WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

PREDESTINATION OR FREEWILL: PART FOUR

 (GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND PREDESTINATION)

 

 

       The English word sovereign means to have absolute power, authority, control and rule over somebody or something.  This word has been used to define the absolute rule of kings.  In the historical past, there was the idea that a king ruled by Divine Right.  This idea came into prominence in England during the reign of James the first (1603–1625).  Kings over nations believed they had absolute sovereignty and could impose their will over the people as a Divine Right granted to them by God.

       The Scriptures reveal God is sovereign.  God has absolute power, authority, control and rule over His creation.  Where translators use the word sovereign in the OT in association with God, it’s translated from the Hebrew word Adonai and simply means Lord.   Where translators use the word sovereign in the NT in association with God, it’s translated from the Greek word despotees which means lord or master.  Despotees is used for both God and man in the NT.  It is a Greek word that defines the relationship between a master and a slave and is used in this fashion in early Greek literature.  Our English word despot is derived from this Greek word.  A despot is someone having unlimited absolute authority and power over others.

       The word despot, as applied to the rule of man, often has negative connotations because it is associated with rulers who rule unrighteously.  God, as creator and sustainer of all reality, has the right to be a despot and exercise absolute sovereignty.  What does it mean for God to have absolute sovereignty?  

       God is omnipotent.  To be omnipotent is to be all powerful.  All powerful means having the ability to do anything you want to do.  Can God create a rock so heavy that He can’t move it?   If He can’t move it, does that mean He is not all powerful?  In reality God could create a rock so heavy that He couldn’t move it if that is what He willed to do.  Not being able to move the rock would not diminish His being all powerful if in His sovereignty He chooses to create a rock so heavy that He can’t move it.  God being all powerful means God is able to do anything He wants to do. 

       God is also believed to be omnipresent (everywhere present).  While the word omnipresent doesn’t appear in the Bible, this belief is based on Psalm 139:7-8.

       Psalm 139:7-10: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me; your right hand will hold me fast.

       In what manner is God omnipresent?  Some believe God is in everything.  A view called Pantheism is that God is everything and everyone and that everyone and everything is God.  A tree is God, a rock is God, an animal is God, the sky is God, the sun is God, you and I are God.  A similar view, called Panentheism, teaches that while God is greater than His creation, His creation is contained within Him and in this manner God is present in everything.  

       Many Scriptures picture God as being a person, an identifiable Being.  God is pictured as having location.  The Scriptures also show God’s Spirit and power permeates His creation and in this respect God is everywhere present.  There is no place in the universe where the Spirit of God is absent.  This is not the same thing as pantheism.  God being everywhere present does not equate with everything being God.  Each one of us has influence in the lives of others.  This doesn’t make us those others.  God is present inside a tree and inside a person through His sustaining power. This doesn’t make that tree or person God.

       God is said to be omniscient (all knowing).  As is true with the word omnipresent, the word omniscient does not appear in Scripture.  This perspective about God is largely based on what David said.

       Psalm 139:1-4: O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.

       All knowing is often defined as God knowing everything that can be known, past, present and future.  According to this definition, God knows what you are going to have for breakfast tomorrow morning, a month from now and ten years from now.  Is this really true?  Does being sovereign over His creation mean and virtually require that God knows everything that will ever happen?  Do the Scriptures support this view of God?  Is it possible God does not foresee all things?   Would God not foreseeing all things limit His sovereignty? 

       Remember, the word sovereign, as it relates to God, means to have absolute power, authority, control and rule over all reality.   Some believe for God to be totally sovereign He must not only know everything that has happened but He must also know all that will happen in the future.  Some equate knowing all things that will happen in the future with predetermining all that will happen in the future.  Is this true?  If God is omniscient as that word is generally understood, does this mean God can’t learn anything new?  Does anything ever surprise God?  Do the Scriptures show God to be omniscient?  There are some Scriptural passages that appear to say God is omniscient. 

       1 John 3:20: For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 

       Proverbs 15:3: The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. 

       Isaiah 46:10: I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.  I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. 

