In our first article under this title, the author looked at the morality of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ being viewed from the perspective of God’s revealed will. He noted that sin was endemic in our natures and brings forth death. The concept of ‘time and chance’ was discussed and ‘chance’ tragedies are to be viewed in the context of whether they are directed by God’s controlling purpose. In this second part, the author looks at the intriguing question of freewill – exercised by man and by the nations.

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Prov 21:1).

God’s sovereignty and freewill

Just as a river can be channelled this way or that without interrupting its flow, so too can God guide nations or individuals without interfering with their freewill to achieve His objectives. A case in point is that of Assyria:

“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and to snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations” (Isa 10:5–7 NIV).

Here God uses the evil ambitions of the Assyrian king to fulfil His own goals. This in no way interferes with his freewill and therefore he is accountable for his actions. Similarly, even though Adolph Hitler’s evil intentions were exploited by God for His own ends (Deut 28:64–67; Jer 16:16), in no way does that absolve him of guilt since all God did was to use what was already in his heart.

The principle of God’s sovereignty over the nations and individuals simply means He has the exclusive prerogative to choose any nation or individual He pleases, and deal with them in any way He pleases. The Apostle Paul takes up this point when speaking about Israel:

“For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’. It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy … Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy … But who are you, o man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Rom 9:15–21 NIV).

Here we read that God is supreme in managing His justice and mercy but discerning as regards those to whom He bestows it. As such He does not limit His mercy to just Israel, but to Gentile nations as well. It should be noted however that in all matters of righteousness God is bound only by His values and not mankind’s; men fail to understand His purpose, His character and His principles. The doctrine of divine election or selection as revealed in Romans 9:19–24 illustrates God’s sovereignty is absolute and thus the Potter is never accountable to His creation, and therefore His judgments are not to be challenged in anyway.

Should God control freewill?

However, were a person to claim that ‘freewill’ has resulted in untold acts of individual and national violence and as such God should prevent this, I wonder if they have considered how their life might be impacted also. You see, God might say to them: “I’d be happy to interfere with the ‘freewill’ of the war monger, the terrorists, the murderer and the rapist, but why should I stop there? Why should I restrict myself to those whom you consider need restraining?” No doubt the reply would be: “These are the worst kind of people; they’re the ones that need controlling, not me!” Now if God decided to accept this challenge, but in doing so insisted on taking away this person’s ‘freewill’ also, how might that affect them? Well, they would be prevented from doing many of the things that now fill their days.

Over and above that they’d be required to read the Bible on a daily basis, go to Bible study classes once a week and worship every Sunday! Now under those circumstances one would expect the howls of protest to be deafening, and that is because these people want God to interfere in the lives of others, believing they are far better than the murderer. Now in one sense that is true, but in another it is not, because as already stated: “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”. Hence all actually have a desperate need to repent; if not, be they murderer or sceptic, their fate is exactly the same. Now clearly God prefers people to do good and not evil: however, were He to control every person’s will, then surely humans would be no more than robots to Him. And if God wanted robots, then they could easily have been produced. But that would mean the world was no longer the moral proving ground that He intended, following Adam and Eve’s fall. So reason and common sense dictate that mankind was given freewill because to God the benefits greatly outweighed the evils! He wants to develop a people who truly love and obey Him without coercion or force. In order for that to happen He had to make it possible for them to refuse Him. And that could only occur by creating them with an unencumbered will!

God’s plan of salvation for mankind

Following Adam and Eve’s sin, God had three options (at least) open to Him. Firstly, He could destroy them both and possibly start again. Secondly, He could turn a blind eye to Adam and Eve’s sin. Or thirdly, without compromising His sentence of death for sin, He could devise a plan of salvation, saving mankind from the clutches of the grave. That is a plan in accordance with His love and mercy and without compromising His principles.

And that’s exactly what He did through His Son (Gen 3:15). In Christ, sins are taken away and transgressions forgiven. God accepts us “for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5,11), which means, ‘because of what he accomplished’. This was God’s plan of reconciliation whereby favour can be restored to Him. So, although sin and death entered the world because of Adam’s disobedience, Christ brought forgiveness and eternal life through total obedience to his Father. As a result he “obtained eternal redemption” not only for himself (Heb 9:12) but for all, by crucifying the flesh with the affections and lusts as a representative of all mankind (1 Cor 15:21–23; 2 Cor 5:21). But unlike the rest of humanity, not once did he yield to the impulses of the flesh and transgress. Hence the grave could not hold him (Acts 2:24). Thus in Christ’s crucifixion we see his victory over sin, and in his resurrection his victory over death. As a result, on the day of resurrection the law of cause and effect will be revisited. Those found worthy of eternal life will receive divine nature that cannot sin or die (2 Pet 1:3–4; 1 Cor 15:53–56).

