Domains of Authority

It is undeniable that the paradox or tension of God's sovereignty vs man's free will has consumed much thought and discussion throughout the ages. It should be noted first that nowhere in the Bible that I am aware of does it say that man's will is 'free'. The Bible treats man's will as real with real consequences, but the word 'free' is loaded and introduces extraneous considerations.

Consider the creation narrative in Genesis. God gives man [male and female] authority over the rest of creation; this is part of our glory as God's image bearers.

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." (Gen. 1:26 ESV)

And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Gen. 1:28 ESV)

We are given authority over the earth itself as well as over all life-forms on the earth. Does this authority extend beyond the earth to extra-terrestrial bodies? It seems an inevitable consequence of our identity as God's image-bearers that wherever we go, there we shall exercise rule and domain, whether on earth or on Mars, for example. This does not contradict the intent of the biblical narrative, even if goes beyond the literal sense of the narrative; an ancient Israelite would not dream of leaving the earth.

In this setting, there is no hint that our authority extends to God or heavenly beings. We are not given authority over them. Our authority over the earth is limited, though real. Our actions have real consequences, both good and evil. We can exercise actual dominion, as in:

Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. (Gen. 2:19 ESV)

So Adam named the animals, and God accepted these names it appears.

The point here is that authority gives real power and discretion, but within a circumscribed context. Man has authority over some things, but not over all things or beings. Man's authority is subordinate to the authority of God; man's authority is delegated to him by God. This is well established in traditional theology.

To extend this to the notion of 'will', we may say that man's will is subordinate to God's will, is delegated to him by God, and yet is real within the prescribed context. We want to affirm that people make real choices with real consequences, and this is part of what God has given us as his image-bearers. Our choices and will are relevant and determinative within our designated sphere (context) of authority, the earth and by extension all creation, as we travel in space.

God can and does alter our circumstances and ourselves as well according to his will. If a traffic jam blocks our progress, we may not be able to exercise any authority or choice whatsoever to get past or around the jam.

Thinking of our will and choices as framed in a particular context is exceedingly helpful to me. I want to say that within this context our will and choices are indeed free. The fall of mankind into sin and its continuing effects on us are a critical modification to our situation. The context of our authority and will remains the same: we are to rule the earth and creation as God's image-bearers, but our ability to do this properly has been impaired and corrupted by sin and its effects, such that we will 'freely' choose evil and not good much/all of the time.

We can thus say that our will is free, properly understood as operative within a context; yet God's will is 'freer' than ours and always will be. God can will that volcanoes erupt and earthquakes happen by means of geological processes, but we cannot will this, at least not yet or anytime in the near future.

God's plan of redemption, with its historical development, was never in doubt by human choice or agency. Yet, it seems we may say that our choices as people determined the path of history within God's overarching plan. This is a bold thing to contemplate, yet it appears to follow.

One conclusion emerges, that authority and will are coupled to specific contexts and are operative within those contexts but not outside those contexts. Thus, authority and will are related.


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