       Psalms 139:16b: All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

       Do these Scriptures establish God as foreknowing all that is ever going to happen?  Does God know everything in advance?  We will return to the foregoing Scriptures after discussing a number of Scriptural examples showing God does not know everything in advance.

       Jeremiah 17:10: I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve"

       Does God know in advance what He is going to find in the heart of a particular man whose heart He is searching and whose mind He is examining?  Why would God search the heart and examine the mind of man if He already knows in advance everything in the heart and mind of man?

       When told to gather manna for six days but not on the seventh day, some Israelites tried to gather it on the seventh day and angered God (Exodus 16:28).  Did God foresee this and foresee He would become angry over this matter?  Did God predetermine that some Israelites would try to gather manna on the seventh day as a hyper-predestinationist would conclude?  This would mean God became angry over something He predetermined in advance to happen. I am using the term "hyper-predestinationist" to designate those who believe God predetermines all human behavior and events.     

       In Deuteronomy 29-31, God speaks to Israel through Moses and predicts Israel will follow after false God’s and in general fail to keep God’s commandments and consequently He will have to punish them.  Is God’s prediction of Israel’s continued failure to obey Him and His intent to punishment them for their sin evidence God knew in absolute terms how Israel would behave?  This approach assumes God’s prophecy of future events is irrevocable.  Scripture however, shows prophecy is not irrevocable and its fulfillment can be rescinded due to changing dynamics.

       Apostle Paul wrote that prophecies can fail (1 Corinthians 13:8).  In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul shows that love overrides prophecy.  God loved Israel and even though He prophesied their unfaithfulness He was always trying to get them to change their behavior and choose to be faithful to Him which would negate what He had prophesied would happen if they remained unfaithful.  Throughout Scripture we see fulfillment or non-fulfillment of prophecy based on changing dynamics.  Let’s look at Scriptural passages that reveal this.

       Even though God predicted Israel would continue its sinning ways, He always held out hope Israel would turn from sin and become obedient to His will.  This presupposes God not knowing in absolute terms what Israel would do.  He clearly set before them the choice of doing His will and reaping His blessings or the choice of disobeying Him and experiencing His wrath. 

        Deuteronomy 30:15-20: See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

       For God to have instructed Israel to walk in His ways and choose life while all the while knowing for sure they would choose death and that He would have to destroy them is an absolute oxymoron. To teach that God predetermined that Israel choose death while all the while instructing them to choose life is an even greater oxymoron. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures we see God virtually pleading with Israel to return to Him and obey Him.  This is not the picture of a God who knows in absolute terms what the future holds.  It is clear from the Scriptures that God gave Israel the choice to either serve Him or not serve Him and that He would respond to them accordingly. 

       Scripture makes it clear that what God proposes to do is often based on the choices we humans make.  Prophecy is not irrevocable. It is not set in stone.  Prophecy is not predestining or foreseeing what must happen.  Prophecy is seeing what will happen if certain dynamics remain in place.  Prophecy is a prediction of future events based on a particular set of dynamics.  It is not an absolute, irrevocable prediction of what must happen.   Changing dynamics will negate a prophecy and we see recorded occurrences of this in Scripture.        

       2 Chronicles 36:15-16: The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place.  But they mocked God's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.

       If God knew in absolute terms that Israel was not going to change, it would be superfluous for Him to be constantly sending messengers to them to try to change their behavior.  If God predetermined that Israel wasn't going to change it would be ludicrous that He would try to bring them to change their behavior. It would be meaningless to express pity on them if indeed there was not a chance of them changing.  Yet we see God constantly calling upon Israel to repent so that He doesn't have to bring judgement upon them. The Hebrew Scriptures repeatedly show God willing to relent from bringing judgement upon Israel (and other nations) if they repent and change their ways. 

       2 Chronicles 7:13-15: When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

       If predestination is involved here at all, it is that God, in His sovereignty, has predestined that He will turn from the evil He plans to bring upon people when they choose to turn from their disobedience and become submissive to His will.  This is the pattern that is seen throughout the Scriptures.  God clearly defines this principle in speaking to Jeremiah. 

