Skip to main content

See also:

Incompatibilism in the Bible

Though the compatibilism/incompatibilism dichotomy is oftentimes cashed out in different ways, the way in which we will be understanding the dichotomy involves the question of whether or not free will is compatible with determined choices. If we define freedom as the power of contrary choice, then I argue that the Bible supplies us with a straightforward answer: No. In fact, God's predestination of the choices of humans is oftentimes emphasized precisely as the moving, irresistible and ultimate cause of our choices. It is oftentimes precisely the point in scripture that God's predestination of human choices is explicitly mentioned in order to make it clear that the person in question could not have chosen otherwise, precisely because an omnipotent God predestined them to make the choice.

This point is perhaps most clearly illustrated in Paul's response to his hypothetical objector in Romans 9:19: "Why does he still blame us? For who can resist his will?"(Rom. 9:19). Those familiar with the passage are encouraged to note that Paul does not object to this characterization of the relation of God's predestination to human choice. The objector presupposes God's omnipotence in predestination of human choices, and objects that the existence of moral accountability presupposes the power of contrary choice. Why would God condemn us for the very sins to which he predestined us? How can such a God be righteous? How can such a God even be rational? Paul simply rejects such speculation and affirms the righteousness of a God who does with His creations what He sees fit. Such logic is repeatedly invoked throughout the scriptures:

"The king's heart is a stream of water in the Lord's hand; he turns it wherever he will"(Prov. 21:1). The king makes real choices. They are real because they are voluntary. The king assents to or rejects certain decisions. But this does not mean that they are free in the sense that he possesses the power of contrary choice. The intended aim of the writer of this Proverb is precisely to repudiate such a notion. The irresistible cause of the king's choice is the decree of God.

Those who object that there must be some sense (whatever that may be) in which the human possesses the power of contrary choice are forced to argue that it is possible for man to thwart the desires of an omnipotent God. Indeed, God is oftentimes mentioned as the difference that made the difference when it comes to human choices. It is the intention behind words like "for" or "because":

"If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death"(1 Sam. 2:25).

Of what is their choice ultimately an effect? It is the necessary effect of God's predestination. If it were not the necessary effect, language like "for" or "because" would not have been used of the source of their choices. Perhaps we think of this as a kind of literary device. Just as the passive voice with God as the implied actor is known as the 'divine passive,' perhaps we can think of this as a 'sovereign because.'