Questions such as "if God is sovereign, why should we evangelize?" and "if God is sovereign, why should we pray?" are often raised as objections to the doctrine of the comprehensive sovereignty of God. In addition to providing answers for these questions, I also demonstrate how, in general, asking this question is logically equivalent to asking "if I am not God, then why should I do anything at all?"
A common objection raised by Arminians to the doctrine of the comprehensive sovereignty of God is the question "if God is sovereign, why evangelize?" Well, if God is sovereign, then why not evangelize? After all, if He is sovereign, then He can grant success to one's evangelism efforts! If He isn't sovereign, on the other hand, then why spend all that effort going about an endeavor that could well be fruitless? On the Calvinistic side, even if God grants no conversions, the faithful proclamation of His Word is a success, because it glorifies God, and He has brought His desired effects in response to its hearing in the hearts and minds of those listening. Of course, God has commanded evangelism (Matt. 28:18-20), but such considerations are often sidestepped in these kinds of discussions.
Another common, related, question is "if God is sovereign, why pray?" Well, once again, if God is sovereign, then He is all-powerful to grant one's requests. If God is not sovereign, then there is no guarantee that God can grant what one asks for. Thus, the Calvinist has every reason to pray with hope and confidence (especially for the salvation of friends, loved ones, etc.), while the Arminian does not. Of course, the Bible commands prayer (1Th. 5:17), but if obedience to the commands of Scripture were the only consideration here, then such a question as to why we should pray would not be asked in the first place. In general, an explanation - a solution to a supposed problem, is what is desired when these kinds of questions come up.
In general, such questions of this kind are stated "if God is sovereign, then why should I do X?" The two answers outlined above are:
1) If God commands X, then you have a moral obligation to do X, regardless of your beliefs about the sovereignty of God.
2) If God is sovereign, then He can grant you success in your doing of X. Since we have promises such as 1 Jn. 5:14-15, then why shouldn't we do X, given that God is sovereign?
While this certainly solves the issue for me (and for any other consistent Calvinist, I would imagine), I have a sneaking suspicion that the average Arminian (having been one myself once) would still not be dissuaded from asking this question again. Thus, further analysis of the issue is needed.
The Problem With the Questions
Perhaps another more fundamental question underlies questions of these types, when asked. Perhaps one might be asking if human freedom and divine sovereignty are compatible. This issue has been dealt with elsewhere (and I have plans to deal with it in a new set of posts at some point in the future). However, the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human freedom only brings the discussion so far. After all, the question is not "does it make logical sense for me to do X if God is sovereign (given that we do X quite often)", but "do I have sufficient reasons to do X, if God is sovereign?" Thus, there is an issue of what provides a sufficient motivation for action, and whether or not God's sovereignty detracts from one's motivations to do X. Thus, the issue is not if God's sovereignty is logically incompatible with doing X (for we do X all the time), but whether or not God's sovereignty, if true, removes my motivations to do X. I contend that such a question is nothing short of impious.
First, if God's commands are objectively worthy of obedience, then it does not matter if God is sovereign or not - we are to obey Him. The only exception would be to assert the principle that "if God is sovereign, then we do not have proper motivation to obey Him in His commands to do X." However, such a statement is not to be found in or derived from Scripture. Even more so, for God to be God, He must be objectively worthy of obedience. If one does not objectively have proper motivation to obey God, then God is not objectively worthy of obedience (for his worthiness is sufficient to provide proper motivation). Thus, to say that if God is sovereign, that He is no longer objectively worthy of obedience is to say that if God is sovereign, He is no longer God. Thus, a divine command to do X is always a sufficient motivation for doing X, the sovereignty of God notwithstanding. The impiety of going this route established, I will move on to the next point.
Second, when questions of this form are asked, deeper issues of self-determination are usually at heart. It has been my experience that often when such questions are asked, the fundamental issue is something like "If God has determined what the outcome of Y will be, then why should I pray about Y?" The issue here, then, is one of "If my prayer doesn't ultimately determine the outcome of Y, then why pray to God about it?" This follows, since the issue at hand is one of God's total determination of all things. If God has determined all things, then why should I act in this way or that? What is the point of such action, if everything is ultimately determined anyway? The implied assertion under this, then, is that I should only do certain things I have the capability to determine at least something on my own. However, this is logically equivalent to saying: "If I'm not God, then why should I do this or that?" This equivalence is demonstrated in the following argument:
1) Y does not have sufficient motivation to do X if Y doesn't ultimately determine at least one thing. (The point under contention and the implication of asking "if God is sovereign, why should Y do X?")
2) Only God can ultimately determine any and every thing. (from Calvinistic compatibilism)
3) Only God can ultimately determine at least one thing. (from 2)
4) No human being* is God
5) Therefore, no human being can ultimately determine at least one thing. (from 3 and 4)
6) Therefore, no human has sufficient motivation to do X. (from 1 and 5)
This argument, then, often represents the fundamental argument being represented by questions of the form "if God is sovereign, then why do X?" However, these statements have further logical implications:
7) If Y has sufficient motivation to do X, then Y ultimately determines at least one thing. (from 1, and the logical equivalence of the contrapositive)
8) Thus, if a human being* has sufficient motivation to do X, then that human being ultimately determines at least one thing. (from 7, substitution)
9) Therefore, if a human being has sufficient motivation to do X, then that human being is God. (from 3 and 8)
10) 9 contradicts 4. Therefore, it is not true that the ultimate determination of at least one thing is required for Y to have sufficient motivation to do X.
11) If a human being is not God, then that human being does not have sufficient motivation to do X. (from 9 and logical equivalence of the contrapositive)
* - Jesus is excluded, since this argument only concerns "us ordinary folk."
Thus, in statement (10), the whole idea is disproven that the power of determination is required for sufficient motivation to do X (also note that the sufficiency of divine command for proper motivation to action, as demonstrated above, also disproves it). Perhaps even more importantly, statement (11) shows the logical consequences of insisting upon this principle: to insist upon this principle is to insist that if one is not God, one has no reason to do things. Thus, if anyone asks this kind of question ("if God is sovereign, why do X?") rhetorically, one is asserting a statement logically equivalent to (1), and thus a statement logically equivalent to (11). Thus, to ask this sort of question rhetorically is to assert that if man is not God, that man has no reason to act, and to simply ask this sort of question is to ask why man should act if man is not God. Thus, the impiety of this sort of question follows.
In summary, not only do questions of the form "if God is sovereign, then why do X?" have satisfactory answers, but the act of even asking such a question is logically equivalent to asking "if we are not God, then why should we do anything?" Such questions are absurd, as well as impious. May God be glorified in our acceptance of His comprehensive sovereignty, and our acceptance of our proper place in His created universe.
Soli Deo Gloria!