Control Or Choice?
Updated: Jul 12, 2022
In Biblical What If...?, I wrote about how we see God working in the hearts of men to save His fallen creation. Truly, God is going to do what God is going to do and nothing we can do is going to change that. However, does that mean we're just puppets on a string?
There are some who believe in God's absolute sovereignty. In other words, God is in active total control of all life from individual belief and behavior to the natural order of the universe and the events in between. Further, God has been in ultimate control from before the beginning of time. On the other side, some believe in God as the Creator of all things, who then steps back, gives each individual free will and is detached from events in human history.
The God of the Bible occupies a kind of middle ground between these extremes. God is sovereign, and each individual is responsible for the choices they make in life. But how can this be? Aren't God's sovereignty and man's responsibility somewhat conflicting ideas? Looking at the translation of a well known verse in the Bible can bring a little clarity.
In Exodus 3:14, when God appeared to Moshe/Moses in the burning bush, most English translations say something like this: God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: 'I AM has sent me to you.’” God saying, "I AM WHO I AM" is naturally interpreted to mean God is static and fixed. However, the Hebrew words "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" are more properly translated, "I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE." Consider Exodus 3:14 worded this way: God said to Moses, "I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel: 'I WILL BE has sent me to you.'" This presents God as dynamic, active and responsive to His creation. This dynamic view of God helps make sense of the Bible as a whole and helps harmonize the ideas of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility.
Regarding man's responsibility, the one thing everyone in the world agrees on is that something's wrong with the world. Things are not like they should be. In the Bible, what went wrong is commonly referred to as the Fall (see Genesis 3). In short, man disobeyed God and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This clearly appears to be a choice God gave man. Genesis 2:16-17 says, "ADONAI, God, gave the person this order: 'You may freely eat from every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You are not to eat from it, because on the day that you eat from it, it will become certain that you will die (CJB).'” It's important to note that God gave man this order before the Fall. Before the Fall, things were good. In other words, there was nothing wrong with God's creation when God gave man an order which included a choice. I can't say I fully understand why. The best reason I can think of is because love isn't possible without choice. God loves man and desires man to freely love Him back. Fundamental to that love is to obey God's commands and not determine right and wrong for ourselves.
God is sovereign and in control of whatever and whomever He chooses to be. At the same time, God gives us a choice whether or not to obey His commands because He wants us to love Him back in a dynamic, active and responsive loving relationship.