Free will and God's purpose

by James Johnson

Many people believe that they have the power to choose what to do. That whatever they purpose is entirely under their own control and guidance. They would assert that they are not puppets whose 'strings' are being pulled by someone or something else. However, there is at least one group of people who do not believe that. In fact they wouldn't be able to do their job, if they did believe that.

That group are so called 'behaviour scientists' or 'industrial psychologists'. They are employed by supermarkets and internet sales companies. It is something they have got down to a fine art. From the moment a potential shopper arrives at a supermarket or website to the moment they leave and even when they get home, they are subject to external and internal influences to make them spend more money.

Every aspect of the shopping trip has been carefully controlled. In supermarkets, the temperature, the lighting, the decor, the pumped music, the layout of the store, the goods displayed on which shelf on which aisle, etc. We may think we make our own way round the store, but even this is programmed. Is it a coincidence that if you just go in for a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread, you always have to go round the store to get them? Why are certain things that attract the attention of small children displayed on a shelf at their eye level?

Yet we don't believe we are 'puppets on a string' when we leave a supermarket! Whether or not we know that we have been manipulated, we have been influenced nevertheless and acted accordingly. No, you will surely agree that many people get home and find that they have spent much more than they expected and wonder why they bought certain items that they didn't really need.

If this everyday situation is true, how can we say that our choices were entirely under our own control? Obviously, we did not choose our parents, our gender, our skin colour, our race, our intelligence, our social status, or where or when we were born. That is something we are stuck with. We can readily believe that many of our choices are culturally, racially or gender biassed. Or because of vanity - we want to impress others or boost our egos. But these are all 'internal' influences. In addition, though, there are 'external' influences.

We certainly can choose some things, but our actions are controlled and may be over-ruled by God. We may WANT to be rich, famous, good looking, healthy and experience only the best things in life, but it may not be what we GET.

A well known saying agrees with Scripture, "Man proposes, but God disposes."

Two examples from the story of the Apostle Paul will prove this point. Acts 23:12 tells us that more than forty Jews planned to kill Paul. They vowed that they would not eat until he had been killed. But Paul's nephew was allowed to get a message to warn Paul, thus saving his life. This example shows that God thwarted the attempt to kill Paul in this instance.

We know why Paul was saved at that time. Acts 23: 11 records the words of the Lord, "Courage! For as you certify to that which concerns Me in Jerusalem, thus you must testify in Rome also."

However, when Paul was later imprisoned in a Roman dungeon, according to tradition, the Caesar Nero ordered Paul's execution in May or June of AD 69. (That is the tradition; we don't know for certain.) However, what is certain is that God did not prevent his death.

Paul, in his last letter, wrote to Timothy (in 2 Timothy 4:7) that we are to suffer evil as an ideal soldier of Christ Jesus. He believed that his dissolution was imminent. In other words, he would shortly die. He added that he had finished his career. Could this be why God allowed his execution?

It is important to understand that both the Jews and Caesar, had:
(a) freewill to do what they thought, and:
(b) that everyone involved will be judged by their motive, whether or not they achieved what they set out to do. Christ taught that to hate a person or to look lustfully at a woman was the same as murder or adultery and will be judged accordingly.

There is no such thing as a 'perfect crime'. We may think we can get away with murder, and that would be possible if there were no judgement. Sometimes, even in this life, there is a judgement.

Take the story of Joseph, the Egyptian Pharaoh's right hand man. Joseph told his astonished brothers that they had intended evil towards him, but God had used him to save their lives by a great deliverance. Prior to this, though, the brothers suffered from the guilt of knowing that they had sold Joseph as a slave. Thankfully for them, Joseph also had gone through suffering but had learnt to be merciful.

We may choose what we want. We may plan what we want. But our will is not free to accomplish anything contrary to the purposes of God. Christ told the parable of the rich man in Luke 12:18-21 to teach the foolishness of greed. "The rich man reasoned in himself, 'What shall I be doing, seeing that I have nowhere to gather my fruits?' And he said, 'This will I be doing: I will pull down my barns, and greater ones will I build ...'"

Yet God said to him that his soul was demanded that very night. He was imprudent because he was hoarding riches instead of being rich for God.