       Jeremiah 18:7-10:  If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

       Some will argue that even though God gave Israel and other nation’s opportunities to change, He knew in advance they would fail to take advantage of such opportunities.  This, however, begs the question of how providing such opportunities for change would have any significance if indeed it is known in advance with certainty that such change will never take place.  If I foresaw that my son will be a drug addict and regardless of what opportunities I give him to change he will not change, of what value would it be to provide him with such opportunities?  The very language of Scripture instructs us that God will change what he has chosen to do in response to what we choose to do and he doesn’t know in advance with absolute certainty how we will choose let alone predetermines in advance all that we do as hyper-predestinationists would have us believe.   

       The principle here expressed in Jeremiah is clearly demonstrated in how God dealt with Nineveh.  God saw the wickedness of Nineveh and proclaimed through Jonah that Nineveh would be destroyed.  The people of Nineveh repented.   Jonah 3:10 records that When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.”  Did God predestine their repentance?  Did God foreknow they would repent?  Did God foresee the compassion He had for Nineveh?  The Scriptures clearly instruct that when God saw their repentance, he had compassion on them and decided not to destroy them.  God’s prophecy against Nineveh was not absolute and irrevocable.  The Scriptures give no reason to believe God predestined or foreknew what they would do.  The same holds true regarding the Noachian flood except here the people didn’t repent.  

       It is quite apparent man’s wickedness had exceeded God’s expectations.  Genesis 6:3 indicates God would give man 120 years to turn things around.  They didn’t.  God decided He had had enough and would destroy His creation.  It is clear He wasn’t happy about having to do this. 

      Genesis 6:6-7: The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth--men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air--for I am grieved that I have made them."   

       God expressing grief and pain over what man had become is not the picture of a God who has predestined this to be the case or that he foreknew in absolute terms that this would be the case.  You don’t become grieved and pained over something you already assuredly know is going to happen, let along willed that it happened.  The very language of Genesis 6 demonstrates God did not know the extent to which man would behave in an evil manner.

       After the flood, God acknowledged that man is going to continue to sin and determined He would not again destroy man from off the face of the earth regardless of how badly he sinned.  "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done” (Genesis 8:21).  This passage is instructive in that it shows God resigned Himself to the fact that man will continue to make sinful choices.  God is seen as changing the way He will deal with man's sin from this point forward which indicates God learned from what happened prior to the flood and made some adjustments in how He relates to man.  It is quite apparent God does not know everything in advance.  God was grieved that he had appointed Saul king over Israel because Saul failed to fully carry out His instructions (1 Samuel 15:11).  If God knew in advance Saul would not be faithful, why would he have appointed him?  When God saw the Israelites had corrupted themselves at Sinai he became very upset and wanted to destroy them.  This is not the reaction of someone who knew in advance how Israel would behave. 

         Exodus 32: 7, 10:  Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.

       A passage in Jeremiah is strongly indicative of God not knowing everything in advance and even more indicative of we humans having freewill.

       Jeremiah 32:35: They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.

       This passage strongly indicates God did not know in advance what Israel would do.  Even if you choose to believe this passage doesn’t show God’s lack of foreknowledge, you can’t deny that it was against God’s will for Israel to behave in the manner they did.  This clearly shows they behaved contrary to His will which presupposes they had the freewill and free choice to do so.  We see throughout the Scriptures that it is God’s will that we obey Him.   Yet we disobey Him.  God has given us the ability (the power) to behave contrary to His will and freely allows us to do so.  This very fact presupposes we humans have freewill and free choice. 

God Tests Us:

       We see in Scripture a number of examples of God testing people to determine if they will obey him.  There would be no reason for God to test people if he knew in advance what they were going to do in any given circumstance.   The very language of the following passages shows God did not know in advance what would occur.

       Genesis 22:11-12: But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!"   "Here I am," he replied.  "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

       Did God not know in advance what Abraham would do?  While it is the angel of God who says “Now I Know,” it is apparent from the context that the angel is speaking on behalf of God and it is God who is saying that He now knows Abraham fears Him.  If God knew in advance how Abraham would behave would it not be rather superfluous to say “Now I Know.” 

       Exodus 16:4: Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.

