The Soveriegnty of God – by Jerry Walls

Seedbed just posted an excellent article by Jerry Walls on God’s Sovereignty .  It can be found here.

From the post:

…the sovereignty of God is not a Calvinist doctrine, it is a biblical doctrine, and no one who wants to be faithful to Scripture can afford to ignore or downplay this great truth.

and

Now here is a good place to highlight the difference between the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty and the Wesleyan view. According to classic Calvinism, God’s sovereignty means that he determines literally everything that happens in the sense that he specifically causes everything to happen exactly as it does.

This can sound like a very pious thing to say, and at first it might seem to glorify God. But on closer inspection, it has very troubling implications. On this view, God caused Nebuchadnezzar to be proud, caused him to boast, and then caused his downfall, as well as his subsequent repentance. This is a troubling view because it means God actually caused his sin as well as his punishment.

The Wesleyan strongly disagrees. In the Wesleyan view, God did not cause or will Nebuchadnezzar to be proud. Rather, he became that way by his own free choices, by taking undue pride in his accomplishments. God then punished him to bring the truth home to him in order to move him to repentance. When he acknowledged the truth about God, he was restored to his kingdom.

Advertisements

36 Comments

Filed under Arminianism, Calvinism, Jerry Walls, Sovereignty

36 responses to “The Soveriegnty of God – by Jerry Walls

  1. Adrian

    There are a couple of other things that you must consider too.

    In the WCF Ch 7 it starts off “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant” which God seems to confirm in Romans where He speaks of man in terms of someone making clay vessels, some to serve one’s guests fine in and others (from the same lot of clay) to hold their night soil.

    Ch 3 starts off “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

    II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions”

    The C view of life seems to me to be that the gap between God and man (his creation) is great. That there can be a closeness, that we can be called Sons of God is because God the greater choose it to be that way.

    The A view of life (again seems to me) to be that man is up there with God and (almost) deserves a relationship with God. Yes they term it in words like “God gave me free will”, but when one mentions God’s will there’s a waving of the hands and a “no, no, no, no”.

    • It’s a contradiction to state that God ordains everything, but is not the author of sin. If God is not the author of sin (and Arminians agree he is not), then that means he did not ordain everything.

      A’s are interested in free will only to the extent that it proves that God does not cause evil, because God is good and holy. Our waving of hands (as you put it) is against the C concept of God, not against God as he actually is.

      • Adrian

        Yes it seems to be a contradiction to our rational western way of thinking which is why I’ve mentioned the idea of Biblical Paradoxes.

        Spurgeon put it like this:

        Men who are morbidly anxious to possess a self-consistent creed, a creed which will put together and form a square like a Chinese puzzle, are very apt to narrow their souls. Those who will only believe what they can reconcile will necessarily disbelieve much of divine revelation.

        Read more: http://www.epm.org/resources/2010/Mar/22/spurgeons-theology-embracing-biblical-paradox/

        We are meant to live by faith. We are meant to trust God. Proverbs says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding” and Christians repeat it often. But do they really live this way?

      • It’s not “living by faith” to say 2+2=5, because it does not. Arminians do believe in mystery (like the Trinity). We do not, however, accept contradictions.

    • Leaving aside the obvious strawman of Arminians believing that man “(almost) deserves a relationship with God,” I have a question:

      Why is it a God-honoring mystery to believe that God ordains everything, but is not responsible for the evil he ordains…but it’s an inconsistent error to say that God is sovereign, but we still have real free will?

      Why is that? Do you see the difficulty I’m having here? Also, this:

      “His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible , not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you choose to say ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it’, you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words ‘God can’. It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

      CS Lewis, “The Problem of Pain”

      • Sorry Mackman, for some reason your comment got flagged as spam, and I just noticed it. I agree, it’s not inconsistent to state that God is sovereign, and that we have real free will. Because that’s the way God (in His sovereignty) wanted things to be.

      • Adrian

        Interesting thing the “will”, interesting Biblical concept.

