The Free Will of God vs Man’s “Free” Will

freewillHere’s a second look regarding a recent post on a FaceBook forum in which the author was trying to show that neither the Bible nor Calvinist hold to fatalism as assumed and inferred by those criticizing Calvinist doctrines.

Ironically, and perhaps coincidently, every verse listed in support of the author’s contention that Calvinists are not fatalists could, in my opinion, be easily used to support fatalism. One of the verses he listed was Eph 1:11 which states:

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,

The obvious question for me – what’s God’s purpose? Well, looking at the entire passage, several things “pop” out:

  • vs 4 (God determining that we would be holy and blameless in his sight)
  • vs 5 (God determining that we would be adopted as his sons through Christ)
  • vs 9 (the mystery of his will)
  • vs 10 (that will is to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment)

It should be understood that Paul’s explanation of “the mystery” relates to God doing away with “the law” and enabling both Jew and Gentile to be made right with God by God’s own sacrifice of his son through faith. As such, I see nothing in Eph 1:11 supporting Calvinistic fatalism as to God “choosing” a select few. On the contrary, I see God’s desire for everyone to come into fellowship with him. Through Christ. By faith.

The author goes on to state, “God is over his creatures and all things that have come from and out of him.” It seems apparent, then, that the author infers God’s sovereignty superseding man’s ability to a) think for himself, b) decide for himself or c) act for himself? Perhaps more directly, it seems to imply that the author believes God is directing the very thoughts and actions of man. If so, how then does a Calvinist deny unconditional election IS NOT fatalism considering the decision for salvation (by way of unconditional election) has already been made “from the foundation of the world”.

Various verses the author used to support his contention that Calvinism is not fatalism (along with my $0.02 – indented and in italics)

1) Acts 4:27-28 You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

  • I can understand a fatalist having a different opinion. However, I see quite a difference from God using the evil intentions of individuals versus God predestining individuals i.e. Herod and Pilot to have an evil nature or character.

2) Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will.

  • I would suspect a fatalist, based on this verse, is joyously praising God for such things as the legality of abortion and homosexual marriage. Or, from previous generations, Hitler’s attempt to eradicate Jews. I don’t think it wise to interpret Prov 21:1 as an absolute law. Rather, it would seem best to look at Proverbs in terms of generalities and instruction on how God intends us to live. In that regard, Rom 12 is rather instructional, too. As I see it, people are free to determine their own hearts, per se. That God chooses to use the plans of evil men i.e. Herod and Pilot for God’s own purposes, I think, reveals God’s omniscience.

3) Isaiah 14:27 For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?

  • This verse is, well, self explanatory – who can thwart God? The truth is – no one.

4) Proverbs 16:9 A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.

  • Well, I’ll admit that this verse gives me a bit more trouble than the others. My $0.02 worth is that God’s desire is to work “all things together for good” (Rom 8:28). That doesn’t mean, however (as a fatalist would surmise) that God instills the evil that is there within a person.

5) James 4:13:15″…YOU who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.…..Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

  • Breaking up the passage is usually not a good thing to do and all to often indicates a desire to pluck out specific “nuggests. Suffice it to say that the passage is referring to God’s will. But which will? God’s moral will? God’s sovereign will? Or, as some people might allude to, God’s personal will? Given that previous verses within the book of James discuss (according to my NIV topical Bible) 1) Two Kinds of Wisdom & 2) Submitting Yourselves to God), I suspect that James is admonishing people to not get so wrapped up in themselves but rather to be mindful of that fact that we (people) have limitations.

6) Rom. 9:16″…so then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

  • There’s too much within this passage to only pull out one verse and use it to justify a given position. But I’ll try. Suffice it to say that (Bob George: Classic Christianity) the same sun that hardens clay also melts wax. So, the difference in how people respond to the gospel has more to do with their heart. A humble heart will melt. A prideful heart will harden. It’s not the fault of the sun. It’s the starting material. A fatalist would say that from the beginning, God determines the condition of the heart. I obviously disagree with that contention.

Irrespective of what was initially stated, I believe this author, being a fatalist, has utterly failed to understand the nature and character of God and his love. I can’t help but suspect that the author would state that God’s greatest attribute is his justice. It’s also evident that the author twists scripture to invoke hatred and evil intentions unto a holy God who’s hope and desire (I believe) is to see his all of his creation turn from their sinful ways unto himself.

I certainly don’t claim to know it all. And I don’t feel the need to understand everything. But something that is clear to me – doctrines must be consistent throughout the Bible. So, a simple question I would ask: whether for or against God, are individuals able to freely decide for themselves considering there certainly seem to be lots of scriptures showing man thinking, deciding and/or acting for himself?


Author: Bob

I’m an upper Midwestern guy who has recently entered the "Buick stage" of life and decided to migrate to Florida. This blog is an attempt to rectify discordant aspects within my Christian faith ... or what often feels like my lack of Christian faith. Things which make life more enjoyable include strong black coffee, charcoal grilling anytime of the year, putz'ing at a table saw, playing chess, a good orthopedic surgeon and an occasional IPA. Please feel free to poke around and comment as you wish. I welcome discussion and the insights of others.

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