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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Free Will III

How can it be that we are free to do what we want, yet God remains in control?

There are several example of how this works – how a man can do the very thing God intends him to do, yet the same man is condemned for it.

First, it is easy to see that we are condemned for our sins. Malachi 3:5 is one of literally hundreds of instances of declaration of future judgment for people’s sins.

Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

How does this apply when the person is explicitly doing what God intends? In the previous posts Robert mentioned Joseph and his suffering prior to gaining high office in Egypt.

So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. (Gen 45:4-8)

Here, in the quote Robert selected, we see that God is the author of Joseph’s life story. Robert mentioned that this excludes the culpability of the brothers, because, “it was not you who sent me here, but God.” Yet Joseph’s testimony about the situation doesn’t end in chapter 45.

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Gen 50:19-20)

What is seen in Joseph’s clarification is the crux of my position – that we do what we intend out of our desires. Here, Joseph’s brother’s, out of their own evil desires, wish to get rid of their brother and sell him into slavery. Yet, this very act, which they meant for evil, is exactly what God wills for good. The result of the divergent desires is the same – Joseph goes to Egypt – yet it is clear that their intentions and God’s intentions are far from each other. They have done exactly as they wanted to do, but the action that occurs is also exactly what God wanted them to do.

Another prime example is Assyria’s destruction of Israel as foretold by Isaiah. Note the clear proclamation of what will happen, who is making it happen, who is culpable and why they are culpable:

Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Is 10:5-6

But he does not so intend, and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few;…When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. For he says: “By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their treasures; like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones. (Is 10:7, 12-13)

Assyria executes God’s righteous judgment upon Israel, but the King of Assyria will be punished for it. Why? Not because he fulfilled God’s will, but because the desires of his heart were evil. He is culpable for his evil desires, thoughts and words.

So, it can be easily seen that a man’s desires are different from God’s desires, yet the very acts taken will be God’s desires. How can this be? In a previous post, John mentioned that I painted all Arminians with the same brush (and I do), yet there is a small group of Arminians who have figured it out – Molinists.

God has complete and exhaustive divine foreknowledge. Let’s call that a given, to avoid a lengthy proof. He not only knows everything that has and will happen, but he also knows everything that can possibly happen (example: Matt 11:21-22), which is called middle knowledge. While we are responsible for our own desires, God knows how we will react in any given situation and can manipulate the environment, experience and just about anything else such that our desires lead to the choice he wants us to make. I believe (thought I don’t have a Scriptural specific detail, just inference) that God can even make us consider something in our minds before we make the decision.

Look at the confrontation between Moses (God) and Pharaoh. Initially, Pharaoh hard heart tended to be self-driven. However, after six plagues, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. How he does this we do not know, but it is not God directly creating the desire for Pharaoh. Pharaoh was not a repentant or graceful man, and his natural pride, arrogance and hubris was used against him. Perhaps God encouraged advisers to whisper about what the people would think if Pharaoh caved in, or perhaps God gave Pharaoh that kind of concern directly. God manipulated the environment, internal and external, to glorify His name.

What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Rom 3:3-8)

There are none righteous, no, not one. Our condemnation is just, because God is just. We cannot claim we are not culpable because if we were not culpable, it would be unjust for us to be punished. We cannot appeal to “Who can resist his will?”, because we are responsible for our evil intents.

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”(Rom 9:14-26)