05 October, 2006

Predestination - Sidebar: Does God Sovereignly Self-Limit His Sovereignty?

Weekend Fisher said:
TULIP makes Eph1 about us and about how sovereignty affects us, instead of about Christ and how God exercised his sovereignty by laying it aside in Christ.

...to which Oloryn commented:
I'll give that a big Amen! My sense of Calvinistic theology has long been that it won't let God be sovereign over His own Sovereignty. He's required to stay 'up there' and hang on to His Sovereignty for dear life, lest if He ever fail to exercise his Sovereignty in full measure, He somehow become less than God.

I questioned whether the idea exists in Eph 1, and Oloryn posited that it was a tie-in from other passages.

I am really curious about this line of reasoning, so how's about we go here for a while? I held to this belief back in '82, but not since then. So, I have to ask for help. Can ya'll fill the comments section with references that indicate or require that God has sovereignly limited His own sovereignty?


(I'm still under pretty stout time strictures, so I may not be back for a while - but I'll be back!)


codepoke said...


Let's change the question.

Any suggestions? What should I be asking about God's sovereign restraint of His own sovereignty?

Oloryn said...

Sorry I haven't answered this - things have been busy today, and I'm not sure of having time to really answer this until Sunday(if then). And I may have overanticipated WF's agreement with me. For me, God's willingness to Self-limit is associated with God's character (particularly what I call His meekness). I (perhaps erroneously) attributed the latter to WF based on her expression of the former. I can't speak for her; I'll let her say if I pegged her right or not.

Even thinking about trying put how I got to my current position reminds me of a Chesterton quote:

"It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, "Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?" he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, "Why, there is that bookcase . . . and the coals in the coal-scuttle . . . and pianos . . . and policemen." The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible."

I feel like I'm in the same position. I've gotten where I am over 30 years of pondering over scripture, philosophy, and theology on this issue (with a heavily communications-and-listening based hermeneutic). Trying to pull all those threads together is suddenly looking very daunting.

Weekend Fisher said...

I'll take the bait as it stands, but I'll notice one thing in passing: you're making the Calvinist view the default, and anything else has to prove itself, but the assumed default doesn't have to prove itself. The question could just as justly be reversed: prove that God's sovereignty must be the foremost concern, and whether *that* is in the text, or even importable from other texts.

Eph1 says that God's secret hidden will was ... to head up all things in Christ.

In creation, how does God arrange sovereignty? Hands a portion of it to humanity, telling us to rule.

In Job, how does God arrange sovereignty? Sets the limits that Satan cannot pass, but doesn't directly call his shots within those parameters.

But more than anything else, read Isaiah 5. "What more could I have done for my vineyard than I have already done?" says the LORD. Well, per TULIP he could have / should have / if he really wanted to would have ... forced the outcome. But God stops at the limits he set for himself and asks, "What more could I have done?"

Christ weeps over Jerusalem, "I would have gathered you ... you were not willing."

God's self-limit and setting parameters, but not forcing the outcome beyond those parameters, is also the most straightfoward explanation for why sin is allowed even though it is condemned and against God's will.

Why do people (even a good number of Calvinists) speak of God's perfect will and God's permissive will if there isn't some room in between them?

I'm tempted to keep rambling or go quote-mining, but I think it would be better to start with what we've got on the table already.

Weekend Fisher said...

Ok, I can't resist one more: the parables where God is a landowner and we are tenants or stewards of various types ... God describes himself and the kingdom of God to us in such a way as he is in control, but not in a "sovereigntist" way where everything that happens was because he decreed it. Read the parable of the talents ... gives the talents to people and goes away to come back later and judge them on what they have done, whether they did what he said or not. That's God describing himself to us, could've picked any analogy he wanted. Picked one where the people are not forced to do what he said.

codepoke said...

Thank you, both. This was helpful.

Kansas Bob said...

Much in the same way that we allow our kids to learn by making mistakes God allows us to make mistakes. It does not men that He is not sovereignly present when bad things happen. His heart at those times, as well as in the good times, is that we would come to the Sovereign in prayer. This was the example that Jesus left us with: praying to His sovereign Father with the help of the Holy Spirit. Of course, this is all reflective of non-sovereign human thinking :)

Lynne said...

I'm waaaay behind on this, but i did want to answer it before I go on to the next post, because i think this is the crux issue (to me, where I'm at in my thinking) God is absolutely sovereign, has all power, dominion etc etc -- yes of course He does, those things go with the definition of being God. But what does He do with them withing creation? Or, to put it another way, of course He is God, but what sort of God is He? Is He most concerned with proving His power (what does he have to prove?) or with revealing his character (which is what is really under attack)

Yeah sure, when the godness of God is at issue He will demonstrate it (classic example: Elijah and the prophets of Baal on top of Mt Carmel) Yet even then, He gives the smallest needful demonstration to prove His point. he could have uncreated them all, done incredible, terrifying things, yet all he did was burn up the sacrifice. He was (if I can use such language of God) fighting for the soul of Israel, putting forth just enough proof of His reality over Baal to rekindle their confused and broken faith ..

To put this back on topic, what i am saying is yes, i believe God restrains the full exercise of His sovereignty in this present world .. not because He doesn't totally know what will happen (He is omniscient) but because he genuinely leaves some wriggle room for the free exercise of human faith and love. He so set up this world not just to be a puppet master pulling the strings (if that's what God is really up to salvation history was a very strange way of going about it) but to woo something from us, which for some incomprehensible reason (called love, i think) He really wants from us ..