Archive for the ‘Sovereignty of God’ Category
As we approach the upcoming elections here in the United States, may we as disciples of Jesus Christ remember that our God is the Sovereign ruler of the nations. He alone is God! He alone reigns! Every knee will bow to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and confess that He alone is Lord (Philippians 2:5-11) including every US President and every king who has ever lived.
In light of this, I want to give you some Scriptures to meditate upon about the sovereign rule of God. Let us declare to all nations that Jesus is Lord and that we are citizens of His eternal kingdom (Daniel 2:44).
Deuteronomy 4:39; 10:14, 17
2 Kings 19:15
1 Chronicles 29:11-12
2 Chronicles 20:6
Job 25:2; 40:6; 41:11
Psalm 5:2; 10:16; 22:27-28; 24:1, 10; 29:10; 44:4; 45:6; 47:2, 8-9; 66:7; 67:4; 74:12; 83:18; 84:3; 89:14; 93:1-2; 95:3; 97:1-2, 9; 98:6; 99:4-5; 103:19; 113:4; 115:3; 145:1, 13; 146:10; 149:2
Isaiah 6:5; 33:22; 37:16; 43:15; 44:6; 66:1
Ezekiel 18:1, 4
Daniel 2:20-21, 47; 4:34-35; 6:26
1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15
Meditate upon these and have no fear for our God is in control!
I saw this posted on Twitter and have received this complaint before. The reasoning is that in Calvinism God is allowed to be sovereign so that all that comes to pass happens because God wills it so (Ephesians 1:11 is the cited passage for this view). Arminians then despise the sovereignty of God because we deny that God wills all that comes to pass.
Calvinism is not actually congruent on this issue. Some Calvinists (hyper-Calvinists) hold that all that happens including sin and the Fall of Man are all planned and rendered certain by God. Other Calvinists would say that God merely allows sin to take place even though He knows it is going to happen and wills it so. How God escapes being the author of sin in either view is beyond me. Most Calvinists simply say that since God is holy and good then even when He plans evil, it is good. They point to events such as the crucifixion of the Son of God as proof of this view (Acts 2:22-23).
Arminianism holds to the sovereignty of God but we believe that God limits Himself so that true loving relationships may exist. God created Adam and Eve as free will creatures but what or whom was responsible for their fall into sin? I would argue that Adam and Eve fell because they disobeyed God out of their own free will. The same would be true for you and I. We sin because we want to sin. We sin not because Satan makes us or God wills it so but because we have free will and can rebel against God. The nation of Israel is proof of this. God allowed Israel to have a covenant relationship with Him wherein He called them to obey Him and if they did, He would bless them (Deuteronomy 8). No doubt God chose Israel for His glory (Deuteronomy 9:1-5) but He likewise warned them not to rebel as they had in the past (Deuteronomy 9:6-11) but the people, out of their own free will, rebelled against God anyway (Deuteronomy 9:12-21). It took Moses’ intercession to turn away the wrath of God (Deuteronomy 9:25-29).
The reality is that Arminianism does not deny the sovereignty of God but we do not exalt God’s sovereignty to the exclusion of His grace, His mercy, or His love. The cross demonstrates that God loves His creation and desires to have a covenant relationship with them through faith in His Son (John 1:11-13; 3:16; 5:24; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 2 Peter 3:9). All who call upon the name of the Lord can be saved (Romans 10:13). The promise of salvation is given to all (Acts 2:38-39). All can come and drink of the water of life (Revelation 22:17). The cross shows the great love of God for His creatures (Romans 5:8-9; 1 John 4:10, 14).
So we don’t deny the sovereignty of God. We simply acknowledge that God, in His sovereignty, has placed a condition upon salvation and that is faith. When a sinner repents of their sins, they become part of the elect of God whom He foreknew (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:1-2). The elect are only those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10). We acknowledge that Scripture teaches both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of humanity to believe the gospel. Both are true.
Dr. Roger Olson points out in his blog where John Piper is once again making statements about God ordaining all that comes to pass including sin for His glory. This is not the first time nor the last time I am sure that Piper will make statements about God’s absolute sovereignty and sin. Piper believes that all sin is ordained by God and rendered certain no matter how vile the sin may be. How he escapes making God the author of sin is beyond me. Such a view, where God is the omnicause of all things in the universe makes God the author (and finisher I might add) of sin. Yet James 1:13-15 tells us that God is not tempted by evil nor does He tempt anyone to do evil. I remember reading Piper’s book, Spectacular Sins, in which he builds a case that James 1:13-15 is not saying that God does not ordain sin. I shook my head while reading his book. To make God the author of rape, murder, cancer, untold amounts of suffering, hurricanes, violence of all kinds makes me shake my head in wonder.
