There a beautiful and profound mystery in the Bible, that if we can only grasp it, will provide an abundance of freedom and a gentle poise to the way we live our day to day life- from the mundane decisions to the cosmic life changing decisions we make. This truth is that God is both completely, all in all sovereign above all the decisions we make, even the little ones, and yet at the same, time we have 100% free-will in which we have the power to determine our roads we take. It’s a mystery indeed, because we humans don’t think in these categories. When we hear that “God is all sovereign” we often think it is at the expense of free-will choice, or, alternatively, if we hear that we have free-will, we often think God is somehow over ridden by the choices we make, squashed into a little box if you will, forced to stop His plan for our lives. But it is possible, that in the world of God, that somehow, the both can simultaneously exist?
We are perplexed about this profound mystery, and instead of resting in the ‘both/and’ possibility of a God who can do all things, we have more often than not, put Him in the ‘either/or’ box where He can only be either all-in-all in control or limited by our freewill. Where did this thinking come from? Perhaps the enlightenment? An attempt to rationalise everything we hear? Could it be that the God of the Bible might have a different perspective in mind? Perhaps the ‘both/and’ can work with a God. That as judge, God will judge all our freewill choices that were ever made that were for or against Him, and yet, as King of the universe, everything is going according to His plan. From our perspective it is as if, freewill and God’s sovereignty are like two parallel lines that run through time so closely, and never touch, but in Heaven they somehow met and it all makes sense. To us, it’s either everything is fixed or everything is free game, but to God it is both.
Turning to the scriptures now this truth does indeed come out clearly: in proverbs we have in chapter 16 verse 9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps”. There is a part in the book of Acts where Peter is preaching for the first time, and speaks of God’s plan for Jesus’ death and human being deliberate free will at the same time and I quote “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). In other words “This was God’s plan, and you wicked men killed Jesus!”. Or take another example: Paul later in Acts is on a boat, and an angel of the Lord appears to Paul and says “No one will die tonight” and yet, knowing this, Paul acts tenaciously to protect his men from possible death. Is this Paul not trusting God? I don’t think so. I think holding both God’s sovereignty and our freewill; both God’s kingship and both God’s judgement over our decisions are tremendously practical and very liberating.
Let me show you this by firstly taking the either paralysing or passive outcomes of holding to a ‘either/or’ view rather than the ‘both/and’ view: if God wasn’t all sovereign and all of human destiny, sovereignty so to speak, was placed all on our shoulders then we should be scared! Because we are so rebellious, we do the wrong things all the time, and I can’t hear God perfectly which means that I might get something wrong, and, even down to the mundane things, create a ripple effect which will cosmically effect not only the destiny of my life but the destiny of others, which- if we are being honest here- will probably lead to worse things not better things. But, what about just holding onto God’s sovereignty? Oh life wouldn’t even be colourful! There would be no point in existence! You see, in the first view we would be paralysed, but in the second view we would be passive. Because if God is just in control of everything, then I am a robot who, no matter what I do, it was meant to happen; my life is closed, no matter what I do or the ‘choice’ I make- its predetermined and so where the colour of even living. And what about that of love? C.S Lewis puts it like this:
“Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”
Don’t you see? A universe where its just God’s sovereignty, we are not free, we are robots. But this is the western world’s ‘either/or’ teaching, either God’s sovereignty or our freewill, but see, that there is indeed liberty in holding onto The Bible (And God’s) ‘both/and’.
If God is 100% in control, I don’t need to be paralysed, and yet, because I have freewill choice, I don’t become passive! God’s in control and also, my choices do matter! I am neither paralysed with fear or passive with life. I should, ought and must, search for God’s will in all things and make conscience choices for God, and yet I can also rest that as big as the blue sky covers the world so too does God’s sovereignty cover all things. I can make conscience decisions to do right things for God, and yet know that if I do stuff up, God’s sovereign grace goes before. God works through our freewill, not in spite of, and with this, we are neither paralysed or passive about life, but free to make choices whilst recognising it will all be okay, whether we stuff up or not.
I love this. It reminds me of Romans 8:28 which says “ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”. God is weaving a tapestry where He is taking both our good and bad choices, and in His grace, He is weaving a plan we often cannot see or understand- that in the end He will work it all out for our good and His glory. That in the end, even our stuff ups and bad choices, are being redeemed- that our freely chosen lives can have a lasting redeeming purpose.
Now I am not saying that makes everything ‘good’, certainly not! Instead, what am I talking about then? I am talking about this: that God’s saving grace is bigger even then our stuff ups, that God is even taking our terrible choices we have made, our choices which don’t-by any wild stretch of the imagine- please God what so ever, but He is taking even them and weaving it together as part of His plan. We have the ‘both/and’ God, and we need to hold these two things in tight tension we truly want to experience a great freedom. That when chaos is happening in your life, reflect on God’s control. And when you are just being down right lazy, reflect on your need to take action. But by and large, don’t settle for ‘either/or’ but ‘both/and’. “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling” Paul says (in context to growing in your faith) and straight after says “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose” (Phil 2:12-13). It’s Jesus who says “knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt 7:7) and it’s Jesus who says “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:15).
On the cross, we see this beautifully. That the disciples would have been at the cross looking at it going “How could God allow this to happen! He was a good man! And now look!” and yet what they were looking at was the greatest act in redemptive history. At the time when everything looked like chaos because Jesus was, as a result of human beings hanging on a cross, God was indeed, fully in control. And so I say to you: what looks like chaos in your life might actually be control, even if you can’t comprehend it. And even if you played a part in the chaos occurring! God’s grace is bigger than even our biggest stuff ups. I shall end with this example given by my favourite preacher Tim Keller on the character Jacob found in the Old Testament:
Jacob lied to his father, Isaac, and wanted his birthright. He cheated his older brother out of it. Because he cheated, because he lied, he had to flee from his family. Was he guilty? Yes. Did he experience pain in his life because of that choice? Yes. Was he punished for it? Yes. But because he sinned he went and found his wife, Rachel, through whom the Messiah came. Was it all right then that he sinned?
No, but don’t you see because Jacob sinned, though God held him responsible for that choice, did that put him on an eternal plan B? Did he say, ‘I’ve ruined it from now on because of this sin it’s all over’ My friends, no. When he sinned he went into the best for him. God is far greater than your stupid choices.
Don’t, of course take that out of context. Strive to live a life pleasing to God, even if you fail, but recognize the life of the ‘both/and’ which will set you free from both being either paralyzed or passive, and see that God, in His grace, is bigger than you could of dreamed of. For those whose road of life are marked more by mistakes than selflessness, patience, and sound judgment, take hope in the God who truly and mysteriously redeems that broken road and works it for your good and His glory.
So I say from Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your path straight”.