Human Analogy To Explain Relationship Between 'Free Will' and 'God's Soveriegnty'

I know this topic comes up quite a bit here and in many other Christian circles. I myself have struggled with the relationship between the two and recently have wrestled with it quite extensively. For the purposes of this post I’m not referring to free will/God’s sovereignty in respect to salvation but more in terms of daily living.

Scripture itself seems to offer the relationship between the two as paradoxical, something that we cannot fully grasp or understand. A recent sermon I listened to on the subject was by Tim Keller: which outlines related verses from within the book of Proverbs.

He makes a good point that if you go too far on either end of the ‘spectrum’ you are in danger. If you believe in full theistic determinism then it doesn’t matter what you do because ultimately God’s plans will be done so you just don’t care and are likely to refrain from action. Likewise, if you believe that your own choices decide every single thing about your life then you’re paralyzed… the pressure to get everything right can be crushing.

Recently, while walking the dog with my wife, an analogy popped into my head and I’m wondering what everyone thinks of it in terms of its effectiveness to explain (albeit on a meager/human level akin to the water analogy to describe the Trinity) the paradoxical relationship.

Analogy: While I am walking my dog, he is completely free to go a certain distance in any direction he chooses. He can also walk, trot, or run in any of those directions. Additionally there are thousands of possible actions he can perform in varying order/sequence. He can sniff certain blades of grass, he can bury his nose in the dirt, he can pick something up in his mouth, or lift his leg and pee on a bush, etc, etc.

However…he can only go so far as I allow. I can shorten or expand the leash at any point in time. I can even see before he gets himself into something he shouldn’t be getting into and either allow him to do so or keep it from happening altogether by yanking back. I can also guide/direct him to certain areas that he may not have been ‘planning’ to head towards.

I think you get the picture. Would anyone think this a helpful analogy to describe the relationship or is it better to just explain it as a paradox, provide the accompanying scripture, and keep it moving?

On a more personal note… I have been struggling with this in terms of my own life/career. I often pray for God’s direction in life, that he would make it clear to me what direction he would have me head in, that something would happen to where His hand would be obvious to me. Not knowing whether I should stay put in my current line of work, pursue something else, or quit my field/career altogether and plan for going to Seminary in the future are huge life-altering decisions. I honestly want God’s will to be done so I would even prefer to voluntarily give up some of my ‘free will’ for Him to direct me to a place of His choosing (but then again…it would still be my ‘free will’ to defer the decision would it not? lol).

Ultimately I guess I would feel more comfortable knowing that God has a specific plan for me, that He is orchestrating things in my life for a specific purpose… that there was never a possibility of me doing A, B, C or D, but that I was always meant to do A. I know this would bother some because they’d feel like a puppet on a string but honestly it would comfort me. I wouldn’t even feel as if my will was violated, I’d still believe that I’m my own person and not a robot, and that God simply chose a specific role/career for me.

I hope you see what I am trying to convey? I have always seen this in life as a whole.

1, Gods will for my life
2, Three choices

Choice one.
Gods basic will for man is to be saved, redeemed.

Choice two
Gods permissive will for man is be saved do what we want with Him in it.

Choice three
Gods perfect will (which is knowable) doing the what, where, when, of life that He wants.

Each one brings a degree of His peace.

One, I have some eternal peace

Two, greater degree of His peace in life as well as eternity.

Three, only His perfect will brings His perfect peace.

All three of these are demonstrated in many characters thru out the Bible

Do I always walk in His perfect will? No, I cant I am not perfect by no strech.

I do know what His perfect peace is like so I strive to get, stay there because there is nothing else like it.
Thanks for listening

I found in search a thread about self will vs Gods will that spoke to this.

I definitely think the analogy works on some levels and illuminates some aspects. I often think of God’s conversation with Elijah. Elijah wanted to die, which would have disrupted God’s plans for him. However, God’s plans would not have been disrupted because He had five thousand others who could have taken his place. This is similar to Eli and the prophecy that he and his descendants would be high priests forever. That didn’t work out, God’s plans for Eli were disrupted, but God’s plans were not.