        I had to hunt to find the words “free will” in a Bible but got it in the NASB rendering of Philemon 1:14, the translation of a word that is only used once in the Bible, and according to Strong (and other renderings) means voluntary or willingly. The word “freewill” appears 22 times in the NASB but as an adjective describing “offerings”.

        Now I know I have a will (well what I know gives me the impression I have a will) because I’m choosing to type these words at this particular time, but what else do I know?

        Well here’s a few words that I’ve thought of that relate to the will, it is
        o- limited
        and it can be
        o- bypassed
        o- directed
        o- influenced
        o- manipulated
        o- overridden
        o- trained
        and I’m guessing a few more words if I had time to think about it.

        Question: Have you ever made anything?

        (See I intentionally didn’t mention “created” above. Out will is “created”), anyway back in Nov 2013 I made a screen that’s displayed on a computer by a program that I wrote. [I know I’ve taken a risk mentioning “computer” and “program” but I don’t want to go there] That screen is dependent on me for it’s existence and it’s layout and content reflects me. Anyone who sees it will know I did it just like one can recognise a painting by Monet or van Gogh. And the screen performs the function I set out to make it do.

        Now I mention this because one of things our sinful nature wants us to be is independent of God. But we aren’t. We were created. wrt us and God the Bible says “in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28) and “all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17). Sin would like it to be us and Him and our will to be all our own but it is not this way. Just as God created us so that we’d end up a certain height and girth, with certain skin/eye/hair (which may go grey) colour, with certain skills and talents that form part of the Body of Christ so too He created our wills. It is not an independent entity. What it is is dependent on its creator.

        Now God has given us choices, we are required to make choices, and God holds us responsible for those choices, I’ve no problems with that as the Bible says that this is so.

        Now from within my little mind it seems I am often free to make choices, but given Romans 6 speaks of being “slaves to sin” and Paul says of himself in Rom 7 “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” and because the Bible never specifically says we have free will, well …

        I never say we have “free will”. Not if I can help it anyway. I say we have a will, but in the context that people seem to talk about, then idea that we can make any choice we want, I don’t see that.

      • Arminians believe in “freed will”.

      • Can’t reply to Adrian directly, so replying here:

        Interesting. Let’s take your thoughts all-together, shall we?

        “one of things our sinful nature wants us to be is independent of God”

        “Sin would like it to be us and Him and our will to be all our own but it is not this way.”

        So far, so good. We’re supposed to be dependent on God, but our sin and sinful nature tries to make us be independent of him. Now, here’s where it gets tricky:

        “Just as God created us so that we’d end up a certain height and girth, with certain skin/eye/hair (which may go grey) colour, with certain skills and talents that form part of the Body of Christ so too He created our wills. It is not an independent entity. What it is is dependent on its creator.”

        So, here’s my question: If God created our wills, does that mean he also created our sinful nature? If God created our wills, and our will is dependent on him, and he directs it, does that mean that God willed for us to wrongfully will ourselves to be independent of him?

        That seems to be the only possible conclusion of what you’ve written: That God wills for us to try to be independent of him. That God – on whom our wills depend – has created us SPECIFICALLY SO THAT WE WOULD WRONGFULLY SEEK TO BE INDEPENDENT OF HIM.

        You talk about our “sinful nature” warping our souls, but – to use your analogy of a work of art or computer screen – it’s really God doing the warping. After all, he’s the artist, and nothing -in your view – happens to his art that is not done by him. God doesn’t want me to get better; He doesn’t want me to come to a right understanding of him; In fact, he revels in the twisted nature THAT HE HIMSELF IRRESISTIBLY GAVE TO ME.

        Yay, Calvinism!

      • And that’s the problem with determinism. It unwillingly makes God the author of sin.

  2. Adrian

    “It’s a contradiction to state that God ordains everything, but is not the author of sin”

    What do you mean by “ordains” Kevin.

    God created the universe: therefore if not for Him nothing would ever had happened.
    God knows what’s going to happen: He always has and always will, even before creation yet he still created.
    God could have created things differently: other wise He’s not God. But He didn’t.
    God has changed the course history multiply times: therefore choosing between different things happening, but He decided what.

