Relevant Biblical Passages: Matt. 13; 20:1-16; 21:33-41; 22:1-14; Luke 15
Human Responsibility and Divine Initiative in Tension: The Parables. If one adopts the so-called “free-will” defense of God in the cosmic struggle between good and evil, the result is a certain tension between the divine initiative and human responsibility. Those who are most interested in the theodicy question tend to focus on human responsibility and may not give sufficient emphasis to divine sovereignty and grace. Conversely, those whose experience reflects a strong emphasis on divine sovereignty and grace often show little interest in the theodicy question. Both sides of the paradox are illustrated in the parables of Jesus, though not necessarily in the same parable. The following parables are worth noting:
The Soils: Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23. Each of the soils illustrates a different kind of human response. Three of the responses are negative, one is positive. Yet the difference in each case is the soil into which the seed is cast and the kind of soil was not “chosen” by the seed. Does this parable move in the direction of determinism and predestination?
The Tares: Matthew 13:24-30. In contrast with the parable of the soils, the parable of the tares calls for a waiting period so that the true grain can be identified at the right time. Does this parable speak more to human responsibility or to the divine initiative?
Parable of the Wicked Vineyard Tenants: Matthew 21:33-41. This parable portrays multiple opportunities to respond positively, but with a final judgment. What aspect of the Great Controversy does this parable illustrate?
Parable of the Wedding Banquet Matthew 22:14. In this parable, the invited guests treat the king’s messengers very rudely and the king responds violently. When new guests are invited, the king ejects a man who refused the wedding garment. Does this parable make room for a free-will defense of a gentle God? Or does it illustrate the power and sovereignty of God over against the rebellious human race?
Parables of the Lost: Sheep, Coin, Boy: Luke 15. This cluster of parables covers the full spectrum of possibilities between human responsibility and divine sovereignty. The lost coin represents those who don’t even know they are lost and our saved by God’s grace; the lost sheep represents those who know they are lost and are quite ready to receive help; the lost boy represents those who know they are lost and must choose to go home. Which of the “God” figures is most gracious in such a cluster: the woman who finds the coin, the shepherd, or the father of the prodigal?
Parable of the Equally-paid Vineyard Workers: Matthew 20:1-16. This parable contrasts with the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 where all are paid according to their works; here the workers are paid regardless of how much they worked. How does this parable fit into a Great Controversy scheme?