THE WILLFUL REBEL vs. THE FORCE of LOVE
BY: JONATHAN MITCHELL
In this essay I will discuss the theological position that a person’s choice to rebel against God can ultimately win out against the message of conciliation (2 Cor. 5:19).
I will ask the following questions:
1. “Is human will stronger than the drawing power of God’s love?”
2. “Will God ever overrule the choice that a person makes?”
3. “Does circumstantial pressure from God make a human into a robot?”
4. “Can God change a person’s heart without de-humanizing her or him?”
5. “Can God cause a person to change his or her thinking so as to choose otherwise than he or she
had previously thought?”
6. “Can anyone withstand God’s will forever?”
7. “If our horizon or world view is a priori that the human will is inviolate, do we not make the human will
greater than God’s will?”
8. “Can God make friends out of those who adamantly refuse to be so without robbing them of their
The environment of this essay will not address whether or not a human being can make choices. That a person can make choices is the a priori position that I take in this discussion. My intent will be to show that a person’s ultimate destiny is beyond the scope of human choice.
Some of the above questions that I have posed may overlap or seem redundant, but my rephrasing is an attempt access variant positions which may differ from my conclusions. All of the above questions are philosophical in nature. My answers will be Scripture, will derive from my interpretation of Scripture, or will be my reasoned response to Scripture. My conclusions will be philosophical in nature.
THE QUESTIONS AND SOME ANSWERS
Is the human will stronger than the drawing power of God’s love?
God’s love for humanity is expressed in the words of Jesus in John 3:16a,
“For thus God loves the world (the universe; the ordered arrangement; the organized system [of life and society]; or: = all mankind), so that He gives His uniquely-born [with other MSS: the only-begotten] Son…
Alternate readings of the Greek yield the following options of rendering this sentence:
1. reading “hoste” as an adverb: You see, in this manner God loves the sum total of created beings as being the Son: He gives the Only-begotten One…
2. reading “hos te”: For you see, [it is] in this way [that] God loves the aggregate of humanity – even as it were His Son: He gives the uniquely-born One…
Nonetheless, it has been apparent that the vast majority of mankind has refused God’s love and His gift of His Son, for as vs.19b of this same chapter states,
“… yet mankind loves the darkness (or: the people love the dimness of obscurity and gloom; or: the humans loved the realm of the shadow) rather than the Light, for their works (deeds; actions) were continuing to be bad ones (unsound ones; wicked ones; laborious ones; toilsome ones that created bad news; wrongful ones).”
However, in John 12 we find Jesus saying,
32. “And so then I, if I should be lifted up from out of the earth (or: when I can be exalted forth from the midst of this Land), I will drag [note: drag as with, or in, a net; or: draw, as drawing water with a bucket, or a sword out of a sheath] all mankind (or: everyone) to Myself.”
33. Now He was saying this continuing to indicate, by a sign, by what sort of death He was progressively being about to be proceeding to die.
The lifting-up upon the cross, which by His resurrection produced His exaltation, will have the result of dragging or forcefully drawing (as the examples in the brackets show) all mankind – everyone – to Him. The death of the Son of God upon the cross is the foremost example of God’s love. It is in the love which is expressed in the cross of Christ that we see the efficacy of God’s love being stronger than the will of a human. Jesus stated that if He was lifted up that He would do this – but does it mean that all will love Him in return? Such a conclusion cannot be drawn from these two verses. But it does show that God’s love can overpower a human’s will.
In John 6:44 we see another forceful statement by Jesus:
“No one is able (or: is presently having power) to come toward Me unless the Father – the One sending Me – should drag him [as with a net] (or: draw him [as drawing water in a bucket or a sword from its sheath]), and I Myself will raise him up (resurrect him; stand him back up again) within (or: in union with) the Last Day.”
In these verses from John’s gospel we can observe that the will of a person is not involved with a person coming to Christ. Jesus said to His disciples,
“You yourselves did not choose Me, but to the contrary I, Myself, selected and picked out (or: chose) you folks and placed (or: set) you, to the end that you would (or: can; may) progressively lead and bring [situations] under control (or: humbly go your way) and would (or: can; should) be constantly bearing (bringing forth) fruit, and your fruit may continuously remain (stay; abide)…” (John 15:16)
In Phil. 2 Paul gives us an eschatological picture of the results of God exalting Christ (vs. 9) and giving Him a Name which is above every name:
10. to the end that within The Name: Jesus! (or: in union with the name of Jesus; in the midst of the Name belonging to [Yahweh-the-Savior]), every knee (= person) – of the folks upon the heaven (of those belonging to the super-heaven, or [situated] upon the atmosphere) and of the people existing upon the earth and of the folks dwelling down under the ground (or: on the level of or pertaining to subterranean ones; [comment: note the ancient science of the day – a three-tiered universe]) – may bend (or: would bow) in worship, prayer or allegiance,
11. and every tongue (= person) may speak out the same thing (should and would openly agree, confess and acclaim) that Jesus Christ [is] Lord (Master; Owner) – [leading] into [the] glory of Father God (or: unto Father God’s good reputation; [progressing] into a manifestation which calls forth praise unto God [the] Father)!
In the vision given to John in Rev. 5:13 we are given another picture of this via apocalyptic imagery:
“And all creation (or: every creature) which exists within the sky (or: atmosphere; heaven), and on the earth, even down under the earth (or: ground; soil), as well as which is upon the sea – even all things (the whole; everything) within them – I heard repeatedly saying, ‘The blessing and the honor and the glory (good reputation) and the strength (might) [are] in (by; for; to; with) the One continuously sitting upon the throne, and in (by; to; for) the little Lamb, on into the ages of the ages.'”
We again see the ancient three-tiered understanding of the universe as a description of all of humanity ultimately giving praise to God.
Paul give us an overview of the totality of creation in the circular journey expressed in Rom. 11:36 in answer to the rhetorical questions regarding God’s decisions and His ways (vss. 33-35),
“Because, forth from out of the midst of Him, then through the midst of Him (or: through means of Him), and [finally] into the midst of Him, [is] the whole (everything; [are] all things; or: = Because He is the source, means and goal/destiny of all things – everything leads into Him)! By Him (In Him; To Him; For Him; With Him) [is] the glory (the manifestation of that which calls forth praise; the reputation; the notion; the opinion; the imagination; the credit; the splendor) on into the ages. It is so (Amen; So be it)!”
What we see in these selected verses are statements by Jesus, Paul and the vision given to John that present evidence for God being the Actor upon humans which results in their giving Him glory and pledging allegiance to Him. Paul gives us another picture of humanity in Acts 17:
28. “For you see, within the midst of and in union with Him we continuously live (or, as a subjunctive: could be constantly living), and are constantly moved about and put into motion, and continue existing (experiencing Being). Even as certain of the poets down among you people have said, ‘You see, we are also a family of the One (or: we even continuously exist being a race whose source is the One; or: we also are His species and offspring; we are even a family which is composed of the One and which is the One).
29. Therefore, continuously and inherently subsisting from under a beginning, being God’s family (a species of God; a race whose source is God; [the] kind of being having the qualities and characteristics of God; [the] offspring birthed from God)…”
Now if we can adopt a horizon of God both being love and acting in love, we can conclude that the drawing power of God’s love is stronger than the human will.
Will God ever overrule the choice that a person makes?
The OT is replete with examples that answer this question in the affirmative. But let us take just the example of Paul who referred to himself as the “foremost of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). The following verse (16) informs us that,
“But nonetheless, through this I was mercied (or: I am given mercy), to the end that within me first (= as the foremost case) Jesus Christ may point out so as to publicly display every emotion which is long in arriving (all long-suffering patience) with a view to being an underline (toward [being] a subtype; as facing a sketch or outline; for a pattern) of those about to be habitually believing (or: progressively trusting; one-after-another placing faith) upon Him…”
Paul tells us that Jesus would point out so as to publicly display “all long-suffering patience toward [being] a subtype – a pattern” of believers. So let us look at Paul’s change from being the religious fanatic that was persecuting the called-out followers of Jesus, to a person who was given mercy and would then proclaim the grace of God that came to humanity through Jesus Christ. He is telling us that his experience is a pattern, a subtype, and outline of someone coming into Christ.