    So who is ultimately responsibility for what happens Kevin?

    • Hey Adrian, I don’t think that God knowing something means he caused it. From the Arminian view (or I should say the view of some Arminians, myself included), there was nothing for God to know about creation until he decided to create, and at that point he knew what would happen, because we would exist. So no, we don’t think he is responsible for sin (in the Calvinist sense of ordaining) because he created. For a more detailed explanation see the post on Simple Foreknowledge.

  3. Adrian

    And that’s the problem with determinism. It unwillingly makes God the author of sin.

    No it doesn’t, see the start of Chapter 3 of the WCF:

    God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass:
    a) yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,
    b) nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established
    (supporting scriptures being: Ps 33:11, Eph 1:1, Heb 6:17, Ps 5:4, James 1:13-14, 1John 1:5, Hab 1:13, Acts 2:23, Matt 17:12, Acts 4:27-28, John 19:11, Prov 16:33)

    If God says something then it is true.
    If God says two things that to our fallen, sinful mind appear contradictory they are still true and the problem is with us, not God.

    • Adrian,

      Attributing incoherence to God doesn’t doesn’t make it pious or true. It is a contradiction to state that God causes everything but doesn’t cause sin.

      As you rightly point out, we are all fallen (not just Arminains, but Calvinists and their logic as well). The WCF divines got it wrong. Their statement is neither scriptural or coherent.

      • Adrian

        Kevin, if God didn’t “ordain whatsoever comes to pass” does this mean that He had no idea what would come to pass before He created the world?

      • Adrian

        “What if God knew what humanity would do only after he made a decision to create us? … What if after God decided to create us, he was unwilling or unable to take back that decision?”

        If He was unable then he wasn’t God was He? (with God all things are possible: Matt 19:26, Mark 10:27, Luke 1:37, 18;27) and if He wasn’t willing he wasn’t God either (Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, … for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created Rev 4:11)

      • Adrian, Arminians think God can know without causing. So he doesn’t need to ordain something in order to know it.

        And there are things God can’t do. He can’t lie, he can’t break his promises. For example, he can’t flood the world again as he did with Noah. God doesn’t contradict his nature, even though he has the power to do so. That’s the difference between God and Allah.

      • Adrian

        OK, “there are things God can’t do”, but can He do a combination of thing that within His “world” makes sense, but within the world of a 21st century Westerner’s sinful intellect doesn’t?

      • Of course God can. 21st century or even for those still living in the 15th century. :)

      • Adrian

        Thank you:

        Therefore as God can “do a combination of thing that within His “world” makes sense, but within the world of a 21st century Westerner’s sinful intellect doesn’t?”

        then God can, from all eternity, … by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass:
        a) yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,
        b) nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established

        As God can “do a combination of thing that within His “world” makes sense, but within the world of a 21st century Westerner’s sinful intellect doesn’t?” we can accept that what the Bible says is accurate and true even though it doesn’t necessarily make sense to us with out limited intellectual ability. A major benefit is we don’t have to try figure out how it would be possible for the combination of things to make sense because we know that (because we’re fallen man, not God) it’s not going to.

      • Hey Adrian, You’re making several jumps in your logic.

        For starters, the WCF is a fallible man made document, it is not scripture. So it’s vulnerable to all the same limitations you argue for. It was written by Western sinners of limited intellect from the 17th century.

        God can’t do contradictions no matter what century it is. The Bible never claims that he does. God can’t be good and bad, he can only be good or bad. If he is good, he is not bad. If he is bad, he is not good. The terms are mutually exclusive.

        Likewise, God can’t cause everything and not cause everything. He can do one or the other. Not because he lacks the power to do either one but because each one is mutually exclusive. Either God causes everything as Calvinists say (which makes him the author of sin) or he does not cause everything as Arminians say (which makes us the cause of sin).

        As I alluded to before, this is the primary difference between God and Allah. I’m not saying Calvinism is the same as Islam, but rather that in this case you are arguing in a similar manner as the Muslim. Islam states that God can contradict himself. Islam states that we can’t learn anything about God because he doesn’t reveal himself to people. Christians believe that God has revealed himself to us in Christ, and that he invites us to know who he truly is.

