For some reason, a lot of people like saying that everything would be perfect if it were not for humanity’s “free will,” but there are several problems with this view. First, the term “free will” is not in the Bible so any attempt to discuss the idea of free will ultimately relies upon implicit meanings and vague interpretations. Second, earthquakes, tornadoes and diseases seem to be some very “bad” parts of creation that exist apart from the evils presented by bad people. Lastly, we ultimately do not have autonomy in spite of God.
Yes, the idea of free will, meaning that mankind is totally autonomous and God cannot affect the decision making of his heart is simply contradicted by the exceedingly clear and consistent testimony of Scripture.
Before getting into the Scripture, let’s just use an example that R.C. Sproul has illustrated. Oftentimes, we speak of God as an “irresistible force.” He created the whole universe, nothing can resist Him! Yet, in the same breath, we speak of humankind as an “immovable object.” Those who claim that God cannot change our hearts or actions, but we do out of our own free will assert that each man’s free will is like an immovable object. A man cannot be moved outside of his own decision.
What happens when an irresistible force collides with an immovable object? Either the irresistible force isn’t so irresistible or the immovable object isn’t quite so immovable. So, I pose it to you, use your common sense. Is the all-powerful God resistible, or is the frail and finite human creature movable? The answer is obvious, and no surprise, the Bible takes the stance that God is truly irresistible.
In the Book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar is humbled and turned into a crazed lunatic that lives as an animal in the wilderness, against his own free will. When God brings him back to his senses, he declares, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35)
Nothing can ward off God! The inhabitants of earth? They are nothing! The host of heaven? He can do what He wills with them! No one can council God and tell Him what is right and wrong.
Remember the story of the pharaoh in Exodus who wouldn’t let Moses and his people go? Was God sitting idly by prolonging the Israelites’ slavery? No! He was actively taking part in prolonging it by hardening the pharaoh’s heart.
The Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. (Exodus 4:21)
Why did God do all of this? He explains:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10:1-3)
God affected the free will of pharaoh in order so that we may know how powerful and irresistible He truly is.
God makes the idea very clear throughout the Bible put perhaps the clearest is when He says, “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11)
Paul tells us exactly what was going on with pharaoh’s and in fact all people’s hearts when they sin against God in the Epistle to the Romans.
What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. (Romans 8:14-18)
So, God used pharaoh as a tool in accomplishing the glorification of His name. Furthermore, Paul makes an interesting assertion. When God has mercy on whom He desires and changes his heart for good and the contrary, when God hardens someone’s heart like pharaohs for evil, there is yet even still “no injustice with God.”
This is why Christians believe “it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” We cannot choose God. The Bible is clear about this:
A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14)
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out…No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:37, 44)
There is a doctrine called “double predestination.” This means that God chooses not only who He will save, but being that He is all powerful and nothing escapes His notice, it stands to reason that He also chooses who is not saved, but damned. Paul discusses this in his second epistle to the Thessalonians when talking about who will follow the antichrist and who will not.
For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 2:11-14)
Now, it should be very clear. Will those who follow the antichrist delude themselves, or fall prey to their own evilness and God couldn’t do anything about it? No, God will purposely send “a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false.” When Paul preached the Gospel, was he calling people to believe in Jesus Christ and they simply accepted that knowledge? By no means! Like Lydia, “He called you through our gospel,” because “God has chosen you from the beginning.”
Now, some people find themselves unable to pretend that man is an immovable object and so argue God cannot be “unfair” (by their own standards) and use the Scripture to say:
For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men (1 Tim 4:10)
They will say that it stands to reason that God must have mercy on all–He is much too loveable in the way we would like to think that “God is love” to not show mercy to anyone.
There are two problems with this. First, they leave off the end of the sentence. “The living God is the Savior of all men,” and Paul continues, “especially of believers.” So yes, God makes salvation technically available to all through His Son, and even “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4), but in His perfect righteousness and judgment only makes that salvation effective to those whom He chooses to change their hearts like Lydia so that they may believe.
But why? Why would God have both the desire and ability to save all, but not? Worse yet, why would God use demonic influences to even harden the hearts of men so that they are worse than they were before? Because, according to God’s perfect standards, this is righteous to the utmost.
Paul continues in Romans:
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory. (Romans 9:19-23)
Interestingly enough, the underlined is exactly what God answers Job, so we are not intellectually up to par to question God’s justice. But then, Paul gives us this clue: “He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy.” So, God in His perfect righteousness violates the free will of all, because in God accomplishing this glory, riches and mercy in their truest sense are achieved. Only with the existence of wrath is the existence of grace magnified to its greatest extent. That way God is the most merciful and loving God possible, the “just and the justifier,” the greatest of all. And, if God were not to do any of His will for the sake of glorifying Himself, being that He is the highest of all things, He would be actively willing to do less then what is the greatest possible. This would be a violation of the nature of the greatest possible being, it would appear.