Free Will and the Sovereignty of God
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1).
The verse might seem like an absurdity in light of our current political situation. Either this verse is untrue, or the Lord Himself has instituted Donald Trump as the president of the United States.
There is a difference, though, in volitional motivation between God’s will of desire and God’s will of necessity. In other words, the Lord’s will is not dependent upon desire alone. It can also be dependent upon necessity.
At one point in Jesus' ministry, He was speaking with the Pharisees about divorce. "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning" (Matthew 19:8). The Lord commanded that divorce be handled in a particular way, not because He agrees with divorce, but because of the hard-heartedness of human beings. He even instituted Saul as king because of the hard-heartedness of Israel.
The Lord is not obligated to do anything. "Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him" (Psalm 115:3). But His character and His decision to relate with us, rather than dictate us, merits Him doing things that He doesn't necessarily want to do. He is love (1 John 4:8), always acting in love and grace. As He declared over Himself, "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6). Yet the Lord also acts in wisdom, and love displays itself differently when human sin has perpetuated to a certain point.
Consider this passage:
"For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen." (Romans 1:21-25)
Humankind’s "free will” is dependent upon human nature. There is a limitation to our freedom because there is a limitation to our nature. A tree is never free to be a bird. It is only ever free to be a tree, based on its creative limitations. In the same vein, a sinner, being originally created in the image of God, is now "free" only to sin.
We are hell-bent. We possibly desire moral uprightness, to live in agreement with our conscience - but we are instead persuaded by the passions of the flesh. A sinner cannot manufacture love, joy, and peace, even though one tries to gain those things with one’s own will.
Those things are bestowed upon us once we willfully choose to start moving with God, making the will of God our own will. If He were to leave us to our own devices, removing His grace from us, or rather, giving us up,” as it says in verse 24 above, we might begin to see a culture that looks much like our own - a sex-crazed, infanticidal, lonely and confused culture. Our passions have turned us away from God.
We are not too far gone, but we are reaching a threshold, per se - a precipice. As we approach this point, the Lord is beginning to "give us up."
The Lord, as a relational God, relates with humans and doesn't ignore us by overriding our every intention. He is eternal, infinite, and sovereign. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. There is no reason He should be, but in His love and grace, He has willed Himself to be passable in His relationship with us, meaning that what we do affects Him.
What we do not do affects Him as well. "I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before Me for the land that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out My indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God" (Ezek. 22:30-31). The Lord is seeking a people - a person, even - who would reflect His nature and call out to Him on behalf of those who do not reflect His nature, that He might save them.
I don't yet know if it was God's grace or His wrath that instituted Trump as president. I don't yet know if God wanted to put him there or needed to put him there. I only know that it was God's will for him to be there - and we are to subject ourselves to him (Rom. 13:1); honor and respect him (1 Pet. 2:17-18); pray, and thank God for him (1 Tim. 2:1).
Director of Youth & Discipleship
Riviera Baptist Church