AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
1. IF GOD ALWAYS GETS WHAT HE WANTS, DOESN’T THAT MAKE OUR CHOICE INVALID?
No, because part of what God wants is for us to have choice. The key to understanding how God can have His way without turning us into automatons is to realize how limited our choices are and how many scenarios please Him. Suppose you’re going out to lunch with a friend. You say to her, “Do you want to go to Italian or Mexican?” You’re giving her a choice, but it’s limited. You could easily enjoy either food at the time you ask the question, so though you’re giving her some degree of choice, no matter what she chooses, you’re going to feel satisfied.
When we lose sight of God’s complexity and His absolute control over everything, we start getting all confused about the topic of His will. God is a Being who finds pleasure in a vast array of things. Just look around at the amazing assortment of creatures He has made in this world alone. How often do you come across someone who loves both cats and spiders? Or someone who finds both apes and worms amazing? We humans have preferences that are extremely limited. We talk about dog people and cat people. For the most part, none of us like beetles. It’s rare to come across someone who is crazy about slugs. Because our preferences are so limited and our dislikes so numerous, we struggle to understand how God can be such a fan of extreme opposites. We love the thought of Heaven, but we hate the thought of Hell. God loves both Heaven and Hell. When we think of God running our lives, we tend to assume it’s some big bummer for Him if we willfully rebel against Him. Well, no, it’s really not, because God finds pleasure in so many situations. If we want to be snarky little brats, He’ll find pleasure in disciplining us. If we refuse to respect Him, He’ll find pleasure in distancing Himself from us. If we earnestly seek Him, He’ll find pleasure in rewarding us in eternity. God isn’t like some super fussy kid who only likes one kind of food. God likes many, many things. Because He enjoys an infinite number of scenarios, there’s all kinds of room for Him to give us some degree of choice. He always limits the things we can choose between, yet our choice among those options is very real. As a general rule, God doesn’t force us to get saved. He doesn’t force us to pursue Him. He doesn’t force us to like Him. Instead, He gives us the option to reject and defy Him without feeling the slightest bit threatened that we’ll mess up His universe.
2. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOD’S PERFECT WILL AND HIS PERMISSIVE WILL?
Because the Church has invented all kinds of delusions about who God is, she ends up in a tricky bind when it comes to explaining the things He does. By the time she decides that God can’t lie, can’t change His mind, and can’t enjoy people suffering, she has a very hard time explaining why Jesus and Yahweh depict Themselves enthusiastically trampling on humans in the Bible and spattering Their clothes with our blood. It is because the Church wants God to have certain limitations that she’s forced into making up a bunch of guff about how His will works. Here’s where she comes up with terms like perfect and permissive.
God’s perfect will is supposed to be His “ideal scenario”—the thing He really wants to happen. In the Bible, God introduces Himself to us as preferring certain things, such as humans living together in loving harmony while they wholeheartedly pursue Him. It’s very easy to skim over God’s commands in the Bible and sketch out a picture of His perfect will.
But now how do we explain the fact that God’s perfect will isn’t happening? Well, when God permits us to deviate from His perfect plan, that’s called His permissive will. For example, God’s perfect will is that you remain a virgin until marriage. But He permitted you to deviate from that perfect will by shacking up with your boyfriend. He could have stopped you, but He didn’t.
Now the idea is that when we roam in the territory of God’s permissive will, we end up experiencing less than His best. This theory sounds good at first glance, but it’s very easy to poke holes in it. For example, a father becomes an alcoholic. Clearly God’s perfect will is for us to stay sober and not drink ourselves into oblivion. But this father keeps drowning himself in alcohol, so God permits him to become an alcoholic. We’re okay so far, but now how do we explain the man’s daughter? She is seriously pursuing God at a young age. She’s walking in alignment with God’s perfect will, which is supposed to mean she gets abundant blessings poured down on her head. But instead what she gets is a raging father smacking her around at night. Why is God forcing this girl to suffer for the rebellion of her father? Is the father getting preferential treatment? Is he the only one who actually gets a shot at God’s perfect will and if he blows it, then everyone who knows him ends up missing out on their chance to experience the sweet life because of him? This theory sadly fails to explain much of what goes on in this world.
3. IF GOD CAN BE SATISFIED BY SO MANY THINGS, WHY DOES HE GIVE US COMMANDS? WHY DOES HE MAKE SUCH A BIG DEAL ABOUT RIGHTEOUSNESS?
The whole command package serves two basic purposes: to give us an opportunity to choose submission and to help us understand who God is.
