God is in charge of
    what happens
    when it happens
    how it happens
    why it happens
And even what happens after it happens
This is true of
         all events
         in every place
         from the beginning of time.
He does this for
        our good
                and his glory.
He is not the author of sin, yet evil serves his purposes.
He does not violate our free will, yet free will serves his purposes.
We’re not supposed to understand all this.
We’re simply supposed to believe it.

I hope that clears up any misunderstanding! (Actually this statement—brief though it is—does summarize the Christian position on divine sovereignty and human responsibility as it has been developed over the centuries.) 

How, then, should we approach a passage such as Romans 9:18-29 with its heavy emphasis on God’s sovereignty in our salvation? In his commentary on Romans, John Stott offers this quote from Charles Simeon, the great British preacher from the early 1800s. Simeon lived at a time when the Calvinist-Arminian controversy was particularly bitter, and he warned his congregation of the dangers of forsaking Scripture in favor of a theological system:

When I come to a text which speaks of election, I delight myself in the doctrine of election. When the apostles exhort me to repentance and obedience, and indicate my freedom of choice and action, I give myself up to that side of the question (Stott, p. 278).

It is possible that some people may simply not like what Paul says in Romans 9. If so, there isn’t much I can do about it. You’ll have to take it up with the great apostle himself. As I thought about it, I recalled a scene from the movie “Analyze This,” where Billy Crystal plays a psychiatrist who against his better judgment takes on a Mafia crime boss (Robert De Niro) who can’t control his emotions and starts crying at odd moments. There is a scene when De Niro’s top henchman (a character named Jelly) comes to fetch Billy Crystal at a very inconvenient moment because the boss is having another breakdown. When Billy Crystal says, “What is this? You think you can call me any time day or night?” Jelly replies, “You’re part of the family now. When the boss needs you, you come.” Billy Crystal starts to protest but Jelly cuts him off with, “It is what it is.” That simple truth applies perfectly to our text. 

It really doesn’t matter if we like it or not. It is what it is.

Having said all that, we are still left with many questions. Does the Bible really teach predestination? Does it destroy free will? Does it turn us into robots or puppets on a string? How can we reconcile God’s sovereignty with the dignity of human choice?

There are at least three answers to these questions, which we'll get to next week.

This article published on May 18, 2011. Content provided by Keep Believing Ministries.