       Deuteronomy 8:2: Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

       Judges 2:21-22: I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died.  I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their forefathers did."

      2 Chronicles 32:31: But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him (Hezekiah) about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.

       It is apparent from these examples, and others I could give, that God does test humans to see what they will do.  This presupposes human freewill and also presupposes God not knowing everything in advance, let alone predetermining everything.  What then are we to make of the Scriptures I quoted earlier that on the surface appear to suggest God knows everything from beginning to end?

       Psalm 139:1-4: O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.

       David is recognizing that God has searched him and therefore knows all about Him. David is saying that because God has searched him, God has become very familiar with David's comings and goings and even his thoughts.  It is quite a stretch, however, to conclude from this that God knows everything David will ever think, do or say and and by extension knows everything the whole human race, past present and future, will think, do and say. Such a conclusion is unwarranted in view of what we have seen in the Scriptures as to how God in general relates to us humans. 

       1 John 3:19-20: This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us.  For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 

       This passage has nothing to do with God knowing all that will happen in the future.  His knowing everything is here limited to the context of what is in our hearts relative to us condemning ourselves and nothing more. 

       Proverbs 15:3: The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.  

       How does this tell us God knows everything in advance?  This passage actually suggests the opposite.  The fact God is keeping watch on the wicked and good indicates He is watching what they are going to do which indicates he doesn’t know in advance what they are going to do. 

       Isaiah 46:10: I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.  I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.  

       The context of Isaiah 46 is God chiding Israel for worshiping gods of their own making and failing to recognize that only YHWH is God and only He can make known and bring about what happens in the future.  In saying He makes known the end from the beginning is in the context of prophesying his plans for Israel.  The proposition that this passage of Scripture is saying God knows everything that is every going to happen for all time goes far beyond the context of this Chapter and is not evidence for such a proposition. 

       Psalms 139:16b: All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

       This passage is often used to support the idea that everything is preordained and foreseen by God.  If this is the case, we have some serious tension between such a conclusion and the many examples we have discussed that indicate God does not foreordain or foresee all that happens or will ever happen.  In studying the scholarly research on this verse it is apparent there are a number of grammatical problems with the Hebrew of this passage which places into question its meaning.      

       An excellent analysis of this passage can be found at http://www.crivoice.org/psa139.html.  The author of this analysis clearly shows why this passage should not be used to support a predestinationist position.  This author concludes his analysis by saying the following:

        It is a far leap to abstract this intensely personal psalm, or a single corrupted verse in it, into grandiose statements about the attributes of God.

        We must be careful not to pull verses out of their context and apply them in some universal sense. We must be careful not to use grammatically challenged Scriptures to support a doctrinal position. When looking at the issue of whether God knows everything in advance, or predetermines everything, we must look at the revealed Scriptural examples of how God actually interacts with man. We must draw our conclusions about  God based on how we see God actually behaving.

       As we have seen from a number of Scriptural accounts of God’s interaction with man, it is apparent God does not know everything in advance, let alone predetermines all human behavior to occur in the manner it does.  To teach that God predetermines all human behavior is to teach God predetermines all murders, theft, lying, adultery and  fornication. It is to conclude God predetermines all abortions and homosexual activity. To teach God predetermines all human behavior is to teach God predetermines behavior contrary to His will that we behave righteously.  The absurdity of this should be apparent.  

       God is free to choose how He interacts with His creation.  God’s sovereignty is not defined by His having to know all things in advance or predetermine all things in advance. Gods sovereignty is defined by His freedom to do what He wants to do, how He wants to do it and when He wants to do it. In His sovereignty, God can choose to know or not to know the future. In His sovereignty God can choose to predetermine things or not predetermine things. Scripture provides numerous examples of God's behavior in relation to His human creation.  It is from these examples we learn how God chooses to relate to us.

       It is evident from Scripture that one of the ways God chooses to relate to us is to deal with us humans based on the choices we make and not on the bases of predetermining our behavior or knowing in advance how we are going to behave.  It is critical that we consider the whole of Scripture in our quest to understand God and how He relates to us.

PART FIVE: FREEWILL AND ACCOUNTABILITY