      • Adrian

        Which are you running with Kevin,

        a) God can “do a combination of thing that within His “world” makes sense, but within the world of a 21st century Westerner’s sinful intellect doesn’t?”

        or b) God can’t do contradictions

        You call them contradictions, I call them a paradox, a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true. And in this case is true because God says that both are true.

        I acknowledge that things may sound contradictory, but God overrides that making it a paradox.

      • Hey Adrian,

        A paradox is something that we can’t fully understand (like the Trinity). A contradiction is saying that opposite things are both true (Like God is good and God is evil). God can do things beyond our understanding, but he can’t do or be a contradiction. The WCF was written by men, it’s not the Bible.

      • “You’re relying too much on fallen human intellect! You should rely on the WCF instead!”

      • Adrian

        I agree that God “can’t do or be a contradiction in any world”.

        From the Bible we see scripture that supports the idea that God “orchestrates and determines everything that is going to happen in your life, in my life, in America, and throughout the world” yet at the same time we see scripture that says we have a will, we make choices, and we are held responsible for them.

        Now the response of some to this is that it can’t be true as it is for them a “contradiction” and they come up with ideas of how things have to be so that it is for them no longer contradictory (e.g. simple foreknowledge).

        But for others their response is to acknowledge that while they don’t understand it if that’s what God says then it must be true so accept it as a paradox.

        quote from http://www.christianity.com/theology/what-does-the-phrase-god-is-sovereign-really-mean-11555729.html

      • Adrian, I don’t agree with your statement that “God orchestrates and determines everything that is going to happen in your life.” That is not supported by scripture, it’s your philosophical assumption.

        Rather God knows what we will do, and he is still able to accomplish his purposes even when we go against his plan and do things that he genuinly doesn’t prefer. That requires a larger view of God’s sovereignty. It take a bigger God to manage in a world with free creatures than in a world with robots following a predefined script.

        AW Tozer described it like this:

        “God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.

        Perhaps a homely illustration might help us to understand. An ocean liner leaves New York bound for Liverpool. Its destination has been determined by proper authorities. Nothing can change it. This is at least a faint picture of sovereignty.

        On board the liner are several scores of passengers. These are not in chains, neither are their activities determined for them by decree. They are completely free to move about as they will. They eat, sleep, play, lounge about on the deck, read, talk, altogether as they please; but all the while the great liner is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined port.

        Both freedom and sovereignty are present here and they do not contradict each other. So it is, I believe, with man’s freedom and the sovereignty of God. The mighty liner of God’s sovereign design keeps its steady course over the sea of history. God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfilment of those eternal purposes which He purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began. We do not know all that is included in those purposes, but enough has been disclosed to furnish us with a broad outline of things to come and to give us good hope and firm assurance of future well-being.”

        And C.S. Lewis explained it like this:

        “God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them – but only if the people will let Him. In that way He has really and truly limited His power. Sometimes we wonder why He has done so, or even wish that He hadn’t. But apparently He thinks it worth doing. He would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else. The more we succeed in imagining what a world of perfect automatic beings would be like, the more, I think, we shall see His wisdom.”

      • Adrian

        “It take a bigger God to manage in a world with free (will) than in a world where we’re all robots following a predefined script”.

        That is one of our major differences in our thinking isn’t it. You see a universe where we could have God ordain everything OR we could have free will and to have both to you is a contradiction. I on the other hand see a universe where we have God ordain everything AND we have free will. They are independent of each other and that to me is the paradox.

        No examples are perfect, and in your liner one what happens if a terrorist hijacks the ship? Ignoring that though in your worldview how does God manage things that get out of kilter?

      • Going with the ship analogy, the passenger’s free will is limited. They can walk on the deck, eat food, gamble or whatever, but they can’t hijack the ship because that’s not an option for them. The captain has the power to prevent that from happening, and to make sure the ship arrives at it’s predetermined port.

