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How are we to Biblically (and sensibly) understand God's sovereignty?

Started by AudioArtist, February 16, 2011, 11:36:35 am

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AudioArtist

Thank you all for the previous discussion on Job. It gave me lots of good stuff to think about. However, it raised in my mind a connected issue which I'd love to hear your thoughts on...This is based on a discussion going on at CF!

First, some Biblical descriptions of God's sovereignty - kindly supplied by Jim B! ;-):

God's purpose is all-inclusive and is never thwarted (Isa. 46.11)
God is sovereign over the entire universe: Ps 103.19; Rom 8.28; Eph 1.11
God is sovereign over all of nature: Ps 135.6-7; Matt 5.45; 6.25-30
God is sovereign over angels & Satan: Ps 103.20-21; Job 1.12
God is sovereign over nations: Ps 47.7-9; Dan 2.20-21; 4.34-35
God is sovereign over human beings: 1 Sam 2.6-7; Gal 1.15-16
God is sovereign over animals: Ps 104.21-30; 1 Ki 17.4-6
God is sovereign over "accidents": Prov 16.9, 33; John 1.7; Matt 10.29
God is sovereign over free acts of men: Exo 3.21; 12.25-36; Eek 7.27
God is sovereign over sinful acts of men and Satan:2 Sam 24.1; 1 Chr 21.1; Gen 45.5; 50.20

Sometimes my reaction to these declarations is awe, but often it isn't. We've all read about cases of human evil, from ancient history to today. We've experienced it ourselves. And we have also all experienced sickness and death. It's easy to make extreme human barbarism a theological abstract and to speak of God as having caused them for a greater good we don't understand - but it's a mighty strange and emotionless way of approaching the problem. God gave us empathy for a reason. And it ignores the obvious:

In Scripture, God forbids certain things and tells us to do certain things. He is angry with sinners for their devil deeds, and there is rejoicing in Heaven when even one of those sinners turns to Him. God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone - but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. The Church is the body of Christ, with a mandate to represent Him on Earth - to spread the Good News, to feed the poor, to heal the sick, to bind up the brokenhearted, to speak the words of God. If a church is totally lacking in love and power and is doing none of the deeds Christ commanded of her, is that really His will? If so, what of the Epistle's (and Jesus' own) chastisements over such apathy? Were those rebukes and instructions just for theatrical flourish, deceitfully hiding God's "hidden will"? Or are the oppressed not powerfully set free more often because so few in the Church are using what has already been given by Christ?

I can see plainly there are Scriptures which speak of God's immense authority over every event. I know that God said "I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things" (Isaiah 45:7). I do not deny these incredible statements. But they must be held in tension with the deeper revelations of Satan's role in the New Testament, the fact that "free will" is blatantly implied in Scripture through its depictions of God's interactions with mankind (even if the concept isn't named), and the fact that God cannot be the author of Sin, period. We also have to take into account Near Eastern modes of speaking about God's sovereignty and causal/permissive roles.

For example - are we believe that God literally causes every single event? Are there not cycles of life and natural laws which continually operate on a microscopic and cosmic scale? I am sure He spoke these into existence and is involved in some manner, but I am not so sure He is directly behind every case of flu, every wasp after our food that annoys us in the summer, and every asteroid that plummets into some distant planet somewhere. I'm even more sure He isn't behind every case of child molestation, murder, rape, etc. or life-debilitating sickness. There's probably more theatrical flourish involved in the Psalmist's depictions of His power - which seem to imply He is behind every single minute event - than there is in descriptions of His sadness and rage at our decisions to oppose His will and act unjustly!

I would rather err on the side of redefining our understanding of passages about God's sovereignty than make Him the cause of our monstrous actions (or our monstrous lack of action). And I don't want to use His sovereignty as an excuse for my lack of revelation ("draw near to God and He will draw near to you"), my Spiritual powerlessness ("eagerly desire the Spiritual Gifts"), or my sin - nor anyone else's sin.

But what about you? How would you deal with those passages at the beginning of this post? :-)

pastorzzub

There is a wonderful. Article on this on Andrew Wommack website called the Sovereignity of God.

Pete

I don't have time to write a detailed response right now, but I started a thread on this very topic a while back you might find interesting;

The balance between God's Sovereignty and our faith

O0
"There is no charge for awesomeness -- or attractiveness."

