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problems with God's sovereignty

All of us at one time or other have had problems with understanding or accepting the doctrine of God's sovereignty.   J. I. Packer writes that sovereignty means that "God reigns."  He continues, "...we are constantly told in explicit terms that the Lord (Yahweh) reigns as king, exercising dominion over great and tiny things alike."  (Concise Theology, p. 33)  The Westminster Shorter Catechism speaks of the decrees of God as "His eternal plan based on the purpose of His will, by which, for his own glory, He has foreordained everything that happens." (P&R, 1986)

Here's a sampling of passages:

"Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps."  (Psalm 135:6 ESV) 

"...all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'" (Daniel 4:35 ESV)

"So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills."  (Romans 9:18 ESV)

"...having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will..." (Ephesians 1:11 ESV)

Now, of course, this raises quite a few questions:  Does God approve of -- or is he the cause of -- evil?  Why does he allow so much suffering?  Do we have free will? Are we mere puppets?  And these are difficult questions, but the Bible still affirms that God reigns over all.  And that he is good.  And that we are morally responsible.    

God does not approve (or delight in) evil but has ordained its existence and uses evil persons for his higher purpose and plan.  That's why Joseph could say to his murderous brothers, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today."  (Genesis 50:20)  The Bible teaches that we are free moral agents, but as Jonathan Edwards noted, "We are free to choose, but we are always slave to our greatest desire."  By nature we are not puppets, but neither are we freely loving, obedient children of God.  

In the apostolic preaching we find there is no conflict between the sovereign plan of God and human responsibility:  "...this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men."  (Acts 2:23 ESV)  

As difficult as some of these problems may be, if God is not sovereign, we have even bigger problems:
  • Does our evil have the power to veto God's plan?
  • Is he just in charge of the big picture but leaves the details to us (or nature, or the devil)?
  • Am I secure?  Will I arrive safely in heaven?
  • Who guarantees that everything does in fact work out for good to those who love him?
  • If he's not in control of world events, or events in my life, what comfort do I have?  
  • Is his mere presence a true comfort if he's not really in control?
  • Who's to say that all this evil won't happen again?

The bottom line question is, and the choice we have is...

a) does God approve of the plan that he ordained will come to pass, or 
b) does God get thwarted and not everything that he plans comes to pass?

My only hope is that God is God, that he is righteous and good, that in his mercy he sent his Son for us... and that he is sovereign!  This gives certainty, stability, and permanence to all that he wills.  

Once upon a time I had problems with the doctrine of God's sovereignty, but now I believe that if God is not sovereign, then we have much more serious problems!  


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