This may be the single most common question I get through my web site–especially among younger people who are beginning to seek and/or test their faith as they approach adulthood. Any thinking person will come across this conundrum eventually.
God has certain qualities. Every quality he has, he has very intensely. One of his qualities is his holiness. Another is his omnipotence. Another is his justice. Another is his love. Still another is his sovereignty.
Your son is struggling with (and perhaps partially confusing) two of these traits. His question comes from the fact that God is omnipotent and sovereign. If God is sovereign, that means that his will is always done, yes? The answer is no. This is why Jesus told his disciples to pray, “Your will be done.” This can be confusing when we first face this question, as it is for your son.
Let me explain this seeming contradiction, which is in fact not a contradiction. God is sovereign, but he is also love. All things and all creatures fully obey God. With one exception (or arguably two if you include the angels). All God’s creation obeys his will fully except human beings. God created us so that he could love us, that we could love him and that we could love one another. Love, by definition (and I challenge anyone to dispute this definition) requires choice. By definition, you cannot force someone to love you. Therefore, God gave us a choice. This is why the tree of knowledge of good and evil were in the Garden of Eden. There needed to be real choice–not a sham choice.
So, how does this fit with God’s sovereign will. Here is my response. It is God’s will that we individual human beings have free will. When we do not obey God, this does not violate his sovereignty because he chose, out of love, to give us sovereignty over our own wills and our lives. God does intervene to help and to encourage us (read Acts 17 where we see that he arranges times and situations so that we might reach out to him), but he never forces our hands.
Let me repeat. Because of his love, it is God’s sovereign will that we have free will. Is God’s will always done? No, it is not. Why? Because in his power, love and sovereignty, he gave us free will. That is what love does.
But, because we have free will, we also have responsibility. This involves another of God’s qualities, which is his justice. Plants and stars and cats do not need justice, because they do not have freedom, and they always obey God (although cats may not obey you!). We believe in God’s justice, do we not? Right, but if it were not for free will, then God would be arbitrary and unjust to hold us accountable for our actions. We believe in justice, but this only makes sense if there is a sovereign God who gives to his highest creatures below him freedom of will. We are responsible.
Of course, as humans we hold each other responsible, do we not? This is because we inherently know that we have free will and that predestination does not rule mankind.
This gets me to my final point. God foreknows, but he does not predetermine. This is in Romans 8:28-30. Those he foreknew he predestined. For us humans who live in a universe with time as a linear thing (past, present and future), foreknowledge without predestination will give us a headache. This is difficult for us to conceive. However, God exists outside of time (Before Abraham was born, I AM John 8:51), and for him, he can foreknow without predetermining. There are believers who believe in a full predestination with little if any real free will before conversion. They are generally called Calvinists. But this philosophy is NOT biblical. God intervenes on our behalf, but he does not force our hands.
This is a short answer to a big question, but I hope it can get your son started. He can call me if he likes. 858-344-5323.