Monday, June 9, 2008


Now there’s a word that, perhaps, many have not come across in a lifetime of reading. In discussing this subject, this blog entry could easily be 97 pages, minimum. Relax, I will not write 97 pages on this subject and I’m not sure that I, personally, could, but there are others extremely more qualified that could write voluminous books on this subject...and have, for that matter. Jonathan Edwards and "The Freedom of the Will" immediately comes to mind and that book covers 348 pages, not counting the preface and the table of contents and there is very little "white space". What can I do, then, in 3 or 4 short paragraphs on this so profound and deep subject? My goal would be limited to entice to further and in-depth study and research.

I cannot count the number of times that I have heard or read the phrase.."God is in control..." This phrase can be recited in connection with everything from death and disease to happiness and health and everything else in between. Do we really believe, as Christians, that God IS in control..or is it just "lip service"? Is it just religious lingo or is it a firmly held and scripturally understood belief? Compatibilism attempts to explain how it is that "God IS in control AND that human responsibility and accountability is also in full effect. We see this supposed dichotomy in full view in the following scripture: (Jesus) "..being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken , and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." Acts 2:23 Here we see that God has determined and humans have carried it out and yet they are fully accountable for their actions and will ultimately be held responsible. Our Holy Scriptures sees no inconsistency with Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. The scriptures teach both!

Another example of this supposed unresolvable dichotomy is illustrated for us by Moses and Pharaoh in Exodus Chap 7: "You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh's heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt." (vs. 2-3) God commands, through Moses, that Pharaoh "let my people go", yet He says, "I will harden his heart..." Again, scripture sees no inconsistency with God’s Sovereignty and human accountability. Now, just so we will not think this passage is an anomaly, the inspired, infallible scriptures repeat this phrase no less than four times in the book of Exodus. (4:21; 7:3; 14:4 & 14:17) As we hear so often in this modern culture the phrase, "..the devil made me do it", here we see that, perhaps, Pharaoh might have said, "...not my fault, mon, ..God made me do it!" But what does he say? "And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the LORD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked." (Ex 9:27) God says He hardened his heart and Pharaoh readily acknowledges his accountability. Here again, we see that God is in control and yet man is accountable for his actions.

How is all this possible? How can God be in control of all things and hold individuals accountable for their sinful actions? In scriptural terms how is it that "..all things work together for good to them that love God.."? We all certainly believe that verse found in the book of Romans, don’t we? Can God actually work all things together for good without being in control of all things? That would be a logical impossibility. The next question that follows logically is are we really doing what we want to do when we do what we want to do? How could it be any other way? Could we possibly do anything that would be contrary to our greatest preferences? Of course not! And, that is all that is needed for human accountability. "I want what I want when I want it!", as the old hedonistic phrase goes. The Science Channel has a program called "How it’s Made" which delves into a plethora of products that we all seem to take for granted. We could also ask concerning God’s Sovereignty and Human Accountability..."How Does God Do That"? I’m sure this topic will never be on the Science Channel, by the way. There should be no question that He that, that is. In Ezekiel God says "And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." Ez 36:27 Look up the verb "cause" in the Bible and see how many times it refers to God’s actions in human lives.

Compatibilism simply takes verses like the Ezekiel verse to its logical conclusion. God is in control of all things. "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." Ez 36:26 Matt Perman, from whom the inspiration for this blog entry comes, writes, "Since we always choose the option that we find most preferable, then it is clear that our choices are determined--they are determined by our greatest preference. But since this is a determination to choose the option that we want the most, it in no way destroys our moral agency. Having understood this, it is not hard to see how God can control all things without violating our moral agency. He simply arranges the situation so that the option which we find most appealing is the choice that He has ordained for us to make. In other words, if God wants us to choose option A instead of option B, He works things out so that option A is the one that we find most preferable. Thus, God is in sovereign control, yet we are choosing what we want most and are therefore making real, genuine choices." An understanding of this doctrine which is clearly taught all through-out the scriptures should cause us to give all the glory, praise and honor to God for all the great things He has done and continues to do in the lives of all believers. God is in control! "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power..." Ps 110:3

Rich Mullins has written: "Our God is an awesome God, He reigns from Heaven above, With wisdom power and love, Our God is an awesome God! " Amen!


Anonymous said...

So, those who will end up in hell have ultimately made their choices due to God's manipulation of what seems most preferable to them?

Dave Van said...

Anonymous: Thanks for your comment. This is really a wonderful question and a fitting and proper question based on what I’ve outlined above. This is a fantastically deep subject and one that could and sometimes does take a lifetime to gain an understanding of the Sovereignty of God. I’m sure even in eternity we will marvel at how God’s Sovereignty plays out in reality.’ve got it backwards. Those who end up in heaven made their choices due to God’s intervention with their choices. Left to myself, I will not choose God! I will choose evil. “There is none righteous, no, not one”. (Rom 3:10) I hated God at one time. How is it that I now love Him? “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” (Jer 13:23) God intervened! Call it manipulation of my preferences,.... the Bible calls it grace. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph 2:8-9) Why did God manipulate my preferences and give me a new heart, one that loves Him? “A new heart also will I give you” (Ez 36:26) I don’t know! But He did! Why does not God manipulate everyone’s preferences and give them a new heart? I don’t know! Had God not given me a new heart, I know that I would have, as you say, “ended up in hell” due to what to me was “most preferable choices” and like Pharoah would be made to take responsibility for my actions and my choices.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you answered the question, you switched from man's responsibility in light of God controlling everything, to the issue of salvation. I think what anonymous asked is; if God controls the most preferable which controls the choice, then the choices that are made are controlled by God. Why then sent someone to hell for something that was controlled by somebody other then himself? Thanks, Pieter de Wit.

