Like most suburban kids my age, I played soccer as a child. It’s great, right? Good exercise for young bodies, lessons in sociability, the value of teamwork, sacrifice, frustration, and the joy of a game well-played. It’s also one of the earliest experiences in understanding human choice and action I can remember. Soccer is all about learning to coordinate your own body and mind through instinct and training, as well as that of your teammates and opponents. You pass the ball, they receive it, pass it back, and you shoot. Or they have the ball, you run up, slide-tackle, take the ball, hope the ref doesn’t see it, and you shoot. Such is human agency in little league.
I’ve recently noticed a popular tendency to think of our interactions with God in a similar fashion. Did God do that, or was that me? Did my doctor heal me, or did God? Did I decide to pray, or did God decide that I would pray? We imagine ourselves on a field of sorts, playing soccer with him—either God has the ball to pass, shoot, and dribble, or I do. God might be a much bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter player, and he may take the ball from me at times, or pass it to me depending on the situation. Essentially we’re on the same playing field.
With a version of the soccer-field-God in place, we see disputes flare up as to how God plays the game. Does he monopolize the ball all the time in order to ensure victory, or does he hang back sort of coaching us so we can make real passes and take real shots? Is God totally sovereign and in control of his creation, or does he give us real free will to make choices that matter? We’re then tempted to collapse the tension in one of the two directions depending on our other theological commitments, with disastrous results. Deny freedom and you cut the nerve of moral responsibility leading to apathetic disengagement, while downplaying sovereignty can lead either to panicked efforts or a Hamlet-like paralysis of the will.
I want to suggest, however, that this popular tendency is misguided. While it’s absurd to think we can solve the riddle of human responsibility and divine sovereignty in a short article, there are three classic theological concepts that we must keep in mind if we’re going to avoid the worst mistakes in our thinking on these matters.
You can read the rest of the article over at The Gospel Coalition.
Sol Deo Gloria