The next attribute in this yearlong series on God’s character is his sovereignty. When we say that God is sovereign we mean that God is absolutely all-powerful. No one blade of grass grows without his decree. Most people don’t have a problem with thinking of God as all-sovereign. But once we begin to contemplate the sovereignty of God at a deeper level some “problems” seem to emerge. If he’s totally sovereign that means, at the very least, he has permitted everything—good, evil, joy, pain, etc. But if we don’t want to pin that on God then we must limit his sovereignty so that he’s not responsible for unpleasant things.
When I was in my teens I read a popular book by Rabbi Kushner called When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Rabbi Kushner had a son who died from progeria (a rapidly aging body). After the passing of his son he stormed the book of Job looking for answers. His conclusion was tragic. He said, “[We need to] forgive God for not making a better world…” He went on to say that God has so many things going on he cannot possible prevent tragedy from striking and when it does it happens for “no good reason”. By the end of the book Rabbi Kushner has reduced God to a mere inspirational force influencing people to try to make this world a better place. But, ultimately, he is not in absolute control, therefore, he cannot be blamed for our pain.
As a father who has also lost a son to illness I can sympathize with Rabbi Kushner’s desperation. But I will never comprehend how making God a weakling brings comfort. The sovereignty of God is an impenetrable bastion, a mighty, stone castle and massive granite mountain unmoved by the hurricanes of affliction. Are there disturbing and mysterious elements to his sovereignty? Of course! But what else would you expect from an infinite, mysterious God? Once you’ve removed all the bristles, declawed and domesticated God he is hardly the mighty Warrior who fights on our behalf.
Take some time and ponder the following jurisdictions of God’s sovereignty.
I. Sovereign Over the Goal of History
The whole of human history has been sovereignly orchestrated by God. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (Isa. 46:9b-10)
The individual days have been ordained by God. “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Ps. 139:16 )
All the days of human history is sovereignly ordained unto a grand goal, the goal of His glory. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev. 4:11)
But does this apply to even the bad things in human history?
II. Sovereign Over Tragedy
When Moses was complaining to God that he was disqualified from serving the Lord because of a speech impediment God responded, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Ex. 4:11) So many faith-healers claim that all sickness is the devil’s fault and therefore it’s always God’s will to heal. But here God clearly takes sovereign responsibility for the impediment, does not heal Moses but gives him a helper, Aaron. Yes, God is sovereign even over the tragedy of physical maladies. Why would God permit physical suffering? Well, when God refused to deliver the Apostle Paul from his physical suffering Paul concluded it was so that God’s strength would be magnified through his weakness (II Cor. 12:9).
III. Sovereign Over Evil
In Judges 14 God raises up Samson to protect Israel. Samson was, to say the least, rough around the edges. When he began looking for a wife he told his parents he wanted to marry a godless woman from the daughters of the Philistines. This was clearly in violation of God’s law. Samson’s parents were distraught and tried to convince him to marry a believing Israelite. But then we read, “His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines.” (Judges 14:4) While Samson was still responsible for his sins, somehow God had sovereignly designed it as a means of judgment against the Philistines.
Without a doubt the greatest evil in human history was the crucifixion of Christ. When Jesus was arrested he said, “but this hour and the power of darkness are yours.” (Lk. 22:53) It was an evil hour. But then in Acts 4:28 Peter said the cross was predestined by God. The most evil event was predestined by God for the salvation of sinners. This is the greatest example of God’s sovereign ability to ordain even evil for His glory and our good.
IV. Sovereign unto Good
As we can gather from the last point, the fact that God is sovereign over ALL events means that there is no event that is not somehow filled with the invaluable treasure of God’s glory. And if you are a child of God, if you have called out to him for forgiveness and placed you faith in him ALONE for salvation then God will use the evil and tragedies in your life for your good. (Rom 8:28) For the Christian, the greatest good is not deliverance from temporary circumstances. The greatest good is being conformed to the image of Christ whom we love more than life itself. (Rom. 8:29)
V. Sovereign in the Mysterious
I just finished reading Quantum Universe which I regret since I didn’t understand half of it. But in this book the authors show how there are so many dimensions of science we cannot understand or explain. Why do particles behave like waves? Can an electron be in multiple places at the same time? This mystery causes these scientists to respect science all the more.
It should be the same between man and God. We know he sovereignly orchestrates everything. We also know he holds us responsible for our actions. How does this work? We don’t know. At this point many people dismiss God, recreate God or choose to despise God. But how foolish would it be for scientists to abandon science because they are angry that quantum theory seems to defy normal Newtonian “laws” of nature? But man routinely does this with God.
The sovereignty of God is the most comforting doctrine. It is because God is sovereign that I can look at a tragedy and say, “This is bad. But it is man’s disobedience before God that brought sin into the world. Therefore this tragedy is a reminder of our desperately need of God.” But I can also say, “This is good. It did not take God by surprise. And because he is sovereign I know there is infinite value and worth be accomplished for His glory and my good.”