Thinking about God's Sovereignty...
The Doctrine of God’s Sovereignty
What is a Doctrine?
-A doctrine is an objective truth; a settled teaching. An authoritative teaching handed down from an authoritative source.
Doctrine can refer to a set of beliefs, like “Evangelical Christianity,” or it can refer to a smaller section of that teaching (for example, The Evangelical Doctrine/beliefs of the Church), or to one belief in particular. In this case, we are talking about the singular doctrine of God’s sovereignty.
Now, it's a bit misleading to say we are talking only of one doctrine in particular, because all Christian doctrine is interconnected and interdependent. So, while we can focus the spotlight on one doctrine at a time, we must also recognize that all doctrine is connected.
What does Sovereignty Mean?
The word sovereignty means, “supreme power and authority.”
In today's world, we often apply the idea of sovereignty to a country. The United States of America is a sovereign nation. It is unto itself. America has a collective will and governs itself.
But, even with America’s sovereignty, we must note that it is a limited sovereignty. America can exert her will and rule of law only over her own citizens, and only as far as she is militarily able.
But while Countries have limited sovereignty, the Bible teaches that God has unlimited sovereignty.
“Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:1-2)
“For Kingship belongs to the Lord. He rules over the nations.” (Ps. 22:28)
So, the Bible makes it very clear: God is not limited in His power in any way. His power, authority, and control are absolute. No one can frustrate God’s will.
Arthur W. Pink (an old dead guy) once defined God’s sovereignty like this, “[His sovereignty] means the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the God-hood of God. To say that God is sovereign is to say that God is God...it is to declare that He is the most High, that He does according to His will in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth so that no one can prevent His will.” (A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Renaissance Classics, 2012), 1-2)
Let's return, again, to the Scriptures...
“...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)
“Our God is in the Heavens; He does all that He pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)
Is God in Control of Me too?
These verses help us to see that God’s sovereignty and control are complete, and extend even to the will of mankind. The Bible makes this very plain. The verses that we have cited thus far (Job 42, Psalms 22 and 115, and Daniel 4) cannot be true if God is not also in control of man’s will.
Listen to the Apostle Paul as he works through this very issue in Romans 9:14-33
“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that My Name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom He has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”
In this passage, Paul is dealing with the issues of God’s sovereignty and man’s will in a very plain, and straightforward way. It’s a hard hitting passage, no doubt...but we ought to be thankful for that. We ought to give thanks that God is so honest with us.
As a side note, I do not intend on discussing the nature of man’s will in this post (perhaps in a future post), and how God's sovereignty interacts with man's will. But I bring this up to demonstrate, from Scripture, that God’s sovereignty has no bounds...not even the will of man.
We ought to pay close attention to Paul’s argument. He knows we’re tempted to push back against this — don't miss that; God knew we would struggle with and He's answering us even before we ask—which is why Paul writes, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its Molder, “Why have you made me like this?”
And remember the words from Daniel 4, “...none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?”
It is not for us to question the ways of God. The Scriptures reveal God to us just as God desires us to know Him. Knowing the sovereignty of God ought to create a deep sense of humility, comfort, and trust in Him.
The Big Picture.
There’s obviously much more to say on this issue, and many thousands of gallons of ink have been spilled on it throughout the history of the Church. But, I do want to say one more thing in closing.
It can be tempting to think about God’s sovereignty and man’s will as an issue unto itself, apart from the rest of God’s character. We often ask questions like, “How could a loving God predestine some and not all?” But such questions make God into something He’s not. Such questions divide God against Him. Such questions pit God’s characteristics against one another, and that is wrong.
The Bible presents God as the singular Being Who rules over all things completely and without challenge. The Bible also says that God is loving, trustworthy, merciful, patient, that He possesses a missionary heart, and that He forgives sinners. The Bible also says that God is Just, righteous, Angry, and Sovereign. He is a God Who calls sinners to repent, and He is a God Who predestines His saints unto salvation. We do not pit these things against one another in order to answer our own questions and lessen our frustrations. God says that He is all of these things all the time, and He is so perfectly. Our job, then, is to say, “Amen. Praise be to His Name.”
We can Trust Him.
-A Christian theologian and writer once described God’s sovereignty this way: “Absolute power guided by absolute wisdom.”
God's Own Word says of Him, “You are good and what You do is good…” (Psalm 119:68)
That's the truth about Who God is and how God acts.
It would be far more unsettling if God were not fully in control (which would mean He was actually competing with/against another power) or if a being that was not entirely good and trustworthy were in control.