Monday, November 2, 2015

The Sovereignty of God

    There are few topics that are debated with same the vehemence that the sovereignty of God vs the free will of man discussion brings about. I happen to be someone who holds that both the absolute sovereignty God and the limited free will of man walk hand-in-hand throughout Scripture, yet I still find myself in discussions and debates (honestly, I often start them :) on the sovereignty of God.

    Why is this an important topic? I mean, really, why does it matter? It matters because when we say we "trust" God, whether for protection or anything else similar, we assume that He is at work on earth and that He does have a plan that He can accomplish. We pray because we believe God does, in fact, involve Himself in the affairs of earth.

    This is not the place for a raging debate on free will and God's sovereignty. Suffice to say, we see in Scripture verses that speak of man's free will, and others that speak of God's sovereignty. I will admit that I do not understand where the two mesh, but since both are found in the Bible, I must trust that they do. The focus of this post, however, is on what to me is one of the most comforting doctrines in the Bible, God's absolute sovereignty. It does not demand that free will no longer exist; it simply shows the affairs of earth from heavenly perspective. While what happens here on earth may appear to be simply choices made by men, an examination of the Bible quickly makes it clear that much more often (if not in every case), it is in fact, God's guiding hand at work rather than simply men dictating their own fates.

    There are several passages I want to examine. First, Daniel 4:34-35 is the statement of a heathen king who has been brought low before a mighty God. Nebuchadnezzer, the most powerful of the Babylonian kings, is brought to his knees (literally) before God because of the pride of his heart for seven years. At the end of seven years, he is returned to his senses (the full story is in the entirety of chapter 4) and reinstated to his throne in Babylon. He immediately sends out a letter to all the provinces he rules over which is closed with these words.

    "For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'"

    That is an incredible statement about the incredible, sovereign hand of God. He doesn't just have power to be involved in world affairs or enforce His will if He wanted to; He actively "does according to His will." Not just sometimes, or occasionally. It's an incredible thought!

    The second passage is in Psalms (No great surprise there. David seemed to understand the greatness of God better than most.) 33:9-11, "For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart form generation to generation."

    David draws an interesting parallel between God's plans and man's. Man's are at God's whim. He cancels their plans at will and frustrates their strategies whenever He pleases. On the other hand, His counsel is unstoppable, and His plans have stayed the same for generations. 

    One of my favorite testimonies of God's sovereignty is found in Job 1:8, 2:5 where Satan himself comes before God before being able to touch Job. God is so sovereign on earth that Satan himself needs permission from God before engaging God's servant Job! Another favorite is in Prov. 16:33, where Solomon identifies that even how a lot falls into a man's lap is from God's hand, not random chance or coincidence.

    The undeniable end conclusion? God is sovereign. "For I know that the Lord is great and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps." (Ps. 135:5-6) God is God. He does what He pleases. Whatever we in our free will may decide is subject to change whenever and however God pleases.

    Now, this realizations brings two thoughts to my mind. First, if God is absolutely sovereign, why do bad things happen here? Frankly, God does not grace us with an answer here. God's omnipotence dictates that it is within His power to change the world and men's hearts to only do and desire good. But God has not chosen to do that.

    While we may not understand why, it is a Biblical fact that while man may try to get God to play by our rules, God rarely does. For example, when Jesus was hanging on the cross, the thieves beside Him and the crowds around Him taunted Him by mocking His power, demanding He pull Himself off the cross and save both Him and them! Yes, He certainly had the power, but He Himself saw the bigger picture that the crowd did not see: He was procuring a redemption for His people! Yes, in our limited human understanding, we would have rathered Him jump off the cross and extend His righteous anger upon the Roman soldiers, the Sanhedrin, and the gathered crowds! But God's mind is bigger than ours. In the larger picture, the goodness of God dictates His decisions, not man's desires.

    Psalm 115:2-3 is another example of this. "Why should the nations say, 'Where, now, is their God?' But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever pleases Him." The nations around may challenge Israel and taunt, demanding a sign, demanding to see their God. But God isn't required to satisfy man. God simply does what pleases Himself, whether that is to show Himself to man or to hide Himself.

    But another thought then enters my mind from studying this topic. If we believe that God is sovereign, then literally nothing can hurt us that has not come from God's sovereign hand. This truth shouldn't spur us to inaction; it should spur us to greater action! God's sovereignty means that He offers equal protection to us in a suburb of Atlanta or a suburb of Mogadishu. His will rules and reigns. Our number of days is in God's hands. The trials, the tribulations, the temptations are all things God can stop if He sees fit. I daresay He frequently does so.

    But the ones He, in His sovereignty, doesn't stop, are the ones we know aren't meaningless. They aren't purposeless. A sovereign God allowed them to happen, because they are a part of a plan He is accomplishing throughout the earth.

    We serve a God with all power, deserving of all glory. And as servants of God, we know that our days, our lives, our circumstances, our struggles are all in the hands of God. We can trust Him. We can rely on His goodness in His sovereign. Thank God!

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