God is entirely Sovereign, or He is entirely not… There is no in between. He must either be in control of all things, or not. That’s the difficulty in describing a God of absolutes. We can describe Him in those terms when it fits our perspective, but when it doesn’t we quickly begin to question how far these terms can reach…
Take for example a real life situation contained in an excerpt of the book Disappointment with God by Phillip Yancey
“Earlier that week a plane carrying nine missionaries had crashed in the Alaskan outback,
killing all aboard. The pastor solemnly related the details and then introduced a member of the church who had survived an unrelated plane crash that same week. When the church member finished describing his narrow escape, the congregation responded,
‘Praise the Lord!’
‘Lord, we thank you for bringing our brother to safety and for
having your guardian angels watch over him,’ the pastor prayed.
‘And please be with the families of those who died in Alaska.’
That prayer triggered revulsion, something like nausea, in Richard.
You can’t have it both ways, he thought. If God gets credit for the survivor, he should also get blamed for the casualties. Yet churches never hear testimonies from the grievers. What would the spouses of the dead missionaries say? Would they talk about a
Say what you want about Yancey and his beliefs, but he presents a conundrum here for how most believers view sovereignty. How can we praise God for keeping His sovereign hand on some situations when others go awry?
Either God is entirely over everything, or He isn’t God. Being over everything is an essential part of the very nature of God.
So what is a believer to do?
Stop picking and choosing the moments God is sovereign over.
We love to claim God is sovereign when it is easy or it makes sense. When the church grows, when the child is safe, when grandma heals…. It’s easy because we see God as both good and in control.
But when the church falters, the child passes away, or cancer takes grandma’s life we blame the affect of sin and Satan. The problem is, God is still in control. It is just a whole lot harder for us to admit it.
Consider Job’s story. Job’s life went south pretty quick. But what did his wife tell him to do? Curse God. Why curse God? When we read through the story, we see that Satan is the one requesting Job have these things taken away… But why must Satan ask? Because God is the one in control (which Job is quick to recognize in chapters 1 and 2). When Job goes on his rant later in the book, he isn’t questioning God’s sovereignty! Job instead spends most of his time questioning God’s wisdom and goodness. Job isn’t asking whether or not God was in control; he’s asking why God let it happen on his watch.
How are we to respond to issues where we are uncertain of God’s sovereignty? Shadrach Meshach & Abednego set a great example for us in Daniel chapter 3. King Nebuchadnezzar has built a huge statue and decreed “If you don’t worship my statue, I’m going to kill you by tossing you in a fiery furnace!” Pretty nice guy. Shadrach Meshach & Abednego (From here on referenced as the Three Amigos) believe in the one true God and refuse. Nebuchadnezzar has them brought before him where he gives them one last chance to respond to his ultimatum. The Three Amigos respond with this:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have hit on the point. While they believe that God will save them, they recognize that even if He doesn’t, He is still worthy of their obedience and worship.
God is always in control, always sovereign. Even in the moments where we don’t see how.
Still wrestling with the idea of sovereignty? Check out John Piper’s sermon on the matter here: