The Relationship Between Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

A noncompetitive view of divine and human agency may seem like a complex relationship that is plagued with ambiguity. The challenges they pose has led others to believe that such harmonization is beyond the bounds of possibility.  Michael Allen observed, “Many moderns construe God and creation competitively, such a viewpoint necessarily leads to a truncated view of divine grace or human action. Either God does something or humans do, but there is only one doing the action”.

To shed some light on the complexity of this issue we need to see that a noncompetitive view of divine and human agency is derived from Scripture. We see this in the life of Joseph. God sovereignly used the evil actions of his brothers, his sufferings and finally his promotion to be the means by which He would preserve his family and nation. When God’s plan was realized, Joseph declared, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). Here we see, as Allen explained, how “divine and human action plays out with the greatest intimacy”.

The relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility is also seen in God’s plan of redemption. Jesus Himself harmonized the two when He said,  “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37, 40).  In this passage we see how divine election empowers the right response to Christ which is faith in Him as Lord and Savior. The faith that is exercised by the believer is the direct result of divine election. Michael Horton explained, “God even grants faith and repentance. And yet God does call us to respond, to grow in grace, and to persevere to the end. The triumphant indicative concerning God’s action in Christ establishes a safe foundation on which to stand as we seek to obey the divine imperatives. That’s why worship is dialogical: God speaks and we respond”.  Allen also shows the connection of both realities when he said, “The grace of predestination really does awaken human faith. Creaturely integrity and the workings of nature are actually perfected, not destroyed by grace”.

Thus, a noncompetitive view of divine and human agency has truly led me to admire the wisdom of God and has caused me to trust Him more. And as the Lord continues to orchestrate the events of my life (i.e., both the good and the bad) I can always find comfort in the truth that, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 NASB). What a joy it is to know that whatever God allows to happen in our lives, His good plan will always prevail even when everything around us seems to be out of control.