A Micro-Minded God Micro-Manages His World

"Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases." (Ps. 115:3) The question we pose, and one that is begging to be asked, is: What pleases God? If God intends to carry out whatever He pleases, then discovering what pleases God is paramount to better understanding His ways, better understanding Him, and properly interpreting this verse. Thus the apostle Paul encourages us: "Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord." (Eph. 5:10) Hence living as the Lord desires for us to live (in holiness, justice, compassion) is pleasing to God; and prior to this encouragement, Paul writes:
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things [the sinful, impure acts mentioned prior, which flow from our depravity] the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light -- for the fruit [i.e., the end result] of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. (Eph. 5:6-9 NRSV)
Therefore, living in the light of the Lord -- living as children of light -- is found in whatever can be named good and right and true, not in further understanding our depravity. Moreover, living in such a manner pleases the Lord. Paul writes elsewhere: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Thess. 4:3); and, "May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely." (1 Thess. 5:23) We can rightly conclude that our being set apart from our depravity, from sin and our evil or sinful desires, not only pleases the Lord but is also His will for our lives.

The great Arminian theologian Adam Clarke (1760-1832) explains that, regarding the believer's proactive duty of proving what is acceptable (cf. Phil. 4:8), walking in the light, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, according to "the dictates of the Gospel, ye shall be able to try, and bring to full proof, that by which God is best pleased. Ye shall be able to please him well in all things." (link) But what happens to God's "will" when we sin, and find ourselves in a spiritual state that does not represent sanctification? Is God found lacking in power to effect our sanctification if we should falter?

The answer will depend upon your view of how God works in the lives of those whom He has redeemed in Christ. Calvinist blogger Justin Taylor, for example, asks: "If God is sovereign (and he is), and if my sanctification brings him glory (and it does), then why do I continue to struggle so much?" (link) First, no, God is not "sovereign," at least, not in the manner in which Justin and other Calvinists insist. Calvinists erroneously conflate God's sovereignty with meticulous, exhaustive determinism (see "Arminians and a High View of Sovereignty"), which is an unfortunate error on their part. Second, his question ignores (nearly betrays) his own theological determinism. "Why is your sanctification so slow, Justin?" There is one ultimate answer, according to consistent Calvinism, the theology you espouse: Because God decreed it thus.

Calvinists are too often caught in the dilemma of their own theology. They want to affirm "the sovereignty of God," as they define it, by which phrase they proffer that God has decreed and micromanages every minutiae of our existence, including our thoughts and words and actions; but then, when they try to reconcile their theology with their practical lives, they are forced to strain at philosophical notions and the performance of exegetical gymnastics in order to satisfy their quest for answers.

Searching for a viable answer to his quandary, Justin looks to Calvinist John Newton, who writes: "By these exercises [spiritual disciplines] he [God] teaches us more truly to know and feel the utter depravity and corruption of our whole nature, that we are indeed defiled in every part." (link) So, one could deduce, the more one understands his or her own depravity the more sanctified he or she could become. Feeling desperately his or her own helplessness and hopelessness, apart from the grace of God in Christ, a person would then, allegedly, cry out to God for a pure heart. Newton concludes:
Faithfulness to light received, and a sincere endeavor to conform to the means prescribed in the word of God, with an humble application to the Blood of sprinkling and the promised Spirit, will undoubtedly be answered by increasing measures of light, faith, strength, and comfort; and we shall know, if we follow on to know the Lord. (link)
Faithfulness to light received? A sincere endeavor to conform to the means prescribed in the word of God? If we follow on to know the Lord? The missing element in these suggestions, of course, is the key to Justin's initial question: the sovereignty of God, which includes what He has decreed, in conjunction with what He shall bring about. For someone can only be "faithful to light received," or "sincerely endeavor to conform to the means prescribed in the word of God," or "follow on to know the Lord" if God has thus decreed it. As one of my Arminian friends responded to Justin's post: "If God determines every thought and feeling we have -- decrees it -- then there is no need for Him to accomplish our knowing and feeling the utter depravity and corruption of our whole nature by having us sin." Corresponding to consistently-held Calvinism, he continues:
When God decrees how all shall be, to the utter degree that He wants every detail to be, there can be no experience that necessarily accomplishes more than anything else. Only dealing with people in their genuine free will -- rather than simply taking over their will -- explains the slowness of sanctification.
Recall Justin's question: "If God is sovereign (and he is), and if my sanctification brings him glory (and it does), then why do I continue to struggle so much?" (emphases added) But Justin, supposedly unbeknownst to himself, answered his own question regarding struggling with two confessions in the question itself. Justin, the reason why your sanctification is so slow is because your God is "sovereign" -- as you understand sovereignty -- and because your sanctification belongs to God.

If God "does whatever he pleases," as Calvinists interpret that verse (exhaustively deterministic), and sanctification is micromanaged by the Calvinistic God, then the reason why we are not any more sanctified than our present experience is because God wills it thus. Calvinists like Justin Taylor and John Piper cannot in any way whatsoever do anything about their current spiritual condition. This is Calvinism, friends. You can only think, say, and do that which God Himself decreed for you to think, say, and do. This is Piper. This is Calvin. This is Beza. This is Edwards. Any further reasoning is gratuitous at best and a questioning of (or an answering back unto) God (cf. Rom. 9:20) at worst, a charge with which Arminians are quite familiar from their Calvinist counterparts.

A "big" God is not intimidated or threatened by free will, as are Calvinists; neither by sin, the devil, nor failure. A "big" God knows how to take a rebellious individual, work with him or her graciously through His Spirit, and redeem the person without spiritual manipulation (i.e., regeneration preceding faith). A "big" God can tolerate stubbornness, and defiance, without having to decree what thoughts one thinks, what words one speaks, or what manner in which one behaves. A "big" God is not obligated to thrust someone into a negative emotional and psychological state, showing or allowing the person to feel the depths of his or her depravity, in order to effect one's sanctification. A "big" God does not have to decree one's level of sanctification.

One of the most disconcerting distinctives of Calvinistic theology, the core of their deterministic philosophical theology, actually, is the irony of their imagining for themselves a notion of God's character, thinking that this God is "big" because He controls every minutiae of our existence; when, in fact, such a theory of God is demeaning to His character and His omnipotence, not to mention His integrity, justice, and holiness, and renders Him no better than a small-minded, insecure authoritarian. In a sentence, Calvinists: Your God is entirely too small and too small-minded. If the only way He can rule His creatures is to decree their every move, then He is too small. You have created a small God. Such a portrait of a "sovereign" God better resembles someone with an inferiority complex. Is your God really that inferior?


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.