I am not sure there is a “one thing” God has called us to. I want to circle back to this after you have shared some more thoughts. I certainly have more thoughts I want to share, but I do not have the time right now. But, this is a fascinating conversation and I commend you for the way you have approached this topic.

Perhaps this post will illuminate more of my thoughts on the matter:

Thanks for sharing, striving for his perfect peace regardless of outcomes or plans should definitely be a priority and I know that in one degree I definitely do not walk in his perfect will yet in another degree not a single plan of God’s can be thwarted so in a sense…his perfect will always happens… talk about a paradox :smiley:

I went through and read that post and it did indeed reveal more of your thoughts on the matter (and was also interesting reading the perspective of others). It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who struggles with this issue. One thing that keeps coming to mind though (in light of your comment about not being sure there is a ‘One thing’ God has called us to) is that there are so many people in scripture whom I feel like they were absolutely MEANT to do what they did. Like Saul on the road to Damascus…and then his subsequent ministry. I believe he was always meant to be the apostle to the Gentiles, etc.

Then you could apply the same principal to so many others and even extrapolate it all the way back to the OT prophets. I can’t see any way that Joseph’s role for example was just a matter of his whimsical choosing (obviously in his case many things were out of his control even by human standards). But I could say the same about his father Jacob…the list goes on. So if (I know its a big IF) this is true for these men of God then why would it be any different for us? Is it possible that God chose the specific role of the men & women of scripture to reveal his plan of redemption in history and its just not applicable to anyone in the modern world?

Then I look at men like Tim Keller for example (the pastor in the sermon I linked in the OP), or Ravi Zacharias, and I cannot imagine them doing anything other than what they are currently doing. Does that mean that it wouldn’t have been possible? Of course not, my imperfect human feeling is no reliable meter for God’s level of involvement in the shaping of their lives/calling and yet I cannot help but feel they are doing exactly what they were put on this earth to do.

Sorry if this is a little incoherent, I feel like I just start rambling at times like a stream of consciousness :slight_smile:

No, that’s fine. It certainly is an interesting point. One thing we have to consider, however, is observation bias. In the case of Paul, he could have refused Christ and redoubled his efforts against the church. That was a possibility. And if he refused and God spoke to someone else to fill that role we would be saying the same thing about them. If there was another person who fulfilled Joseph’s role we would be reading his story and wouldn’t know who Jospeh was. They seemed perfect because we were reading their story.

It does get a bit dicey when talking about the family of Abraham I think. It would seem the selection would be a bit more limited when it comes to the covenant with Abraham. But, even God said he would wipe out all of the descendants of Abraham and start over with Moses.

I think the problem with the idea that there is “one” thing is that it is possible to miss that one thing through no fault of our own. And then we are outside of the will of God the entire time we are not doing that “one” thing. Even though most of us, including myself, seek it diligently.

Further, if we didn’t do that “one” thing then would God’s plans be frustrated? If Paul said no, would the Gentiles have not been preached to? I think God would have worked something out. And then we would be reading about that other “perfect person” for that role.

In the middle of writing this I had to go lay my daughter down so I lost a little of my train of thought. I will leave it there for now I think and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Oh, here is another thought along the same line. I also believe that so much of what we are called to do relies on the coordination of other people. In other words it could be that God is calling me to a place, but the ones who would have to allow me to go to this place (hypothetically a school or workplace, etc) have freewill and can decide to not allow me in. I do not think God would override their free will in order to allow me to do what I feel He is calling me to do. Although I am yielded to His Will and ready to move forward as soon as all the pieces are aligned.

This is a bit of a nascent thought for me. But, I have been mulling it over for some time. An interesting example presented itself, but I must warn you it is a little graphic.

