Who is really in charge? Who is responsible for my actions or the actions of others or the whims of nature? The second of God’s intentional tensions is the pull between God’s sovereignty and our free will. God is the ultimate sovereign. There is no one with more power or greater authority than God. Creation leaped into existence in obedience to His command. Paul reminds us that creation only continues to endure because of Christ (Colossians 1:17) Yet, in the midst of all that control is the anomaly of human choice. God gave you and I the ability to willingly act contrary to His command; the penultimate expression of free will.
Now, to be fair this tension has been and will continue to be debated in philosophical and theological circles forever. And there is no way to even begin to cover that debate and the nuances of various positions in the space of this article. So let’s just bring this down to something you and I can begin to understand.
It may not seem like it but computers, no matter their shape, size, or purpose, only do exactly what they are told to do. I know it feels like they have a mind of their own at times, doing things or not doing things for reasons unknown to us. But barring some kind of mechanical failure computers only do exactly what they are told to do. No more, no less, no maybes, no if I feel like it, no independent choices, no free will, no soul.
But what if? What if computers had a soul? What if they could choose to obey our commands or not. That they could elect to display a “P” even though I pressed the “k” key. Or what if it could ignore our instruction to send an email and chose to delete it instead because it thought we were stupid. We are frustrated enough when computers work like they’re supposed to. Imagine the frustration if we had to talk, bribe, cajole, woo, threaten, argue, or sweet talk our computers into doing something we wanted!? That is what God did when He gave all of us the authority, right, and ability of choice.
We struggle with this tension because we are like a teenager that uses the family car but refuses to refill the gas tank. We want all the rights and benefits of free-will without any of the responsibilities that go with it. We blame God for things that do not belong to Him and take credit for things that are not our doing. (Genesis 3:11-13) We like having the ability to choose our own way until it goes all wrong, then it’s someone else’s fault. They say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Yet I wonder how many will never own up to their violation of God’s command even in Hell. How many will never recognize or accept the responsibility for their choices.
There is a bright side to this tension between God’s sovereignty and our free-will. Recalling the guitar strings of the first article of this series, there is a note that is sung when this tension is accepted and tuned. Not only is free-will exhibited in sin, but also in choosing to follow God’s instruction. You could say that the note sung is “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39). Doing what God desires is not throwing away free-will, it is the ultimate act of free-will because we choose to do so. And I might add that doing what God wants is also the greatest act of worship. Ultimate freedom is not found in rebellion but is found in Jesus Christ. Do I need to remind you that the choice is yours? (Oops I guess that I just did).