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How the Bible refutes divine unilateral determinism

Soft focus of Christians raising their hands up to worship together in church revival meeting with an image of wooden cross over cloudy sky.
Soft focus of Christians raising their hands up to worship together in church revival meeting with an image of wooden cross over cloudy sky. | iStock/Getty Images/freedom007

Christians rejoice in the glorious fact that God is sovereign and is constantly working all around the world, as well as in our personal lives, in accordance with His divine plan and purposes. And God gladly grants the requests of His children according to His will while answering millions of prayers every day. "The fervent prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much" (James 5:16).

The Lord told Solomon, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place" (2 Chronicles 7:14-15). Answered prayer is conditional upon God's people actually turning to God in repentance and then praying in faith. Scripture declares, "You do not have because you do not ask God" (James 4:2). 

Surprisingly, a small segment of believers push the doctrine of God's sovereignty to an unbiblical and illogical extreme by postulating the erroneous idea of divine unilateral determinism. In other words, they maintain that every decision human beings make has already been ordained and determined by God, including every evil decision and even the decision to reject Christ. Pastor John Piper explained it this way: "A person does what God ordains for him to do even if it involves evil." Author Vincent Cheung wrote, "There is not one thing that exists or that happens that God has not decreed and caused — not even a single thought in the mind of man." And Calvinist theologian Gordan Clark (1902-1985) wrote, "God is the sole ultimate cause of everything ... The Bible explicitly teaches that God creates sin." 

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The vast majority of Christians find such an idea problematic. After all, "God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone" (James 1:13). God certainly does not plant evil thoughts in our mind or cause anyone to sin. God has given us free will, and we get to choose whether or not to sin in any given situation. For example, God did not cause Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden. They made that decision all on their own, just like Lucifer made his choice when he rebelled in Heaven. "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me'" (James 1:13). Temptation is the work of the devil. As vile as it would be to claim that God tempts you, it is far worse to claim that God causes you to sin by not only formulating your wicked intentions, but also forcing you to carry them out. 

God did not determine that Cain would kill his brother, Abel. In fact, the Lord even said to Cain, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it" (Genesis 4:7). Instead of controlling his anger and jealousy, "Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him" (Genesis 4:8). Likewise, the people living in Noah's day became spiritually unhinged and depraved. "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time" (Genesis 6:5). 

Another example of willful sin was when David "got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her" (2 Samuel 11:2-3). David should have said "No" to lust and immediately returned to bed. Instead, the king chose to feed his lustful thoughts, and then made the subsequent decisions to have sex with Bathsheba and murder her husband, Uriah. 

Joshua told the Israelites, "Now fear the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped ... But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve ... But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:14-15). Jesus said, "If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own" (John 7:17). If you are a follower of Christ, then "God works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose" (Philippians 2:13). But you are not a puppet or a robot. God gave you free will and by His grace you can choose to "hate what is evil and cling to what is good" (Romans 12:9). 

God's Word declares, "There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers" (Proverbs 6:16-19). Scripture completely rejects and refutes the false notion that God decrees and causes men to commit these seven sins that are detestable to the Lord, along with every other sin under the sun. 

And worst of all, divine unilateral determinism asserts that God ordains and predestines certain people to spend eternity in Hell. This untrue, unloving and unfair accusation against God contradicts the Bible.

You see, it is impossible for God to lie, tempt people, ordain sin, or cause people to reject the Messiah because it would violate His holy nature. Scripture declares, "God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

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