Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11
THe Bible teaches that God is absolutely sovereign. Before creation, God had already planned and ordained the entire course of human history.
Among the familiar Scriptures proclaiming this truth are Isaiah 46:10 and Ephesians 1:11:
Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.
In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.
There can be no doubt that all events and circumstances in time are the outworking of God's plan that He decreed in eternity.
Futility? But one might ask, If God has already decided what will happen, then why should I do anything" To such an objector, the logical outcome of belief in the absolute sovereignty of God is indifferent fatalism; the view that we should do nothing since God controls everything.
How are we to answer the indifferent fatalist? Why doesn't belief in God's absolute sovereignty lead to indifferent fatalism, as he suggests? And if God is absolutely sovereign, how can our choices have real meaning? These questions can only be answered by a proper understanding of God's sovereignty.
Compatibilism. First, we need to understand the difference between fatalism and compatibilism. Those believing in fatalism teach that no matter what you choose or do, things will turn out the same. That is what fate has in store for you. For example, if fate determines that Bill will get an "F" on his history test tomorrow, then no mater how hard he studies, he will fail.
Compatibilism, on the other hand, views that while God is sovereign, our choices have real meaning and we are responsible for them. This is what the Bible teaches. Under this view, if Bill does not study, he will fail; but his failing is the result of his laziness, which was also allowed by God.
Conversely, if Bill does study hard, it means that God had decreed that he would do so, and that he would receive a good grade as a result.
We thus see that God ordained not only the ends (a good or bad grade for Bill), but whether Bill will or will not study beforehand as well. God works through humans and circumstances to ensure that the means He has ordained will occur so that His end purposes won't fail. This is what makes human decisions a significant part of God's plan for the world.
Humans always make choices
Second, the term fatalistic indifference is self-contradictory. The fatalist says, Since God decides everything that will happen, I will stop making choices. But the choice to stop making choices is itself a choice! We were made to be decision-making beings; this differentiates us from animals.
For example, when confronted with the option to eat either a piece of pie or a piece of cake, it is impossible for me not to make some sort of choice. I will either have the pie, the cake, or both or neither. If I refuse to make a choice, I am still making a choice; the choice not to eat. Thus, indifferent fatalism is fallacious because it cannot be the logical application of belief in God's absolute sovereignty.
Some fatalists modify their position and try to use God's sovereignty as an excuse to remain in sin. A person shouldn't bother to seek God, they would say, since everything is up to Him anyway. In essence, they consider indifference and passivity the logical outcome of God's sovereignty. Yet, the belief in God's sovereignty can be just as easily applied to encourage repentance and turning toward God.
Since we must make a choice either to live righteously or live sinfully, on what basis can one logically say that God's sovereignty leads to a choice of human laziness and sinfulness instead of a choice for human godliness?
Instead of saying that since God is sovereign, I will not bother to seek Him, one could say with equal logic that since God is sovereign, I therefore will seek Him with all my heart, especially since He has promised that a broken and a contrite heart He will not despise (Psalm 51:17). You see, we have to choose one path or the other. We cannot not choose.
Inner condition. But how are choices made? We make them according to our greatest desire of the moment. This means that our choices reveal our true character. Therefore, if we use God's sovereignty as an excuse for sin, it reveals the wickedness in our heart.
The sovereignty of God is actually a freeing doctrine for us. It frees us to obey with joyful trust, security, and peace. As a believer, we should think like this: Since God is sovereign, my obedience to Him, no matter how foolish it may look to the world, cannot ultimately harm me, since Romans 8:28 promises: All things work together for good to them that love God's
Look also at the way the Apostle Paul was moved by the Holy Spirit to apply in Philippians 2:12,13 the sovereignty of God to our obedience:
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
The foundation of our obedience is that God is ultimately the One who puts in our heart the desire and the willingness to obey. It does not say, Since God works in you to will and do of his good pleasure, therefore you can just stay in bed. Rather, it regards the sovereignty of God as the encouraging reason and the enabling power for our obedience!
Teamwork. Proverbs 16:9 is another verse that helps us better understand how God effects His salvation plan in a way that preserves human accountability and freedom. It says:
A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.
Note that in the same breath, God affirms both human freedom and His absolute control over that freedom. How can this be?
As we saw earlier, we always choose according to our greatest desire. This makes every choice determined (it was determined that I would choose the option that I prefer), yet free (since we make the choice on our accord). We survey the situation confronting us and decide on that which satisfies our heart. Once we realize which option we most prefer, we will then decide upon that option. Hence, the truth: A man's heart deviseth his way.
But God controls all things
But the Lord directeth his steps. God is ultimately in control. He regulates the circumstances and information on which we base our choice. For the Elect, moreover, He also gives them a new heart, a new inner desire (Ezekiel 36:26). As a result, the option we choose is the choice that He ordained for us to make.
So, when people try to use God's absolute sovereignty as an excuse not to seek God or obey Him, our approach to them is not to tell them to make a freewill decision to accept God. Sinners, the Bible says, by nature flee from God and look to any excuse to justify their flight. God's sovereignty is not the cause of indifference; human sin is the cause. We should not lay blame where it does not belong.
Instead of using the freewill argument to persuade people to accept God, tell them that they are sinners under the wrath of God. As such, they are heading for eternal damnation in hell. Then, we go to our knees and pray for them, saying, for example: Heavenly Father, I know You control all things. I therefore pray that You would mercifully change my friend's heart and cause him to seek you. Please draw him to Your Son and give him an irresistible desire to submit to you.
Glory to God. In conclusion, I had an experience last summer that perhaps sheds some light on this issue.
I was on top of Pike's Peak in Colorado. The clouds above were black and threatening, but I wasn't very aware of the danger. I was enjoying the view from the top of the mountain in a wide open area, far from any shelter. All of a sudden my hair stood up on end. It signaled to me that lightning was going to strike close to me, and soon. I had no control over whether I would be hit or not, and I knew it. I also knew that there was no place to seek cover from the lightning.
Yet I did not just stand there and say, God is in control of the situation, so I'll just stand here and do nothing. No, I was scared and ran for cover, even though I didn't know where to go. Totally helpless, I just sought refuge.
It is a similar case with God's sovereignty. We are not in control; God is. But knowing this can perhaps be the means by which God brings us the fear of Him.
A difference. God's sovereignty, however, is different from my lightning experience. For one thing, if God in His mercy and goodness starts us on the run for refuge, He will bring us safely to Himself. For another, even when we experience difficult trials on this earth, we can always be fully satisfied in the blessed hope that salvation has given us; provided we are truly born-again Christians. We know we'll spend eternity in heaven with the Lord.
The greatest inward desire of a Christian is that he delights in God's glory and enjoys exalting Him to the highest. God's greatest desire, on the other hand, is that Christ be exalted to the highest possible extent. And He is most glorified when His people are most satisfied in Him. Since God is sovereign; as well as infinitely jealous of His glory. He will not let His glory fail. In fact, He works all things together for His greatest glory and that is our greatest good. It means that an obedient Christian's passion to one day enjoy God's glory to the fullest cannot be disappointed!