Free Will and God's Sovereignty

By Mark King

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Although they had given up hope, Paul announces that God has guaranteed that everyone on board will be spared. So you might think this means that Paul will just sit back and relax — but read on:
On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved." So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.
The sailors tried to abandon ship and Paul thwarts the plan. Look at what he says: "unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved." I thought God had guaranteed that everyone would live. Apparently, the way He was going to accomplish this was to have experienced sailors on board who could maneuver the ship as necessary. If they had abandoned the ship, the people could not have survived. However, in God's sovereignty, Paul noticed what was going on and told the centurion who thwarted their plan and the necessary sailors stayed with the ship.
Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. "For the last fourteen days," he said, "you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food — you haven't eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head." After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.
Once again, Paul encourages them to eat because they will need their strength to survive. If God had guaranteed that everyone would live, why bother with eating? Paul actually uses God's promise to encourage them so that they will feel like eating, because they need to be strong to survive what was to come. God's plan and human choices are working together.
When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach.
Now we know why the sailors had to stay with the ship. The average passenger would not have known what to do in this situation. These maneuvers were necessary to get the ship close to shore.
But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf. The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul's life and kept them from carrying out their plan.
Once again, God had prepared things ahead of time. It would have been normal practice to kill the prisoners to prevent escape. But Paul had won favor with the centurion and he overrules the plan, saving not only Paul but all the prisoners, continuing the fulfillment of God's promise that no one on board would be lost.
He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship.
So, if God promised that everyone would survive, why bother swimming or hanging on to boards? Well swimming or hanging on to something that floats if you can't swim is the way that God has ordained that people normally survive getting dumped in the water. They had already eaten, so they had some strength, due to the maneuvers of the sailors, they were as close to land as possible.

To sum it up verse 44 states "In this way everyone reached land safely." — Just as God had promised, but it took a series of human decisions and actions to accomplish what God had promised.

It is a bit of a mystery. If you rely so much on God's sovereignty that you abdicate your own responsibility and get complacent, you are misunderstanding God's sovereignty. If you rely so much on human choice and responsibility that you become fearful that God's plan may be ruined, then you are also misunderstanding God's sovereignty.

Image Credit: allison; "changing fate"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Calvinism-Tulip  | Christian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | God-Father  | Theological-Beliefs

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Published 3-5-15