Over the past couple of years, I’ve been thinking a good bit about our God’s omnipotence and how it interplays not only with our faith, but also our every day decisions. These are very difficult concepts to wrap one’s mind around let alone explain. I’ll attempt to put my thoughts to words here.
When considering the omnipotence of God verses the will of man, my personal bias is towards theistic determinism. Theistic determinism infers that every choice that is made is directly caused by God. Taking “Occum’s razor” to this view reveals the belief that God is ultimately the direct cause of, and therefore responsible for, every choice and action of man. This is where I begin to struggle with this view.
The point where I will end my struggle with this view and just lay it aside as preposterous, is when it ends in fatalism. Fatalism is the belief that I have no power over my choices, not only is my fate set in stone, but my every step on the way to that fate as well. To me, this makes all of creation, all of history, out to be nothing more than a puppet show where God is both the puppet master and the audience… this does not sit well in my spirit, and I think that’s because of the Spirit within me…
If, however, I have full autonomy and God has no control over my choices, is He not a weak God? One of the biggest objections to “free will” that I hear is, “if man in fact has free will, then God’s will is subjected to man’s will.” The objection is to the idea that God’s “has no control over” man’s will. Mankind is running a-muck and God can’t do anything about it. If I may quote the objections of a friend here, “(this) view holds to a god who desires all to be saved but is impotent to do anything about it, outside of disciplining them until confession is reached. This god has no more control of man than I do over my child’s temper tantrum in Wal-Mart.”
This is view of God doesn’t sit well in my spirit either.
So then, scripture being the best place to go when pure philosophical reasoning gets you down, I pick up my bible and read the well known Psalm.
Psalm 139:4, 13-16
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
I have always loved Psalm 139 (I know, I know, everyone does). Verses 4 and 16 specifically stands out to me when considering God’s omnipotence. I see from verse 4, that at the very least, God knows what I’m going to do or say before I even do. But verse 16… what of verse 16? Ordained. My days are ordained and written in His book.
So, if God knows my every thought before I think it, my every action before I do it, and all my days are ordained for me and written in His book… it sure seems like we’re getting closer and closer to determinism and fatalism… doesn’t it? And we haven’t even started to talk about the New Testament passages that tell us that we are predestined, preordained, or elected.
Lately, I’ve started to look at this from a slightly different angle than I ever have before.
“Let me ‘splain… no there is too much, let me sum up.” – Inigo Montoya
As an engineer, I design circuits. To design a circuit properly, I need to understand the characteristics of the pieces that make up the circuit. I need to understand how those pieces react to certain stimuli. I then take those pieces and arrange them in a such a way that, together, they react in the way I want them to. If the circuit is properly designed, it will react to every stimuli exactly how I desire. It is not that I directly cause it to react the way it does, but, because of my design process, I in effect have complete control over how it reacts. My control over the circuit is relegated to the design process only.
Now, I’m not omniscient. This doesn’t always work. Sometimes I have to “redesign” the circuit many times over to get it exactly where I want it. The reason I have to do this though, the reason it doesn’t always work the first time, is because there is something about one of the pieces of the circuit that I didn’t know or understand. It’s because of my limited knowledge that I designed the circuit improperly and it didn’t respond in the way I wanted it to.
It’s fairly plain to see where I’m going with this. God is the omniscient creator of man. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” He knows me in and out, He knows how I will respond to every situation I find myself in. It is not that He directly causes me to make a decision, but because He created me and knows me fully, He knows exactly what choice I will make in every situation that He places me in.
In this view, God is both sovereign over my every action, and I am acting with full autonomy in my every action. These two ideas are not in conflict with one another. It is both true that I have “free will” and that God is perfectly sovereign over all that I do. And, it is also true that I am fully culpable for my every action.
In considering the scriptures, this view of sovereignty and man’s will sits well with my soul. I know that there are probably problems within this view as well… but I shall rest here until the Holy Spirit reveals to me, through scripture or otherwise, a better way of understanding these difficult concepts.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
I’d love to hear any thoughts that anyone may have regarding this way of looking at things…