granting them the choice of obeying or disobeying Him. God does not force anyone to obey Him. He rewards obedience and punishes disobedience.
But (I must ask), if God is sovereign (in the deterministic fashion to which Calvinists allude), then every obedience is the direct result of God’s causation, as is every disobedience. If every single event on earth has been predetermined by God (without foreseeing or foreknowing the outcome, but by merely decreeing it), then the only conclusion one is left with is that, some obey God by His determinative, causative will, and others disobey Him by the same.
If this is how we interpret Scripture, then what God was really saying to the Israelites was that, those whom He has chosen to have a heart towards Him He will bless, and those whom He has not chosen to have a heart towards Him He will curse. Is this accurate?
I think any reasonable person obliged to Truth would conclude that such an interpretation (or philosophical deduction) is completely unwarranted. We certainly do not communicate in such contradictory language as to say one thing (prima facie) and yet mean another. We try, as much as is possible, to mean what we say.
God does the same thing. He does not say one thing and mean another. If He did, then how could we possibly understand what He was trying to communicate? If He promised blessings to those Israelites who obeyed Him but meant something else entirely, then how could He be trusted and loved?
As it stands, God promised blessings to the Israelites who obeyed Him and cursings to those who disobeyed. The inclination to obey, though a product of God’s grace, did not come deterministically (causally) from the LORD, any more than the inclination to disobey displayed an absence of God’s grace and a determinism from God as to who would be disobedient.
God told them, “and when you . . . return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul . . .” then He would bless them. This returning and obeying came from the heart and soul of the people, by the grace of the LORD.
Does God lose His sovereignty by allowing people freedom of choice? Absolutely not. I think such a notion is downright silly. But you will strongly disagree with me if you believe that God must control the choices which people make in order for Him to be considered sovereign.
When discussing this issue recently, I noted the difference between God’s permission and His determinative will. I wanted to distinguish between God allowing a thing to occur without Him being the actual cause of any event. If you believe that every event must be caused by God in order for it to occur, then I know I have lost you already.
Nonetheless, the reason why I made such a distinction is because God’s allowing a thing to occur is not the same as Him causing it. This is a basic supposition and should be acceptable to both Calvinists and Arminians alike.
What does sovereign mean? It means that God is in control of His universe. It means that nothing can take Him by surprise, so to speak, and that nothing has the capability to thwart His overall plan for the ages. It means that God is Lord. He is the Landlord, if you will. He is King and Ruler of all. Must it mean that God controls the choices of people? Not in any way whatsoever.