If there is one thorny theological issue that has totally baffled some and completely angered others, it is the issue of predestination. One cannot escape from the biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty and that human affairs are ordered according to his divine will. At the same time, one cannot deny that the scripture genuinely assumes the very real responsibility of humankind for its free choices and actions. How can you possibly believe in both without diminishing one or the other?
I think that the problem lies in the conflict that arises by our efforts to reconcile both of these biblical realities into a rational system in order to escape the tension of holding them separately. What usually happens is that we end up majoring in one while minoring in the other. It may come as a surprise to many that the Arminian/Calvinist controversy originally began when Jacobus Arminius (who was a Calvinist) did not question election, but the concept of unconditional election. However, I don’t want to get into that.
I was reading 1 Kings 12, a very strategic chapter about the division of Solomon’s kingdom due to the unwise actions of his son Rehoboam. In verse 15, we read: So the king (Rehoboam) did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which he spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. In other words, the Lord had already planned to divide the kingdom by giving the 10 northern tribes to the usurper Jeroboam. Here is an example of how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility crash into each other and produce confusion. How can we understand this without defanging God or making robots out of humans?
We cannot try to synthesize these concepts by our finite reasoning. This will always produce a hybrid that is even worse than the Affordable Health Care Plan. We must hold both of these concepts (God’s sovereignty and human freedom) together without trying to figure out the middle ground between them. J.I. Packer, in a classic that should be in your library, “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God,” uses the word antinomy to describe a helpful way of thinking about this apparent discrepancy. He defines antinomy as “an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths….exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable….each rests on clear and solid evidence; but it is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other.” Antinomy differs from a paradox in that the latter is a figure of speech or a play on words that tends to unite polar opposites. Antinomy holds two truths together in the tension of divine mystery.
Thus God’s plan for Israel was carried out not by the poor robot Rehoboam, but by the free choice of the new king to accept either the counsel of the old wise guys or the foolish counsel of the young whipper-snappers. However, in the end, God brought forth Redemption from the tribe of Judah through the Messiah. We need to hold such a mystery in antinomy in order to understand the wide-sweep of scripture, as well as the profound meaning of oft-quoted passages, such as Romans 8:28: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. The understanding that “the good” is being accomplished in the face of life’s suffering can only be grasped by those who believe that God is utterly sovereign, and who, at the same time, freely love him.