When we think of submission, we think of agreeing to go along with someone else’s program when that program is very dislikable to us. If a friend always wants to do your favorite activities, you’d hardly feel like you’re submitting to her. But when God tells you not to do something that you really want to do, that’s when the feelings of resentment start riling up within you and you suddenly realize what independent little beings we humans are. We don’t want to submit to God, yet He says total submission is the only way we’ll be invited to join the club of His favorites. If we’re going to have any chance at knowing sweet intimacy with God, we need Him to create opportunities for us to choose submission. Here’s where the commands come in. God traps our souls into earthsuits with extremely strong preferences for certain things. He then outlaws most of those preferences as sin. Getting drunk. Cussing people out. Sleeping around. Getting revenge. Lusting. Gossiping. Slandering. Stealing. Envying. Holding grudges. If it’s an activity or attitude that our flesh gets a real thrill out of, we can probably find a command somewhere in the Bible that says it’s wrong. We now find ourselves in a perfect position to choose submission—difficult, pride grinding submission. We can also choose to ignore all of those commands and just do what feels good in the moment. We can choose the route of fickle submission—giving God His way when we need Him to help us out of a jam, but living for ourselves the rest of the time. Those last two options have always been the most popular ones. But without any commands from God, we wouldn’t have the chance to choose submission, and that would mean we’d never get to be close to Him.
God is so complex and so alien that we really need Him to simplify Himself to us if we’re going to have any hope of relating to Him. This is another key reason that God presents Himself to us as a Being with very strong preferences which seem to follow a very consistent pattern. He doesn’t like it when we kill and hurt each other. He prefers to see us happy, healthy, and enjoying our own existence. He so enjoys seeing us happy that He created a paradise called Heaven where our souls will have a wonderful time. When we read through God’s commands and preferences in the Bible, we get a very clear, simplistic picture of who He is and what He’s about. It’s just an outline, but an outline is all we can handle at first. We need some way of feeling logically certain that our God is good before we’ll be able to put our heart into trusting Him. God created us to be logical creatures, and He then describes His good Character in ways that make sense to our logical minds (see How do we know that God is good?). But are things really as simple and straightforward as He makes them out to be? Of course not. The Bible serves as a nice introductory lesson on who God is. It’s a great launching pad for the spiritually young. But as we mature, we will find that things become more and more complex.
Pondering the mysteries of God is like staring down an infinite hallway. The fact that you can’t see the end is utterly enticing. As the Holy Spirit guides you forward, you keep finding yourself amazed by the new insights He reveals. Every revelation suddenly makes sense out of questions you couldn’t resolve before, yet it also raises new, tantalizing questions that intensify your desire to know more. It’s a thrilling journey, and one which will continue forever. Our Gods are infinitely complex and infinitely fascinating. There is nothing more satisfying to our souls than growing in our understanding of who They are, even if we’re only growing by micrometers.
4. WHAT ABOUT PREDESTINATION?
The doctrine of predestination was born out of our logical minds blowing a fuse when it comes to trying to understand how God’s sovereignty and our freedom of choice can coexist. As far as we are concerned, if God is in absolute control of all things, choice must be non-existent. We argue instead that before we were even created, God decided that He would force us down certain paths. When we talk about God predestining us, we mean He chose our destinies for us. Once you buy into the theory of predestination, it drastically changes your view of salvation. If there really is no freedom of choice, then we can divide the world into those who God created for the purpose of eternally tormenting (objects of wrath) and those who He created for the purpose of saving.
Calvinism is a good example of predestination run amuck. According to Calvinism, we’re all just victims of God’s random choice. He chooses to favor some of us and despise others of us. We have no say whatsoever in the matter . We just sit here like lumps and have God act upon us. The classic picture of God moving humans around on some chessboard is a good picture of Calvinism—we’re like mindless robots who only ever do what God forces us to do. Calvinism loses all sense of a personal, two-way relationship with our Makers. You don’t choose Christ, but rather Christ chooses you and forces you to go through the pretenses of choosing Him, but the whole thing is really just a farce because you’re nothing more than God’s little robot.
A logical application of predestination forces us to draw many conclusions that God says are not valid. God says we are not automatons. He says His punishments and rewards are not meaningless, random acts on His part, but very purposeful acts which are direct responses to how we exercise the very real option of choice that He gives us. God says that He can be in absolute control of all things without taking away all freedom of choice. He says that though our choices are limited, they are extremely important.
We need to be very guarded against doctrines and theories which try to minimize the importance of choice. From Genesis to Revelation, God emphasizes how real our freedom of choice is and what a pivotal role it plays in shaping our future with Him. God says it is quite possible for us to have some freedom of choice without His sovereignty being reduced in any way.
