Recently I overheard two people talking. I didn’t catch the beginning of the conversation but they were very evidently discussing how the Calvinist/Reformed view of God’s sovereignty (in sovereignly and decisively electing only some to salvation) was wrong and unbiblical. Being one who didn’t agree with their assessment I curiously listened to what their arguments were, especially since one of them was a pastor whom I knew.
In their conversation they made it clear that they believed God “sovereignly” chose to give man free will to choose salvation. That He “knew what I would choose” and He then apparently just helped things along. One of them made the statement, “I’ve made the choices I’ve made” and that anything that happened was the result of their own choosing. My pastor-friend then proceeded to compare the scope of atonement to a mathematical equation and election to physics – as if they could be explained using x+y=z.
I was shocked. Can we reduce God to a mathematical equation?
More that that, can we, SHOULD we, trust a God who has no real control over our lives? If we truly have free will than our choices are not really under God’s control… so when bad things happen it’s simply the result of someone else's free will and God just stood by rather helplessly? Or, maybe God allowed it simply because we chose it? Does God “will” things based on our choice, or based on His infinite wisdom? What about Proverbs 16:33 that says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”
And then there’s Isaiah who records God saying,
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the Lord. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
The Transcendence of God
“Transcendence” is defined as “Very excellent; superior or supreme in excellence; surpassing others” (Webster’s 1828 dictionary). God is infinitely bigger than our ability to understand. He cannot be explained by human logic or explanation. Psalm 113:4-6 says this about God:
The Lord is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and in the earth?
This last phrase is what we mean when we speak of God’s “condescension”. God came down to our level. He “stooped” to our plane of understanding and comprehension. There’s a theological term that we use when God refers to Himself it human terms it’s an anthropomorphism. Just because God describes Himself as a man with human feelings, emotions etc. does not mean that’s how we should take Him. He is not a god after our image. He is not like us.
In seeking to understand God, we cannot be reduced to human reasoning. We must have a proper fear of God – that is, a proper awe, respect and humility. One definition Ed Welch gives of the fear of the Lord is that “it goes further than an intellectual understanding.” (Addictions, p. 175) We must see God as bigger and higher than what we can put into our minds and we must look at Scripture and accept it as so even when we do not understand it.
Is Christ fully man or fully God? Yes. Is God just or is He merciful? Yes. Are the Scriptures written by God or man? Yes. Is God completely sovereign or does He give man free will? Yes. The Scriptures are full of mystery, paradoxes abound, but we must seek to say yes to Scripture and not silence any of it! I love how John Piper put it in his book Does God Desire All to Be Saved?: “The Scriptures lead us again and again to affirm that God’s will is sometimes spoken of as an expression of His moral standards for human behavior and sometimes as an expression of His sovereign control even over acts that are contrary to that standard.” (p. 35) R.C. Sproul writes, “…divine sovereignty is not an issue peculiar to Calvinism, or even to Christianity. Without sovereignty God cannot be God. If we reject divine sovereignty than we must embrace atheism. This is the problem we all face. We must hold tightly to God’s sovereignty. Yet we must do it in such a way so as not to violate human freedom.”
To go back to the conversation I overheard, I will mention at this point that not once during this conversation did I hear these two friends quote or even allude to Scripture. Their arguments were based entirely on their own reason and logic. This also amazed me. When you start off basing your theological arguments on human logic rather than Scripture, you are on shallow ground. Now, they probably could have brought Scripture to the table if questioned, although their answers, I suspect, would probably contradict their belief system that they just tried to build. Why? Because God just does not make sense! His ways cannot be explained using human logic.
At the time I didn’t say anything to either of these people, partly from shock, but mostly I thought it wise to hold my tongue since I probably would have been a little more irritated than loving in my response. But I was rather dying to ask them a few questions…. If what you say is true, than why should I trust Him? Why on earth should I pray? Why should I ask God to guide me? If He just looks through time and sees my choices why do I need Him? Should I just take the gift of salvation and move through life on my own? I doubt they would agree with this, so, Why not? If God is not in control over my life why should put my dependence on Him?
But God CAN be trusted, because He is in control; because He makes promises and acts to fulfill them, and no human will can stand in His way. Isn’t that what gives us confidence? That no matter what He has a plan, and He is going to fulfill it for our good and His glory. And this is why He deserves our worship!
I just want to state in closing that I have many dear friends who reject the Reformed view of God’s sovereignty. I love them dearly and seek to not allow this differing viewpoint to sour our fellowship in the Lord. But I DO think it’s worth arguing about sometimes – especially when it comes down to how we view God. God’s character (don’t you think?) is worth defending. As I quoted above, John Piper wrote an excellent book called Does God Desire All to Be Saved? The answer is yes, but it’s not a simple yes. He goes on to explain and show that just because God “desires” something doesn’t mean He acts to bring it about. It’s the age-old question of “does God have two wills?” If you want to be versed in this debate you need to read this book! Its arguments are important for you to understand and be able to defend/refute. Hint: Read all the footnotes too! I welcome your comments – just please make sure you know what you’re talking about first! I don’t respond to disrespectful, or uneducated (notice I did NOT say unintelligent!) arguments. Although Spurgeon might not agree… but I’m glad he said it and not me. :-)
“The doctrines of original sin, election, effectual calling, final perseverance, and all those great truths which are called Calvinism – though Calvin was not the author of them, but simply an able writer and preacher upon the subject – are, I believe, the essential doctrines of the Gospel that is in Jesus Christ. Now, I do not ask you whether you believe all this – it is possible you may not; but I believe you will before you enter heaven. I am persuaded that as God may have washed your hearts, he will wash your brains before you enter heaven.” -- C.H. Spurgeon