        The difference in our views is this: Only the Arminain has a legitimate explanation for evil. If God causes everything there is no explanation for why there is evil, other than God is the cause of evil himself. And that makes God the same as the devil (only more powerful). It turns him into Allah.

        If a puppet whips out a gun and shoots someone in the audience, who is responsible for the death? The puppet, or the puppet master? The puppet master is. Even if the puppet “thinks” he did it himself, he’s really only doing what the master pulling the strings decided would happen.

      • Adrian

        We do see things differently don’t we, but we both see God’s sovereignty and man’s free will mentioned in scripture.

        It seems to me that in the A. understanding of things God’s soverignty and man’s free will are dependant (which I guess is why A’s mention puppets and puppet masters). But note that to make it work things like “simple foreknowledge” and “limited free will” have to be introduced.

        In the C. understanding God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are totally independant. God’s sovereignty in no way affects nor is limited by man’s free willl and man’s free will in no way affects nor is limited by God’s soverignity.

        C’s have no problem explanining evil.

      • Holy backpeddling, Batman!

        “In the C. understanding God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are totally independent.”

        vs.

        “I never say we have “free will”. Not if I can help it anyway. I say we have a will, but in the context that people seem to talk about, then idea that we can make any choice we want, I don’t see that.”

        vs.

        “Just as God created us so that we’d end up a certain height and girth, with certain skin/eye/hair (which may go grey) colour, with certain skills and talents that form part of the Body of Christ so too He created our wills. It is not an independent entity. What it is is dependent on its creator.”

        You’re all over the place, dude. You can’t seem to decide where you stand. Also, the Calvinist answer to the problem of evil – the only answer that’s possible in a world where God ordains everything that happens – is “What problem? No problem here…everything’s going exactly according to plan.”

      • I think you’re equivocating like Mackenzie said. But at any rate, we’re just rehashing things now. So God bless you as you seek to honor him. :)

    • “I made a screen that’s displayed on a computer by a program that I wrote. [I know I’ve taken a risk mentioning “computer” and “program” but I don’t want to go there] That screen is dependent on me for it’s existence and it’s layout and content reflects me. Anyone who sees it will know I did it just like one can recognise a painting by Monet or van Gogh. And the screen performs the function I set out to make it do.”

      And if that screen malfunctions? If it glitches? If it does something other than what you claim you want it to do?

      In the human example, it could be because of user error, or software error. However, neither of those work when you map it onto God.

      With your conception of God, wherein all of us can only ever “perform the function [God] set out to make [us] do”, there is only one possibility: We sin because that’s exactly what God created us to do. The reprobate are reprobate because God created them to be reprobate: Indeed, they are damned not for denying his will, BUT FOR FULFILLING HIS WILL EXACTLY…after all, what else can mere created beings do in Calvinism?

      Even their thoughts of rebellion are thought in accordance with the will of God. In fact, in Calvinism, the reprobate are just as obedient to the will of God as the redeemed! Fancy that!

      Anyway, I’m done here. I’m done with your spiritual masochism, which prides itself on believing nonsense. And remember: If your system is true, then God himself wished for me to “blaspheme” him in this precise manner…or else it wouldn’t have happened.

  4. Wesley

    I think there’s a nuance when you talk about creation. Was I created by God? Sort of. I was indirectly made by God. Adam and Eve were directly created by God. I was created by my parents and you can regress back to Adam and Eve. I was made by sinful humans, ultimately. Of course, you can say that matter, the universe itself, is ordered and sustained by God, which it is, and so I was created by God. However, the point is that the sin in the world and other things are not the product of God’s will but ours. It’s clear from Scripture that we have the ability to understand the gospel and our sinful condition (but not adhere to the Law as unregenerate sinners). Our response depends on us – really. Even if we weren’t “able” to understand it and respond, when we hear the gospel we are. God tells us the situation, the truth of our existence and our guilty standing before Him. We have no excuse. The Calvinists are. A simple analogy would be a child not knowing what putting his hand on a hot stove entails. When a parent informs the child, it’s his choice to believe the parent and act accordingly, or not.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s