This is, of course, a very old discussion.
Jollyblogger has been posting a very thought-provoking series on the Five Points of Calvinism, and in the one on Total Depravity, he handles the difficulty of how God can be sovereign and man’s will can yet be free. Some people believe that an absolutely free will cannot coexist with an absolutely sovereign God. I happen to be one of those people.
Frequently (and I’m referring especially to a number of commenters on the above article), people who desire to maintain both of these ideas say that the two ideas are not really contradictory. In order to discover whether that’s true, we need to define our terms a little bit. What is meant by a sovereign God, for starters?
Is a sovereign God one who merely is capable of exerting control or authority over anything that He chooses to control, but who does not actually control everything? I’d contest that this violates the meaning of the idea as well as the Biblical teaching of who God is. You wouldn’t consider a king sovereign over a land if he had abdicated his throne. He’s only sovereign if he’s actually exercising kingship.
Further, the Bible is clear- God actually possesses all power. Look, for example, at the book of Job (discussed in more detail here)- it is clear that God accepts full responsibility for what happened to Job, and claims full right to make it happen, despite the fact that in an immediate sense, all He did was to “allow” Satan to cause the events to happen. God never dodges responsibility.
As another example, I posit Isaiah 10. In that chapter, God says that He is using the Assyrians as His weapon to punish Israel for their idolatry. After that, He says that He will turn around and punish the Assyrians for their pride and violence, for their reason for attacking Israel was not to glorify God, but to glorify themselves. But if God was using them as His weapon, then He is taking responsibility for the action that they performed, but also the motivation for the action, because without the motivation they never would have done what they did.
So it’s clear from Scripture, and examples could be multiplied, that God truly does control everything. Everything is ordained by Him, and part of His plan.
Now, can this be reconciled with the idea of an absolutely free will? Something is free if it does not operate under any control or coercion. If my choices are absolutely free, then there can be nothing which restrains, compels or directs those choices. But clearly if God is sovereign in the sense just described, then there can be nothing escaping His control, including my will. Therefore my will cannot be described as absolutely free. And this squares well with logic, as Adrian Warnock has pointed out here. Our wills are definitely restrained by a great many things, of which everyone is aware.
Therefore, it is not a “tension” or “polarity” to assert a sovereign God and an absolutely free will. It is a contradiction.
UPDATE: Just to clarify- I didn’t really see this article as a disagreement with Jollyblogger, though some have taken it as such. If by “truly free” he means the same as “absolutely free”, then yes, I disagree with him. But I don’t think he does mean that, and the two don’t necessarily mean the same thing. I enjoyed Jollyblogger’s article a great deal, as I do pretty much all of his stuff, which is why he’s in my blogroll. My article was aimed more at some of the commenters on Jollyblogger’s article.