The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. Pr. 16:9
Okay, class, today we are going to explore the question: Does man have free will over his destiny? But before we go too far, I want you to know that I am NOT a Calvinist, NOR an Arminianist for that matter (if you are clueless what that means, that’s okay, keep reading). What’s left? You will have to write me to solve the mystery as I don’t have time to answer here!
Think of our lives like a poker tournament. God is the dealer, we are dealt a hand that cannot be changed and we must decide how to play. Though we have no control over what cards the other players are laying down, we can choose which cards we think we should play to stay in the game and perhaps even win a hand or two—this is our only free will in the matter, deciding which predetermined cards to play in response to what is going on at the table around us. Even the ultimate outcome of the tournament is out of our hands. We are basically at the mercy of the cards and the dealer.
If you are ready to disagree, and you think you have shaped your life largely by your own choices, and you think your destiny is in your hands, let’s consider. Did you choose what family you would grow up in? Did you choose your socioeconomic status in childhood? Did you choose which country you would be born into? Did you choose to be born with good (or poor) health? Did you choose which parents you would have? Did you choose which faith (or not) you would be trained to believe? Did you choose the kind of educational opportunities you would have? A lot of these kinds of circumstances were the cards you were dealt, and they largely shaped your life since.
What about the orphan growing up on the streets of Haiti who has no parents, no way to learn a trade to make a living, no love, no educational or vocational opportunities, no food, no home, no faith, and an array of diseases such as Tuberculosis and chronic dysentery. Did this child have a choice about the life it was dealt or the future it will likely be confined to?
What about the businessman who is climbing the corporate ladder of success, believing that he has made all his own dreams come true by his own will. Did not that man have to have a force outside himself that gave him the opportunities all along the way that he did not recognize as divine opportunities? And what about the heart attack, or the financial loss his company suddenly faces, or any number of things outside his control that could strip him of this opportunity and supposed self-wrought fortune overnight? What about his free will then?
Free will is really a fallacy. We no sooner choose our destiny than a cat chooses a bath. I believe we are given only the free will to choose our responses to the many hundreds of daily circumstances that are “dealt” into our lives by no choice of our own. I can look back over my life in the past 10 years and see a trail of twists and turns that, if any one “card” along the way had been missing out of my hand, I would not be where I am today, nor who I am today, doing what I am doing. I had nothing to do with it except to play my cards to the best of my ability as they were handed to me.
Think about the impossibilities of free will for a moment. If we had the free will that we claim to have, God would be at man’s mercy and He could not successfully fulfill His plans for the world. He would have to be quite weak, tiptoeing around man’s will and intent, somehow trying to do damage control without upsetting our plans. This is ludicrous. The world would be in a much sorrier condition than we could imagine. Plus, God told us in His Word that man would never choose Him without help, so no one would believe:
“God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there is anyone who understands, who seeks after God. Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Ps. 53:2-3).
Even Paul said: “…even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13). If ignorance and unbelief are the prerequisites for being shown mercy, who will fail to qualify? Remember, Paul did not find Jesus. Jesus found Paul and arranged circumstances so that the only real option for Paul was to believe!
God has also told us in many places in Scripture that ALL is in His control, not in man’s control: The LORD of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand…For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” (Is. 14:24, 27)
“My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10).
Most fortunately, our “Dealer” is not a Vegas card shark, but a loving Heavenly Father. Yes, He dealt us the cards we would start with, He continues dealing into our hands daily, giving us opportunities and choices, and we must try our best to choose which cards to play and when in order to be considered faithful with what we’ve been given.
But remember, ultimately we cannot choose the game, we do not choose our cards, and we cannot choose the outcome, but the outcome has already been thrown in our favor through Jesus Christ. Through His death, He “stacked the deck” for us. In the end, we cannot lose, because He has determined that He will ultimately make us into winners through His blood and our confession of Him as Lord. No matter how bad our cards, no matter how badly we play them, He will keep us in the game long enough to learn how to play our cards faithfully. And someday, we will have learned all that we needed to know to be ready for Him, and the tournament will come to an end, and we will be whole.
For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God” (Rom. 14:11).