Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility in the Death of Christ

“Sometimes the twin truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility are expressed in the same passage. In one of the texts just mentioned [Acts 2:23], both God’s predetermination and man’s wicked free choice are present: ‘This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s SET PURPOSE AND FOREKNOWLEDGE, and YOU...PUT HIM TO DEATH by nailing him to the cross’ (Acts 2:23). As before, while GOD DETERMINED THEIR ACTIONS FROM ALL ETERNITY, nevertheless, those who carried out the crucifying of Jesus were free to perform these actions---and were morally responsible for them. Here again, it is not either sovereignty or free choice; it is both sovereignty and free choice” (Dr. Norman L. Geisler, “Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election,” Second Edition. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2001, page 39).

I’ve started a bit of new reading regarding divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Let’s just say that, every now and then, it’s good to have some material that helps you review the things you’ve studied. I’ve been blessed this year (2009) to study the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in massive detail. After over 40 books on the subject, let me admit with humility that there’s still so much I don’t know! What I have learned, however, I share with God’s people. And it is with this attitude that I approach Geisler’s book.

The above quoted Bible verse, Acts 2:23, is used in discussions of sovereignty and responsibility all the time! Notice that Geisler believes that “God determined their [the men] actions from all eternity.” First, though, I want to say that this contradicts what Geisler wrote several pages earlier in his work:

“God is morally accountable for giving the good thing called free will, but HE IS NOT MORALLY RESPONSIBLE for all the evil we do with our freedom. Solomon said it well: ‘This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes’ (Eccl. 7:29). In brief, God made the FACT of freedom; we are responsible for the ACTS of freedom. The fact of freedom is good, even though some acts of freedom are evil. God is the cause of the former, and we are the cause of the latter” (Geisler, “Chosen But Free,” page 23).

If men are the cause of their own evil actions, then what makes Geisler believe that the actions of the men in Jesus’ Crucifixion were PREDETERMINED BEFORE TIME with God? Which is it? Either the acts are determined or they are not.

Next, there is the philosophical error with Geisler’s claim. A choice can be “limited,” but not “determined.” There is no such thing as a “determined choice” in reality. The phrase “determined choice” is a logical impossibility, and the Lord Himself is able to do anything EXCEPT logical impossibilities (such as a square circle and round square, etc.). A determined choice is no choice at all!

Then, look at the text itself: Jesus was crucified “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God...” (Acts 2:23, NKJV) When we look at the verse, we see God’s plan and God’s foreknowledge mentioned.

I have a question: why did Jesus die on the cross? Did He die because the Father felt like sending Him? Did He die because the Father got bored in heaven and needed a little excitement? No---He died because of the FOREKNOWLEDGE OF THE SINS OF MANKIND! Jesus died because of the foreknowledge of sin in the Garden of Eden as well as all the sins that would follow. Hebrews records the following:

“...but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26b, NKJV).

Jesus gave Himself for the sins of man. It was the foreknowledge of man’s sin that put Jesus on the cross (not just the Father’s spontaneous declaration of Jesus’ Crucifixion).

The question now becomes, “well, if Jesus died for the sins of the world, then why did man sin?” How was man allowed to sin? Man was allowed to sin because God gave man a free will by which man was to make true, genuine choices. I ask Calvinists here: if man does not have a free will and can make choices, then how do we explain man’s sin producing such an effect that Jesus had to be offered up for it? Man’s sin is of such spiritual significance that even Christ, God’s ONLY Son, must pay the price for it! Man’s choice, although wrong, was pretty powerful. Why then, do Calvinists seek to weaken man’s choice today? It still remains potent---even if all we have a tendency to do with our freedom is sin.

Because God allows man to make decisions (like Adam naming the animals in the Garden, for example), God PREDETERMINED man’s ability to make choices. He PREDETERMINED MAN’S FREE WILL! However, I agree with Geisler here in that, while man has been predetermined to make choices (and given the power to do so), God is not responsible for what man does with his free will. Only man is responsible for that.

If we can see why Jesus was sent to the cross in the first place, it would help us understand the actions of the men involved in Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. In God’s exhaustive foreknowledge, He knew that the men involved would do what they did. God allowed these things to happen in that, while He predetermined their ability to do what they did, He did not CAUSE them to do what they did (Pilate, for instance, did not have to hand over Jesus; after all, he did believe that Jesus was an innocent man). Rather, God incorporated the evil actions of these men into His Sovereign Plan to redeem the world through His Son.

I think foreknowledge is listed in Peter’s sermon to offset God being identified with evil. While God actively decreed the death of His Son (because of His righteous judgment), He did not decree the individual actions of the sinful men involved (He only decreed their POTENTIAL or ABILITY to perform such evil deeds). Rather, the deeds of the wicked men involved were deeds of their own choosing.

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