Why God Alone Must Be In Complete Control

Who God is and why he gets all the glory and why we can trust him all hang in the balance.

Much can be said on this issue, especially concerning biblical passages, texts which the Protestant Reformers grasped with a firm grip. But in this post, I want to quote a (long) paragraph from Jonathan Edwards’s Freedom of the Will which, I think, is really helpful to explain a bit more why this matters, and why, perhaps surprisingly to many, God’s complete control makes not only must be true, but also makes the most sense.

 

Why must we hold that God’s will alone reigns supreme? What’s at stake in such a discussion?

Many Christians, especially in the past few hundred years in Western Christianity, reason that God must have given us as human beings some certain autonomy when he made us. Or else, the logic goes, we couldn’t be responsible for our actions. Simply said, the though has been that we must have some sort of ability to act and choose apart from God’s total control in order to be responsible for what we do.

But is this a biblical idea? It’s an important discussion to have. Why? Not mainly just to talk about matters of theology, but because who God is and why he gets all the glory and why we can trust him all hang in the balance.

Much can be said on this issue, especially concerning biblical passages, texts which the Protestant Reformers grasped with a firm grip. But in this post, I want to quote a (long) paragraph from Jonathan Edwards’s Freedom of the Will which, I think, is really helpful to explain a bit more why this matters, and why, perhaps surprisingly to many, God’s complete control makes not only must be true, but also makes the most sense.

A Very Helpful Quote on the Topic

Yet as a side-note before I quote him: Edwards can be confusing at times, especially as he’s writing in the 1700s. And he writes with ridiculously long sentences, so you can’t read him fast (or at least I can’t). But I encourage you to stick with him (don’t skim!) and follow his logic; it’s powerful. And I’ll interrupt the paragraph at times to paraphrase what he’s saying.

Edwards begins,

“One thing more I would observe, before I finish what I have to say on the head of the necessity of the acts of God’s Will; and that is, that something more more like a servile subjection of the Divine Being to a fatal necessity will follow from Arminian principles, than from the doctrines which they oppose…”

In other words, from the idea of each human having free will (an “Arminian principle”) comes more fatalism than from the idea that God is totally sovereign. We may object that this doesn’t make sense—that God’s sovereignty is what appears to be fatalism. But stick with Edwards’s logic as he continues,

“For they (at least most of them) suppose, with respect to all events that happen in the moral world, depending on the volitions of moral agents, which are the most important events of the universe, to which all others are subordinate; I say, they suppose, with respect to these, that God has certain foreknowledge of them, antecedent to any purposes or decrees of his, about them. And if so, they have a fixed certain futurity, prior to any designs or volitions of his, and independent on them, and to which his volitions must be subject, as he would wisely accommodate his affairs to this fixed futurity of the state of things in the moral world.”

Meaning, if the idea of God’s foreknowledge of autonomous free wills was true, then God’s decrees, plans, volitions, and actions would be subordinate to all these foreseen acts of human free wills. Why? Because these acts of free wills would necessarily have a “fixed futurity.” Meaning, for God in they past, these trillions upon trillions upon trillions of free acts would be fixed and set in the future, and God would then have to decree and act in subjection to all these fixed future free-will actions. (This is quite problematic…)

Edwards gets even clearer as he continues,

“So that here, instead of a moral necessity of God’s Will, arising from, or consisting in, the infinite perfection and blessedness of the Divine Being, we have a fixed unaltered state of things, properly distinct from the perfect nature of the Divine Mind, and the start of the Divine Will and Design, and entirely independent on these things, and which they have, no hand it, because they are prior to them; and which God’s Will is truly subject to, he being obliged to conform or accommodate himself to it, in all his purposes and decrees, and in every thing he does in his disposals and government of the world.”

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