This is a perfect example of the debate between God’s Sovereignty and human responsibility (or man’s will)! In fact, the writer (all see below book and excerpt from the book) from the outset assumes free-will! In other words, our wills are they to be understood as absolutely free or are they to be understood as limitely free, yet free indeed?
Explanation of Freedom:
If we understand this right, then the writer is coming from the Arminian view point. The point to be made here is, does the writer mean free will as “freedom of indifference” or “Libertarian free will?” Which, if this is what he is referring to that Jonah possesses, then God technically could not exercise control over his choice. In other words, his choice is totally free when he decided to escape from God’s presence as well as to repent and turn to God’s commands and desires. As the opposite is also true, and therefore, God would have to change his plan! To stated clearly, if Jonah had the “free will” the author says he had, then the Sovereignty of God could not do anything at all to overturn his free choices.
Therefore, his choices are not compatible with God’s Sovereignty. Since his free choices must be completely done without any external influence (this is what “free willism” demands as a system). This whole line of thinking is the crux of the matter. Free will, therefore, as defined and understood by those who hold to this is also called “contra-causal freedom,” which is basically having the freedom to choose between alternatives without any regard to what you truly desire in your heart. Therefore, your choice can go against what your strongest desires are (Lk 6:43-45). In other words, if your choice could have caused a certain outcome then it could also be true that it could have caused another outcome. There are a variety of choices that “x” could choose against their strongest desires and God did not have any control over the choices. In other words, God is not the one in control of any choices that man makes, and therefore, could not have predicted, carried out, executed, or fully bring anything to pass due to his absolute reliance on man’s choices. The Bible explicitly says that God controls nature, events, and human decisions without coercion, or man becoming a robot. Yet, in His control, he genuinely rules without being accused of the cause of evil, and therefore, responsible for the evil acts of men. And, he is also ruling in a way that the evil acts of men are in fact free acts, and are being truly chosen by them without them being robots (Gen 50:20, Acts 2:22-24).
Illustration of Sovereignty and Freedom working side by side:
A perfect example of this is in the writing of the Scriptures. Here we have the absolute certainty that God wrote through the Holy Spirit His Word, no one doubts this otherwise the Bible is man’s words (at least conservative inerrantists believe this). But on the other side we have Paul’s true words, Peter’ true words, James’ true words. Are they not different? Are they not their own words also? This is a perfect case for the compatibilist freedom. God moved in them to write, they wrote filled with the Spirit what they truly desired to write. Otherwise, if you don’t believe that the Scriptures were written this way then you end up with the dictation theory of the doctrine of inspiration which means that God dictated His Words to them and they were nothing but amanuenses. But, you can see this is not the case.
Two extremes must be avoided in this debate:
1) Free will, as a philosophical notion (The old “Pelagiaus” cry!–where man is the king and ruler of his own fate) and NOT as a biblical revelation requires that man be 100% free in the sense that he is free entirely from God’s control and would render God’s ability to control man’s free choices–in the libertarian sense–inoperative. Therefore, God just sits around waiting for man to choose him. In other words, God reacts to the independence and absolute freedom of man, and therefore, cannot at all control the course of human history (Acts 2:20-25; 4, Gen 50:20). The libertarian free will adherents hold to this system in order to exonerate God from the evil in the world and that then He would not be responsible for it and the creature then would be responsible in a real sense. In other words, they believe that in order for God to be truly acquitted from any wrong doing (causing evil in the world) then the creature must be truly, entirely free so that only then can man be truly, in a real sense, culpable for his sin. Therefore free will in the libertarian sense is not biblical. People are indeed free in a sense: they have freedom of inclination. They choose based on their strongest desire or inclination. Nevertheless they are still free to choose and act but it never can catch God of guard or by suprise or that God can’t control it so that His purposes are not thwarted. Compatibilist freedom, is that freedom, therefore, that renders men’s free actions compatible with God’s Sovereignty. In other words, compatibilist freedom is a freedom that works within the confines of God’s total freedom from controlling everything. This is because man cannot and does not have total free will in regard to choosing to come to Christ (John 1:12-13, 6:35-45, 10:29, Eph 2:1-3, Rom 8:6-8, John 15:16, Rom 9:6-24).
2) The other extreme is no freedom at all. What the free-will camp tries to refute are the extreme strains of doctrines which the Bible does not teach: that God has us as robots or that we are fatally mechanical. We are only doing what we are predetermined to do. In other words, our fate is determined in such a way as to render our course in life so as anything we choose as not really our choices but someone elses (in this case God). Basically, we are puppets. We do or say nothing that we have not been pre-programmed to do. This is an extreme and not biblical! Another objection to the Potter’s freedom is that if we believe in election or predestination (expressions of God’s Sovereignty) then we have nothing more or less than “Fatalism.” This is a philosophical concept that all things including our choices have been absolutely determined to such an extent that none of our choices are ours at all. And, nothing we do can change our destiny because fate has determined it. This is phisophically and humanistically untennable.
