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Mystery Or Contradiction?

Category Articles
Date July 11, 2005

In one of his books, R. C. Sproul discusses the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. In the course of his discussion, he states that this relationship is a mystery but not a contradiction. That is, it is a mystery to us but not a contradiction in itself.

This is bound to be so; for God Himself is a mystery to us and we are a mystery to ourselves. Being incomprehensible, God simply cannot be grasped by our finite, fallen minds. “Canst thou by searching find out God?” (Job 11. 7) As for ourselves, we must accept the conclusion of Herman Bavinck, that “man is an enigma whose solution can be found only in God.” “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart.” (Jer. 17. 9-10) We should not be surprised, therefore, if the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man remains a mystery to us. Yet it is not a contradiction. As Sproul says: “A contradiction is inherently unintelligible. It is not understood because it cannot be understood.” Truth cannot be error, and right cannot be wrong. To try and make them so is to attempt the impossible, for they are contradictions.

Now because we cannot understand either mystery or contradiction, we tend to confuse the two, and to claim the presence of contradiction when in fact we are in the presence of mystery. This is both sinful and dangerous, for it makes God irrational and His Spirit the Author of confusion. Contradiction falsifies the claims of truth, but mystery does not.

Take, for example, six of the main mysteries of our most holy Faith:

1.Scripture is wholly the work of God and wholly the work of man.
2.God is Triune; that is, He is three Persons in one Godhead.
3.Christ has two natures (human and divine) in His one Person.
4.When Christ died, He conquered death, so that John Owen could brilliantly title his work on the atonement The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
5.In the New Birth, the Spirit makes the elect willing to believe and repent, yet they believe and repent freely, without the least coercion or violation of their wills.
6.God providentially controls His entire creation, yet His creatures live and act freely.

All these things are mysteries. But they are not contradictions.

So it is with divine sovereignty and human responsibility. “The Lord reigneth.” (Psa 97. 1) There is divine sovereignty. “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Rom 14. 12) There is human responsibility. Therefore, when God mercifully calls us all to repent and believe, let us not answer back with the impudent excuse: “We cannot! We are dead in trespasses and sins!” This is John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan’s “Can’t-help-myself-ism.” Rather, let us seek grace to believe and repent. Let us obey God’s call, depending on His grace and trusting in His mercy. Let us go to Christ at His bidding, without asking how we may reconcile the two. And let us be about His business, trusting God to work in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Whoever does His will shall know the doctrine that both divine sovereignty and human responsibility are truths of God, without wishing to discover how they can be reconciled.

Editor of Peace and Truth (2005:3), with permission.

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