Olson points out that some Calvinists hold that this understanding of God is mysterious. The famous (or infamous) verse for this is usually Deuteronomy 29:29. When Calvinists are backed up in a corner about God’s character especially as revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 10:38), they usually will point to Deuteronomy 29:29 and the fact that we don’t understand all of God’s way nor His being. Calvin did this. Many other Calvinist theologians have done the same. A few have wandered down the road of making God the author of sin including Jonathan Edwards whom Piper adores.
If God is the essence of true love (1 John 4:8) then it would follow that if we put God in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 we get a wonderful picture of our God. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV) says:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Is that the God who renders all things certain including sin for His glory? Would it not make more sense to believe that while God is sovereign, He has allowed permissible freedom to His creation and this view does not undermine His holiness, His character, His salvation, nor His right to do as He pleases for His glory such as the second coming of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:11).
The Lord Jesus revealed to us fully God (John 14:9). Colossians 1:15 (NIV) says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Jesus fully revealed God and showed His love and His grace with His death on the cross and His resurrection (Romans 5:8-9). It was both the holiness of God and the love of God that sent Jesus to the cross for our sins (John 3:16). We can rejoice in the good character of God and His love for us. He desires our repentance (2 Peter 3:9) and not our damnation (Romans 11:32).
In Exodus 3:18-22 we read what Yahweh tells Moses concerning Pharaoh and the plunder of the Egyptians. God tells that Moses that He is going to set His people free from the bondage under the Egyptians (vv. 7-8). He then tells Moses in verse 18 to go and tell Pharaoh that the Jews were to go into the wilderness to sacrifice to the LORD yet Yahweh tells Moses in verse 19 that He knows that Pharaoh will not let them go unless compelled by a mighty hand and so in verse 20 Yahweh tells Moses that He will strike Egypt with wonders and then Pharaoh will let them go. God even promises in verses 21-22 that He will give the Jews favor with the Egyptians so that the Jews will plunder them.
Anyone who knows the book of Exodus and the history of the Israelites knows that all this comes to pass. Moses goes before Pharaoh and sure to God’s word, Pharaoh denies that the Israelites can go free. God does wonders that amazes both the Egyptians and the Israelites and finally, after the striking down of the first-born in all of Egypt, Pharaoh calls Moses to him and tells him to leave (Exodus 12:31-32). The Israelites even plunder the Egyptians as God promised (Exodus 12:36).
What amazes me about Exodus 3:18-22 is that Yahweh clearly foresees all the free will decisions that will come to pass. In His complete omniscience He knows what Pharaoh will do and say and even what the Egyptians will do for the Israelites after God’s judgment upon them. Romans 9:14-18 gives us insight into God’s choosing of Pharaoh for His own purpose. Romans 9:14-18 is not salvation in nature. The point of Romans 9:14-18 is that God is sovereign to choose whomever He desires for His own purpose without saving them in the process. Pharaoh could have been saved if he had repented of his sins but he continued in his unbelief and hardened his heart toward Yahweh. The parallel between John 15:16 and Romans 9:17 are similar. Jesus’ choice of His Apostles in John 15:16 was to service and not entirely to salvation (as the case of Judas shows). This is true of Pharaoh as well. He was chosen by God for God’s own purpose: to show His glory and wonders to the Israelites.
What is amazing though is that God knows the free will choices that Pharaoh and the Egyptians would make. God does not force these decisions but He knows them just as He knows your thoughts before you even utter them (Psalm 139:4). Jesus knew the thoughts of many in the Gospels. In Mark 2:8 we read that Jesus perceived the thoughts of the people questioning His words in their hearts. In John 2:25 we read that Jesus knew what was in man. In John 6:64 Jesus even knew who did not believe about the disciples spoken of in verse 66 and about Judas (verse 71). On a side note, Adam Clarke makes the point that could it be that Jesus was reaching out to Judas trying to call him to repent of his wickedness beforehand? I know this is speculation on Clarke’s part but I do see the love of Jesus even for a Judas.
I write all this because some accuse us Arminians of rejecting the omniscience of God. They believe that we hold to open theism, that God does not know all future actions of free will creatures. I certainly reject this notion. I believe from passages such as Exodus 3:18-22 that God does indeed know all things. He knows even the free will decision of people. He foreknows even those who will believe the gospel of Christ (Romans 8:29). While this knowledge is not unconditional in that salvation is based on conditions that God has set including belief, He does know those who will believe. This mystery is beyond me. I cannot fathom knowing all things including decisions others are going to make. God does. God knows all things. He foreknows all events. He has chosen in His sovereignty to allow for free will from His creatures so that none can accuse Him of evil and say on the day of judgment that they were only doing what God had caused them to do. Calvinists believe that God renders certain whatsoever comes to pass including sin. How does this not make God the author of sin? If God is going to render certain all things that come to pass then this means that He causes them to come to pass. In essence, this makes God the one who caused the event (even sinful) to be rendered certain.
