Friday, January 13, 2012

How Can the Bible Affirm Both Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom? By Bruce A Ware.

God is the sovereign ruler over the universe and all human affairs, and human beings are responsible before God for the moral choices and actions they make. Yes, the Bible teaches both divine sovereignty and human freedom, and both are true.

What does the Bible teach about God's sovereign rulership?

Consider Daniel 4:35, where we are instructed that God "does what He wants with the army of heaven and the inhabitants of earth. There is no one who can hold back His hand or say to Him, `What have You done?' " In light of this verse, three observations are needed. First, God's rulership is the exercise of "His will." That is, He decides in advance what He wants to happen, so that His will precedes and directs all that occurs. Second, He exercises His will universally-over those in heaven and all the inhabitants of earth. There is no place where His will does not pertain or is not exercised. And third, no creature of God can thwart the fulfillment of God's will or charge God with wrongdoing. In short, God's rulership by His will is absolute. universal, and effectual.

Consider further the kinds of reality over which God reigns. The Bible contains a number of "spectrum texts" that display God's ultimate control of both good and evil, light and darkness, life and death. In Is 45:6-7, God announced, "I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I the LORD do all these things" (see Ex 4:11; Dt 32:39; 1 Sm 2:6-7; Ec 7:13-14; Lm 3:37-38). And, while we gladly affirm that God is good (only!), and that God neither approves evil nor has any evil residing in Himself (Ps 5:4), yet we must affirm with Scripture that He reigns over all of life, both its good and evil, and that in all that occurs "the decision of His will" (Eph 1:11) is fulfilled.

What does Scripture teach about human moral responsibility?
From page 1 of the Bible, all humans are put on notice that God holds us accountable for the moral choices we make and actions we take. The law of God-whether the simple law not to eat of one tree in the garden (Gn 2:16-17), the law given on Sinai (Ex 20), or the law of Christ (1 Co 9:21; GI 6:2)-establishes the moral framework within which human lives are to be lived. God will "repay each one according to his works" (Rm 2:6), and this judgment will be based on whether we persevere in doing good (Rm 2:7) or whether we do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness (Rm 2:8). There is no denying that God considers humans as being responsible for the choices and actions we make, and the final judgment day will bear testimony to how we have chosen to live our lives.

So God is the sovereign ruler over all, and human beings are responsible before Him. But just how can both be true?
We cannot understand fully how both are true together, but that they must work together is demanded by Scripture's clear teaching. Consider one illustration from Scripture where both are seen-namely, a lesson from Joseph's story (Gn 37-45).
Joseph's brothers were deeply jealous of him and grew to despise him. When the opportunity presented itself, they sold him into Egypt (Gn 37:25-36), where Joseph ,was misunderstood and mistreated. Despite this, God's hand was on Joseph and he was elevated to second in command in Egypt (Gn 41). During a famine, his brothers traveled to Egypt to purchase grain, and there Joseph made himself known to his brothers. What Joseph told them is as incredible as it is instructive: "It was not you ,*-ho sent me here, but God" (Gn 45:8).

"Wait!" we might protest. "Surely they did send Joseph to Egypt!"

So they did, and so Joseph previously acknowledged (Gn 45:4). But to get at the full reason he was sent to Egypt requires looking not just to the brothers but also, and more importantly, to God.

So it is clear: Both God and the brothers were responsible for sending Joseph to Egypt. Both God's sovereign rulership and the brother's moral actions were active. as Joseph put it later in speaking to his brothers, "You planned evil against me; God planned it for good" (Gn 50:20). The brothers acted for evil, and God acted in the same events for good.

Not every question is here answered, but we see that we must affirm both the sovereign rulership of God and the genuineness of our moral responsibility. Both are joined together in Scripture, and what Scripture has joined together, let no man separate.

(For another perspective, see the article by Dr William Lane Craig.)

Extracted from the Apologetics Study Bible.

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