In this post I’ll be looking at a passage of scripture from the book of Romans and offering some brief reflections on how this passage relates to the problem of God’s sovereignty versus human free will. By the end of the article you’ll see why I consider this to be one of the most fundamental passages in all of Paul’s epistles, and why it is drawing me back quite strongly to the Christian faith.
Here’s the passage I’d like for us to consider:
15 For God said to Moses,
“I will show mercy to anyone I choose,
and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.”
16 So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it.
17 For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” 18 So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.
19 Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”
20 No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory.
(Romans 9:15-23 NLT)
In my article entitled God’s Grand Game I set out my arguments in favour of a vision of reality that shows God in sovereign control of all events. I argued that God is unfolding a plan for creation in the same way that a puppeteer controls the puppets in a puppet show. From this perspective, I argued, we do not have free will.
Christians tend to vehemently defend free will, because it’s difficult to argue in favour of key Christian doctrines like divine judgment, the fall of man, sin, and salvation, if we are not genuinely free. However, I would like to argue here that in Romans 9 Paul writes in accordance with the view that all will is God’s will, and that we do not have free will.
While it might seem unfair that God would destine some people for mercy, and others for destruction, the thrust of Paul’s teaching is that we should accept this and not question God about this.
In the following brief video I expand upon some of the other scriptures that demonstrate God is in sovereign control of all events and that we don’t have free will. If there is a convincing case for this perspective in Scripture (and I believe there is), then I feel I would be able to make sense of the Christian faith, and reconcile the gospel with my fervent belief that God is the animator of all creation.