Divine sovereignty and human freedom

This is the one million dollar question in theology: How are divine sovereignty and human freedom related to each other? A few years ago, I was still interested in answering the question, until I decided that the question was not answerable and any attempt to explain it would eventually be found wanting. That’s why now I moan whenever I hear a conversation about it, as I know that it will definitely go into a cul-de-sac. I have consigned this problem as a mystery which I could not comprehend whatsoever. I affirm that God is sovereign and human is free, but I just could not figure how they could co-exist together, however paradoxically construed.

Thus I am pretty skeptical at first when Hunsinger used this question as a test case for Barth’s conception of truth. Never did I anticipate that finally I could see some light on this matter. So, how does Barth, according to Hunsinger, approach this problem? Consistent with his particularist motif, Barth doesn’t approach this problem in abstract. He puts it in its particular and only appropriate locus: Jesus Christ.  Christ is the center of Barth’s theology and this is where he is going to start to approach the problem. And Christ is where divine sovereignty and human freedom dance hand in hand. As he is wholly God and wholly man, how do these two natures relate to each other in Christ? Thus, for Barth, divine sovereignty and human freedom must be portrayed in a Chalcedonian pattern (well, it depends on your Christology, I guess). They exist together in basic unity without separation or division, they coexist and coinhere without any confusion or mixture, and that nonetheless the relationship is asymmetrical: God rules lovingly and we obey freely.

So, has Barth really shown how we could solve this problem? Well, not really. But Barth has pointed out precisely why this problem is unsolvable. To solve this problem is to solve how Christ is fully God and fully man, how the will of God is fully done in Christ and how Christ wholly obeys God’s will. Barth hinted that the “solution”, if there is any, is found in prayer. Prayer is where divine sovereignty and human freedom clash to the utmost. And the paradigmatic prayer is the prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed for the will of God to be done, but nonetheless in exercising his freedom he struggles to obey such will of God. The mystery is still a mystery, but at least now I know why it is such a mystery. To “solve” this problem is to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

2 thoughts on “Divine sovereignty and human freedom

  1. dpredie

    I always thought about 2 parallel lines in algebra, will never met, except in x approaching ∞.

    The infinite love of God, where free will and determinism met under the foot of the cross.

    Reply
    1. septian Post author

      “In Barth’s theology… the possibility of explanatory systematization is denied, and the possibility of this systematization is denied, because it can achieve only a formal or technical coherence at the expense of a truly material coherence. No system can contain all the affirmations found within the cluster of basic doctrinal beliefs. At some point adherence to the system will require a material or doctrinal sacrifice.” (208)

      Reply

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