DiscipleHeLovesToo

I find no definition of 'sovereign' that indicates complete, active, continuous control.  there is a difference between sovereignty and authority.  In the US, the federal government is sovereign over all states; no state rules over the federal government - yet the federal government has delegated authority to the states over some things through laws, and will not exercise authority in those areas without a change in law.  While the federal government is continuously sovereign over the states, the federal government does not exercise authority in those areas where authority has been delegated to the states.

However, God's laws do not change; although He is sovereign in that no one rules over Him, He has delegated authority to living people in flesh bodies - and He will not take back that authority even when people fail to exercise that authority to their own hurt, or misuse it to bring about bad things - His laws do not change.

Yes, God's overall plan for the universe will certainly come to pass; but this doesn't mean that His specific will for each of us will come to pass; the best example of this is that it is God's will is that all have eternal life with Him, but many will not.

GLY!!!
Joh 17:3  And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

LittleRocketBoy

The word sovereignty does not exist in the KJV of the Bible. :tt:

jiminpa

I have a very simple, yet functional way of looking at it.  God is absolutely sovereign, but in His sovereignty He gave us choices  that He won't directly violate.  He is also sovereign enough to move every atom of the universe in the way He decided it will go and He has known the end from the beginning.  He has known the eternal future since eternity past and has absolute control over everything except our minds, and that He relinquished of His own choice. 

He wants everyone with Him in eternity, but in His sovereign will gave us that choice as individuals. 
I used to worry and stress and strive to "do my part," never believing that I had done enough of "my part."  Now I see my part as casting it off on Him, doing what I believe He is giving me, and letting it just be His problem.  I don't have to fix everything, but I get to work along side of God.

jiminpa

I used to worry and stress and strive to "do my part," never believing that I had done enough of "my part."  Now I see my part as casting it off on Him, doing what I believe He is giving me, and letting it just be His problem.  I don't have to fix everything, but I get to work along side of God.

JohnDB

Lets look at a few case studies without torturing the Bible's scriptures to death.

First case is with Abraham and Abimelech.

God refused to allow Abimelech to sin against Abraham and scared him half to death in the process.

God raised up Moses to be his servant leader (a Levite) and not someone from the tribe of Judah....and even though Moses thought that his murder precluded him from fulfilling God's plan...God didn't think that at all.


God created Sampson to be a warrior and strong Judge against the Philistines. Sampson was a faithful Judge for 25 years but only after getting so mad at the Philistines he wanted to marry into. He wanted to make friends out of the Philistines instead of killing them...God had other plans and either willingly with a glad heart or angry and in a rage you will do exactly as God had planned for you.

Jonah was supposed to preach to the Assyrians in their capitol city of Nineveh...He didn't want to and tried to run away to Spain or England by boat...and well...we all know how that turned out.

Zachariah wanted to debate with Gabriel about the authenticity of his prediction...and what to name the baby...the inducements Gabriel pronounced seemed sufficient to "guide" the boy to be named John (The Baptist)

God has successfully predicted the choices of men going hundreds of years into the future. Knowing the future doesn't necessarily mean that God causes all of it. 

BUT

God uses the clay that HE has to work with to make the most noble vessel possible. Some are tall, thin and beautiful wine carafes...and some are low, heavy chamber pots. 

Some clay never makes a pot and is only used to carve designs into great vessels.
I wanna die like grandpa, peacefully and in his sleep. Not like the passengers in his car...they were all screaming and panicking.

DiscipleHeLovesToo

Quote from: JohnDB on April 29, 2011, 08:40:14 pm
God had other plans and either willingly with a glad heart or angry and in a rage you will do exactly as God had planned for you.


Is this what the scriptures reflect? 

Consider Saul - according to Samuel, God's plan was to 'establish his kingdom upon Israel forever' (1Sam 13:13); but this did not come to pass because of Saul's choice to not believe God (1Sam 12:14).

Abimelech - God didn't force Abimelech to let Sarah go; He gave him a choice (Gen 20:7) just like he gave Saul a choice; Abimelech made the right choice, Saul didn't - neither was forced by God to make the choice they made.

