So let’s look at Scripture and see what it teaches.
Truth #1: God is in complete control, even over people.
The Bible is extremely clear that God is in charge of the universe. Psalm 135:6 says, “Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” Whatever God wants to happen, happens. Daniel 4:35 says, “…he does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What are you doing?’”
The Bible continuously declares that God determines the actions and events of the world. Job 37:6-13 shows that it only snows, rains, storms, etc. when God says so. Not even grass grows without God’s causing it to happen according to Psalm 104:14. The sun doesn’t rise on its own. According to Job 38:12, God makes the sun rise. Matthew 10:29 says that not one sparrow can fall to the ground without God’s willing it. Even things that we would call random happen under God’s sovereign guidance. Proverbs 16:33 teaches us this by saying that the results of dice rolls are God’s decision.
The Bible takes it a step further when it shows that God is in complete control of human affairs as well. Job 12:23 says that it is God who makes nations great or destroys them. Not only does God rise and crush nations but He “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation,”according to Acts 17:26. Psalm 139:16 says, ”In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Job 14:5 tells us that our days are determined and God sets boundaries that we cannot pass.
The argument for God’s control over us gets even stronger. Acts 17:28 says it is ”…in Him we live and move.” Jeremiah tells us that even our daily steps are guided by God when he says in Jeremiah 10:23, ”I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” Proverbs echoes this teaching in 20:24 and 16:9. No man escapes God’s influence and control, not even kings. Proverbs 21:1 says, “…the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” This last verse seems to strongly indicate that God is in control of even our hearts’ desires! This seems to be affirmed in Philippians 2:13 when Paul says it is God at work in us “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Truth #2: We choose willingly to do the things we do.
As you can see, I believe that God is fully sovereign and in control. So what about free will? That’s a tough one, because how do you define free will? Does free will mean that we can do whatever we want? Then, I don’t believe in free will and neither do you! I want to be six feet tall, but I can’t get past 5’9”. I want the ability to fly, but I can’t even dunk on a regulation rim.
That silly argument alone shows that there are limitations on our will. We can’t do whatever we want to do. There are other things that limit our will as well. Consequences limit our choices. We might want to punch that annoying kid in our class, but we don’t because we will get a detention. In that case, you didn’t do what you really wanted to do. Our intelligence limits our choices. You might want to go to Harvard, but if you still can’t solve for x in 2x=6, then your choices have been limited once again. Our sinful nature limits our choices. Are you free to stop sinning for the rest of your life? Nope! My point is that there are lots of limitations on our will, so we have to be careful when defining “free will”.
A better question to ask than, “Do people have free will?” is “Do people do things willingly or are they forced against their will?” I think it’s pretty clear from our own life experiences that the things we choose to do are done willingly by us. When I married Christy, I did so because I fully desired to do so. When I ate Cookie Crisp rather than Raisin Bran for breakfast today, it’s because I desired chocolate over bran. I haven’t done the things I’ve done in my life as a robot that has no say in the matter. I’ve willingly chosen all of my actions. Haven’t you?
The Bible also seems to support the fact that our choices are made willingly. Deuteronomy 30:19 says, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life…” In regard to sin, James 1:14 says that we sin when we are enticed by our own desires. Isaiah 66:3-4 says, “These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations…and chose that in which I did not delight.”
So, while our will is not “free” from any influence, we most certainly make willing choices that have real effects. As a side note, this means that we are morally responsible for our actions because we are willing participants for good or evil.
Truth #3: These truths must be held in tension.
So God is in complete control, even over our hearts and our actions AND we willingly choose the things we do. While that may seem like a contradiction, it’s not. I’ll grant that it’s hard to understand. These are two truths that must be held in tension like many other things in the Bible. God is ONE being who eternally exists as THREE persons. There is tension there, but not contradiction. Salvation is by FAITH alone and not WORKS, but true FAITH will produce WORKS. There is tension there, but not contradiction. God is in CONTROL over your actions, yet you also willingly CHOOSE to do them. Tension, not contradiction.
I’ll close with this analogy. George Lucas is the author of Star Wars. At the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker chooses to turn off his light saber instead of killing Darth Vader. Darth Vader chooses to defend Luke and kill the Emperor. Why do they do this? Luke makes his decision willingly. He realizes that he is being tempted by the dark side and doesn’t want to become a monster. He loves his father and believes that he can still be reached. Vader makes his decision willingly as well. His love for Padme and their children has always lived in him. The Emperor has always treated him like an expendable pawn. They choose their actions. But there is another reason they did what they did. George Lucas wrote the script that way! So, George Lucas ordained their actions and the characters willingly chose to act that way.
It may be tough to understand, but God has created the universe and us in such a way that we would carry out His plans willingly.
I take comfort in the fact that not a single detail is random, but God oversees all things. I take great hope in the fact that God can do a work in my heart and will and help me to choose Him. I am relieved that God’s plan will never be thwarted, not even by people with “free will.” And most of all, I am excited to play my part in the amazing story that God has written. How about you?
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