Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Back to the Basics: Building Blocks for a Sound Theodicy, Pt. 3: The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility

You will note throughout this mini-series that I intend to use the terms “divine sovereignty” and “the sovereignty of God” interchangeably. If I do use them in this manner throughout my writing, do know that they are excellent equivalents.

I’m back to begin my work on the building blocks for a sound theodicy. First on the list is divine sovereignty, the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign, in control of all things, and the biblical record bears witness to this.

I’m about to provide scriptural proof, but I want you to understand that this series will not attempt to cover every verse in Scripture about the sovereignty of God. Instead, I intend to cover the basics surrounding this topic – from Genesis, the beginning of the biblical history as we’re told. Genesis is the beginning of it all for our revelation from God, so I intend to cover Genesis as it relates to our discussion.

This post covers the idea that God is in control, He’s the Lord of all creation, the God of the universe, and everything He does is out of His own free will. The Lord doesn’t have to do anything outside of 1) exist and 2) remain true to Himself (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 6:18). Human responsibility is a direct result of the sovereignty and free will of God -- and God's will can't conflict with His sovereignty. 

So, with that said, let’s take a look at God’s power and the divine will. Genesis 1:1 tells us that He created the universe. In Genesis 1:3 the Lord says, “Let there be light,” with the word “let” implying voluntarism. God decides to create the world because He wants to. It seemed right to Him. He was under no impulse to create the world. In every place in chapter 1 where we see “let,” we can rest assured that the Lord creates out of His own free will – with no one or thing forcing Him to do so.

In Genesis 1:26, we see God decides to create man: “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky...” We see that the Triune Godhead, the Trinity, God in three persons, makes man, gives man His image, and then allows him to “rule over...every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (v.26). This “man,” however, refers to both men and women (Gen. 1:27). In verse 28, God says the same thing to them again for emphasis: “rule over...every living thing that moves on the earth.”

God creates the sun, moon, stars, and even vegetation and animal kingdom, but He also has sovereignty over man, too – after all, He creates man and gives Him dominion over the earth. How could a God lacking in sovereignty do that?

When Sovereignty Meets Responsibility: God and Man in Relationship in Creation

What happens when God and man meet in creation? We’ve seen that God creates man in His image, after His likeness, and lets male and female (both genders) rule over the earth as agents made to bear the image of God. Now, however, we’re going to take a look at what happens when God creates man.

If you read works such as Most Moved Mover by Clark Pinnock, or The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence by John Sanders, you’ll find the statement “God limits His almightiness.” This phrase may seem harmless if one is talking about the fact that God doesn’t treat humans like robots and “order them around.” Unfortunately, Pinnock and Sanders do not refer to this idea when using the phrase “God limits His almightiness”; instead, these authors mean that God chooses to throw off His ability to foreknow man’s choices – thereby throwing off His foreknowledge and omniscience. Now, to be fair to the Open Theist position that these authors advocate, they do say that God does know the “possibilities of choices” you will make; it’s just that He doesn’t know which possibility you’ll choose. In their understanding, then, God foreknew that Adam and Eve could either 1) eat from the fruit or 2) not eat from the fruit, but He didn’t know whether they’d choose #1 or #2.

If God didn’t foreknow their exact choice, however, how could God have chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)? To choose us in Christ implies that Christ was the only solution to reconcile us back to God; and, if God had a plan to reconcile mankind back to God, then God had to foreknow that man would sin and thus separate himself from God. After all, where there is no separation, there is no need for reconciliation.

What happens after God makes man? We see that man rules over the earth, a derived rule that comes with God’s permission and blessing (Genesis 1:28). Does the free agency of man negate or conflict with God’s sovereignty? Does the divine sovereignty fall in the face of human responsibility? No; in fact, the presence of divine sovereignty is the foundation for human responsibility (Genesis 1:28-30). God tells man in Genesis 1:28-30 that “I have given you every plant...and every tree,” after he tells man and woman to “fill the earth,” “subdue it,” and “rule over” all of the animal and plant kingdoms.

If you read Genesis 1, you’ll be struck by the Lord’s imperatives in verse 28: “be fruitful,” “multiply,” “fill the earth,” “subdue it” (the earth), “and rule over.” Imperatives, as we’ve learned by way of the English language, are commands. And commands only come from a superior – in this case, God. So, the divine sovereignty remains after He creates rational man in that God commands the man to do certain things that He, God, wants him to do (rule over the earth).

A word regarding human responsibility

If we were to stop here, we’d be giving the Calvinists too much room in theology and their theodicy – and declaring them the winner. The problem with the Calvinist is that he or she only sees one side of the coin, that is, the divine perspective (God commanding man). He doesn’t stop much to consider the other side: that is, what God’s commands mean for man. This is where Open Theists and Process Theists would applaud.

What are the implications of God commanding man to do certain things? First off, we know from Genesis that man is not a robot or an automaton: rather, man is able to make choices because God commands. Why would God command man to do anything if man had no say in the matter? Why would God tell man to “rule over the earth” if man could only lift a finger because God lifted it for him?

The sheer fact that God tells man what to do with his freedom lets us know that man is not autonomous, nor an automaton. In Genesis 1:28, as I’ve said, the Lord tells man to “be fruitful,” “multiply,” and “rule over” the earth. In Genesis chapter 2, God places man and woman in the garden “to cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). In other words, man has freedom but, contrary to the views of Open Theists, man’s freedom is not autonomous. First, man has limited freedom in that he can’t be God, he can’t choose not to answer to God (he must answer to God, necessarily so, as the commands illustrate), and he can’t get away with wrongdoing – as Genesis chapter 3 shows us.

For now, this information will suffice. We’ll take a look at divine sovereignty and human responsibility in Genesis chapter 3 in my next post. God bless.

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