Understanding Free Will
Martin Luther struggled greatly with the relationship of God’s sovereignty to human free will and sin. In fact, one of the greatest books ever written on the subject, The Bondage of the Will, is from Luther’s pen. When Luther grappled with this issue, he especially struggled with the Old Testament passages where we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3–4, 13–14, 22–23; 8:15, 19, 30–32; 9:27–10:2; 10:16–20, 24–28).
When we read these passages, we tend to think, “Doesn’t this suggest that God not only works through the desires and actions of humans, but that He actually forces evil upon people?” After all, the Bible does say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
When Luther discussed this, he observed that when the Bible says that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, God did not create fresh evil in the heart of an innocent man. Luther said that God didn’t harden people by putting evil in their hearts. All that God must do to harden anyone’s heart is to withhold His own grace; that is, He gives a person over to himself.
Coram Deo: Is your heart open to the needs of others? Is it responsive to spiritual things? Ask God to keep your heart soft and pliable to His divine will and purposes.
Exodus 4:21: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.’”
Psalm 95:8: “Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, as in the day of trial in the wilderness.”
Deuteronomy 15:7: “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother.”