If we review the accounts of Jesus confronting Saul, recounted numerous times in the book of Acts, we see that it was Jesus who acted upon Saul. There was suddenly a light from heaven, he falls to the ground, and then he hears a voice addressing him by name and questioning his activities. Saul responds to the voice, asking the Lord who He is, then what He would have him to do. We are told in Acts 9:16 that the Lord later says that He would show Saul “how many things it continues being binding and necessary for him to experience and be suffering – over [the situation of] (or: for; on behalf of) My Name.”
It looks here like we have another example of Jesus choosing an agent for His Name just as He had chosen the twelve in the beginning. We do not see Saul choosing Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. We see Jesus acting upon Saul to bring about a transformation in him. Paul refers to this incident as being “apprehended” by Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12). The word used in this verse means to be “seized; forcefully grasped and taken control of.”
So did God overrule Saul’s choice to go to Damascus to persecute followers of Jesus? Yes. Did Jesus “forcefully grasp and take control of Saul” to make him His follower? Yes. And we see, above, that this is a pattern – seen through countless lives since Saul – of God intervening in a person’s life and transforming them, giving them a new heart and a new mind, giving them life when they were dead to Him.
Does circumstantial pressure from God make a human into a robot?
Did Paul become a robot, or a transformed new man in Christ? Not a robot, but transformed.
Can God change a person’s heart without de-humanizing her or him?
Paul wrote to the Roman community,
“… be continuously transformed (transfigured; changed in shape, form and semblance) by the renewing (or: in the renewal; for the making-back-up-new again) of your mind into the [situation and condition for] you to be habitually examining in order to be testing and, after scrutiny, distinguishing and approving what [is] God’s will (design; purpose; resolve; intent): the good and well-pleasing, even perfect (finished, complete and destined)!” (12:2b)
The writer of Hebrews speaks of “the hearts having been sprinkled from a misery-gushed consciousness of what is evil or unserviceable” (10:22). The is the work of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ and is in conjunction with “continuously giving My laws upon their hearts, I will even write them upon their mental perception (or: comprehension; that which passes through the mind)” in 10:16. It is the entrance of the message of Christ entering into an individual that brings faith and life and starts the transforming process. It is not a matter of the will of the individual. As Jesus said to His disciples, “… it is GIVEN unto you to know…” (Matt. 13:11)
We can note God’s judgment upon humans as described by Paul in Rom. 1:28,
“God gave them over (hands or delivers them) into a mind which fails to meet the test (a disqualified mind) to continuously do (practice; make) things that consistently are not fitting (not reaching the proper level),”
And yet this is not the end for them but merely the existential condition that make them in need of a Savior/Deliverer.
From the time and incidents of Adam and Eve in the Garden story, we find Scripture showing God as being in ultimate control of humans. Humans are given limited choices and are subject to deception because of limited knowledge and experience. Adam and Eve did choose to disobey God, but the story places them at a disadvantage, portraying them both as naive. Furthermore, it was not explained to them what “dying you shall die” meant – if they ate the forbidden fruit. They were even unaware of their nakedness. They were not told that they would have to leave the garden and have painful experiences. When later they have children, one of their sons kills his brother, but only has to leave the family and wander in the land. He is even given some special mark so that someone won’t kill him.
Then we are told the story of Abraham. Paul uses this story to demonstrate that blessings come from God via His promise to people – which come via His word to them which in turn creates faith and trust in God. He set this story against a black history of Israel and humanity’s inability to keep law. He called subjection to the law “slavery.” Christ had to come and set the captive free. When it comes to pleasing God or living a righteous life, humanity is helpless without the existential intervention of God. So why do we place upon people the heavy burden of having to make a choice about God? How can a person that is dead to God be blamed for not responding to Him? Paul told the Ephesians (and others),
“you folks [who were] continuously existing being dead ones by (or: to; with; in) the results and effects of your stumblings aside (offences; wrong steps) and failures to hit the mark (or: mistakes; errors; times of falling short; sins) – within the midst of and in union with which things you once walked about (= lived your lives)…” (2:1)
Their offences and wrong steps brought (like Adam and Eve) the results of death. They were like the people of Nineveh “that could not discern between their right hand and their left hand.“ (Jonah 4:11) And so it is today. One must be blessed by God “giving” him or her “eyes that see” and “ears that hear” (e.g., Matt. 13:16). Salvation is always “the gift of and from God.” We observe folks resisting God (and have we not also done so, ourselves?) and so we blame them for their foolish choices. Why do we not forgive them? The risen Christ told His disciples,
“If you folks should send away (dismiss; allow to depart; forgive; pardon; divorce) the mistakes (sins; errors; failures) of certain ones, they have been sent away for them (or: have been and remain pardoned in them; have been dismissed or divorced by them)” – John 20:23a.
