Maybe “Free Will” Isn’t All That
Among Christians there is a lot of theological debate over how God’s sovereignty (his control over the universe) and human free will (our ability to make choices) fit together. Can we make meaningful choices if God is ultimately in control over them? Is it immoral or unloving of God to cause us to do something we don’t want to do? Are we really just puppets or robots in God’s little game? These types of questions abound, and they are good to think about.
For those who emphasize heavily man’s free will, it is often said that “God lets us believe in him or not because he gave us a choice. He wants our love to be genuine, and our relationship would not have genuine love if we did not freely choose God.” The assumption is that if God somehow overcame our own free will and forced us to love him, it would ruin our relationship with him. It would not be real love.
I don’t want to get into a complicated debate about these issues in this article. My views have shifted significantly since I first went to Bible college, and I’ll unpack them another day. All I want to point out is that, for those who talk about human free will the way quoted above, they seem to be only looking at God’s sovereignty over the human will one way. They are assuming that God overriding a person’s free choice can only be a bad thing.
But what if God were to exercise his sovereignty over our free will to accomplish something good? Would those who emphasize free will want to resist it then?
I’m not even talking about salvation. I have something on a smaller scale in mind. What if God used his sovereignty to overcome your free will towards committing adultery? What if he stopped you from sinning? Would you still complain?
You Say “Yes”, God Says “No”
This is not a hypothetical scenario. Remember when Abraham lied about Sarah, saying she was his sister and not his wife? Desiring her beauty, king Abimelech took her home. His intentions were obvious. Yet they were not fulfilled; he never slept with Sarah. Why not?
Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” (Genesis 20:6-7)
The answer is simple: God did not allow it. He caused Abimilech to keep his hands to himself. God’s supernatural power is the reason the king did not sleep with Sarah. It is to God’s credit, not Abimelech’s. The Bible does not exactly detail how God did this. Did the king just have some gut instinct? Was he ill that night and unable to sleep with her? Was there some kind of disturbance in the palace that the king had to attend to? We simply do not know. But the point is that Abimelech’s intentions (aka, his actions of free will) were to take Sarah and sleep with her, but God put a stop to it.
All I want to ask is this: would you resist the idea of God being sovereign over you, if it meant that he could stop you from committing evil acts? In fact it does mean that, or at least it includes that possibility. The thought that God could, at any given point in time, overcome my own free will and stop me from sinning against him is an absolutely wonderful thought. To that I say, bring it on! To whatever degree God is willing to keep me from sin, I’m more than happy to let him toss aside my free will.
I understand that the issue is, overall, much more complex than this. But it needs to be said. God being sovereign over humanity includes, according to the Bible, the possibility that he restrains our sin. Who know how much sin God has caused not to happen in the world – and even in my own life? When you think about God’s sovereignty that way, it sheds a whole new light on the issue. Maybe us guarding our own free will so intensely isn’t such a good idea after all.