Friday, February 22, 2008

Sovereign God

It's hard to find time to use this - I've actually had to start a list of all the thoughts I'd like to blog about at some point! Tonight everyone is in bed early and I'm still awake, so I thought I'd try to get some thoughts processed through here! So, here's what's been on my mind and heart a lot lately - the sovereignty of God. I've been re-examining a lot of the pat, Christian expressions I've uttered in the past, and realized that a lot of them don't line up with what the Bible really says. And, because of that, they don't show how big and sovereign God really is. Take Romans 8:28, for instance. According to the New American Standard translation (which I am coming to love because it seems to give such a better sense of what the verse actually means), it says: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Usually, when I'm talking to someone, I can't remember the exact words of a verse - so I'll paraphrase! With this verse, I tend to say "God works good things out of all situations." When I say that, I mean (or at least, I used to, before I noticed this point I'm writing about here!) that God will bring something good out of even the worst of situations. And, in a sense, that's true. But what the verse is really saying is that God CAUSES all things to work together for good. He doesn't take the lemons and make lemonade - he makes the lemons AND the lemonade! Think about what that says about God's sovereignty. If you think God sees a bad situation in your life and then finds a way to bring good out of it, you're really saying that God was surprised by the bad situation in your life and had to figure out how to change it so that something good could come out of it. That's not sovereignty. That, in my book, is not God with a capital "G." BUT - if, instead, you look at a bad situation and say God is working good out of even this situation, which He caused, then God is sovereign. Then God is GOD. I used to think that by saying it that way, I was saying something bad about God - afterall, do I really want to worship a God who causes bad things to happen to people? But if you really think about it - really, truly think about it - I, for one, would much rather worship a God who causes both the good AND the bad, rather than a God who is surprised by the bad and has to scramble to somehow make it good again. What kind of God is that?! Now let me be honest - I'm still a little fuzzy about how all that works . . . Does God truly cause children to get cancer, or innocent people to die? I don't know. From what I read in the Bible, though, it sure does seem like it . . . And from what I read in the Bible, it seems like he uses ALL of it for His perfect purposes. That is way more encouraging - and more awe-inspiring - than a God who has nothing to do with the bad things. At least if God is in charge of causing/allowing the bad, too, I can find hope in the fact that there will be a purpose to it, since God is an orderly God . . . But that's another thought for another post!!! My point is - I'd rather follow a God who causes rather than a God who has to figure things out when they come up. Wouldn't you?


Jenn B said...

Listening to a sermon the other day while doing dishes (so this is a Piper quote):

"....when my mother was killed in a bus accident, If someone had tried to comfort me by saying, "johnny, God didn't want that to happen" I would've said...."Thank-you for your concern, but frankly, I'm not consoled by being told that my God cannot control the track of a VW bus. No comfort, thank-you."

That summed the thought process up nicely for me.

Dolly said...

Dana, I have a hard time speaking about God's sovereignty (when bad things happen, etc.) to others. It's so hard to wrap my mind around it sometimes. I think the BEST explanation (if we can even conceive of one this side of heaven) is that the very nature of contrasts help us appreciate the blessings amidst the curse of sin. Would salt be as salty without sweet to compare? I think this is where Wes had the chocolate and vanilla ice cream comparison...chocolate wouldn't taste like chocolate if we couldn't compare it to vanilla. Don't you love how I always have to use food for my anaologies?

Anonymous said...

The Doctrine of God (A Theology of Lordship) (Hardcover)
by John M. Frame (Author)

Contains lots of thoughts to fuel and contain the rambling mind. Very orthodox in his conclusions but not afraid to say the things a curious mind thinks about God. I'll let you borrow it if we move closer.

steve g.

Dennis Norwood said...

