The Sovereignty of “Free Will”

I recently visited another blog that seems to be dedicated to bashing Calvinists and what these people perceive to be “spiritual abuse.” Please understand I am not suggesting that abuse does not occur in churches,even in Calvinistic churches, or that such abuse should not be addressed and remedied. I would suggest that the way to deal with the problem is not to deny truth, but to examine the ways in which truth is being applied improperly.

The young lady to whose blog I am referring and those who comment there, by and large, do not understand this method of problem solving. Their ultimate M.O. is to deny the God who has revealed himself in Scripture, then to elevate “free will” to a position of sovereignty. By “free will,” they seem to mean [It is virtually impossible to get any of them to define “free will.”] not merely that people act freely and voluntarily, but that sinners are autonomous. They reject any God who impinges on man’s autonomy.

The owner of the blog recently posted an article explaining why she would have trouble believing in and loving John Calvin’s God. The following is a portion of that post. It concerns two young ladies who were abused as children and their commiseration over that abuse. The premise of the post was that a person who has been abused by an earthly father has greater difficulty trusting God than a person who had the privilege of being nourished by a loving father. It is not my purpose here to talk about the degree to which our life experiences will affect our trust level. Instead, my purpose is to declare that human autonomy and divine sovereignty cannot coexist. If one insists that the human will is deterministic and autonomous, then one must be an atheist. Human autonomy and divine sovereignty cannot coexist.

She wrote:

Please imagine being in the shoes of someone abused. Imagine the picture of a God who chooses whom He elects – there is no rhyme or reason. The dad who raised me chose which children he liked. He didn’t choose me. He said in words that he loved me. He showed me off as his trophy prize when I played the piano well for company. But when the company left, I could have been beaten for a “wrong look.” It sure sounds like my father was playing favorites to me. Did God also choose to let me get abused and not my siblings?

I’m sorry, I cannot allow my brain to go back to that. That is hell – – – every day coming home from school wondering if this would be the day that he’d explode. What is it like every day wondering if I measure up to God, if I got the doctrine right if He’s going to elect me – even if I have already believed in my heart He has saved me? Sometimes my feelings waver. It’s déja vu, but now with a spiritual Father.

Do you sense both the physical and heavenly father chaos I have experienced? It’s hell. Do you see why hell might seem preferable than heaven – – if I have to acknowledge that this God, the One who sent Jesus to die for me, actually chose for me to be abandoned, rejected, and beaten by both of my earthly fathers? I’m now supposed to be okay with the fact that God foresaw the abuse I would endure and it was in His glorious plan?

Finally, Oasis’ words articulated so powerfully what I have felt. She speaks so well for me here:

It is IMPOSSIBLE for me believe that God loves me, if he was the man behind the curtain the entire time. I have cried so many tears over the concept. If any part of him, on any level, wanted those abusers to destroy me in the way they did, then I conclude that GOD DOES NOT LOVE ME. And if this is true, then my sorrow will never end, because my God is no more.

Please understand I do not in any way wish to depreciate the pain these young ladies have felt or the psychological scars that have been left by the abuse they have suffered. I am simply asserting that the answer is not to deny plainly revealed biblical truth. In reality, my problem is probably not so much with these young ladies’ blasphemous comments as with others who see nothing wrong with what they have written and in fact applaud them for their statements. Perhaps the rational ability of these young ladies has been so twisted and clouded by their emotional pain they can no longer reason properly. Those who have failed to correct them should be ashamed of themselves for becoming complicit in their blasphemy.

Virtually every statement in this post is a denial of some biblically revealed truth about God.

1. It assumes God is an arbitrary tyrant like her father who “flies off the handle” without provocation and whose choices are random “there is no rhyme or reason.”

2. It assumes God can’t be trusted when he tells us he loves us. If God allows us to be treated in a way we feel is “unfair,” then it is inconceivable that he could love us. Thus, it denies both God’s love and his faithfulness to fulfill his clearly revealed promises.

