Almost every Christian, at some time or another, tries to reconcile God’s sovereign rule and personal freedom. Scripture teaches us that God’s will is irresistible and we know by experience that we make meaningful decisions. How do these two, seemingly incompatible, truths intersect? For some Christians this is a mystery to be embraced and since faith comes easily to them, they spend little time dwelling on the matter. Those with a more analytical bent are driven by a desire to understand and can easily become overwhelmed by the puzzle.
I seldom get asked to explain God’s sovereignty over human affairs but in recent days I have had numerous questions about the intersection of the human will and God’s divine plan. Never one to let an opportunity pass, I decided to write my answer as a blog. Brilliant right? (Lazy too)
Let’s begin with God. We can, and must, say that all things work according to his will. There is nothing that happens within our universe that falls outside of his plan. Even the seemingly random things of life are determined by God. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:33, ESV). The Bible reminds us that God is the master of the universe and directs it with supreme authority. His sovereignty is absolute.
Now let’s turn to the human circumstance. Daily, as men and women, we make a multitude of decisions that have real-life consequences. Does this activity mean we are free or is this self-determination illusory? Are we decisive beings or merely stringed puppets? The Bible emphatically rejects fatalism. We as humans are given the faculty to make choices, we are commanded to choose well, and we are held responsible for our choices. (Gen 3:11-13).
How do we reconcile this paradox?
We are free, but we are not autonomous. We are free because the choices we make are made in accordance with our desire. We also do exactly what God wills us to do, but this never happens under compulsion. We do what we want to do. God furthers his plans through the free decisions of human beings. Somehow God informs our will and shapes life’s circumstances to lead us according to the ordained path set before us. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9, ESV)
Does this mean that God has set up guardrails about us to channel our life choices? Or should we think of God’s will as a monorail that allows for no deviation whatsoever? I suppose both metaphors work if they are explained carefully, but I personally prefer the image of a monorail. Like the apostle Paul, I find enormous comfort in God’s sovereignty (Romans 8:28-29). Knowing that he is all-powerful over my life and the future is such a relief. He is undeniably better equipped to guide my life than I am. His will may be a snug fit, but it doesn’t chafe.