Sovereignty and Free Will: The Radical Middle?

05_Hand_of_GodHere is my unofficial entry to the “Sovereignty of God Blog Series” on the Man of Depravity blog and really my first attempt to articulate thoughts I’ve wrestled through for the last 5 or 6 years. This entry was really a comment or response to Pastor Eugene Cho’s contribution to the series (of Quest Church, Seattle). His simple but clear articulation of his view on God’s sovereignty and our free will really helped me clarify some of my own thoughts on the subject (which is usually a jumbled mess).

Here is the thrust of Pastor Eugene’s thoughts (read his full entry for more detail):

Creation is a beautiful reflection of God’s character. And in that creation, he gives to humanity what I often interpret as the greatest expressions of His love: Freedom or Free will. What’s even more amazing is that God gives us the gift of freedom knowing the possibility that humanity could sin and rebel. For me, this is stunning. In giving the gift of Free Will, I believe God actually chooses to “relinquish” power. He still remains in control because power or authority isn’t stripped away from him but in His love, benevolence, and grace, God chooses to give the gift of ‘free will’ to humanity. (An idea Eugene later refers to as “self limited sovereignty”)

Perhaps one thing I could add to the conversation as I see it is that although I do generally agree with this idea of “self limited sovereignty,” I still do believe God can reasonably in love exercise His sovereignty over our free will from time to time. One of the most compelling images of election I’ve heard (given actually by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill, Seattle) is that of a father pulling his young daughter out of a traffic filled road she unknowingly ran into. In other words, a father with “sovereignty” over his young daughter in a moment like this should and will exercise his authority over the will of his daughter to rescue her. It would be silly to tell this father that the greatest act of love he could extend her is to let her run freely into traffic. You see this reality play out time and time again both in the scriptures and in real life where God seems to come out of the silence and intervene with our sometimes crazy and destructive behaviors and plans (perhaps Paul riding to Damascus is a perfect example).  I would further add that when God does intervene in this way that it’s not purely for our own “salvation” as to follow an extremely egocentric tradition of thinking about election, but rather to ensure to furthering and eventual establishment of His kingdom or reign.

On the other hand, there are many other times in my experiences with people where the extension of free will truly does seem like the most loving gesture one could give. I think of a time when I was talking to my dad about my decision to go into full time ministry. As much as he hated the idea and thought I was throwing my life away (rightfully so in his worldview), he blessed me and allowed me my freedom (as best as a non-believing father could). This in my mind will always be one of the greatest acts of love extended to me by my earthly father. And so again in this way, I completely agree with the general principals of God’s “self limited sovereignty” for the sake of love.

So then, when does God exercise His sovereignty and when does He not? Well, I would imagine it being sort of like parenting a teenager. There are times that in the life a teenager that it is still in the parent’s reasonable right to exercise his or her authority over a teenager’s free will to protect them or even rescue them from danger. Yet at the same time, a good parent to help their child enter adulthood will also extend love to their teenager by beginning to bless and flame their sense of freedom and responsibility over their actions. If you run into a parent who can perfectly balance between the two, you would call him or her extremely wise. With that said, I would imagine that God in His infinite wisdom can perfectly play the role of balancing having “self limited sovereignty” and complete control over our lives and in this tension emerge as a perfectly loving God. This, I believe, is the reality that we currently live in (at least currently in my faith journey toward truth), the radical middle, where our sovereign God extends true free will in love, but also at times elects to rescue us out of that same love.

Why then does God choose one over the other in a particular situation? The answer to that I think just gets lost in the infinitely mysterious nature of God and His ability to ensure the full arrival of His Kingdom in the midst of protecting man’s freedom.  After all, who are we to question His free will?

Anyways, this has been my first attempt to articulate some of my thoughts on the subject was. Please know that this is in no way my official “position paper” on the issue.  I’m still pretty utterly confused at the issue of sovereignty, free will, evil, and all that jazz.  I would love to hear any of your thoughts on the subject.

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