The Example of the life of Jesus:
Jesus is a perfect example of this whole issue. Everything that happen with Jesus was predetermined. Nothing escaped the Sovereignty of God in the course of redemptive history. God planned and carried out exactly Jesus’ life, execution, executioners, date of- time of- his death, trial, burial and resurrection. He did this with exacting precision! No conservative will argue that Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection was not prophesied and fulfilled to the minutest detail. God’s hand was not thwarted or held back (esp by the free decisions of man). He was not hindered in accomplishing redemption. Yet, Jesus submitted willfully, obediently, desirously. He did everything the Father wanted him to do. He pleased the Father in everything. Yet, was he not free? Was he a robot? Was his righteousness a fake programmed righteousness? Is there anything in Scripture that says that merely because he was God in the flesh he could not fail? No, the opposite is true! He really did struggle at Gethsemane. He really did get tempted by the Devil. Are his free choices not real ones to accept his Father’s plan for mankind? Of course we would agree that Jesus did all things as a real man and acted on his own volition to submit to the Father’s will. Hypothetically speaking if Jesus had the libertarian free will and decided before the cricifixion to change his mind, what would have happened to redemption? Would God have had to change his plan and wait on Jesus to see what he would do next? This is ludicrous!
A Balance is to be held:
Therefore, a robotic or mechanical view as well as a freedom of indeference are extreme views of man’s freedom and of the Sovereignty of God.These are flawed views of the Bible’s doctrines of Providence. The Bible genuinely describes that humans have genuine freedom (Lk 6:43-45). However, this freedom is biblically better described as compatibilist freedom. In other words, the freedom people exercise is a true freedom indeed, but it is compatible with God’s Sovereignty! Another way to say this, is that humans do exercise their will (it is definitely our will!) and their freedom is within their own heart’s desire. In other words, they exercise “freedom of inclination.” Freedom of inclination is true freedom of the will within what they are most inclined to do and what they are most desiring to will. In other words, when people think of Calvinism and predestination they have a flawed picture by thinking that people’s freedom is eradicated or totally erased which is not the case neither is it what the Bible is teaching. Calvinism in its true sense is not this unbiblical understanding of human freedom. Anti-Calvinists place too much emphasis on man’s freedom, however. They normally have a distasteful apprehension of Romans 8:28-30, 9:11-24. They just understand those passages with the lenses of free-willism and can’t see beyond the clear understanding of the verses. They have a difficulty understanding the Potter-Clay metaphor. Yet, this is exactly what God is described like in many Scriptures (Jere 18:4-6; Is 29:16, 45:9, 64:8, Rom 9:20-21). In fact, Paul is borrowing the metaphor from Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc. You cannot get around Scriptures that say emphatically that God predetermined, and that yet, man is responsible for his free choices! Herein lies the mystery! (Rom 11:33-36)
Finally, what did Jonah actually do? He fulfilled exactly what his heart desired. He made a choice to rebel out of his strongest desire and what he mostly wanted to do (Lk 6:43-45). This is “freedom of inclination.” This means he really and badly, wanted to go against God and God’s program. God had to chastise him to bring him in line with His Will. Jonah changed his mind due to God’s discipline! But, he still begrudgingly accomplished what God desired. Nineveh did repent and God spared them. God caused supernatural circumstances to fulfill His plan. If God had no freedom to Sovereignly intervene then God would have to resort to plan “B” in a sense, and technically, He did not foreknow. Jonah would be on the driver seat if you will. Ultimately, God’s Will and predetermined counsel prevailed. Yet, God’s exhaustive meticulous knowledge knew all along what Jonah would do and how Nineveh would respond. Now there is another area in theology that links these ideas together–God’s Decretive vs God’s Prescriptive Wills have to be differentiated. This is for another time.
There you go here is a run-down of the issues surrounding the excerpt about when “Jonah’s freewill meets head-on the Sovereignty of God.” On a balanced note, we must remember that our Arminian brothers and sisters are indeed our brothers and sisters. We can’t hold to such a rigid doctrinal stance that we exclude them from fellowship. This is not acceptable at all! We have to learn to balance the essentials from the non-essentials to fellowship.
This exercise in theology is to show that when we look at Scripture there has to be a real desire to interpret it as it is. Unfortunately, Arminian theology has to go through all kinds of twisting and contortions to fit a libertarian free will, and therefore, diminish the Glory of God. His Sovereignty cannot be diminished! His Word cannot be re-interpreted to fit a philosophical notion of free-will (freedom of indifference). Neither can we re-interpret the clear exegesis of passages that say He is in complete control of the past, present, and future (Ps 135:6; Is 14:27, 41:21-23, 46:6-9; Prov 21:1; Daniel 4:34-35). In fact, Arminianism is inconsistent: they want to have their cake and eat it too. In other words, their inconsistency with Scripture is that they want God to be Sovereign in a sense, they ascribe to Him this; but, they want to switch the power of God in electing, predetermining, calling, justifying, sanctifying, and glorifying after the counsel of His own will (the freedom of the Potter) to man generating their own power in overcoming their deadness, inability, and depravity. They want to be the cause of their own regeneration through their own unhindered, free, and self-exercised faith. Our own inability to produce faith and repentance (Ephesians 2:8-10, 2 Timothy 2:25) for regeneration is pervasive throughout the Bible’s witness. This is inconsistent with the Bible.
On the contrary, Open Theism (another form of Arminianism) is probably more consistent yet still in error. They hold to man’s total liberterian free will but also hold, rather consistently, that God does NOT have complete omniscience. In other words, God is near-sighted. Heonly knows the past and the present but NOT the future. These deeper theological truths are not for the fainthearted: (2 Peter 3:15-16). Nonetheless, this is one of the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism.
Be of good cheer, Our Heavenly Father knows well our ignorance and finiteness to these doctrines. However, we should be humbled and our desire to overcome theological deficiencies should be all the more strenghtened.
Pastor James T. Cater
6390 SW 32nd Street
Miramar, FL 33023