Calvinism, Arminianism, and the Adjustment Bureau
Two Spanish friends were talking one day about Jesus. One said to the other that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died a horrible death, was raised again and ascended to heaven. The one listening had a rather strange look on his face. He thought his friend had gone mad. “What is this that you are saying?”
His friend took a step back thinking that this evangelism effort would be harder than he once assumed. He said quite assuredly, “It is true. I would not a lie to my good friend.” The one with the shocked look on his face walked off and with his cell phone to his ear. He said with deep urgency, “Mom, I thought I was born first!”
We sometimes use words to convey a number of things in order to save time. In the example of the two Spanish friends, one fellow was talking about Jesus, the Son of God as explained in the Bible. But, to his surprise, his friend had his little brother in mind who was named Jesus (pronounced “hey-zeus”). They were both thinking of Jesus, but they were not thinking of the same Jesus.
This happens a lot today, especially since Christian doctrine has become so diverse. I can refer to God as a Triune God meaning that God eternally exists as three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), that each person is fully God, and there is only one God. Of course, this takes more time to say than if I would just say that I am a Trinitarian. But depending on the hearer’s perception, he might think that I am referring to a belief in three gods. The reason for this, is that we have a variety of definitions for the words we speak and hear. This is especially true with the word, “Calvinism.”
I cannot tell you how many times I have ruined conversations by calling myself a Calvinist. One person even thought it meant that I belonged to a Satanic cult. This is because many of us have a different understanding of what it means to be a Calvinist.
So I have learned my lesson. Unless it is defined clearly, I call myself a Christian and then explain the doctrines of grace from the Bible the way a Calvinist would.
In recent weeks, I have been thrown into the middle of the debate of Calvinism and Arminianism. Not voluntarily, I should add. I tend to not run toward these traps. But I will rarely run from them. What I have discovered in these occurring arguments is that Calvinism is generally depicted wrong.
One person said to me, “I cannot believe that God forces us to sin.” Another one said, “God doesn’t make us do what we don’t want to do.” Yet another said, “I am not a robot, I have choices.” To all of these statements I nod my head and agree. They are usually taken back by my response.
The truth is, the Bible teaches God’s absolute sovereignty and man’s free will. How they work together is sometimes hard to nail down but there is no reason to object to them coexisting. They do not contradict each other if they are correctly set in their biblical context.
Just today I heard an argument against Calvinism that stated that God would never manipulate His own creation in order to force the creatures to do what He desires despite of their desires. To put it more plainly, God would never force people to do something they hated to do for His own sake. And this is why Calvinism is wrong.
The same argument against Calvinism just a few days prior was spawned by the movie, The Adjustment Bureau. It held the same objection but with a positive spin. The explanation suggested that God knows all of the possible choices of man and makes changes to His plan based on what people choose to do. But, He doesn’t know what choices will actually be made. In other words, if people want something other than what God planned and they want it bad enough, God will be “inspired” to change His plan in order that they might have their way.
The movie suggests such a thing. In it, a cosmic “Chairman” designed a plan that his angles are committed to see fulfilled. By adjusting the actions of man in order to guide them to certain choices, the angels assure the plan’s completion. By doing so, they never adjust the will and desires of the people, only the things that occur.
For example, David Norris was not suppose to meet Elise Sellas on the bus one morning, so the angel of the Chairman was there to spill David’s coffee on his pricey suit in order that he would spend enough time in the restroom to miss the bus and therefore, miss the opportunity to sit next to Elise. The angels do whatever it takes to get the job done, but the will of man was off limits.
What these objections fail to do is keep all of God’s nature in mind. If God is absolutely sovereign over His creation, then He is sovereign over man’s desires just as much as the events that occur since man’s will is part of His creation.
They also fail to consider God’s wisdom and knowledge. If God knows how everything will happen before He made anything at all, then He can certainly make everything in a way that it will happen exactly the way He plans. Is that heavy or what? It might be. But it is worth understanding. We don’t want to put God in a human box in order to defend human will. This would put us on the wrong side of the argument. We want to defend the Lord at the expense of man. Still, if you think this thru, you will not have to surrender your free will. God’s sovereignty and man’s will coexist, but never at the expense of God’s nature. It’s like baking the cake and eating it, too.
Let us set God’s nature in the right light before we set our own.
God is omnipotent (Ps. 115:3; Heb. 1:3) and omniscient (Ps. 147:4-5; Acts 15:18). He knew absolutely everything before anything was made. Nothing that happens surprises Him. Moreover, He ordained everything to happen the way it has and will happen (Rom. 11:36; Eph. 1:11). This is a prerequisite since He knows what His creatures will do before He makes them and then makes them the way He does.
I’ll put it like this. If you knew that the car you were building would never work, would you still make it? If you you could make the car differently to assure that it would always work, would you make it? If you made the car to always work and it stopped working some time in the future and you were surprised, then you either did not know the future or did not have the ability to make the car correctly. This is the dilemma we must reconcile. God knows all and God can do all and God still created. Either God is not God or He has a purpose in mind (this is another discussion though).
Does this mean that you have no will of your own? Not at all. He made your will to function on its own. But remember, He made the will and the functions of the will. One professor was arguing with another professor over this matter. He said with great passion, “I came into this office by my own free will. I wanted to come here.” The other professor responded to him, “Exactly! God made it that way.”
You make your choices and will be held accountable for them. But God’s sovereignty does not end at the threshold of your desires. He works it all for His own pleasure. His plan is completely fulfilled as it was first laid out before anything was made. And it is and will be fulfilled through the free choices of man. God is not scrambling to get things back on track. Everything is happening according to plan (Job 42:2).