Moses - God intended for Moses to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan (Ex 34:12); it was Moses wrong choice that changed God's plan for him (Deu 34:4)

Samson - his choice to ignore God's instructions and pursue a wife outside of Israel landed him in prison with his eyes put out - yet there's no indication that this was God's plan for him in scripture is there?

Jonah - God's plan for Ninevah was to destroy it - but He repented because of their choice (Jon 3:10)

Zacharias - true, the angel told him that he would be dumb until the day the child was born and named John; but Zacharias didn't say anything to the angel about what to name the child; he only spoke about whether he and his wife could have a child at his age (Luke 1:18).  Elisabeth also knew to name the child John; and boldly spoke against the elders to change the child's name from Zacharias to John (Luke 1:60); why would God lead her to do this if He knew Zacharias would make the right choice?

  Jeremiah 19:5 KJVR They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spoke it, neither came it into my mind: (emphasis added)

  Jeremiah 32:35 KJVR And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. (emphasis added)

Twice, God Himself said that 'it didn't come into His mind' that Israel would descend to such wickedness; I think that He could have known, but chose not to dwell on the depth of man's wickedness.  but my point is that, according to scripture, time after time God's will for individuals, and even for Israel as a whole people, did not come to pass; it was only when He found someone that would believe Him that His overall plan for humanity advanced - God has ultimate control; but He doesn't exercise control in individual lives - we always have a choice.
   
God's overall plan for humanity will certainly come to pass; but His plan for each person may not - we have a choice not only in what we think, but in what we do.

GLY!!!
Joh 17:3  And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

JohnDB

Quote from: DiscipleHeLovesToo on April 30, 2011, 10:07:26 am

Is this what the scriptures reflect? 




YES

as far as the rest of what you wrote...I think you are being misled by some writing styles of different Hebrew periods. Their language was highly metaphoric and flowery in nature. Just because the Bible says that God is angry doesn't mean that God is angry beyond being out of control or lashes out in anger. Far from it. God is immutable....meaning God never changes.

And

Most Importantly: God is always good...God cannot be bad because God is too busy being infinitely good.

And when it comes to the Chess match of encouraging a particular behavioral choice or actionable choice out of someone... Omniscience and Timelessness do come in real handy now don't they?
I wanna die like grandpa, peacefully and in his sleep. Not like the passengers in his car...they were all screaming and panicking.

DiscipleHeLovesToo

 
Quote from: JohnDB on April 29, 2011, 08:40:14 pm
...either willingly with a glad heart or angry and in a rage you will do exactly as God had planned for you.


hmm; maybe i'm misunderstanding you; are you saying that whatever God has planned for every individual will come to pass?

Quote from: JohnDB on April 30, 2011, 03:11:28 pm
as far as the rest of what you wrote...I think you are being misled by some writing styles of different Hebrew periods. Their language was highly metaphoric and flowery in nature. Just because the Bible says that God is angry doesn't mean that God is angry beyond being out of control or lashes out in anger. Far from it. God is immutable....meaning God never changes.


you lost me on that - where did i write about God being angry?  are you implying that i need a theologian's understanding of ancient writing techniques to help me understand scripture?  Surely you know that the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of translating ancient hebrew and greek into modern-day redneck  :)

God never changes - agreed!

Quote from: JohnDB on April 30, 2011, 03:11:28 pm
Most Importantly: God is always good...God cannot be bad because God is too busy being infinitely good.


agreed!

Quote from: JohnDB on April 30, 2011, 03:11:28 pm
And when it comes to the Chess match of encouraging a particular behavioral choice or actionable choice out of someone... Omniscience and Timelessness do come in real handy now don't they?


if you're saying that God resorts to threats and intimidation when things don't go as He plans for an individual, I do not see that at all - did i misunderstand what you meant?

Joh 17:3  And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

JohnDB

Quote from: DiscipleHeLovesToo on May 01, 2011, 12:14:27 am
 
hmm; maybe i'm misunderstanding you; are you saying that whatever God has planned for every individual will come to pass?


YES, There is no one that can thwart God's plans in any shape, form, or fashion. A person can do the tasks assigned to them willingly and with a glad heart or as in Sampson's case...totally frustrated, angry, and with a cold heart.