If supermarkets use psychology to influence our choices , it would seem highly probable that malevolent beings would do the same. But why would God create a world where He intervened to control the actions of human beings?

The simple answer is so that eventually He will be All in all and will receive all the glory that is His due, by the way He works now.

His purpose can only be done His way. We wouldn't and couldn't do it God's way. We aren't omniscient, omnipotent, righteous or as loving as our Creator God. The great lesson that we frail, weak, sinful human beings must learn is that we would not be able to achieve His plan by our own strength and merits. We wouldn't have come up with the plan in the first place. He is the only One Who could sort it out. We are the clay, He is the Potter.

There is a mistaken idea that we can choose to accept Christ as our Saviour This error leads some to state that those who choose to reject Christ will be thrown into the Lake of Fire and will suffer eternal torment. This is against Scripture. John 6:44 makes this clear and simple, "No one can come to Me [Christ] if ever the Father Who sends Me should not be drawing him."

So let's examine WHY God needs to do what He is doing and HOW He is doing it.

"All things are of God ... " so reads 2 Corinthians 5:18. Let's read that again. "All things are of God ... " Can it really mean, ALL things are of God? Does that mean, all good and BAD things?

Yes, it does. Incredibly, though, for the believer this is a most comforting truth. Whatever happens to believers, good or bad, we know that the Father still cares for us and loves us. It therefore follows that it is for our good.

Whether it be pain or joy, tears or smiles, curses or blessings, persecutions or approvals, slander or praise, sickness or health, death or life; in EVERY case, it is the will of GOD. God's will is always the expression of His Fatherly love.

However, there is a part of God's plan that hasn't always been known to His people. Until Paul's letter to the Ephesians, that is. In the first chapter of that letter, we have, " ... in all wisdom and prudence making known to us the secret of HIS will (in accord with His delight, which He purposed in Him) to have an administration of the complement of the eras, to head up all in the Christ both that in the heavens and that on the earth, in Him in Whom our lot was cast also, being designated beforehand according to the purpose of the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of HIS will, that we should be for the laud of His glory, who are pre-expectant in the Christ."

For thousands of years this secret wasn't known. How could it? We couldn't have worked it out for ourselves. God had to reveal it at the right time. The secret involves super abundant GRACE.

First, we have to agree that we need Grace. Why? Jeremiah 10:23 tells us, "I know, O Yahweh, that it is not for a human to choose his way; It is not for a man to walk and to establish his step." Morally, we are not neutral. Paul describes humanity in Romans 8:7 in this way: " ... the disposition of the flesh is enmity to God, for it is not subject to the law of God, for neither is it able." That is why God needs to intervene in human life.

One thing that the Jews couldn't understand was the role of the Messiah in God's plan. The letter to the Hebrews was needed to explain, "For it became Him, because of Whom all is, and through Whom all is, in leading many sons into glory, to perfect the Inaugurator of their salvation through sufferings." WE suffer in many ways in life. WE are tempted in many ways in life and often give in. Christ, however,, "has been tried in all respects like us, apart from sin" (Hebrews 4:15).

It is only through Christ, that the Father is able to satisfy all the demands of righteousness and love. That is HOW God accomplishes His plan and purpose.

King David in Psalm 37 explains clearly in more detail what Paul wrote about suffering evil as an ideal soldier of Christ. Here are a few verses of that psalm. In life there are many injustices but these verses are encouraging.

"Do not heat yourself up because of evildoers; Do not be jealous over those doing iniquity. For like grass, they shall quickly be snipped off, And like green verdure, they shall decay. Trust in Yahweh, and do good; find pleasure in Yahweh, And He shall give you the requests of your heart. Hand over your way to Yahweh; Trust on Him, and He shall do it. So He will make your righteousness shine forth like the light, And your right judgment like the noonday sun.
Be still before Yahweh, and wait for Him; Do not heat yourself up because someone prospers his way, Because a man is carrying out his schemes; Hold back from anger, and forsake fury; Do not heat yourself up; it leads only to evil."

No wonder Paul exuberantly affirms, "O, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How inscrutable are His judgments, and. untraceable His ways! For, who knew the mind of the Lord? or, who became His adviser? or, who gives to Him first, and it will be repaid him? seeing that out of Him and through Him and for Him is all: to Him be the glory for the eons! Amen!

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© James Johnson

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