Sovereignty of God and Free Will of Humans

I want to preface this post by suggesting that the conundrum of the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans that has been debated for centuries is one of the inherent problems of systematic theology and of using a proof texting method. Trying to solve this conundrum by using systematic and proof texting methods often distracts from the theo-drama.

As dramatis personae in the drama of redemption, God and humans perform their parts in the unfolding aesthetic grandeur of the greatest possible love story. Being overly focused on resolving the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans is to dedramatize these performances and the Scriptures. Rather than trying to solve this conundrum we should focus on telling the grand ole drama. Nevertheless, I will briefly discuss the conundrum because as a theologian, I just can’t help from being pulled into the fray. Here goes.

God’s sovereignty is challenged by the problem of evil. Human free will is challenged by the view of the sovereignty of God. With that said, both have limitations. God is possibly limited in actualizing certain possible worlds, and a world with morally free creatures who always do good is one of those worlds.[1] Moreover, humans are limited in their free will because they do not have maximal autonomy.[2] So where do we go from here?

Part of the theo-drama is that God creates the best possible world which includes the best achievable good in any possible world—the incarnation and the atonement[3]—the pinnacle of the theo-drama. In order for the incarnation and the atonement to be the best possible drama in the best possible world, then humans, evil and sin would need to exist. Thus, God creating the best possible world involves creating humans who are significantly free to do what is morally right or what is morally wrong.[4]God determined that it was better to create a world with humans having free will, than a world with humans having no free will.[5]

Now the Bible presents the sovereignty of God, so how does that square with human free will? Because God is omniscient, he knows all propositional truth about the future and he knows all counterfactuals of freedom. He has middle knowledge. In other words, God knows what any free creature would do in any given set of circumstances. Thus, God determines what circumstances to acquiesce with or not to acquiesce with, what circumstances to actualize or not to actualize based on his divine purposes. Moreover, he knows how to involve himself while preserving human free will throughout the process.[6]

This is not a perfect solution, but it is a possible solution that harmonizes the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans.


[1] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 30. [2] Alvin Plantinga, Bait and Switch: Sam Harris on Free Will. https://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2013/janfeb/bait-and-switch.html?start=2 [3] Michael W. Hickson, “A Brief History of Problems of Evil” in The Blackwell Companion to The Problem of Evil, ed. Justin P. McBrayer and Daniel Howard-Snyder (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), 187-188. [4] Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974. [5] Plantinga, God, 30. [6] W.J. Wood, “Molinism,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell. Third ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017).