God’s dominion over the nations

Throughout history war has been used by God to His advantage by exploiting the evil ambitions of those who wage it (Isa 10:5-8; Prov 21:1). Thus to Him the nations are “as clay is in the potter’s hand” (Jer 18:1–12). For example, when God used the Medes to wage war against the Babylonians He called them “my sanctified ones” (Isa 13:3). And regarding Babylon’s impending destruction, God says, “Prepare [hallow or sanctify] the nations against her” (Jer 51:27). Likewise God says of Judah, “Prepare [or hallow or sanctify] ye war against her” (Jer 6:4). In World War 2 God utilized Adolf Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ plans to “hunt” and “fish” surviving Jews back to the land of Palestine after 1900 years in diaspora (Deut 28:64–67; Jer 16:16).

Whilst that was God’s purpose, at the same time Hitler’s actions rendered him accountable to God (see Isa 10:7; Prov 21:1). Despite the wretchedness experienced by those who fled the persecution, the outcome fulfilled His prophetic Word in preparation for His Son’s second advent (Ezek 37:21–22).

War – sometimes right in the right time!

Scripture does in fact declare there is a “time of war” with all the suffering that goes with it (Eccl 3:8). But when is it right, and when should nations or individuals wage it? When it’s waged in obedience to God! Wars undertaken by God’s command are right and just because “the Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works” (Psa 145:17). Therefore to disobey is to sin. God then is the foundation of all morality and as such whatever He says to do is right, and whatever He says not to do is wrong. Saul, Israel’s first king, illustrates disobedience. He lost his throne because of his failure to obey God when commanded to destroy all the Amalekites. However, he spared their king, Agag, and the best of the spoil contrary to God’s will (1 Sam 15:9–11). On the other hand David, Israel’s greatest king, was a man of war, ‘taught by God’ (Psa 18:34; 144:1). When David was directed to fight he did so in God’s name, and before embarking on campaigns he “enquired of God” for counsel (1 Sam 23:1-4; 2 Sam 5:19,23; Jer 27:5–8). However, these events occurred in Old Testament times when Israel’s rulers were able to communicate directly, or through a mediator, with God. But this is no longer the case. Today we have God’s Word in the form of the Bible to guide us (2 Tim 3:16), and in it we find Christ gives his brethren a new command. For the present they are not to avenge themselves, take up arms against their fellow man or resist evil (Matt 5:39; 26:52). So their position is clear; in the absence of their Lord and Master they are to be conscientious objectors: which is not to be confused with pacifists. A pacifist refuses to fight for any cause but, like David, Christ’s brethren will fight when commanded by their King to do so. When Christ reveals himself to the earth for the second time to judge a wicked world (at Armageddon) it will not be as the meek and gentle “Lamb of God” but as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev 5:5). And with him will be his brethren, and in their hand a sword, and at his command they will, “execute vengeance upon the heathen [nations], and punishments upon the people … to execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints” (Psa 149:5–9).

Armageddon – a necessary evil

To God, Armageddon (the final war to end all wars) is a necessary evil and His ultimate purpose with the earth cannot be fulfilled without it. Thus the prophet Joel proclaims Armageddon on God’s behalf: “Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather ourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O LORD” (3:9–11). We note that to “prepare war” literally means to “hallow or sanctify war”. This means to make it holy, either in appearance or in truth. Joel elsewhere told the people to “sanctify a fast” (1:14), or “sanctify the congregation” (2:15–16); that is, make it hallowed or holy. So then, Armageddon is hallowed or sanctified and as such He calls “all the mighty men of war” to battle.

The abolition of war

War, then, is an unpleasant consequence of sin. Do away with sin and war will cease. However, mankind cannot abolish war because he cannot abolish that which causes sin. It was Christ’s mission to conquer sin, and given that he was triumphant in doing so, not only did he obtain the victory over it but he gained the victory over death as well. However, because God has a time and purpose for all things (Eccl 3:1), Christ’s brethren must wait till the Day of Resurrection to share in his victory. In the meantime wars will continue to rage, resulting in countless deaths, because they are inseparable by reason of the law of cause and effect.

Yet those who come to Christ through repentance and baptism become candidates for God’s future Kingdom. If they happen to fall victim  to a ‘time and chance’ event, be it in war, plane hijacking, collapsing building or car accident, or if they live to a ripe old age and die peacefully in their sleep, they have the hope of eternal life. Ultimately though, God alone has the power to end all wars, but only when His Kingdom is set up on earth and ‘the Prince of Peace’ rules on His behalf (Isa 9:6). It is then and only then that the following will come to pass:

“And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isa 2:3).

“Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease to the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder: he burneth the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the heathen [nations], I will be exalted in the earth” (Psa 46:8–10).

“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev 21:3–4).

Ethical dilemmas

Finally, on first reading many of the subjects considered here may appear to be ‘hard sayings’ for some (John 6:60), and as such they may be ‘offended’ (v61). That may well be because to the natural mind the above events produce what they believe are ‘innocent’ victims. However, if we can put aside human feelings for a moment, and try and see things from the divine perspective, then hopefully we will discover that: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa 55:9) and, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25).