An excellent example of this comes buried in the middle of Ezekiel. God is defending himself against the charges of the Israelites that they are being punished for their fathers' sins by telling them that "the son shall not die for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" (18:20). But then comes this wonderful little passage:
“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?....For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord, so turn, and live." (18:21-23, 32)What a beautiful statement about man's free will, and how God has abdicated his sovereignty in order to allow man to make his own decisions, right? Not so fast. Flip over two chapters to the section where God is reprimanding Israel for its constant rebellion against him. Suddenly comes this marvelous treasure:
And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name's sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God. (20:44)So God doesn't deal with us according to our deeds, but according to his mercy, for the glory of his name? How do these two ideas fit together? Short answer: it's the glorious mystery of God's sovereignty. How beautiful a thing it is to lean on the mercy of God!