Quoteyou lost me on that - where did i write about God being angry?  are you implying that i need a theologian's understanding of ancient writing techniques to help me understand scripture?  Surely you know that the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of translating ancient hebrew and greek into modern-day redneck  :)


I was using "Angry" as an example...but more specifically to the scriptures you used...God cannot be surprised. You can't give Jesus a surprise birthday party because when you know everything hundreds to thousands of years into the future...kinda takes the surprise out of it. So when God says that "it didn't enter into his mind"...it is just a figure of speech.

As for Saul...Saul was appointed to be a military commander...not a King. Either Saul took the position or the people made Saul King...or a combination of both but God didn't appoint Saul as King...hence his mental breakdown. remember him taking off the robes and singing and dancing with the prophets while David was busy getting all of the Kingly armaments and leadership roles?...it was all part of a grand design by God.

QuoteGod never changes - agreed!

agreed!

if you're saying that God resorts to threats and intimidation when things don't go as He plans for an individual, I do not see that at all - did i misunderstand what you meant?


God doesn't have bad days. God always does good to and for everyone. People are the ones who do bad things. The Earth is also holy and is always looking to get rid of the unholy man who dares put his foot upon it. Holy is not an inert state of being...it has a very positive reaction to error should it come up...and man is highly in error. Soooo the earth is looking to wipe mankind out. What currently keeps all of mankind alive since Adam is what I termed "Common Grace" (for lack of a better word). God keeps the Earth from destroying us up to a point. We cross over the line by interfering with God's plans...NOT A GOOD THING.

God has been busy keeping mankind alive and executing his plan for man's salvation since before the fall.
In Genesis we see that God created the light on the first day. This isn't God creating the sun...this is the very first mention of Jesus. This is where God had already made the plan to send his son to die by crucifixion before the very foundations of the earth were even laid. God knew our wicked nature was going to evolve and need salvation. If God knows the number of hairs on your head I would dare say that God knows the color of the car you will buy in ten years.

In short:

All of mankind either willingly or unwillingly are here to give glory and honor to God...either by noble means or ignoble. That choice is clearly ours.
I wanna die like grandpa, peacefully and in his sleep. Not like the passengers in his car...they were all screaming and panicking.

DiscipleHeLovesToo

Quote from: JohnDB on May 01, 2011, 08:45:37 am
YES, There is no one that can thwart God's plans in any shape, form, or fashion. A person can do the tasks assigned to them willingly and with a glad heart or as in Sampson's case...totally frustrated, angry, and with a cold heart.


what about salvation?  is it God's plan that some people come into relationship with Him, while most are destined for hell? 

Quote from: JohnDB on May 01, 2011, 08:45:37 am
I  was using "Angry" as an example...but more specifically to the scriptures you used...God cannot be surprised. You can't give Jesus a surprise birthday party because when you know everything hundreds to thousands of years into the future...kinda takes the surprise out of it. So when God says that "it didn't enter into his mind"...it is just a figure of speech.


scripture interprets scripture, and at least 2 witnesses are needed to confirm a thing; what scripture do you stand on for believing that this is a figure of speech?

Quote from: JohnDB on May 01, 2011, 08:45:37 am
As for Saul...Saul was appointed to be a military commander...not a King. Either Saul took the position or the people made Saul King...or a combination of both but God didn't appoint Saul as King...hence his mental breakdown. remember him taking off the robes and singing and dancing with the prophets while David was busy getting all of the Kingly armaments and leadership roles?...it was all part of a grand design by God.


ok, let's start with 1Sam 9:17 and 1Sam 11:12-15, and of course 1Sam 15:10,11; what scriptures would you cite to indicate that Saul was not God's choice for a king?

Quote from: JohnDB on May 01, 2011, 08:45:37 am
God doesn't have bad days. God always does good to and for everyone. People are the ones who do bad things.


AMEN!!!

Quote from: JohnDB on May 01, 2011, 08:45:37 am
The Earth is also holy and is always looking to get rid of the unholy man who dares put his foot upon it. Holy is not an inert state of being...it has a very positive reaction to error should it come up...and man is highly in error. Soooo the earth is looking to wipe mankind out. What currently keeps all of mankind alive since Adam is what I termed "Common Grace" (for lack of a better word). God keeps the Earth from destroying us up to a point. We cross over the line by interfering with God's plans...NOT A GOOD THING.