3. It makes our experience, not the revealed Word, the arbiter of what is good and evil, right and wrong. If it feels bad to me, it can’t be right. It must not have felt right to Joseph to have been sold into slavery by his brothers, but he said to them later on, “I am in the place God wants me to be”. It must not have felt good to Job to lose, in a single day, everything he owned , except for his nagging wife and three so called friends, yet he said, “The LORD has given, The Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the LORD.” “Shall we receive good from the LORD’S hand and shall we not receive evil?” Lest we think Job was mistaken in his assessment of the reality, the LORD says to Satan, “you have moved ME against him.” The kind of thinking reflected in this post assumes if God allows [much less ordains] such adversities to occur, he must not be a good God and he must not love us.

4. It denies both God’s omniscience and his sovereign plan. She writes: “I’m now supposed to be okay with the fact that God foresaw the abuse I would endure and it was in His glorious plan?” Perhaps I have misunderstand the point of her question, but it seems to me the answer she expects from her readers is “No, of course not!” Of course, the alternative is that those events took God completely by surprise and he is blundering through with no plan as to how human events will unfold.

5. Her words give the impression that God has not made clear to us what he requires of us and what will please him. “What is it like every day wondering if I measure up to God, if I got the doctrine right if He’s going to elect me – even if I have already believed in my heart He has saved me? Sometimes my feelings waver. It’s déja vu, but now with a spiritual Father.” Even after she has “believed in her heart,” she can’t trust God to be true to his promises.

6. It fails to take into account that the “man” she would rather have had standing behind the curtain [her description of God] and would have delivered her had he not been the God Calvin believed in, did nothing to give her relief. Neither the “god” she imagines, nor the God Calvin believed in stopped the abuse. Since no God intervened to stop the abuse, and any God deserving of our love would not have allowed it to continue, the only conclusion at which she can arrive is that God does not exist. What she is really saying is that the only God who would be deserving of her love is a God who is impotent, blind, and groping about to find his way, since he has no plan. Or if he does have a plan, it is a plan that can change with the circumstances and may be thwarted by the sovereign will of man. Yet, even this impotent, blind and groping God did not come from behind the curtain to help her. Perhaps he was so blind he could not see what was occurring. Does she really mean she could only love a God who couldn’t see the abuse coming? How could one trust a god who was clueless about what would occur in the future, in this case her abuse, and had no plan to bring good out of evil, could not have done anything about it if he wanted to because he didn’t want to violate the sinners autonomous will, or alternately, could have done something to stop the abuse but, for some unexplained reason, did nothing.

What she needs to understand is that the God Calvin believed in, the one who has revealed himself in the Word of God, hates the abuse she suffered even more than she does. That he has ordained all that occurs in our lives does not mean he has caused it to occur or that he calls it good.

Additionally, the God she seems to have rejected is a God who controls all things for the good of his people and is able to bring ultimate good to his people out of the most horrendous and painful circumstances of life.

As well-meaning as he may be, her “god” is an impotent bystander whose heart grieves over the fallen creation but has no ability to bring sinners to salvation or bring abusers like those who abused her to judgment. This “god” of hers wanted to help, but he just couldn’t intervene because he has no control in the universe. In her world, “free will” is sovereign.


2 Responses to “The Sovereignty of “Free Will””

  1. 1 Ariel D. Moya Sequeira
    August 31, 2013 at 1:33 am

    Every time I read/listen to stories about God not loving someone and being a sadist super-being because of some terrifying past, I remember John 9. In that occasion, the blind man didn’t tell Jesus “why didn’t you heal me earlier?” or “God is playing with my life as if I were a puppet, making me be born blind and suffer and in some random time heal me just to elevate his selfish glory.” and leave angry. Rather, he told everyone his account of the miracle performed in him (much to the fury of the Pharisees) and worshipped Jesus —now being able to see him face to face— the second time he met Him.

    About being afraid of “not measuring up to God”, that’s why we rely on Christ and not ourselves in that matter. If someone truly believes Jesus saved him/her, then there is no need to be afraid of such thing. This reminds me of “Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine” choral in Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John’s Passion”:

    Rest in peace, you sacred limbs,
    I shall weep for you no more,
    rest in peace, and bring me also to rest.
    The grave that is allotted to you
    and contains no further suffering,
    opens heaven for me and shuts off hell.

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