Dear friends, I know that it is difficult to see how a good god can arbitrarily choose to save a fraction of all men, regardless of what their “free” will decides. Therefore, I’m giving a shot here at explaining the relevant concepts.
Romans 9:15-21 (ESV)
(15) For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
(16) So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
(17) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
(18) So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
(19) You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
(20) But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”
(21) Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
Consider the following illustration:
George Lucas is filming his movie “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”. The actors are rehearsing the scene where Anakin Skywalker falls to the dark side, and murders Mace Windu. Just as Anakin Skywalker is about to make the killing blow, Hayden Christensen (who plays the role of Skywalker) stops abruptly and says to George Lucas jokingly,
“You know, George, Mace Windu is my favourite character, and I really don’t want kill him! Why must I be the bad guy?”
Hearing this, George Lucas laughs, then replies, “but Star Wars is my creation, and in it Anakin Skywalker really does want to kill Mace Windu. So please, Hayden, stop fooling around and just go back to your role. Anakin Skywalker shall have no say in this!”
Here we see how it makes no sense for Anakin Skywalker to object to killing Mace Windu, because in the movie “Star Wars” (created by George Lucas), Anakin Skywalker truly wishes to kill Mace Windu. Anakin Skywalker’s “free” will is in no way denied. In this way, while the man, being God’s creation, has no say over what kind of person he shall turn out to be, his “free” will is valid nonetheless (he is still active in and responsible for whatever he does in his life). The man and his will are God’s creation, and the sovereign God has every right to shape and fashion us according to His purposes (Romans 9:21).
“Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.”
George Lucas’s sovereignty over his movie “Star Wars” can thus be likened to our Lord God Almighty who is sovereign over His “story” of creation. George Lucas’s “Star Wars” is merely a movie, but our Almighty God has the power indeed to make whatever He says come true:
(Genesis 1:3 ESV) And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
At this point, let’s examine this portion of scripture:
Romans 8:18-21 (ESV)
(18) For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
(19) For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
(20)For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him [i.e. God] who subjected it, in hope
(21) that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
In the above verses, we continue to see how God is truly in absolute control over His creation, and the “free” will of His creation has no bearing on God’s purposes.
Let us also acknowledge that “free” will is not truly “free”, because the will itself is under God’s control, as part of His creation. This leads us to a right attitude towards God, demonstrated by the psalmist David:
(Psalm 51:5-6 ESV) Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. (Psalm 51:10-11 ESV) Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Without presuming to understand Hebrew, I want to point out that the Hebrew word underlying the word “create” in Psalm 51:10 above, is same as that in the first verse of the bible:
(Genesis 1:1 ESV) In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
(Romans 9:16 ESV) So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
(Ephesians 2:8 ESV) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
People may have different ideas on what faith actually means, but here we have clear evidence in God’s word that Saving Faith is not a product of our “free” will.
Saving Faith is involuntary, i.e. it is impossible for a person to choose his beliefs, because it is Belief that defines/influences the Will, and not the other way round.
(Ephesians 2:10) For we are his workmanship [artwork/masterpiece], created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
See then, how this explanation in Ephesians 2:10 is identical to that in Romans 9. Paul, after having said that Faith is God’s gift (Ephesians 2:8), immediately declares God’s sovereign act of creation.
For those interested in a related philosophical treatise, I offer this for further reading: