My dad, a violin player, of whom one frustrated professor of theology once said, “One stupid man can ask more questions than 100 theologians can answer,” had lots of questions about the Bible and what it said. He loved God but that didn’t stop him asking questions.
“How can God be sovereign, be in control and still give man freedom to choose? How can God be three yet one? How can Jesus be God and man? Will God condemn people who have never had the chance to hear the gospel?” … and many, many more. Hence the frustrated professor. The Bible has many imponderables – conundrums that we simply have to accept by faith. Our tendency is to choose a side and try to justify it. Wesley and Whitefield were friends but took opposing views on the sovereignty of God and the free agency of man. We have those, like Wesley, who follow Arminius’ line and make man the master of his own spiritual destiny and you have the hyper-Calvinists who won’t act because God is sovereign and in charge after all so all they need to do is sit on their sanctified behinds. It makes mission a non – priority too.
My (non) answer to these dilemmas is what I have called the “theology of the violin”. If a violin string is not under tension you cannot get a note out of it. I know because my dad played the violin and when he wasn’t watching I would “fiddle” with it. (Pun intended!)
These conundrums are like that. Say, for example, we choose man’s freedom over God’s sovereignty, then our problem is that we have an impotent God waiting for Johnny or Mary to make a “decision” for Him. He won’t act unless we choose first. This doesn’t fit with many examples in Scripture from the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (another of my dad’s stumbling blocks) to Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. On the other hand, if we have a God who is sovereignly in control and gives us no real choice, we become automatons – robots. We have no real life of our own. Yet the Bible calls us, often, to repent and believe.
In Scripture however, these two sides are held in constant tension – like a violin string. We are called to repent and believe and, yes, the Holy Spirit is instrumental in this, and God is sovereign over every hair on our head. We see the same in some of the other examples I mentioned earlier and in many other places in the Bible. Our act of faith, knowing how immense our God is, is to accept that both sides of the string are true. Loosen one end of the violin string or the other and we find our belief or doctrine will not play a tune that glorifies God.