Dave Van said...

Pieter: Thanks for the question...even if this blog was written June of’s still a good question and one in which, if we’re honest, we all struggle with. It boils down to this: If God is in control of all things and He determines our preferences, which scripture indicates He does (cf Acts 2:23 and Ex 7...and many others) then we’re off the hook...right? No responsibility, right? Wrong! I don’t know whether you followed the link in the blog to Matt Permans’s article or not...but he anticipates your questioning. I will simply let him speak to your query” (btw the link is still good)

“This is a good question because it allows us to clarify an important point: It doesn't matter that we don't ultimately determine our preferences. All that matters is that we are choosing the things that we want the most. In other words, moral accountability does not depend upon whether our choices are determined (caused), but on how our choices are determined. That is a very important point, so let me repeat in slightly different words: ultimate self-determination is not necessary for us to be justly accountable for our bad choices and it is not necessary to make our good choices genuine. What these things arise from is that we are choosing the things that we want. “

For the Christian this understanding makes verses such as these truly come alive: “and we know all things work together for good to them that love God...”Rom :28 and “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Phil 2:13 On the negative side...see my answer above to “anonymous”. This withholding of grace is demonstrated in Rom 1:26...”God gave them up to vile affections...etc” Both the lover of God and the reprobate are making free choices and are therefore held accountable...and God IS still in control.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response. I appreciate it. I debated this topic before and learned a few things but still can't understand this aspect of reformed theology. I would really like to understand the reason for this belief and like to ask some questions;
Of course I believe that God is Souvereign and in control so that should be clear, but why does God's souvereignty or the fact that He is in control, necessitate that He causes all things? Doesn't God's power to disallow the execution of choice and even disallow choice itself, readily prove His souvereignty and that He is in control? It seems to me that His ability to control all things establishes His souvereignty without having Him controlling all things necessarily.
If even 10.000 instances can be shown from Scripture where God determined something to be done, how does this proof that God determined all gazillion choices ever made and yet to be made?
Why is it a logical impossibility for all things to work together for good to the called if God does not cause all choices? What do a billion choices made by someone in China have to do with the conforming into the image of Christ of a believer in the USA?
You state; >How is all this possible? How can God be in control of all things and hold individuals accountable for their sinful actions?< This seems to clearly confirm that you believe that God causes all choices and yet keeps man responsible for the “choices” he makes. I wonder how you understand the justice of God? How do you view sin? I mean, it is just mindboggling to me that someone can just say that and really believe it.
I still cannot see why God's determining of the most preferable or strongest motive which in turn determines the choise releases God from responsibility for causing the choice? To me the real determiner of the most preferable is the soul, mind, will and emotions of the individual himself. When the options presents themselfs, it is the person who evaluates and whatever he values the most will be chosen. What is wrong with that?
If you could respond to these questions, maybe that would lead us to some of the scripture you gave, but for now I would have to leave it here. I squeezed this response in just because it is important to me and I am looking forward to your reply. Take your time. Pieter de Wit.

Dave Van said...

I appreciate the sincere heart that I sense in your questions. I want to make this as short as possible, for as you know this subject is a deep and profound topic. As I stated in the blog my intention is not to get into 97 pages of debate or discussion but to “entice to further and in-depth study and research”. It appears to be working. I believe you are asking two basic questions: 1) Can God be in control of all things but not control all things? and 2) Why is God absolved of responsibility if He’s in absolute control? We both appear to be in agreement that God IS Sovereign.. one of the distinctive tenets of Reformed Theology. that “sovereignty” works out in reality is the question. One of the questions that has helped me in my understanding, and btw I’ve got a ways to go and am still learning, is “Can God really know future events..precisely”? Now if you are a student of scripture you know God knows the future! But how?

Here’s a quote from Jonathan Edward’s “The Freedom of the Will”..which I highly recommend you obtain. (It’s NOT an easy read): “It is no less evident, that if there be a full, certain, and infallible foreknowledge of the future existence of the volitions of moral agents, then there is a certain infallible and indissoluble connection between those events and that foreknowledge; To say the foreknowledge is certain and infallible, and yet the connection of the event with that foreknowledge is not indissoluble, but dissoluble and fallible, is very absurd” In my words JE is saying that if God knows the future...He must bring that future to fruition! After all, He is in control. How could Pilate even be in place as Governor if God didn’t bring it to pass? How could the centurion who thrust the spear into Jesus’s side....which was predicted, unless God utilized some preferences and details along the way. Certainly they acted out of their preferences. No one was forced. So they are accountable. But it had to happen just the way it did. It was predicted. It was “foreknown” and God brought it about! We have about 6 billion people on the planet right now. God knows in a pinpoint of time what the individual molecules are that make up each of these 6 billion people. He knows immediately the thoughts and intents of everyone’s heart at any point in time. He knows down the the last atom everything he placed in the entire universe. There are no “rogue” elements or atoms that are not under His control. He does not relinquish control for a period of time to chance. He is in control.

Your second question is explained in my other response to you. As I have stated before this is a difficult and deep subject which can take a lifetime to scratch the surface. The Reformers were not unaware of this subject. From WCF Chap III: I. “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass:[1] yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,[2] nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.[3] 1.) Psa. 33:11: Eph. 1:11: Heb. 6:17 2.) Psa. 5:4; James 1:13-14; I John 1:5; see Hab. 1:13 3.) Acts 2:23; 4:27-28: Matt. 17:12; John 19:11; Prov. 16:33

I will leave it at that. Here is a link if you desire to depth: The Puritan Board