Sovereignty and Responsibility: A Quick Thought on God’s Justice

One of the most perplexing questions in regards to a strong view of God’s sovereignty (that is, either a hard determinist or compatbilist view of free will) is how man can be held morally responsible for actions that he is predetermined to commit. If you choose (A) because God foreordained that you would choose (A), how can you be held responsible?

Quite often, as Reformed people we go straight to Romans 9 to answer this. We basically tell the questioner, even if that person is ourself, to shut up:

You will say to me, therefore, “Why then does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?” But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”

Romans 9:19-20

The problem is that most people aren’t going to take this well. Even though this is a completely legitimate point, inspired by God Himself, it seems to just shove people’s emotional difficulty out of the way when used as many use it. This morning, though, I was reading in 1 Corinthians and something struck me. Read this verse with me:

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

1 Corinthians 4:5

Did you catch that? God is going to praise us who belong to Him. Our good acts and motives will be rewarded and praised by God. The entire New Testament includes this theme. Yet what about this verse:

for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Philippians 2:13

Wait a second. I thought we did good works. After all, how can God rewards us for doing good if not only does God foreordain our good, but He actively works to bring it about? Can we possibly be responsible for our good deeds? God’s rewarding us, so I guess the answer is yes. Also remember, there is a difference between how we believe God works in good and in evil. While God actively works to bring about good in His people, God only determines in eternity past that secondary causes will end up leading to wrongdoing. God is immediately involved in creating good, and only distantly determinate of sin’s occurrence.

So if we are content, even happy, that God rewards us for the good deeds we do that God actively works to bring about, why should we complain at God for judging people for evil deeds which God only has the most distant connection to?

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So what do you think?