Just how much is God at work in the world? Is God responsible for all things or nothing at all? Is God involved in every detail of every happening or has God left us to fend for ourselves? There are two extreme positions to just how much God works in the world. On one side of the pendulum you have deism. This view says that God created this world and then pretty much left it alone aside from a few moments of divine intervention. Because God is sovereign and omnipotent He has decided to use his power and freedom to keep to himself. God has checked out for a while and has as little to do with the goings on in this world as possible. On the other side of the pendulum you have Calvinism that in its most extreme position says because God is sovereign and omnipotent, there isn’t anything that happens that God didn’t choose to happen in advance.
Here is what Charles Spurgeon had to say about God’s full control of all details of the world,
“I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of . . . leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”
John Piper refers to that quote quite often concluding this in answer to the question of whether or not God predetermines our sin, “So the macro-world and micro-world are all managed by God. Which means, Yes, every horrible thing and every sinful thing is ultimately governed by God.” (link)
If that is the case, I conclude that God is the most confused and confusing being in the universe (if not outright evil). The Bible repeatedly tells us of God’s holiness and His aversion to sin and yet here we have God administrating sin itself. Why? Because the conclusion drives the interpretation. If you conclude that God’s full sovereignty and omnipotence requires him to be in full control of all things at all times in order to adequately live up to his characteristics then this is the outcome. In that view, there is no room for human freedom because that would seemingly take away from God’s sovereignty. Yet, even the king who gives the orders to his subjects gives a certain level of freedom in how his orders are carried out and no one believes His sovereignty has been put into question.
I find human freedom in scripture. I find God punishing the results of that freedom. If God is ultimately responsible for all things and controls us in every way, again, I would find God to be the most confused and confusing if not outright evil being in the universe. I cannot accept that and I don’t have to accept that because that is not what I see in scripture. By the same token we can conclude that God is love and a loving God would not both control someone in every way and then punish them for what God made them do. But we don’t even have to go that route either because, again, good interpretation allows texts to stand on their own and say what they say without me having to fit them into a bigger picture right off the bat. Instead, I believe there is a necessary tension in the sovereignty of God and the freedom of mankind that needs to be allowed to rest in tension with each other without one diminishing from the other but BOTH being upheld as equally true. The claim of Calvinism that God is so sovereign that he must control all things results in a God who is not truly sovereign because they are not willing to grant God, in all his power and sovereign authority, the ability to grant freedom without compromising his character. That is not truly a sovereign God because that in and of itself limits Him.
So before we address what it means to be chosen by God it is important to figure out how we understand God to be working in the world, to properly define what it means for God to be sovereign and omnipotent and then to consider how human decisions interact with that.
The middle ground position is a God who, in all of His sovereign authority, has blessed humanity with self-determination that is all still living ultimately under the sovereign authority of God. So we have the power and ability to make our own decisions. God grants us that because anything less than that would not be love. That doesn’t diminish from God’s sovereignty because God has the power to grant us control of our own selves. God can grant us that freedom for the very reason that God is sovereign and He can grant it in such a way that He still fully maintains his character and qualities without any compromise. He must be able to do that or else God is not fully sovereign or all powerful.
So what does it mean to be chosen by God? We will get to that in the next post.
I believe many Christians, in distancing themselves from Calvinism, have kept God at a distance. Though most will claim they do not think of God as “up there” while we are “down here”, they still think of God in “one place” and we in “another”.
The Christian mystics of the past enjoyed the presence of God in a way that most today do not experience. They saw God in all things and all things in God without sacrificing free will. For them the power of God held all things together, and how could the power of God be where God was not? They saw this and chose to embrace it fully.
When I read Jesus of the Gospels I see one who told the poor, the oppressed, those who were kept at a distance, that they were God’s Children; he told them the Kingdom of God was among them, within them; and how could that be without God’s presence? That should be the message of the church today to all: the kingdom of God is within you. That is what salvation is, a person recognizing the presence of God and choosing to live and love accordingly.