God has been busy keeping mankind alive and executing his plan for man's salvation since before the fall.
In Genesis we see that God created the light on the first day. This isn't God creating the sun...this is the very first mention of Jesus. This is where God had already made the plan to send his son to die by crucifixion before the very foundations of the earth were even laid. God knew our wicked nature was going to evolve and need salvation. If God knows the number of hairs on your head I would dare say that God knows the color of the car you will buy in ten years.

In short:

All of mankind either willingly or unwillingly are here to give glory and honor to God...either by noble means or ignoble. That choice is clearly ours.


call me lazy if you want to, but the fingers i use to copy and paste the quote delimiters are getting tired :) , so i'll just ask you this; please add in scripture references that you stand on for each of these points about the earth (first paragraph in the quote above - i'll look them up to read them in context). 

I agree that God knew we would need a Saviour, and that He planned for this before He made Adam.  John 1:1 (among many others) tells me that Jesus IS God, and therefore existed before God spoke light into the world; i think this is what you're saying too - correct me if I'm wrong though, I want to understand what's in your mind as best I can

i don't see in scripture that man's wickedness glorifies God (shows Him to be good - it's man's repentance from wickedness that glorifies God, and most do not repent) - where's the scripture to confirm this?

i don't doubt your sincerity, but I'm moved only by scripture, taken in context, confirmed by other scripture, in harmony with the rest of scripture, interpreted in the light of the goodness of God, and confirmed to me by the Holy Spirit.



GLY!!!



Joh 17:3  And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

Yitzchak

      This may seem unrelated , but for me it helped. I checked out a book at the library about 15 years ago. It was a book explaining Einsteins theories for the common person. Anyway , one of the chapters dealt with the idea of more than three dimensions. The book used the example of a person living in a three dimensional universe and interacting with two dimensional beings.

   In the example , the two dimensional beings were confined to a table top. A flat surface with length and width. The three dimensional person could operate in a third dimension of height. So for them to pick something up off the table and move it to the other end of the table would seem like magic to the two dimensional beings who saw the object disappear and reappear a half a world away from their limited perspective.

    For purposes of the example , the three dimensional person was able to move through the table. They took a three dimensional piece of fruit , an orange and moved it from beneath the table up through the table and out through the top. As it passed through the table , it described what the two dimensional beings would see. They saw an orange point appear out of no where as the very top of the orange touched the table. Then as it passed through the point turned into a circle which got larger. At the half way point , it was at it's largest . The the circle shrank as the second half of the orange passed through until it became a point and then disappeared. The two dimensional beings did not see an orange. they saw a orange point grow into a circle , shrink and then disappear.

   What the chapter was showing is that we see from a three dimensional perspective and Einstein's theory was that there are more than three dimensions. There are computer programs which can use math to generate what a four dimensional object would look like to us.

    If this doesn't help you , don't worry about it.

   But to my mind , it made sense that God and the angels probably move in four or five dimensions or more. What we think we see is only a shadow of what is going on. A shadow is a two dimensional reflection of a three dimensional object. When we see the shadow , we do not see the object in the same way as we would if we beheld the three dimensional object. We only see the shadow.

      Therefore it would be child's play for God and the angels to manipulate our three dimensional universe. Like in the example of the person picking something up off the table top and moving it.


     What this all has to do with sovereignty is that God is very big and we only have free will within very limited parameters. God can fix what we mess up very easily. Our freedom is real. But it is like we are three dimensional beings and God operates in 16 dimensions. To say that he is in control is an understatement.


     I suppose that there are many ways to look at this issue.

      People like Mozart or Bach that are musical geniuses that might have pushed the limits of music farther than any of us dreamed of. But they do not even make a dent into changing the basic laws of harmonies and mathematics that underlie music. God set that up. They had to operate within the confines of what God created.

   Aerodynamics . The same thing. The sciences only scratch the surface.

      My point is that we are children playing around in what is a very complex universe with many many layers to it. God knows it all. To say that He has the advantage is such an understatement that it is silly.

   That is how I make sense of it. Biblically , I make sense of it by realizing that what we know from the Bible is only a part of God's wisdom and knowledge. We are just not in a position with the knowledge that we have to explain how it fits together. We are like Job when the Lord answered back.

QuoteJob 38:1  Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
Job 38:2  Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
Job 38:3  Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
Job 38:4  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
To know him and to make him known

DianeL

34
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
35
By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13