I'm reflecting on things I've learned since coming out of the Institutional Church 10 years ago. Here's one of the first lessons I learned: The Sovereignty of God is still a GREAT doctrine.
Here’s a good question: What does the world look like that is governed by Yahweh? The Idealists among us would not hesitate to put these attributes on the list:
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. So many more glorious attributes could be added in honor to a wondrous God who is in total control of his domain. However, Idealism begins to crumble and challenges ensue when we continue the list with things like:
That second half of the list gives a lot of folks fits when trying to defend the idea that the Yahweh of the Bible is truly a king and rules his universe with wisdom, love, justice and compassion. It’s pretty much the foundation to argue that God is NOT sovereign in one way or another.
There’s the argument, “God is not TOTALLY sovereign. Let’s face it, some things he created are just too big for him to handle.”
A variation on this is, “Well, sometimes his enemy, the devil, gets the upper hand and thwarts God’s plans. Sorry, it happens.”
Then there’s, “Well, if he’s sovereign, he must also be exceptionally cruel! How can a loving God let all that evil take place if he has the power to do something about it?”
Those who hold to Yahweh’s sovereignty but want to explain the evil will spin things this way: “Well, sin is still in the world and until that is taken away, evil will still continue until That Day comes when Jesus will return and fix this broken world.”
This is the view that a world in which God is REALLY sovereign is where life is all Disneyland, puppies and unicorns. That is, life should look like the first half of the list after the second half of the list is removed by some future redemptive work by God.
Let’s face it: No one likes the idea that Yahweh CAN be in control – wisely, lovingly, compassionately in control – where tragedy and anguish exist alongside beauty and wonder. Our minds cannot see a connection that true, heavenly wisdom can extract beauty from tragedy.
Let me offer my own perspectives on this.
First, I think those who have the greatest appreciation of God’s wise rule over his universe are those who understand our world as a wild and woolly landscape where frail humans walk continually in a beautiful and majestic albeit volatile and unpredictable world.
When we awake in the morning (if we awake), we step outside into a world where abundant risks and no guarantees exist right alongside a wealth of blessings and glorious opportunities.
Sure, we love the idea of a God who rules lavishing his blessings upon us, keeping us from harm and pain and suffering and ugliness. We really do want life to be all Disneyland, puppies and unicorns. We expect a king who keeps his domain like a sanitized nursery rather than a savage jungle.
We hate the idea that God might just let a tornado demolish our house. Or cancer to eat away at our body. Or death to take our child. Or a hurricane to flatten a city. Or a murderer to slay the innocent.
Let’s face it, it’s much easier to challenge the wisdom of Yahweh than it is find profound wisdom in a tragic act that was fully in the Father’s control.
One of the most powerful expressions of Yahweh’s sovereignty is uttered by Nebuchadnezzar, the man who conquered Judah then ordered it destroyed in 586 B.C. – all in accordance to the will and command of God.
“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?’” (Daniel 4:34-35).
It’s interesting to note the timing of Nebuchadnezzar’s statement. It came after a tragedy, a God-ordained seven year bout of madness. At the end of the seven years, we are told that Nebuchadnezzar "came to his senses."
I wonder if Nebuchadnezzar’s coming to his senses involved the realization of his own frailty in an uncertain world. Preceding his madness, he was enamored by his own sovereignty, power and invincibility. He rejected the idea that anyone – including Yahweh – could be as great as he.
All of a sudden, the world he “created” slipped from his fingers. He was the victim of tragedy. A tragedy in which Yahweh had a hand. Which Yahweh himself ordained. And at the end of it, what lesson did Nebuchadnezzar learn? That even in a royal setting of splendor and majesty, he, like every other creature on earth was weak, frail, mortal and lived in a world where there was no assurance that hard-earned security was guaranteed.
I want to consider the sovereignty of God under the assumption that both good and evil are within his control and a part of his plan. His plan, in a nutshell, was to “demonstrate His own love toward us” in the death of his precious son. Few Christians would argue with this, but fewer take it farther by seeing that the Father’s sacrificial love is to be CONTINUALLY demonstrated in the believers’ love for one another.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
What does the King desire in his domain? That his people be the living, visible manifestation of the love he demonstrated in his son. I suppose that can be done in a world of Disneyland, puppies and unicorns, but love never shines brighter than when put against the backdrop of tragedy. When the King sends tragedy, hardship or injustice, it is an opportunity for his people to display love for one another in a wild world.
In Acts 11, we read of the church in Jerusalem suffering under a tragedy that struck the world at that time.
“Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea” (vs. 27-29).
Notice they didn’t sit around lamenting, “Why did God do this?” They didn’t start debates on God’s purposes and sovereignty. What did they do? They mobilized to present a living demonstration of the love of God to their brethren suffering in Jerusalem.
Look at it like this: Tragedy is like a blank canvas. In the world of art, no one oohs and aahs over a blank canvas. It’s only after the artist has applied the genius of his mind to brush on the colors, arrange the perspective, depth, contrast and balance does anyone see a true work of art.
Christians, of all people, should never be bewildered or distraught when tragedy strikes. Yes, they will hurt, grieve and shed tears. But that hardship is an opportunity for God’s people to be the colors on the Father’s palette. It’s a chance be the Father’s masterpiece, a portrait of a loving Father applied to the blank canvas of disaster.
Perhaps the reason there are so many critics of God’s sovereignty is because there is so little genuine displays of love among Christians in the modern, American church. An artist is never to be judged by the blank canvas, but by the finished product of his hand. Modern Christians are too ready to leave the canvas blank or unfinished. Perhaps a revival of love among Christians may be the catalyst needed to bring the doctrine of God’s sovereignty back to respectability.
This wild and woolly world ain't for sissies. It ain't for wussies. God does not show his power in stopping the tornadoes, the tragedies, the sufferings, the deaths, etc. He shows his power and goodness in giving us strength through our love for one another in the midst of these things. The tragedies are only the canvas; WE, in our love for others, paint the work of art meant to display the character of God.
That is the way the King rules his world.
Grand Junction, Colorado
When I was young, I wanted nothing more than to be theologically trained and enter the ministry. Then, I'd hoped I would be run out of the church I pastored and wind up in a low-paying retail job. People, I am living the dream! Besides that, I'm part of a small, home fellowship in Grand Junction, Colorado, married to a wonderful woman and we raised three wonderful daughters. One is married to a great guy, one is in nursing school, and our youngest passed away in 2010. Yes, life is good!