Skip to main content

God's will and human freedom in Jeremiah 18

A historic and still current issue of debate in Christian theology is the relation of God's sovereignty to Humanity's free will. In Protestant understanding this is often worked out as the Calvinist verses Arminian debate. A passage which I think encapsulates well the general teaching of scripture on this point is Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Come go down to the potters house, and there I will let you hear my words." So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.Then The word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do this with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? Says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so you are in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if
it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind
about the good that I had intended to do it. Now therefore say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

So here we are presented with a picture of God as completely in control of what happens, in the sense that God's will WILL be done. But that God reserves the right to CHANGE GOD'S MIND if human behaviour changes. This affirms that human free will is not just an illusion of choice while God the puppet master does whatever God wants, but a real choice with real consequences, even consequences for what God ultimately wills. Both God and Humanity are presented as being free in regard to what will eventually happen in the future. (which might just take us out of Arminianism and into Open Theism... ooops :-))

P.S. Look up Calvinism, Arminianism and Open Theism on Wikipedia cos I dont have time to discuss them now, i'm in an internet cafe in Mangawhai!!


  1. This is such a complex issue. Logically, it just doesn't compute; so let's flag the logic.

    One Roman Catholic biologist philosopher that I have read states that if everything was pre-determined then we would have no need of a personal God, a prime mover would suffice. (Let's all become deists!) His argument goes that if everything were pre-determined, God would just make a deterministic universe and set the initial conditions - wind up the clock, let's say.

    Enter quantum physics. God has created a universe which inherently contains uncertainty. This both gives space for man to make decisions and for God's will to prevail. It truly is a mystery.

    Just an idea (poorly constructed, mind you!)

  2. Lets flag the logic and look at how the Bible reveals God. Surely our view of freeill/determinism cannot be based on quantum physics, this is a recent and barely understood discovery, isn't God fully revealed in Christ rather than quantum theory??

  3. In some sense, you've misunderstood what I was trying to say. Of course I agree that God is fully revealed in Christ; I just approached your post from a completely scientific perspective.

    It is not the "quantum physics" that is interesting, as such, but rather that science has now incorporated uncertainty into its collection of theories.

    Science and religious dogma, and culture for that matter, all seem to follow the same philosophy of the time. For example, Calvinism appeared and then Newtonian mechanics followed with a deterministic explanation for how the universe operates. This theory was quickly snapped up by the church and incorporated into the theology.

    The advent of post-modernism identified that context is important in art, ethical interpretation, and (when Einstein developed his theories of relativity) in science. The principles of scientific uncertainty espoused by quantum theory have also been unknowingly incorporated into the church.

    I think that it is cool that science is now acknowledging that the universe inherently contains an element of uncertainty. This does not mean that the creator is uncertain, it just means that we, mere mortals, will never fully understand "the mind of God". (This upset Einstein... a lot!)

    Don't worry, I won't talk about science in your blogs any more ;)

  4. No, please do talk about science, i like it.. it makes the blog seem more erudite :)
    But my question is: is the uncertainty/ possibility revealed in quantum also revealed in Christ?


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

That one time Jesus got the Bible wrong

It's so typical isn't it? You are preaching all day long, training your disciples, sparring with the Pharisees, encouraging the poor and down trodden, healing the sick and casting out demons, all day, day after day, and even when you go up a mountain to get a rest the crowds hunt you down and follow you up, and then the one time you get a bit muddled up with some of the details of a biblical text . . . that is the one they write down in the first gospel - verbatim. At least Matthew and Luke had the good sense to do some editing. But Mark, he always had his eye on giving the public the "historical Jesus" whoever that is supposed to be . . . warts and all. Thanks a lot Mark!

Some think I made the mistake on purpose, just to show the Pharisees up.

For some there is no mistake worth mentioning, only a slightly ambiguous turn of phrase.

Others think I am doing something tricky with Abiathar's name, getting him to figuratively stand in for the priesthood.

It really has…

Thor Ragnarok and Parihaka: Postcolonial Apocalypse

Thor: Ragnarok is a riot of colour, sound, violence, humour, sci-fi and fantasy. As a piece of entertainment it is the best Marvel has produced so far. As in many of Taika Waititi's films the plot often seems secondary to the humour and a number of quirky moments seemed only to serve for a quick giggle. I left the theatre overwhelmed by the sensory experience, but ultimately unimpressed by any deeper meaning.

It wasn't until the second morning after my trip to the movies that I woke to the realisation that the movie could function as a profound postcolonial metaphor (I do some of my best thinking while alseep, also it can take me a while for the penny to drop). Unfortunately a quick google showed me that I was neither the first, nor the second to have this thought.

[Spoiler Alert!]

It's easy to miss with all the other stuff going on but Thor undergoes a postcolonial awakening during the film as he slowly realises that his beloved Asgard and its dominion of the nine realms …

Dale Martin does Mark

Dale Martin is an important and frequently controversial NT scholar. Those of us who can't make it to Yale to hear him teach can access some of his lectures, in fact his entire introduction to the NT course, through the magic of the internet.

Here he is holding forth on Mark . . .