June 22, 2017

Asking the right question . . .

If God is sovereign, why does evil exist? If God is all-powerful, why do bad things happen? If God saves people by grace, not by anything we say or do, why do only a few people become Christians?

The argument seems to be between God’s sovereignty and human volition. While many Christians choose one side or the other, I think both are true. My reason is simple: in His sovereignty, God gave humanity the ability to choose.

Think of it this way: if we were created to always do what He says and always submit to His rule, we would be robots and God a puppet–master. This was not His plan. Instead, God gave us the power of choice. Adam and Eve made the first choice to disobey God and with it, humanity entered the realm of choosing to go our own way. God knew before the foundation of the world this would happen and what He would do about it. He never intended we be programmed robots who mechanically do His will.

This makes sense. With the ability to choose, making selfish choices is between trusting God or trusting ourselves. Obviously, the choice to trust ourselves is constantly there — when in danger we pick safety, in relationships we will pick those that make us feel good, and so on.

We also avoid anything that threatens this freedom of choice. This explains why people avoid God. He calls us to give our lives to Him and we misinterpret that. Like Eve, we fall for the lie that God does not care about our well-being, not realizing He is the only One who can set us free from the tyranny of always needed to have our own way.

However, God is still sovereign in this strange testing of our loyalties. He can could zap us into ‘robot’ mode, but that is not His choice. Instead, His plan involves revealing Himself to sinful people, giving us reason to trust Him. Sadly, the more selfish we become, the more blind we are to the delights of righteous living.

Yet if God opens our eyes and draws us into His kingdom, our ability to choose does not change; we still have options. Even then, our choices do not affect the sovereignty of God. Sin put us into one option: going our own way. Salvation brings back the desire and ability to follow Him, but only because He restores the ability to choose.

How does He make it possible that sinners can change? He has His ways. For proud Old Testament King Nebuchadnezzar, it was a period of mental illness and humility. God said to him:

“You shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (Daniel 4:32)

For the nation of Israel, it was many revelations of Himself through the prophets. Isaiah said to them:

“I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:5–7)

Isaiah also pointed to the sovereignty of God and to what eventually will happen to those who continue in their selfish ways:

“Woe to him who strives with Him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?  . . . . Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’” (Isaiah 45:9, 22–23)

God has a plan. Not everyone will be forgiven and saved, but everyone will realize who He is and what they should have done. This ultimate result is repeated in Romans 14:11, and also in another passage that first points to Jesus. He is God revealed in human flesh who willingly became one of us that He might pay our penalty for sin . . .  

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11)

As for today’s devotional, the writer quotes some people who say God is trying his best to save all mankind, but a majority will not let Him save them. In other words, God is impotent.

Jesus, I understand why You came, that You love sinners, and that You created us with the power of choice. I know You have the power to save anyone. You are sovereign, yet we can say yes or no to You. What I don’t understand is why Your saving power is not used on every single human being — our will is not omnipotent and You could do it. The only answer I can think of is that perhaps I ask the wrong question? Instead of wondering why you don’t save everyone, I should ask why do you save anyone? 

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