Providence – Part 2 – Human Responsibility

by Erik Martin

-Continued from yesterday-

9. Human responsibility is compatible with divine sovereignty.

Despite God’s sovereignty, man and the fallen angels are responsible for sin and evil. God superintends evil, yet it is always performed by someone else.[1]

God hardened Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21) as Pharaoh hardened himself (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34). God ordained Pharaoh’s hardening but Pharaoh freely did the hardening. The Bible is clear that Pharaoh alone is responsible; the Scriptures leave no room for assessing God with culpability. In fact, God was incensed by Pharaoh’s rebellious hardening and God’s ethical purity reacted in searing judgment.

God decrees evil events without obliterating comprehensive human responsibility for those same events. Calvin argues: “We must not suppose that there is a violent compulsion, as if God dragged [the perpetrators of evil] against their will; but in a wonderful and inconceivable manner he regulates all the movements of men, so that they still have the exercise of their will.”[2] God does not determine the future by forcing people to act against their nature or in opposition to their wills. Calvin summarizes, “While God accomplishes through the wicked what He has decreed by His secret judgment, they are not excusable, as if they obeyed his precept which out of their own lust they deliberately break.” [3]

10. Example: Jesus’ Execution

The most horrific injustice of eternity is a prime example. It was God’s will to crush His Son (Isaiah 53:10), yet the Jews intrigued, Satan plotted, Pilate endorsed, and the Roman soldiers carried out Jesus’ crucifixion. All these irreverent actors are held responsible for their wicked, depraved, cowardly or mindless deeds (Matthew 26:24; Acts 2:23, 3:14; 4:27; 7:52; 1 Corinthians 2:7-8).

Yet nothing happened except what “the hand and plan” of God had decreed (Acts 4:28). Even as Herod and Pilate conspired, God brought the fulfillment of His Word (Acts 3:18). Nevertheless, the human actors were condemned for their decisions and actions and God is only praised for His faithfulness and righteousness.

Part 1:

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994),  323

[2] John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 1.10.15.

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.18.4.

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