The Sovereignty of God
Unwanted Results of an Inordinate Emphasis on the Exercise of Sovereignty
An inordinate emphasis on sovereignty can produce a sense of fatalism. It leads to will-less participation in life, because God’s sovereignty allows no participation by His disciple. It leads to will-less participation because God has decreed everything that will ever happen prior to the disciple’s ability to participate. It leads to will-less participation and eventual capitulation to the inevitable outcome.
The Pharisee Rabbi Gamaliel was held in highest esteem by the Jewish Council. He offered the following advice to the Jewish Council concerning their judgment against those who were followers of Christ and their preaching.
Acts 5:37–40 (KJV 1900)
37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. 38 And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: 39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. 40 And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
Gamaliel was a Pharisee and his belief in God’s control of events apart from free will is well documented and very significant here.
Thus the Pharisees left to man freedom of will in his spiritual life, but denied any independent initiative in his material life, which they considered entirely subject to predestination. This view is expressed in the Mishnah in the following terms by Hananiah ben Dosa: "Everything is foreseen, but freedom is given" (Abot iii. 15). The same idea is expressed in other words by R. Hanina: "All is in the hands of God, except the fear of God" (Ber. 33a). Another saying of his is: "A man does not hurt his finger in this world unless it has been decreed above" (Ḥul. 7b). Similarly it is said: "The plague may rage for seven years, and yet no man will die before the appointed hour" (Sanh. 29a; Yeb. 114b). "Forty days before the birth of a child," says the Talmud, "a Bat Ḳol [heavenly voice] proclaims: 'The daughter of A shall belong to B; the field of C to D; the house of E to F '" (Soṭah 1a). In another passage it is said that the angel who presides over pregnancy addresses God in the following terms: "Lord of the world! what shall come forth—a strong man or a weak one, a wise one or an ignoramus, a rich man or a pauper?" (Niddah 16b). The most striking example of fatalism found in the Talmud is the legend concerning Eleazar ben Pedat. This amora, being in very straitened circumstances, asked God in a dream how long he would suffer from his poverty, whereupon God answered him: "My son, wouldst thou have me overthrow the world?" (Ta'anit 25a), meaning thereby that Eleazar's poverty could not be helped because it was his fate to be poor. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6035-fatalism, 07/01/2013 Jewish Encyclopedia.com)
Gamaliel using logic demonstrating the Pharisaical teaching of predestination convinced the Jewish council to a course of inaction. The inaction, will-less participation, was based on the fact that God’s determinism is invasive and cannot be opposed.
This fatalism of Jewish predestination is one of the greatest accusations against reading the Hebrew Old Testament literally. Many believe that the Old Testament is a great deterrence to Israel’s defense of its people. The Jews refuse to defend themselves because God is punishing them or they have no control over those persecuting or attacking them.
The historical and archaeological evidence supports the view that reading the Hebrew Bible as literal history is an error, and once this has been accepted the above major contradictions will also disappear from Judaism, making it easier, moreover, for Jews to defend themselves.
Gamaliel advocated inaction, will-less participation, because it was inevitable that the way of Jesus would fail or succeed based on God's determinism. He was confident of this because of experience. Was his call to inaction based upon truth? It was not. Many false teachings obviously arose and did not fail. Does this make God the author of these? Does this mean that they were all to exist and not be opposed?
Is it sound doctrine to believe that when you fight what you believe to be a false teaching from sound doctrine that you could oppose God? All the Jewish leaders at that meeting believed Jesus to be a blasphemer. They believed him to be dead and stolen by his disciples. They were willing to put to death all those who followed that way and did so in subsequent chapters of Acts. However, Gamaliel advised that they should take no action because God in his sovereignty would allow or disallow this new way.
This is pure fatalism. If it succeeds, God must have ordained it in his sovereignty and to oppose it would be to oppose God. What has been decreed cannot be changed, and in Gamaliel’s way of thinking could not be opposed. It would be futile.
If this is always so then, we must see first if a false teaching using Christ’s name succeeds before we oppose it. I do not know of any under-shepherd of the flock who would subscribe to such advice. It would be inconceivable to a true believer that inaction is the best course of action until you determine the success or failure of a teaching based upon God’s sovereignty.
I cannot oppose something because it could be God ordained, and I can’t know until it succeeds or fails. This is pure fatalism. Somebody should have told the martyrs because their opposition was pure foolishness, and they died prematurely.
We can never know God’s will of right and wrong We can do nothing to stop it or promote it, so take no action. This would be pure confusion in the church body.
1 Corinthians 14:29–33 (KJV 1900)
29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
Although he confounds the world regularly, he does not confound the church in such fashion. Gamaliel’s fatalism is directly from an inordinate emphasis on sovereignty.