Thursday, December 04, 2014

Sovereignty and Choice

Making a god of sovereignty results in weak theology. God is sovereign, but it is only one aspect of his character. Sovereignty is not a concept representing philosophical perfection. It must mean something in terms of the character and activities of God.

God is constrained by his character. He is constrained by his choices about how he will operate that flow out of his character. If God is sovereign, he can choose to constrain his activity. That does not limit his freedom or omnipotence.

Once God created a finite world and finite people to live within it, and committed himself to working with them, he constrained himself to working within time. He is beyond time, so he can still move across time, but if he intervened on earth outside the order of time, his interventions would not make sense to those living within time. God has a strategy for restoring the earth. This involves a sequence of interventions on earth that makes sense in terms of finite time.

When God created people and spirits and gave them real freedom, he constrained himself. He could have kept them under his control, but he decided against that, because the wanted them to be free to do things that are contrary to his will. Having made that choice, it was almost inevitable that spirits or people would do things that are contrary to his will. This allows them to constrain his ability to accomplish in purpose in various ways. Every time I resist his will, I hold back his plans.

I wonder how many people the Holy Spirit spoke to before Abraham heeded the call to move to the land he was called. I presume he had spoken to many people, but was ignored. I presume some heard, but chose to disobey. Abraham was the first to hear and obey, so he received the promise of blessing.

Some will say that God knew in advance, the people who refused the call would refuse. That is playing games. Does it mean that he was not calling those people seriously, but just speaking to prove that they were rebellious? That would be insincere. If God’s will is limited to what actually happens, it becomes a bit meaningless.


August said...

I agree that He constrains Himself.

I disagree as to the nature of time.

Time is part of our understanding of constraints on our nature, since we are local beings and subject to the relationship of things, like the planet, sun, solar system.

But there is no evidence that time even exists for a being who is ever present.

Additionally, we tend to perceive the future as part of this 'all' that God knows, but I think this is again a misunderstanding springing from our experience. Time is really just us making sense of movement, and we attach to it this sense of 'forward' and 'backward'. So people will say God knew what people would do in advance because they assume the future is somehow existent, because it always shows up. But God knows the future as probability, and He has given men the ability to choose the improbable.

We can assume then, that Jesus was subject to time as we are, during his time on Earth, but that certainly the Father was never subject to it. The infinite infused the finite, as it were. The Holy Spirit probably requires a more sophisticated response, since He seems to proceed from the Father to the Son, and therefore perhaps, He was somewhat constrained, since He falls on those of us who are the 'body of Christ.'

Catherine Pickstock mentions a similar misconception arising from the rise of science- spatialization- in her book, After Writing. And then there is the somewhat mis-named, Open Theism movement, which professes similar ideas about the future as to what I have, but I wish they were a little more rigorous in their approach.

Ron McK said...

I agree with you about the dangers of spatialisation.

My view is that it is possible for God to perceive time from our perspective, but I doubt our ability to understand eternity from God's perspective.

I am curious. What do you mean by "God knows the future by probability"?

August said...

Any event/object in the future only exists in the present as a probability.
Planets are pretty predictable.
Humans are also predictable, but slightly less so, due to free will.

There is no existential nature of the future such that God must know it in order to know all. Instead, God gives some substance to various events, including events in the future, because they are things He has determined to do.

I view time as mostly illusion, especially the back and forth stuff.
It is us tracking movement, and then we want to put a general direction on all of it, because that presents some sort of order. But when I run into troublesome theological problems, I choose to decide time doesn't exist, and that God does, rather than choosing the other way round like so many do in this day and age.