How do we reconcile Man’s Free Will with God’s Sovereignty? our responsibility to make good choices with God’s ultimate control of our behavior?
It’s clear that we all make choices of our own free will, and that our choices are not always good, yet we pray as if God governs other people’s choices and can control them as He wills; we even accuse God of letting people make horrible choices – we instinctively know He can prevent them.
It’s very difficult to understand how God can be in control of our behavior while holding us responsible – it’s like an open contradiction. This mystery is so profound, so difficult to grasp, many rebel against God because of it, or deny His existence altogether.
Yet denying God’s existence is equivalent to denying the existence of evil itself, so the reality of evil can’t be evidence of God’s non-existence: our very cry for justice proves otherwise.
And rebelling against God for being in control while holding us responsible accuses God Himself of being unjust and evil, yet we can’t rightly define justice or evil apart from God … in fact, in redefining good and evil we’re exalting ourselves as gods. (Ge 3:22)
To resolve this dilemma, note that paradoxes are often rooted in incomplete perspective; in stepping back and challenging our underlying assumptions, we often find our answer.
If we assume Man is truly acting completely freely, apart from divine restraint, then God isn’t in control of Man by definition: thus, it must be that Man’s freedom of choice is limited by God’s restraint. (Ps 76:10)
And if we assume Man’s evil choices are actually caused by God, then holding Man responsible for evil violates God’s own standard of justice (De 25:1); so Man’s own will must be the ultimate cause of evil. (Jn 3:19)
And if we assume God has no good purpose in allowing evil, then God’s acting in a way that’s ultimately harmful and not good; thus, it must be that God knows what He’s doing, and also that He will be pleased in the final outcome, and therefore that Him allowing evil ultimately is good. (Ps 27:13)
So, we resolve the paradox of God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will by attributing evil entirely to Man’s depravity, and attributing goodness to God’s intervening restraint: when Man chooses freely, apart from divine intervention, Man always chooses evil, in varying degrees, and he does this of his own free will. (Ro 3:12)
Yet God is constantly and mercifully intervening and controlling Man’s behavior by perfectly and imperceptibly restraining evil according to His perfect will and plan (Php 2:13); whenever God does permit evil it’s ultimately for a good purpose (Ro 8:28), by which He intends to reveal and glorify Himself. (Ro 9:22-23) For this we ought to be genuinely thankful. (Ep 5:20)