I’ve always been subject to much confusion regarding free-will growing up in the church. I’ve always been taught that it is an absolute that humanity has, that God gave us a free will and we could either choose for him, or choose against him. I was told in no uncertain terms that God was not a divine rapist, and that he would never, ever, ever, violate our free will. These pastors that I would listen to would frequently work into their sermons the idea that human free will is sovereign, and the choice is ultimately left entirely up to each sinner to decide what to do with Christ. That made sense to me, as it seemed pretty reasonable. I was in control in every other area of my life; why not this one?
But at the same time, as I worked through the scriptures in my own study, I kept running into biblical statements and doctrinal issues that posed a severe challenge to that sort of free-will theology. I would read clear passages like Romans 9:15-16; where God says “‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” and I just didn’t know what to do with that. Not just those verses, but trust me- once you hit Chapter 9, any Arminian vehicle will break down on the Romans road.
Then other questions began to pop up in my head as I thought about this concept of the granted and untouchable free-will of man that God would not interfere with- Why am I praying for my lost friends and family? It seems like I’m wasting my breath to pray to God for their salvation if He can’t do any more than he has already done to save them. Why am I praying “Lord, incline their heart towards you” if God’s not going to mess with their heart either way? Not only that, but why we should pray about anything in the realm of human relationships if God never intrudes on the sanctity of human free will? Furthermore, if man has “free will”, then why would he need the help of the Holy Spirit in coming to Christ?
These questions were what led me to a conclusion- that though I was an Arminian, I prayed like a Calvinist. I wasn’t praying “God, please leave their will absolutely free, so that they can freely choose for or against you. Don’t influence them in any way.” Instead I was asking the Lord in my prayers to be gracious and reveal himself to people, to touch their hearts and tweak their spirits and step into their world to do everything necessary to save them. I was asking the Lord to break down their walls and pass through the hardness of their hearts and press the Holy Spirit upon them and make himself known- prayers that are hardly consistent with a free-will theology which has God’s hands tied regarding that sort of thing.
Which brings us to a question; do your prayers for people necessarily ask the Lord to violate their free will?