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Why Should We Care About Pornography If It Wasn’t an Issue during Biblical Times?

How Do We Reconcile God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility?

Posted January 19, 2022

Being infinite, inexhaustible, unlimited, and eternal in his very nature, our attempts to understand God and his ways in the world are marked by a necessary mystery. The Christian life is riddled with mysteries that our finite minds struggle to comprehend. Our God is three in one, one in three. Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man. We are righteous in Christ and being made righteous simultaneously.

God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, tells his people that his thoughts are not their thoughts, and his ways are not their ways. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, God’s ways are much higher than ours (Isa. 55:8–9). In his classic book The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer powerfully captures how we ought to respond when we bump into the mysteries of God. He writes, “The believing man does not claim to understand. He falls to his knees and whispers, ‘God’.”[1]

When we approach the topic of God’s will, we have to acknowledge the mystery of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. When we face mysteries like these, we often find ourselves leaning heavily toward one side or the other. However, we do so at the peril of truth. If we lean too heavily on the side of man’s responsibility, we will crush ourselves under the weight of decisions. Without the balancing and buoying reality of God’s sovereignty, thousands of possibilities and potential consequences will paralyze us. Indeed, the overwhelming statistics of anxiety and depression gripping our world give evidence that we are leaning too heavily on man’s responsibility. Without the knowledge of a good God who, in the words of Martin Luther, sovereignly draws straight with crooked sticks, decisions can lead to crippling fear and debilitating anxiety.

On the other hand, if we lean too heavily on God’s sovereignty, we erroneously depict God as a puppeteer. We imagine him moving the strings to do what pleases him while we sit powerlessly pulled in various directions. This line of thinking, left unchecked by the balancing reality of our responsibility as image-bearers, can quickly lead to fatalism and nihilism.

In his book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J.I. Packer addresses the mystery of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. He uses the long-disputed scientific debate over the nature of light to help us understand this antimony, “an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths.”[2] As physics was developing, some scientists and experiments proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that light behaved as a wave. Other scientists and experiments proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that light behaved as a particle. Both sides were certain that only one could be true, but both were wrong. Light is both light and particle at the same time!

Packer continues to describe the antinomy between God’s sovereignty, represented by God as King, and man’s responsibility, represented by God as Judge. Both are Scripturally supported, sometimes in the same passage. He concludes, “Man is a responsible moral agent, though he is divinely controlled; man is divinely controlled, though he is also a responsible moral agent.”[3]

We are free to make decisions, and those decisions matter. At the same time, our God is sovereign over every action and consequence, directing all human history toward his desired ends. Both are true simultaneously. While our human minds want to reconcile this antinomy, C.H. Spurgeon reminds us, “I never reconcile friends.”[4]

Rather than seeking to reconcile them, we are invited to kneel in awe before the God who holds all things together (Ps. 95:6; Col. 1:17). Elisabeth Elliot shows us how, by stating, “Next to the Incarnation, I know of no more staggering and humbling truth than that a sovereign God has ordained my participation.”[5]

Content taken from Demystifying Decision-Making by Aimee Joseph, ©2022. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1982), 73.

[2] J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008), 28.

[3] Packer, Evangelism, 30.

[4] Packer, Evangelism, 43.

[5] Elisabeth Elliot, Discipline: The Glad Surrender (Old Tappan: Power Books,1960), 34.

Photo of Aimee Joseph
Aimee Joseph

Aimee Joseph has spent many years directing women’s discipleship and ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and in Campus Outreach San Diego. She is the wife to G’Joe who has recently planted Center City Church, and mother to three growing boys. Her first book, Demystifying Decision Making released with Crossway in January 2022. You can read more of her writing at aimeejoseph.blog.