The Arminian view is that God simply knows. That is it. God knew the free will actions of Pharaoh and the Egyptians before it happened because He knows. God knew when you would believe. God knew that I would write this post. That God knows is not the same as God caused. God foreknows all things including the free will decisions of people. He controls all things but He does not cause all things. He knew the free will actions that would be taken toward His Son (Isaiah 53:4-6) but He allowed those free will choices to be made and for Jesus’ death to come to pass (Acts 2:23 notice that Peter says that those Jews were guilty of Jesus’ death through the hands of lawless men). God allowed people to make free will choices to crucify His Son but He knew those choices would be made even if He didn’t make that choice for them.
There are some who take comfort in a fatalistic view of God’s omniscience. I have even known some who would abide in sin believing that God knew and rendered certain their sin so why fight it? I have seen some find comfort in their struggles of life by believing that God caused their troubles to come upon them by His own sovereign choice. I have seen women mourn over their dead baby only to bless God for killing the child. They find comfort that God causes all things to come to pass even if they don’t understand God’s ways. They read the book of Job and see the hand of God crushing Job as proof that we should expect the same in this life.
I don’t know. I don’t find much comfort in that thought. I do believe that God is sovereign. I do believe that God foreknows all things. I do believe that God controls all things. I reject that God causes all things. Did God cause Adam to sin? Did God cause Judas to betray Jesus? Did God cause Hitler to murder over 6 million Jews? Did God cause the rapist to rape a little girl? What kind of God is this? Despite the picture that Scripture presents of Him being loving and good, I would find this fatalistic view of God as appalling.
I am not sure if either Arminianism or Calvinism has the answer to the problem of evil. The Calvinist views the sovereignty of God as meaning that He must cause all things to come to pass for His glory even the hardening of sinner’s hearts. The Arminian views the sovereignty of God as God allowing free will decisions to be made that He does know but does not cause. The open theist view is that God allows the future to partly open so that free will decisions are completely unknown to Him before they take place in time and then God reacts to those free will decisions. I believe that all three may have problems but I accept the Arminian view as I believe from cases such as Exodus 3:18-22 that God does know all things including the future free will choices that others will make and He is able to make prophetic statements in that regard.
I was spending some time with a good brother last night and we were discussing Arminianism and Calvinism. He made the point that, if given the options, he would rather drift toward universalism than to drift toward the Calvinist view of omni-causality. His point was, at least in universalism God is still seen as loving and good whereas to drift toward the Calvinist view of God and His sovereignty leads only to the conclusion that God is not good and loving.
This is the point that Roger Olson makes in his book, Against Calvinism. His point is not to tear down Calvinism point by point since others have done this already. Olson’s point is that the God portrayed by Calvinist theologians is not consistent with the biblical view of God. I believe he does an excellent job presenting his case. Contrary to some bloggers, the book is not written in a harsh tone. Olson, in fact, states that he loves Calvinists, points out that he and Michael Horton (who wrote For Calvinism) are good friends, and that his contention is not with Calvinists per se but with Calvinism. He is clear that this debate is taking place among brothers and sisters and not enemies. Yet Olson equally takes Calvinist theologians from Jonathan Edwards to John Piper to R.C. Sproul and shows that their view of God is not the biblical view of God. He is not accusing them of worshiping a false god (as some have poorly stated) but of being wrong on aspects of God’s character and nature.
I concur with Olson. I have never been a Calvinist and have never come close. My main reason is that I strongly believe that God is loving and good. I know that Calvinists would say they agree and preach that. But I believe, when taken to its logical end, Calvinism doesn’t present God as loving and good but rather it presents Him as this “sovereign” Lord who is meticulous in His planning to the point that He renders certain whatsoever comes to pass (even the murders, rapes, and innocent deaths of millions of people) all for His glory and purpose. Calvinists often say, “If Arminianism is carried to its logical conclusion then it leads to universalism.” We Arminians cry back, “If Calvinism is carried to its logical end, it leads only to fatalism.” And to be honest, I would rather have a view of God as loving and good when I stand before Him and honestly tell Him that I preached His love and grace to all people rather than to have a view God that causes me to believe that He is sends millions to hell because He simply wants to and not because of their free will choice to reject His love and salvation but because He caused them not to believe or rendered certain their eternal destiny.
So to answer a couple of questions. First of all, I am not a universalist but would rather drift that way than to Calvinism. I would rather be in error over God’s love and grace and mercy than to teach that He elects some while damns most. And second, I do recommend Roger Olson’s book. You’ll find it is well written, thought out, and logical. I do recommend my Arminian brothers and sisters to read Mike Horton’s book as well.