We instead say that folks can be forgiven of any sin, except the sin of unbelief. But we cannot believe until the Spirit has imparted His life into us. Then we are able to say, Lord I believe – but still, help my unbelief. We do not choose to believe, we simply believe when we believe. The sperm needs to enter the womb before there is a normal conception.
Does making us a part of the new creation de-humanize us? No, it makes us truly human.
Can God cause a person to change his or her thinking so as to choose otherwise than he or she had previously thought?
Again, Saul-to-Paul is the classic example. The Light (a figure of understanding and experiential knowledge) came into the world as Jesus Christ. “It (or: He) came into Its (or: His) own things (possessions, or people), and It’s own (or: His own) people did not receive It (or: Him) and take It (or: Him) to their side.“ (John 1:11) Yet we find that those very unbelieving branches can be grafted back in AGAIN (Rom. 11:23). And Paul goes on to thus conclude that the whole of Israel will be saved (rescued; delivered; made whole) – 11:26. The very quote of Isa. 59:20 that finishes out vs. 26 shows that this is a work of God upon humans,
“The One continuously dragging out of danger and drawing to Himself (The Rescuer; The Deliverer) will arrive and be present from out of Zion; He will turn irreverence away from Jacob.”
The word normally rendered “reconciling” in 2 Cor. 5:19 is kat-allasso. The verb allasso means “to change, alter, transform, make other than it was before.” The preposition kata- that is prefixed to this verb (in our present verse) can be an intensifier, and thus adds, “fully, or completely” to the verb. My expanded translation of this verse is:
19. as that God was existing within Christ (God was and continued being in union with [the] Anointed One) progressively and completely transforming [the] aggregate of humanity (or: world) to be other [than it is](or: progressively bringing [the] ordered System into another level or state; repeatedly changing [the] universe to correspond with other [conditions; perceptions]; progressively altering [the] ordered arrangement of culture, religions, economy and government to be in line with another one; habitually and progressively changing [the] secular realm [of humanity] from enmity to friendship; reconciling [the] world [of mankind]) in Himself, to Himself, for Himself and by Himself, not accounting to them (not putting to their account; not logically considering for them; not reasoning in them) the results and effects of their falls to the side (their trespasses and offences), even placing within us the Word (the Idea; the Reason; the message) of the corresponding transformation to otherness (or: the full alteration; the change from enmity to friendship; the conciliation).
Can anyone withstand God’s will forever?
Well, most Christians believe that God does and will judge humans. This very judgment (literally: evaluation for a decision) overturns a person’ will. We often hear folks say, “God won’t violate a person’s free will!” And to them, that is the end of the issue of human will. Yet they all believe that God will ultimately do just that, by His enacting a decision upon them. But the rhetoric comes something like, “God will honor their choice to go to hell.” Really? Only an insane person would make such a choice, and we have seen in Phil 2:9-11 that this will not be the ultimate end of anyone. Moreover, this human reasoning is simply a philosophy based upon a literal interpretation of apocalyptic (figurative) literature that can easily be interpreted as events happening upon the earth in this life (e.g., the book of Revelation).
If our horizon or world view is a priori that the human will is inviolate, do we not make the human will greater than God’s will?
Yes, we do. Paul saw himself as a slave to Christ; he viewed his life as having died, and now to live, for him, was Christ. He found by experience that God’s will was greater than his own.
Paul’s view was that God is
“the One continuously operating (effecting; energizing) all things (or: the whole) in accord with (or: down from; in line with; in correspondence to) the deliberated purpose (intent; design; plan; determined counsel) of His will (resultant decision of His resolve; effect of His desire).“ – Eph. 1:11b
Peter even viewed the crucifixion as an event of Christ “given up out of the midst in and by the specific, determined, bounded (limited) plan (intended purpose, design and counsel) and foreknowledge (intimate knowledge which was experienced beforehand) of God…” (Acts 2:23a). He did not recognize either the Jewish leadership or Rome as the ultimate cause.
