Friday, September 8, 2023

Freedom of the Will (Genesis 50)

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good …” (Gen. 50:20a).

God’s sovereignty seems to cast a shadow on human freedom. Some would argue that God’s sovereignty strips man of his responsibility and makes him a mere puppet in the hand of fate. We must not, however, confuse God’s sovereignty with fatalism, which is the notion that everything is forced or compelled in one preordained direction at the sacrifice and violation of one’s desires and will to the contrary.

God has not created a fatalistic universe. Because man is made in His image, we have been endowed with free wills. We are not merely puppets acting out some divine drama. We make real choices and bear real consequences to those choices.

How then do we reconcile this paradox of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will? First, we must clear up part of the problem by defining free will. Some erroneously define free will as “the ability to make choices without any prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition.” This is a wrong understanding of free will because all our choices are formed from our own prejudices, inclinations, and dispositions. Even those choices that seem to be compelled from an external force are still determined by our own desires. When someone holds you at gunpoint and demands your money, you have a choice. You can either give him the money or get shot. The choice is still yours.

Free will, then, would be better defined as the ability to choose what we want without any external compulsion. God’s sovereignty does not violate this freedom. We see what we want, we make a decision, we choose a direction, we do it, and we suffer the consequences. How our actions fit into the foreordained plan of God is not for us to know, but we do know that He did not compel us against our wills to make a decision. He used our choices for His purposes. We see this most clearly in the case of Joseph and his brothers. The brothers sold Joseph into slavery because they hated him. That was what they wanted and they made a choice. What they did was evil. God used the actions of the brothers for good, as Joseph points out to them later. God did not force the brothers against their wills to sell Joseph; they did it according to their own free wills, which were determined by their own evil desires.

Read Acts 4:23–31. What does this passage say about God’s sovereignty in the midst of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion? Are Pilate, Herod, and Judas (see Acts 1:18–20) still responsible for their actions? Do you ever use God’s sovereignty as an excuse for your sins? If so, confess that today and take responsibility for your actions.