Chapter 1

The Good News About God and Man

The evening news showed starving Ethiopians, bodies lying in the streets, and mutilated corpses—all victims in a country wracked by civil war. Another news item showed the spot where a young man was gunned down. A third segment showed a mug shot of a man charged with brutally murdering a 6–year–old child.

At some point, a thoughtful person has to wonder, Why? Why is there so much bad news? Allowing for the fact that networks would lose audience share if they reported only good news, why is our world so filled with pain and loss?

All answers raise more questions. The person who doubts the existence of God might respond, “This is what we can expect in a world ruled by chance and competition.” But if that’s true, where did all of the design come from? People who believe in a personal Creator are likely to say, “Pain and loss are symptoms of the rebellion that has disrupted the original design.” But if a good God does exist, why does He allow such rebellion, especially if He knows ahead of time how much suffering it is going to cause? And how much control does God still have?

Agreement ends here, even among those who believe in the God of the Bible. Some believe that God knows the future because He predetermined everything that would happen. Others believe that even though God knows the future, He is still responding with freedom to choices we are freely making.


Some believe that if God knows all that is going to happen, as the Bible says He does, then logic demands that we are not as free as we might think. They are convinced that God foreordained everything that would happen so that He would be assured of His own desired outcome and glory—every act of social kindness, every apparent human mistake, every murder, every rape, every expression of human goodness or abuse. They believe in this kind of predetermining action while still emphasizing that humans are responsible for their sins.

Those who teach God’s absolute sovereignty also say that God decided before the world was created that He would send His Son as Savior, that He would save certain persons by His sovereign grace, and that He would condemn the rest of humanity. They say it follows logically that if God has decreed the salvation of only some, He has predetermined eternal divine abandonment for the rest.

I grew up under this teaching and remember church leaders debating the question, “Does God sincerely offer salvation to all?” When I was 19, I began doing street–corner evangelism. But I was warned that I would be contradicting the teaching of my church if I told people that Christ died for each of them and desires every one of them to believe on Jesus. I wanted to proclaim the good news of salvation, but my belief– system demanded that I view most of my listeners as predetermined by God for a lost eternity.

In church, however, I didn’t hear much about this gloomy outlook. The pastors encouraged us to live godly lives, and addressed us as beings who could make real decisions. I took what they said seriously. So did my parents, my brothers, and most of my friends. We occasionally discussed the seeming contradiction between thinking that everything has been predetermined, but at the same time seeing ourselves as responsible to make right decisions. We agreed we couldn’t logically harmonize this, but many of us could live under the tension. Those who couldn’t, left our church.

We learned to put our beliefs into two compartments: the “divine sovereignty” truth in one and the “human responsibility” truth in the other. We also learned to view all of life from two distinct standpoints—the human and the divine. From our human standpoint we could feel grief, anger, and dismay over terrible crimes or atrocities. But we were careful to refer to such happenings as only “seeming” tragedies, because in reality they had been preordained for the glory of God. We admitted our inability to reconcile the teachings of these two compartments, but we told ourselves that the seeming contradictions would be resolved in heaven when we see things as God sees them.

Some people, however, find it virtually impossible to live under that kind of tension. They must live out of one box—either the one called “divine sovereignty” or the one called “human responsibility.” They feel compelled to carry everything they believe to its logical conclusion.

Some people find it virtually impossible to live with the tension between human responsibility and divine responsibility.

Two people I knew years ago illustrate the way the “sovereignty” position can be misused. One was an elderly woman on her deathbed. Her family and friends spoke of her as having been an unusually kind, caring, and godly person. She was extremely fearful as she faced the end of her life. She said that she loved the Lord, believed Jesus died for sinners like her, and had tried to please Him. But she couldn’t shake off the feeling that she had been chosen by God to be what she called “a vessel of His wrath.” And nothing anybody said could allay her fear.

The other person was a churchgoing man who was abusive to his family. He admitted that this was wrong but insisted that he was powerless to change because he was only doing what he had been predestined to do. He said he hoped he would somehow be among God’s elect in heaven but often felt he was destined for hell.

It was difficult to help these people by giving them encouraging verses from the Bible. They had been taught that God has predetermined everything, including the behavior and destiny of every person. They logically confronted the possibility that they were among the unfortunate group of people who were elected for eternal condemnation.


Those who are troubled by the logical problem posed by God’s “absolute sovereignty” need to be assured that the Bible teaches us to believe in genuine freedom of choice. We cannot by human logic understand how God knows the future and remains in control of His world while still giving us this real freedom. But the God of the Bible describes Himself as One who is deeply grieved when His creation resists and rebels against Him. From beginning to end, the Bible presents people as making real moral choices about a God who is actively and emotionally involved in their lives. He is a God who wants us to know that He is unlimited in His love and that He desires the salvation of all (1 Tim. 2:3–4).

From beginning to end, the Bible presents people as making real moral choices about a God who is actively and emotionally involved in their lives.

God Is Actively And Emotionally Involved With Us.

Greek philosophy painted the supreme God as an “Unmoved Mover.” This is not the God of the Bible. The idea that our Creator cannot be touched by our weakness, our anguish, or our cries for help is contradicted on virtually every page of the Scriptures.

The God of the Bible is so involved with us that He agonizes over us (Hos. 11:1,8), grieves when we are distressed (Isa. 63:9), changes His mind about threatened punishment when we repent (Jer. 18:8; Jon. 3:10), and joins in our struggle against the forces of darkness (Isa. 42:13; Rom. 16:20).

All of history, and specifically Israel’s history as recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, is a story of a God who wants His people to believe that He genuinely cares about choices that they are responsible for. He is also a God who, like a great chess master, is always able to stay in control of the board while moving strategically to His predetermined “end–game.”

The story of the Bible does not allow for the conclusion that human history represents an emotionless God who writes the script of history and parades His characters like so many marionettes on a puppet stage. Even though the Scriptures make it clear that God has predetermined the ultimate goal of history, He has given us genuine freedom. He allows us to make choices while being continually at work, bringing order out of chaos, light out of darkness, good out of evil, beauty out of ugliness, life out of death. He delights in forgiving us when we repent and receiving us when we turn back to Him in faith. How sad that the fearful elderly woman I mentioned earlier did not believe this good news about God!

God Is Boundless And Self–Sacrificing In His Love.

The second basic truth about God, which neither the fearful woman nor the abusive husband understood, is the scope and intensity of His love. This is made clear in the following verses:

God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him (Jn. 3:16–17). He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2). We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe (1 Tim. 4:10).

Some say that “the world” God loves is the world of the elect and that the “all” for whom Christ died merely means all kinds of people. But those conclusions are the result of “reading into” the Scriptures. A plain reading of the Bible indicates that God loves everyone, that Christ died for everyone, and that all who personally accept what God has done for them will be saved.