We find God’s will expressed in the second chapter of the first letter to Timothy,
3. This [is] beautiful (fine; ideal) and welcomingly received from the presence of, and in the sight of, God, our Deliverer (our Savior; the One Who heals us and makes us whole, restoring us to our original state and condition),
4. Who is constantly willing (continuously intending and purposing) all mankind (all humanity) to be saved (delivered; rescued; made healthy and whole), and (or: even) to come into a full, accurate, experiential and intimate knowledge and insight of Truth (or: into a realization of reality),
5. for God [is] One, and One [is the] Mediator of God and mankind, a Man, Christ Jesus (or: for [there is] one God, and one medium between God and humans, [the] human, Anointed Jesus),
6. the One giving Himself a correspondent ransom (a ransom in the place of and directed toward the situation) over [the situation of and] on behalf of (or: for) all (everyone; all humanity and all things) – the witness [note: “the witness” is omitted by A; other MSS: the evidence of which] [will come] in its own fitting situations (or: the Witness for their own seasons; the Testimony to and for His own particular occasions; the evidence [appears] in its own fertile moments).
Can God make friends out of those who adamantly refuse to be so without robbing them of their humanity?
This final question which I will address is simply a reformulation of the investigation. The answer lies in Paul description of God’s love in 1 Cor. 13:7,
“[Love] continuously covers all mankind; it is habitually loyal to all humanity; it constantly has an expectation for all mankind; it is continuously remaining under and giving support to all people.” Then he tells us in vs. 8, “The Love (or, again: This love) never – not even once – fails (falls out or lapses; = becomes fruitless or ineffectual).”
We read in Prov. 21:1,
“The king’s heart [is] in the hand of Yahweh – [as] rivers or irrigation ditches of water: He turns it whithersoever He will.”
Paul compared the spiritually immature person to a child under the control of a child-minder in Gal. 4. He said that such a person was no different than a slave – he or she was controlled. Maturity (son-placement) only comes when one is in covenant community in Christ. It was in the context of this new community as contrasted to the old which was of the Law that Paul spoke these words, but I suggest that their application would fit the pagan or anyone who had been delivered from some form of slavery (as are all humans before union with Christ):
“For the [aforementioned] freedom, Christ immediately set us free (or: [The] Anointed One at once frees us in, to, for and with freedom)! Keep on standing firm, therefore, and do not again be habitually held within a yoke of slavery (or: a cross-lever [of a pair of scales] whose sphere is bondage)(or: Continuously stand firm, then, in the freedom [to which the] Anointing sets us free, and let not yourselves be progressively confined again by a yoke pertaining to servitude)!” – Gal. 5:1
All humanity is included in the words spoken to John by the risen Christ:
“Consider this! I am presently making all things new (or: habitually creating everything [to be] new and fresh; progressively forming [the] whole anew; or, reading “panta” as masculine: periodically making all humanity new; progressively creating every person anew; constantly constructing all people fresh and new; continuously renewing everyone)!”
The willful rebel does not have a chance of winning out over the will of God.
John Gavazzoni has shared with me some excellent insights in response to reading my essay:
“The only addition I could possibly suggest (which you have already covered implicitly, but which might call for an exacting explicit statement), would be to raise the question: Is free will a human capacity held in some sense as a possession exercised autonomously, or is true freedom of will only enjoyed and exercised in union with Christ, within which union, one is granted (or: graced and favored into) participation in the freedom of God, i.e., that God is totally free, and immune from being denied the fulfillment of His desires? To be in a state of autonomous independence, as is implied by the conventional view of human free will, is by definition a state of bondage, for, to repeat, freedom belongs to God, and can only be exercised as we are granted participation in the divine nature. Without that grant of grace, all of our choices are in some way, either directly or indirectly, manifestations of bondage. “Whom the Son sets free, is free indeed,” (John 8:36) [comes from] “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). Freedom understood any other way, is a vain imagining. True freedom is a gift of God, within the all-inclusive gift of His Son.” (from a private email, brackets mine)
Suggested reading: Martin Luther, “The Bondage of the Will”
THE WILLFUL REBEL vs. THE FORCE of LOVE [Jonathan Mitchell] 1