Sovereignty of God

Breaking the Hinge in the Free-Will vs. Sovereignty Debate

One simple premise undergirds the ideas that either humanity has free volition or that God is sovereign, and that ultimately the two concepts are mutually exclusive. That premise is the hinge upon which the argument turns, favoring either human freedom or Divine sovereignty. Montague Brown illustrates the premise with the following statement:

“The issue of free choice also plays a critical role in that other vexed philosophical puzzle—the problem of evil. For if we do not have free choice, we are not to be blamed or praised for our actions; rather, it is all God’s doing. God becomes responsible for moral evil, either by causing it Himself or by punishing us who are not responsible for it.”1

We can formalize Brown’s statement as follows:

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Why Do Bad Things Happen?

Job's Tormentors. Engraving, William Blake, 1793

You recall how the story goes—God and Satan are having a discussion about a man named Job. He was a man of great character whom God had given much wealth and blessing. God commends Job, and Satan accuses Job, betting that Job would deny God if God would simply allow difficulty in Job’s life (1:7-12). God allows Satan to test Job, and Job loses all of his wealth, most of his family, and his health.

Job is, of course, unaware that he is being tested, and is deeply frustrated by his change of fortune. He feels that he has done nothing to deserve these tragedies, and he speaks out—essentially proclaiming his innocence and the unfairness of the situation. Thankfully, Job has three friends who come to the rescue. They all have the same message: this could only be happening to Job if he had done something wrong. They understood that God would not allow such things to happen to an innocent person.

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Sovereignty of God & Human Responsibility: Nehemiah & the Daniel 9 Prophecy

Daniel 9:24-27 is a monumental passage, emblematic of God’s sovereignty over human events. It provides the chronological skeletal system of Biblical prophecy, recording Gabriel’s revelation to Daniel in around 516 B.C., of a 490-year timeline for Israel’s future: “for Jerusalem, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy” (9:24). The clock begins its countdown with “a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (9:25).

The certainty of the timeline is non-negotiable and inalterable. The seventy sevens had been decreed or determined, as the Hebrew term nichetaka (decreed, determined) is in the niphal perfect, which typically indicates a passive (niphal) and completed (perfect) action. The timeline had already been determined. Daniel would be able to “know and discern” (9:25a) the timing from a particular point in history—a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.

When we examine the Biblical literature, we find only one decree regarding the rebuilding of the temple. There was a decree to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4,5:17), but that did not match Gabriel’s description of the decree to rebuild the city itself. For the decree matching the Daniel 9 description, we look to Nehemiah 2.

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The Gospel Applied: "The Artist" (Part 1)

(Read the series so far.)

Almost in the perfect center of the north end of the city of Paris, the hill of Montmartre and its grand white Cathedral of “Sacré-Cœur” (Sacred Heart) seem perched above the city. From the church you are afforded one of the most magnificent views of the “city of lights” that doesn’t require going up in a rickety elevator on an old “erector set” called the Eiffel Tower.

Montmartre is noted for several things, but probably best known for the quarter’s daily working street artists. Gathered near the square due west of the church, these artists sit in front of easels painting either in oils or watercolor, while others around them are sketching, chalking and creating in a host of artistic media.

Though I could not do what they do, I confess that I love to walk around and see artists at work.

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The God Who is There - Romans 9:1-10:4 (Part 2)

(Read the series so far.)

Recognition of God’s sovereignty in His work with people can be a tough subject to tackle. Even believers can become so earthly minded that we forget that God is not an elected leader Who seeks our approval. He is the Supreme. He is the Creator. All answer to Him, and He answers to none.

That can be deeply offensive to the American mind, but that makes it no less true. God is God—and as such, He is the Planner, the Author and the King. Don’t skip what Paul wrote and focus only on the offense: Paul made the point that God had (and has) a plan. He is at work. He has decided on the basis of His own desire to work through some people, and that wasn’t based entirely on them—but on His sovereign right to make such a decision.

Before you dive into what seems objectionable about those words, look at them. If you have a relationship with the Living God, you can celebrate the fact that you are not a cosmic accident. God has a plan He is working. He wanted you, and He chose you! How can that not be an exciting reality?

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A Forty-year Providence

When I first saw it, it was all jumbled up with grocery ads and direct mail fliers that urged me to consider the metaphysical significance of my current gutter system. But this piece of mail, this greeting-sized envelope postmarked from Long Island, NY, was less noisy, unassuming somehow. I recognized the handwriting as belonging to my husband’s grandmother—a carefully-formed script that she’d learned through hours of instruction in elementary school, back before the ubiquitous keyboards and touch screens that now dominate our lives.

The card, I assumed, would be a late birthday card with the requisite birthday check. I’d heard from my mother-in-law how sorry her own mother was about the delay and how they had had so many things happening and to look for it soon. But when I opened it, it wasn’t what I expected. The envelope did include a check, but instead of a birthday card, it was a “Get Well Soon” card. Inside the same script had written:

Hope this card is inappropriate and that your recovery is complete!! Oh, and by the way—Happy Birthday!!

Still, it was fitting. I had been sick a couple weeks earlier and so perhaps a belated “Get Well Soon” was as relevant as a belated “Happy Birthday.”

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