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Understanding God’s sovereignty

Friday December 14, 2018 Written by Published in Church Talk
The remains of the walls of Jericho…brought down by faith in God.  18121338 The remains of the walls of Jericho…brought down by faith in God. 18121338

There are qualities in God we will never fully understand.

 

We can speak of God’s self existence, self sufficiency, eternity and triune (consisting of three in one) nature. Nevertheless, we must always recognise that we do not understand them completely, for we are not like God in any of these qualities.

We must simply confess that he is God and that we are his creatures. The infinite is beyond our understanding. On the other hand, there are qualities of God that we can understand, because to a limited degree we share in them. This is true of most of God’s attributes: wisdom, truthfulness, mercy, grace, justice, wrath, goodness, faithfulness and others. It is this category that will occupy us now.

When we think of God’s sovereignty, we mean He has absolute authority and rule, over his creation. In order to be sovereign, God must also be all knowing, all-powerful and absolutely free. If he were limited in any one of these areas, he would not be entirely sovereign. Yet the sovereignty of God is greater than any one of the attributes which it contains. Others may seem more important to us - love, for instance. But a little thought will show that the exercise of any of these attributes is made possible only by the sovereignty of God. God might love, for example, but if he were not sovereign, circumstances could thwart his love, making it useless to us. It is the same with God’s justice. God may desire to establish justice among human beings, but if he were not sovereign, justice could be frustrated and injustice prevail.

So the doctrine of the sovereignty of God is no mere philosophical dogma devoid of practical value. Rather it is the doctrine that gives meaning and substance to all other doctrines. It is, as evangelical author the late Arthur Pink observed, “the foundation of Christian theology... the center of gravity in the system of Christian truth   the sun around which all the lesser orbs are grouped.”’ It is also, as we will see, the Christian’s strength and comfort amid the storms of this life.

Of course there are problems in asserting God’s rule in relation to a world that has obviously gone its own way.

We may grant that God rules heaven. But the earth is an ungodly place. Here God’s authority is flouted and sin often prevails. Can we really say that God is sovereign in the midst of such a world? The answer is that if we look at the world alone, obviously not. But if we begin with the Scriptures, as we must do if we would know God, then we can affirm it; for the Bible everywhere declares that God is sovereign. We may not understand that doctrine. We may still wonder why God tolerates sin. But still we won’t doubt the doctrine, nor retreat from its consequences.

In Scripture the sovereignty of God is so pervasive and important a concept that it is impossible to treat it comprehensively. A few texts, however, will make the doctrine plain. “Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, 0 LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all ... thou rulest over all” (I Chron. 29:11 12). The psalms contain the same teaching. “The earth is the LORD’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). “Be still, and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth!” (Ps. 46:10). “God is the king of all the earth” (Ps. 47:7). The doctrine of the sovereignty of God lies at the root of all admonitions to trust in, praise and commit one’s way to him.

In addition to these texts and many others like them, there are also examples of God’s rule over the material order. The world of objects and matter obeys those rules which God has set over it. They are the laws of nature or science. We must not think, however, that the so called laws are absolute and that God is somehow controlled or limited by them, for on some occasions, God acts in an unpredictable way to perform what we term a miracle.

God showed his sovereignty over nature in dividing the Red Sea so the children of Israel could pass over from Egypt into the wilderness and then by returning the waters to destroy the pursuing Egyptian soldiers.

He showed his sovereignty in sending manna to feed the people while they were in the wilderness. On another occasion, he sent quails into the camp for meat. God divided the waters of the Jordan River so the people could pass over into Canaan. He caused the walls of Jericho to fall. He stopped the sun in the days of Joshua at Gibeon so that Israel might gain a full victory over her fleeing enemies.

In the days of Jesus, God’s sovereignty was seen in the feeding of the four and five thousand from a few small loaves and fish, in acts of healing the sick and raising the dead. Eventually, it was seen in the events connected with the crucifixion of Christ and the resurrection.

Other texts show that God’s sovereignty extends to the human will and therefore also to human actions. Thus, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he refused to let the people of Israel go. On the other hand, he melts some individuals’ hearts so that they respond to his love and obey him.

It may be said, as we noted above, that some men and women nevertheless defy God and disobey him. But this observation cannot overthrow the teaching of the Bible concerning God’s rule over his creation, unless the Bible is allowed to be self contradictory.

The explanation of the seeming contradiction is that human rebellion, while it is in opposition to God’s express command, falls within his eternal or hidden purpose. That is, God permits sin for his own reasons, knowing in advance that he will bring sin to judgment in the day of his wrath, and that in the meantime it will not go beyond the bounds that he has fixed for it. Many things work against the sovereignty of God from our perspective. But from God’s perspective, his decrees are always established.

They are, in fact, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism describes them, “his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”

                (To be continued)

                Rev Vaka Ngaro

                Cook Islands Christian Church