I think that there is a lot to this that we cannot completely understand since we are not God. However, I personally believe that there is a huge difference between "bad" and "evil". We tend to interpret all traumatic events as "bad". Does God cause them all to happen? I don't think so. Does that make Him less than all-powerful? I don't think so.
I could physically force my kids to do everything that I know is good for them, but what would they learn if I took away their free will? We are allowed to make choices. Sometimes those choices carry dire natural consequences, and therefore we shouldn't necessarily say that God caused it if it was our own doing. Even the angels make choices. Wasn't "evil" initially spawned by the pride and arrogant ambition of Lucifer, which is what got him and his followers cast out of heaven to begin with? God has not destroyed his creation, but has allowed Satan to exert an evil influence on the earth. God expects us to turn to Him to overcome Satan's temptations and attacks, but many make the choice to follow evil rather than God. This will not go on forever. God is just, and will ultimately judge those who willfully reject Him, (Rev 20:11-15) God will also punish our disobedience as His children, but that is for our overall benefit.(Prov 3:11-12) There are also many times that God does put difficulties on us, including the loss of loved ones, but for growth and refinement, not punishment. (Ps 66:10-12) We will initially label those as "bad" times, but will later be extremely grateful for the experience after realizing the ultimate outcome.
To sum it up, I believe that Satan is the source of "evil" events, not God. I believe that God only allows Satan limited power for a limited time, and that much of what happens in our lives is initiated by Satan, but God will very often take what is meant for evil and turn it into much more good. That is not weakness. It is brilliance.

Dana said...

You brought up three topics that I’d like to consider further. The first two, I’ll consider here – the last one I’m going to post a separate blog on! First though, let me say that I agree 100% with your first statement. There are many, many things I do not understand completely – this is one of them for sure! I have a feeling that most of this topic in particular we won’t get until we’re in heaven. In the past, that’s where I would have stopped with my thought process. Now, however, I’m realizing that, even if we can’t fully understand an aspect of God on this side of heaven, it doesn’t mean that we should be afraid to consider it. So, here goes my “considering” . . . !

(1) Free will. I listened to a series by Bruce Ware recently where he discussed the concept of free will. He pointed out that there are two types of free will – one being unbiblical, the other being biblical. The first kind is liberterian free will. He defines it as: “we are free in choosing one thing if, all things being just what they are when we make our choice, we could have chosen differently.” He suggests this is unbiblical because it is not discussed anywhere in the Bible. (There’s more to this argument – if you’d like to hear it, ck out: The other form of free will that is biblical is the freedom of inclination - we have the freedom to do what we most want to do, with God being the one who forms our wants and desires. This fits with what the Bible teaches (consider, just as a cursory example, all the passages that talk about the heart’s impact on what we do). It is because of this fact (that we do what we most want to do) that we are held responsible for our decisions . . . To say, as you do, that God has control but decides to give up that control to allow us to make mistakes does not fit, in my opinion, with what the Bible teaches. Furthermore, it trivializes supposed free will . . . If you say that God gives us the ability to make choices, how do you explain why he sometimes prevents bad things from happening and other times does not? I used to chalk that up to just one of those things that we don’t understand about God. But, I think there’s a better way to look at it. I think saying that God gives us free will, meaning we do what we most want to do, while He retains complete control over everything, is much more encouraging – and much more in line with what the Bible teaches.

2) Evil. You said that Satan, not God, is the source of all evil. But, isn't God the source of Satan? And saying that does not say God is evil in and of Himself. It just says that He is the creator of everything, the good and the bad. In that same series I quoted earlier, Prof. Ware talks about Isaiah 45:7. It says: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” If you look at the Hebrew for “create,” it is used in the OT exclusively with God as its subject. SO this verse is saying that GOD (and God alone) creates darkness and disaster (in the Hebrew, these words include calamity and physical evil). But the Bible also says that there is no darkness in God (1 John 1:5), and that God does not take pleasure in evil (Psalm 5:4). Prof. Ware suggests that the conclusion we can reach from this is: "God fully controls both good and evil, yet God is wholly good and is not evil in any respect whatsoever." (Incidentally, if you're interested in listening to the sermon series I'm quoting from, ck this out: Looking at it another way, if God is not the one who created evil, something or someone else did – and that something or someone else is outside the control of God. I don’t think that lines up with what the Bible teaches about God . . .

Ok, let me step down from my soap box now. As I was discussing with a dear friend last night (you may know her!), I've realized lately that I'm very proud and that I think I know a lot when I really don't have a clue! So, let me say that I am not offended in the least with questions/disagreements (even better if they're blogs - I respond better when I can think things through and delete!), and I hope I have not offended you in this response!!!

Dennis Norwood said...

I'm not offended in the least, and the fact that I've not responded is only because this has been a very distracting week and I haven't had time to study/analyze your viewpoints. I'm definitely not an authority on spiritual matters, and I think this is a great forum for us to increase our understanding of God and His ways. It's like a never-ending "small group" or Bible study.