Have you ever heard God described as a “gentleman”? When painting this picture pastors and teachers generally refer to how God is unwilling to force Himself on anyone. He will always allow the individual to choose whether or not to accept Him.
The same is true of God’s hopes for our daily lives. There are ideals He wants us to live by and goals to fulfill. Yet if we choose a different path than what He would have us choose, He allows us to go as far as we dare.
In a previous post I wrote about how God saw all of time before time began, and He recorded, finalized, the outcome of history. We call this predestination. But what does it really mean when God allows us to be creatures of free will, allowing us to choose and then sealing our decisions?
God, Moses, and Pharaoh
A classic example of how God allows us to make decisions and then seal them is in the telling of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt.
When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He told him to go to Pharaoh and ask for the release of His people. There God also told Moses that Pharaoh would not do this: “However, I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go, even under force from a strong hand” (Exodus 3:19 CSB).
Later, God tells Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, make sure you do before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put within your power. But I will harden his heart so that he won’t let the people go” (Exodus 4:21 NIV, emphasis added).
Why would God say it was Pharaoh’s choice in one place, and then His doing in another? This is God allowing an individual to make a decision and then allowing it to become final.
If you take the time to read Chapters 3 through 14, you see how Pharaoh repeatedly chose to harden his own heart. Every once in a while we are told God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. God did this, not to “program” Pharaoh’s actions, but to finalize his choices and actions.
If God was willing to harden the heart of any Egyptian Pharaoh throughout time in order to deliver the people of Israel, why not do it when Moses was likely a member of the previous Pharaoh’s court? Moses was the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter (see Exodus 2). Surely he had a measure of power and influence in the land. Why not allow Moses to lead the people out of slavery then?
Or what about later in the same chapter, when we see Moses was willing to act on behalf of his true people? It may have been an internal understanding of God’s calling and his unique situation which motivated his actions to protect fellow Israelites. This could have been the start of God’s deliverance, but resulted in Moses’ exile.
God knew how this Pharaoh would respond to His call for Israel to be allowed to worship Him in the way He desired. Before any of the events began to unfold God took that knowledge, predestined the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, and purposed to bring Israel out of slavery to be His chosen people in the Promised Land.
What does God really think?
Take a moment and review one comment I made in the previous post:
When God predestines us to something, He is actually looking down the road we have chosen to travel and the destination we have chosen to arrive at, and locks it in. Predestination is therefore the ultimate acceptance of free will.
Who could have guessed that God would see the path we want to walk for our lives and not only allow us to choose the path with all of the turns we have control over, but write it down, solidify it?
At this stage we must be careful to understand this response by God to finalize our decision is not always because He takes a positive bend towards them. God did not further harden Pharaoh’s heart because He believed it was the right decision, though He did allow that decision to bring about the deliverance of Israel.
Consider these three distinctions between what we may think God is doing versus what He is actually doing with the free will choices we make.
- Confirmation vs. Concession
Our first instinct may be to see God’s finalization of our choices to be His confirmation that we have chosen correctly. This would lead us to step forward in confidence, feeling like we have God’s seal of approval.
Rather, it is more of God’s concession, and no, I don’t mean popcorn and candy bars. When you concede you surrender your personal preference or opinion and allow another to rise to the top. It is not always because you have changed your mind.
God honors free will by stepping back from fighting with us over our decision and instead concedes or surrenders to the decision we have made.
- Support vs. Sanction
Another misinterpretation we might have is that God supports our free will decisions. If He is going to allow me to move ahead where I want to go, surely He will support me. I grab hold of “if God is for me, who can be against me?” I look for His blessing evidenced by Heavenly provision and protection as I step towards the realization of my goal.
God does not always provide His support. He will continue to love us and attempt to draw us closer to Him. But He will not give His provision or protection if we are walking away from His ways or moving into sin.
He will sanction our free will decisions. This opens the door for us to move, giving us permission to walk in the direction we have chosen. It is like receiving a hall pass from a teacher even when they know we are not headed to the bathroom. God’s sanction is a guaranteed of His assistance in getting where we want to go, but we are certainly able to try.
- Endorsement vs. Ratification
One more picture I think we get of having our free will choices locked in is like God adding His seal of endorsement. Like “FDA Approved” meat or “ADA Approved” dental products. God knowing our decision before the beginning of time, writing down in a book and setting the outcome as “predestined” is like receiving a “GOD Approved” stamp.
But a seal is not only used on positive documents. It is a ratification, a sign that what is stated above the seal is final, unbreakable, firm. Every step it requires will be fulfilled. Every consequence of its being done will follow.
The decision cannot be undone. There is no do-over. It is sealed forever. Thankfully, that is not the end of the story.
While our decisions are sealed, and what is predestined will be, God makes us an offer beyond our wildest dreams.
Through the power of His grace God makes it possible to take our messed up life choices and find:
- Forgiveness ~ for choosing “poorly” (for my fellow Indiana Jones fans)
- Redemption ~ working every consequence into our good
- Renewal ~ getting us back onto God’s path for our lives
As we rejoice that God is willing and able to help us recover from our mistakes, let’s start to take the time to really consider how much pain and wasted time, how many scars and broken relationships, are worth taking the road we want to an end we desire instead of the purpose God has for us.
To close us out, here is a thoughtful quote from C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”