The sovereignty of God is clear in the bible. He is in control – he made the world, he made each and every one of us, he directs everything that goes on. The doctrine of election follows quite clearly out of this.
Another biblical fact is that humanity has always had choice – a choice to follow God’s command in Eden, or to violate it. Every day, you and I re-enact this choice to sin. Or maybe the choice to follow Christ. Jesus certainly suggests there is a choice. And even when the question is not one of sin, it is clear in the bible that humanity has choice.
But this, quite clearly, is a dilemma – if God controls what happens, how can we be held responsible for what we do? Is it thus unfair for God to condemn people for their “choices”, if He is the motive agency behind them?
I’d like to raise 2 points that may help – not to deny the point of divergence, but maybe to help reconcile what appear to be diametrically and absolutely opposed alternatives, to accept that both CAN be true.
Firstly, something from experience. Despite all ideological and theoretical objections, all logic and all denial of God’s just character, it is clear that people DO make their own choices. Regardless of God’s role, I am personally aware that I have made decisions. My experience of making decisions, and knowing that I am responsible for them, leaves me no room to complain that I am treated unfairly if judged in accordance with my decisions. You can blame God all you want, but you know you have made a decision.
Secondly – and more importantly – we are able to see cases of this disconnect in the bible itself. The Pharaoh’s refusals in Exodus provide examples where sovereignty and human responsibility come into play.
And the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment.
(Exodus 7:1-4 ESV)
So Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh and stretched out his hands to the LORD, and the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured upon the earth. But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses.
(Exodus 9:33-35 ESV)
These two passages are reasonably clear. God determines to harden Pharaoh’s heart, and then does it (numerous times). We also see, however, that Pharaoh sinfully hardens his heart.
The second passage describes the same event in both ways. I think we are on pretty safe ground to say that this fits into the same category as a camel through the eye of a needle – it seems like it just can’t work, but we can’t put God is a box. He made it so both work at the same time. What an amazingly powerful and creative God.
NB – I’ve posted about predestination, and come to similar conclusions HERE.