Now we can always count on the Church to sell us a reversal of God’s truth. God says that our relationship with Him is a relationship between two beings who both have some freedom of choice. His freedom is infinite, while ours is limited, but some freedom does exist on both sides. Today the Church has cooked up many creative ways of refuting this idea. Instead of viewing our relationship with God as the series of voluntary responses that He says it is, the Church tries to boil things down to formulas in which one party in the relationship loses all sense of choice. Usually that party is God. Let’s see how this works.
The trouble begins when we decide things simply can’t be as free as God says they are. We see evidence of God controlling things all around us. For example, one man is born with physiology which causes him to become addicted to alcohol after one drink. Another man can drown himself and never become addicted. God calls this variety. We call it inequality. Wherever we find inequality, we instantly assume that God is being unfair. When the man who is genetically prone to addiction gets hooked, we say God has set that man up to fail. God would argue that His judgment of the man takes into account the man’s genetic factors, therefore the judgment will be fair. God judges us based on how we use the limited freedom He gives us. But because that limited freedom takes on different forms in each life, we can’t find any easy way of tracking it. This frustrates us, because we want to feel in control. We want to be able to look at Sally, clearly see the limits of her choice, and then accurately predict how God will judge her based on how she used her choice. But we can’t. When we look at Sally, we see her making different choices than Mary, but we also see that her life is very different than Mary’s. We can tell that these two women aren’t equipped with the same internal resources, but because we can’t see into their souls, we can’t get an accurate picture of where their limitations are. This means we can’t form accurate judgments of them. This is very irksome, because we love to judge each other. Here is where we either choose to ignore differences and judge both women strictly by the letter of God’s Law, or we toss up our hands and say no one is responsible for anything because the ladies had so many factors forced upon them which they never got to choose. This is quite true: our freedom of choice is far from total. But we still have some, and each soul will have to sort out between him and God where the limits of his choices lie. We will each be judged alone in eternity, and we must each sort out our convictions alone on this earth. One man can’t tell another exactly what obedience will look like for him in a given moment. Certainly we try. We tell all homosexuals that they’re being willful rebels. We tell all addicts that they’re not trying hard enough. We make these kinds of obnoxious blanket statements all the time because we don’t want things to be as complicated as they are. But it’s too bad for us, because God has intentionally stirred the stew with so many factors that you’ll never be able to stand on the outside of your brother and accurately assess his standing with God. Only God sees our hearts. Only God can judge accurately.
Today the Church has invented many rules about what the devoted Christian’s life will look like. If you’re dragging through some spiritual valley and you go to a pastor for advice, he’s quite likely going to run you through the classic three point checklist:
Are you spending time in the Word every day?
Are you fellowshipping on a regular basis?
Are you in prayer?
If you answer no to one or more of these questions (which you will if God is dragging you through refinement), then you’ll be told that the solution to your troubles is simple. Just do these three things, add on a dollop of serving, and life will be roses again. There are many Christians today who don’t believe that we’re predestined to be saved, but they do think we’re predestined to be healthy, wealthy, chipper little things if we’re actually saved and staying up on the three point checklist (see Assessing God’s Pleasure with You: Three Useless Tests). This group defines all trials as attacks by demons who are trying to rob us of our rightful “inheritance in Christ”. We must then spend our lives beating those demons back with our shield of faith and Bible sword so that we can enjoy the good life that God wants us to have. This group insists that we can beat those pesky demons back and experience continuous victory if we just know which verses to quote when from our holy spell book because God has predestined us to be triumphant. When we say, “I believe I am already healed” as we lay wasting away on our sick beds, we are fighting hard for the concept of someone being an automaton—not us, but God. There is a large body of prosperity doctrines which put forth a creative reversal of the predestination concept. Instead of us being controlled by God’s freedom of choice, He becomes controlled by ours. If we toss a few bucks in the offering plate, God must return our offering to us tenfold. If we claim certain blessings in Jesus’ Name, God must deliver the goods.
Whenever you’re trying to decide if some doctrine is sound or not, consider what it is saying about choice. If God is being made out to be a puppet on a string who we can manipulate into doing whatever we want whenever we want, clearly the doctrine is a lie. God teaches that He is an autonomous Being who cannot be controlled by us. If instead the doctrine makes us out to be automatons who are being totally controlled by God, thus we are exempt of any moral responsibility, that is also a lie. God says that we have limited freedom of choice, yet our choice is extremely significant. He says our choices do not control or hamper Him in anyway, yet they have everything to do with where we will spend eternity and what our experience of eternity will be like.
If God controls everything, how is it fair that He punishes us for making certain choices?
Can God force us to sin?
Can God force us to obey?
The Complexity of God’s Will