By Femi Aribisala
God only makes men do the evil they want to do. But he makes them do the good he wants them to do.
Once we affirm the gospel truth that God is responsible for everything everywhere, even Christians are confronted with a dilemma. If God is the author of everything, how can man be held responsible for his actions? Is God also the author of our sins? Does the scripture not say: “Don’t blame God when you are tempted! God cannot be tempted by evil, and he doesn’t use evil to tempt others. We are tempted by our own desires?” (James 1:13-14).
However, the dilemma arises from knowing neither the scriptures nor the power of God. (Matthew 22:29). The scriptures demonstrate conclusively that God is the uncaused case of everything. The power of God then ensures that God’s determinism never contradicts man’s responsibility for his actions. God only makes men do the evil they want to do. But he makes them do the good he wants them to do.
Myth of freewill
God gives man freewill which enables us to make choices. Moses said to the Israelites: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
However, man cannot choose life because God allows us to be in the devil’s captivity. But “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:17). When we finally know the truth, we will realise that our will is exactly the same as the Lord’s. Jesus says: “If you continue in my word, you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32).
Meanwhile, God controls the seemingly free actions of men. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; he turns it wherever he wishes. (Proverbs 21:1). God also controls the human disposition. If we are happy, it is because of God: “You have put gladness in my heart.” (Psalm 4:7). Concerning Israel: “He also made them to be pitied by all those who carried them away captive.” (Psalm 106:46).
When Israel went astray, God was behind it: “ O LORD, why have you made us stray from your ways, and hardened our heart from your fear?” (Isaiah 65:17). When the Israelites sinned, God’s judgment affected their will: “You make us turn back from the enemy, and those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves.” (Psalm 44:10).
God’s will be done
Jesus says categorically: “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). Paul says: “It is God who works in (us) both to will and to do for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13).
We can see this in the case of Assyria. God says: “What sorrow awaits Assyria, the rod of my anger. I use it as a club to express my anger. I am sending Assyria against a godless nation, against a people with whom I am angry. Assyria will plunder them, trampling them like dirt beneath its feet. But the king of Assyria will not understand that he is my tool.” (Isaiah 10:5-7). Assyria does not know God is behind its actions. But as it is with Assyria, so it is with all men.
What then is the point of man’s freewill if we cannot even exercise it? God gives man freewill so we can have the good sense to relinquish it to him. Jesus surrendered his will completely to God. He never takes any independent action. He says: “By myself I can do nothing, (John 5:30). “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38).
He then enjoins us to do likewise: When you pray, say: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10). “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50). Nevertheless, God is also behind it when we don’t do his will.
God not only determines what we do, he also determines what we say: “The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:1). We cannot even pray unless quickened by the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, the psalmist says: “Revive us, and we will call upon your name.” (Psalm 80:18).
When Shimei cursed David on his hurried retreat from Jerusalem when he was overthrown by Absalom; David refused to heed Abishai demand that Shimei be killed. David knew Shimei could not curse him unless God allowed him to do so. He said to Abishai: “Let him curse, because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David.’ Who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?'” (2 Samuel 16:10).
Jesus does not even speak his own words. He says: “Whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:50). “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:11).
Man is held responsible
Nevertheless, we are responsible for everything we say and do even though God is behind it. Thus, Assyria will pay for the evil God caused it to do because evil is in the nature of Assyria: “After the Lord has used the king of Assyria to accomplish his purposes on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, he will turn against the king of Assyria and punish him—for he is proud and arrogant. He boasts, ‘By my own powerful arm I have done this. With my own shrewd wisdom I planned it.’” (Isaiah 10:12-13).
“But can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it? Is the saw greater than the person who saws? Can a rod strike unless a hand moves it? Can a wooden cane walk by itself?” (Isaiah 10:15). The marriage between God’s purpose and Assyria’s will lies in the power of God.
Therefore, even though God is the Alpha and the Omega: “Everyone will die for his own sin.” (Jeremiah 31:30). This is because God only makes man do the evil he always intended to do. In spite of the supremacy of his determinism: “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). He will “reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 32:19).
Ask for help
Therefore, our prayer should be focused on asking for God’s divine enablement: “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things. (Psalm 119:36-37). “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me.” (Psalm 19:13).
Salvation does not even depend upon man’s will. God says: “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” (John 15:16). “I was found by those who did not seek me.” (Isaiah 65:1). Even repentance is God’s gift. (Acts 11:18). When we are set free from sin, we become: “slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:19). We only want to do what God wants: “I delight to do your will, O my God; and your law is within my heart.” (Psalm: 40:8).