The Rationale of Sovereignty

Rock Climbing“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
-Isaiah 1:18

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
-Exodus 3:14

A couple of weeks ago, Nancy Fitzgerald joined us for the first part of three podcasts talking about worldview. One of the reactions on Facebook was in the form of a series of questions concerning the actions - or apparent inaction - of God. Here they are:

  1. Why doesn't God simply get rid of this MONSTER Satan right now, immediately?
  2. If Jesus was God, then why did he come to a few people, leaving out almost all the world at that time?
  3. Why did God not have everyone speaking the same language IF the Holy Bible is the word of God? There are thousands of languages and dialects!
  4. Why are Jesus' formulative years (13-29 yo.)not recorded?
  5. Why did Jesus say on the cross as he was being tortured to death, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

Their author then goes on to say:

Ok, but I've asked these questions many times and no LOGICAL answers. Why do I ask? The simple message of Jesus...Love your neighbor and yourself, has been hijacked…

These are all great and important questions. The first four all revolve around the same thing - our view of God. The last question revolves around the personhood of Jesus - so we will treat that in a separate article.

To answer these questions properly, we have to look at two areas: our view on the sovereignty of God, and our idea of rational thinking apart from the grace of Christ.

The Sovereignty of God

Often - especially in the midst of all the madness and destruction we see around us - we start wondering if there are some areas outside of God’s control. We often fall into the trap of Dualism - thinking that there are two opposing forces (good and evil, light and dark, etc) at everlasting war in creation. Or perhaps we view God as the great clockmaker who set the universe in motion then sits back and lets it go. Or worse still, as C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters hinted, we define God as that corner of the ceiling that we pray to when we are in the mood. When reality does not fit in with our views of God and His actions, we start questioning the His very nature and the things that He can do.

In fact, the opposite is true. God is absolutely sovereign. He answers to no one, and nothing controls him. There is nothing outside of His control, nothing outside of His command, nothing outside of His planning. God is indeed the master of all that we see, all that we do not see, all that we know, and all that we do not know.

Scripture over and over declares that from before the creation of time itself, throughout time, and at the end of time - God is sovereign.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God…
The Hebrew thought behind these words was very clear. There was no beginning for God, but in the beginning of all things God created, moved, commanded, and was. All things came into being at His voice. All things are subject to Him.

Exodus 3:14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”
This very name of God proclaims that He alone is completely sovereign. “I am who I am” in Hebrew is YHWH. We have no idea how to pronounce it - as the oral keepers of Scripture thought it was too sacred to utter. Neither does it have any tense. It can be translated in one of hundreds of ways:

  • I Am Who I Am
  • I Am Who I Was
  • I Was Who I Am
  • I Am Going To Be Who I Am Right Now
  • I Am Being Who I Will Be Being

Time has no effect on God. No other being in the heavens or on the earth can say that. Humans experience time, and are not the same people from year to year. The angelic host cannot lay claim to it, because they were created by the command of God. Not even the demons can proclaim it, because they too are part of the universal creation. Only God can proclaim that His being is unchanged, unchanging, and unchangeable. He is Sovereign, even over time itself.

Psalm 115:3 Our God is in the heavens; He does all that he pleases.
This verse is actually in response to how the other nations view their gods. While they are all out searching for their idols and misconceived gods and wondering why they act like they do, the psalmist proclaims that God is enthroned in Heaven, and will work out what He will.

Hosea 14:4 I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely…
God’s sovereignty extends to his acts of love. He will love whom he loves - without regret, without merit, without cause, without reason. He is so outside of anything that not even our own hatred against him will cause Him to stop loving us.

Luke 12: 6 - 7 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
God’s sovereignty extends to the smallest of things. He knows and values the smallest of birds to us. He knows us inside out - better than we know ourselves.

Matthew 19:26 And looking at them Jesus said to them, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’
Impossible things from our perspective are possible from God’s perspective. There are no miracles in God - just God being Who He is.

Psalm 18:30 As for God, His ways are blameless…
In the middle of all this power and glory, God is completely good. Nothing about Him is evil or deceitful. Nothing about Him or His ways is anything but good. Since God is unchanging, the only thing that God cannot do is be anything other than He is - good, holy, pure, loving, and sovereign.

The passages throughout the Bible that attest to God’s power and sovereignty are numerous. The point here is that once we get out of the thought process that God is an actor on the stage of time and instead realize that all time and creation revolve around Him, many of our answers about what we see and think about Him change radically.

Rational Thinking Apart From Christ

Another trap that we often fall into when trying to figure out God is the idea that we can reason our way to understand Him without partaking in His grace. God is not above being questioned. If, as C.S. Lewis again points out, the God is truth - then searching for the truth about God is itself a Godly action. But, in our natural state, we are severely limited in what we can do!

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord…
God is not against reason. God is the author of all truth, and so inquiring into Him and His actions is not “anti-Christian” or “unfaithful.”

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
Although God wants us to reason with Him, in our unsaved state, we are not able to do so. From our very birth we are corrupted in sin. Every aspect of us - from our heads to our toes, from our hearts to our minds - all are tainted in the sin of rebellion against God. In our sin, our very brains are short-circuited. Sin acts like a speed-regulator on a gas pedal - we are unable to live up to the full potential that God intended us to have. Consequently, apart from God, we cannot “reason” our way into faith or into an understanding of God, Nancy is very clear about it - this searching that she did all her life was a “God-thing.” She initially thought she was the one seeking out and figuring out God. After she committed her life to Jesus she realized that it was her Savior all the time that was reaching out to her.

