Free Will and the Sovereignty of God

I have been giving some thought lately to the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. The reason for this is the book of Jeremiah. I have been reading with my family and I noticed something. The running theme of Jeremiah is a call to repentance that God knows Judah will not answer. Let me show you what I mean, just looking through selections of the first 18 chapters.

Jeremiah 3:14-15 “Return, you faithless children”—this is the Lord’s declaration— “for I am your master, and I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. I will give you shepherds who are loyal to Me, and they will shepherd you with knowledge and skill.

Jeremiah 4:1-2 If you return, Israel—this is the Lord’s declaration—you will return to Me, if you remove your detestable idols from My presence and do not waver, then you can swear, “As the Lord lives,” in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then the nations will be blessed by Him and will pride themselves in Him.

Jeremiah 7:16 As for you, do not pray for these people. Do not offer a cry or a prayer on their behalf, and do not beg Me, for I will not listen to you.

Jeremiah 11:14 As for you, do not pray for these people. Do not raise up a cry or a prayer on their behalf, for I will not be listening when they call out to Me at the time of their disaster.

Jeremiah 15:1 Then the Lord said to me: Even if Moses and Samuel should stand before Me, My compassions would not reach to these people. Send them from My presence, and let them go.

Jeremiah 18:5-10 The word of the Lord came to me: “House of Israel, can I not treat you as this potter treats his clay?”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “Just like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, house of Israel. At one moment I might announce concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will uproot, tear down, and destroy it. However, if that nation I have made an announcement about turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the disaster I had planned to do to it. At another time I announce that I will build and plant a nation or a kingdom. However, if it does what is evil in My sight by not listening to My voice, I will relent concerning the good I had said I would do to it.

The first two examples here show that if Judah had repented God would have relented. However, the next three are directed at Jeremiah and God tells him that He will not relent the punishment He has for them, not even if Moses were pleading before Him. To some people this may seem contradictory, but take a look at the last verses in chapter 18. God has every right to do what He wills with the clay, but He is always just and good as is His nature. He rewards repentance and punishes disobedience. God knew Judah would be disobedient, in fact He knew this hundreds of years prior to this event. Look at Deuteronomy 29:16-30:10. I will summarize for the sake of space. God literally tells the Israelites, before they even took full possession of the land, that they would disobey Him, be punished and exiled, and even be restored. God knows what is going to happen, but we still choose it. God would have relented if His people had repented. God does not cause us to sin and does not make us sin. He knows, but His knowing does not force us to do it. In the same way if I know my wife is going to eat chocolate, I did not make her eat the chocolate. She chose to eat the chocolate, I just knew that was what she would choose, but she still had to choose. God’s sovereignty is not at odds with free will. God’s sovereignty is so great that He can accomplish all His plans even with man making his own choices. Do not limit God’s power. God is not one to offer salvation if he never means to give it. He does not lie, therefore His people could have repented. He did not make them sin or turn away, He only knew they would. A fact He knew before they were even a nation and a fact that saddened Him. God knows all and is in control, but we are still accountable for our choices. Always remember that.

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