I was watching a clip of a documentary about a hit man. He was recounting all of the horrible things he had done to people. One one occasion he left his family on Christmas to go do a hit, only to return to open presents and have lunch with them. And the guy was stone cold about it. He talked about it as if he were describing a round of golf he had played. He is then asked if there were any hits he ever felt remorse for. He immediately and emphatically said, “No.” Then he paused and said, “Well, there was this one time…”

He goes on to tell a story about how he was to perform this hit on this one person who asked if he could pray before he “did the deed.” He told him, “Ok, I will give you 30 minutes to pray. If you pray that I won’t do this and God intervenes somehow, I won’t do it. If he doesn’t I will.” He then goes on to say that nothing happened so he carried out the hit. (I just had to pause to think of what kind of monster could sit there for 30 minutes listening to someone pray and then still carry a hit out on them.) He then said, “Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that.”

Watching this I thought, “It seems like God did do something.” I mean of all the hits this guy had performed, reportedly hundreds, this is the ONE he felt bad about? The guy told some stories that sounded WAY more horrible. But, it seemed as though God was trying to move on this person’s heart and this person just refused to yield to it. All these years later the work that God was doing to soften him seemed to still be occurring. Yet, his free will was not overrode.

Just a thought, but I think something is there.

@Joshua_Hansen Your point of Observation Bias is a good one… that can certainly be the case! The story about the hitman is nuts, sometimes I can’t even grasp the depravity of mankind. That someone could sit there for 30 minutes listening to someone pray and still go forward with their hit.

One thing I would like to add though based on some of your other observations/comments is that I personally don’t see God sitting back there as if he’s constantly needing to react, correct, and redirect his plans so that they still come to pass every time a servant of his (or even non-believers) ‘mess’ something up. Like I don’t think he’s back there going, “Whelp, Joshua was supposed to do this so that my plan of XYZ 78 years from now can come to fruition, now I need to grab this person, that person, and this person to make sure plan XYZ still comes to pass… time for some redirecting.” In other words, I do not think God is a passive God who’s playing Chess and after he moves he waits for us to make our ‘move’ then reacts.

I know this sounds a lot like I’m saying he basically would have to control every single thing that we do which as you say would violate our ‘free will’ which I do not believe. I believe its a paradox that I just cannot wrap my head around. Plus I would also add the fact that we have prayer… and God uses prayer to grant us requests that wouldn’t otherwise come to pass. I could not believe for example that if a believer earnestly desires to do XYZ and XYZ happens to be aligned with His will, that he’d answer it but only if Jake, Jane, and Jeremy who are non-believers, do their part in allowing the believer access to whatever would enable the believer’s desire to do XYZ. As if God couldn’t make it happen regardless of what Jake, Jane, and Jeremy wish. God doesn’t need human permission and human power cannot overtake or thwart Him. I think there’s enough evidence for this in scripture. How to reconcile that with free will I don’t fully know.

That being said, if I pray for God to guide and direct me and he opens some doors and closes others or even if he actually steers the desires of my heart is that really violating my ‘free will’ since I asked him to do that? I’d argue that he’s actually obliging my free will rather than violating it.

@Joshua_Hansen Also, I see you’re from Jacksonville! I lived there from 2007 when I enrolled at UNF until I graduated in 2012! Currently in South FL, originally from central FL. Small world!

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Yeah, I think God does need our permission to act through us to an extent. We at least have to assent to an instruction whether we acknowledge the source of that instruction as God or not. But, I do believe God can find a way that would be unusual and perhaps circumvent those who might otherwise thwart our plans.

I do believe that God’s ends are never thwarted. Although the means which must come through man may be adjusted.

I think asking God to guide you wouldn’t be an overriding of freewill.

Sorry if this is not coherent. In the middle of writing this my son spilled Coke everywhere, so… that was a thought train wrecker.

That is a small world! Yes, I actually just moved back. UNF is my alma mater. What year did you start? We may have been there at the same time, '08 and '09.


I get what you’re saying so no worries haha. And Yes I was there in '08 & '09! My first semester was Fall '07 so I probably saw you at some point, maybe even had a class with you which would be crazy! Were you involved in any campus ministries at the time by chance?