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Once we come to Christ, that speed-regulator is removed. Our minds are renewed, revved up, cleared of the goo and gum of willful disobedience. We are able to more fully discern the things about God because our minds are turned toward him.

Reason, therefore, is not antithetical to faith. In fact, the ability to clearly reason comes only as a result of faith. Apart from faith, the actions or inactions of God seem irrational and inconsistent. Within grace and the knowledge of Jesus, we are able to understand that the actions of God are completely rational and keeping within the knowledge of God that grace has given us.

Answering the Questions

With these two foundations in place, we are able to answer these and many other questions about God’s actions.

Why doesn't God simply get rid of this MONSTER Satan right now, immediately?

If we believe in the absolute sovereignty of God, then we must hold that God has a reason to keep Satan around for the time being. Scripture tells us that Satan is nowhere the equal of God. In the book of Job, we actually see Satan forced to ask God for permission to act. Satan may be the enemy of God. But, this chief of devils can only act when and where allowed by God. God holds all the cards. He wrote the rules.

Why does God simply just not get rid of Satan? Because for some reason or another - only known to God and not revealed to us - it does not please Him or fit into His absolute Good Sovereignty to do so.

Do you see how this seems irrational from a worldly view? We want God to act as we want Him to, as we define Him to be. But once we acknowledge God’s absolute power and sovereignty, His actions become completely rational. We may not like it. I wish Satan was destroyed and Jesus would return to bring us home - today! But God’s sovereign plan has other things in mind.

If Jesus was God, then why did he come to a few people, leaving out almost all the world at that time?

and

Why did God not have everyone speaking the same language IF the Holy Bible is the word of God? There are thousands of languages and dialects!

Hebrews 1:1-2 addresses these head-on:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

If we understand God as sovereign, than we will understand that he used the cultures and milieus in order to perfectly convey what He set out to do. Jesus entered the world at the exact perfect time that He needed to do so - because it was decreed by the perfect sovereign will of God. No other time or place would have worked.

Even the language that the Scriptures were written in were perfectly suited to the task. The idioms, turns of phrase, and current political climates were perfectly suited to convey the message that God wanted to get across. The job of pastors and Biblical scholars is to understand the language and the background of that culture to understand what God said - and how we understand and apply that today.

Why are Jesus' formulative years (13-29 yo.)not recorded?

I too would like to know about how Jesus grew up. How he interacted with the kids around him. What his day to day life was like. But, apart from that one window in Luke, his childhood was not recorded.

If we rely on God’s sovereignty, we can begin to understand that those years were not recorded because according to God’s plan we do not need to know about them. Would they be interesting - sure. Are they needed to understand the saving action of Jesus on the cross? Apparently not - or else we would have them.

In many ways, the answer to this question is like taking a plane. In the seat pocket before us, we are given a glossy card that tells us a little bit about the vehicle we are riding in, where the exits are, and what to do in the unlikely event of a crash. We are even given a video and a lecture on safety. Meanwhile, up in the cockpit, the pilots are going through checklist after checklist, double checking manuals and procedures - all as a routine part of flying the plane. Why don’t the passengers have these checklists? Simple - we don’t need them. In order to do the job of being a passenger on that plane - all we need is that glossy brochure and to pay attention to the cabin crew.

The same thing is true about Scripture. Sure it would be nice to have that background information about Jesus. But apparently we do not need it to be faithful to Him.

The End Result: Living in Trust Of God

God’s sovereignty is at the heart of how we see all of His actions - or inactions. God never has to explain. On those rare occasions in Scripture when He does explain, the recipients are blown away by their own lack of faith in such power. It is this complete control over the universe that helps us explain events that seem random, evil, terrible, and inconsistent. His complete sovereignty is also a great comfort in the face of events that we neither like nor understand.

Our job, then, is to carry out the commands of Christ. If we trust in the sovereignty of God, we do not have to waste a whole lot of time figuring out the “why” of things, and focus instead on obeying His command to tell the world about Jesus.

Much like those passengers are the plane, we are faced with two options. The first is to try to force our way into the cockpit, wrestle the checklists and manuals from the pilots, and fly the plane ourselves. Unlike a plane, we have no idea how to run a universe, plan for time eternal, and know people better than they know themselves. Removing God’s sovereignty removes any purpose for any tragedy, provides no comfort for loss, and devolves all creation into a random mess with no answers or reasons for anything. Or, we can acknowledge the sovereignty of God, trust that He knows what He is doing no matter what happens, and go about our jobs of being faithful and trusting servants.

I guarantee the second option is by far the better choice.

Do you have questions about the seemingly random acts around us that seem so inconsistent with a loving God? Are you trying to figure out purpose in an otherwise directionless society? Are you asking where is God in the midst of tragedy? Start with acknowledging His sovereignty - His absolute power over all things. Acknowledge that you do not like - in any way - what has happened. Let Him know that it seems so inconsistent. Yet praise Him for the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-loving God that He is. Ask Him to renew your mind, to turn away your thinking from being conformed to the poison of this world so that you may understand His ways.

Will you have all the answers to your questions. Probably not. Will you still be touched by tragedy around you? Most definitely.

But I guarantee you it is the only way to live.

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