How God’s Sovereignty Helps Explain the Events of This Life
Christians have wrestled with God’s sovereignty for centuries. Discussions surrounding sovereignty and whether man has “free will” have drawn lines in history. These robust historical conversations are all but lost on modern Christians as a whole. But this aspect of God is perhaps one of the most crucial to understand if we want to be healthy spiritually.
Theologically, when we speak of God’s sovereignty, we mean that God is in absolute control at all times over all that takes place in the universe. There is nothing that happens in our universe that God does not know, decree, approve, or allow.
I realize the implications of this statement. Immediately we ask ourselves if God allowed or decreed that hurricane. Did God allow or decree that terrorist attack? Did God allow or decree the death of my spouse/child? The answers to these questions often do not bring peace, but rather more questions.
As humans we have a hunger to know the facts, to know everything there is to know about a situation. It’s what drives our 24 hour a day news cycle. It’s what propels us to know the motives behind a mass shooting in Las Vegas. We want to know why things happen because, we reason, if we know the motive we can process the situation and make peace with it. So we are naturally propelled to know the “why” of every situation.
This makes reconciling God’s revealed will and His decreed will difficult. But we have to properly understand how these two wills work together in harmony or we will be tempted to think there is division in God.
John Piper wrote of these two wills:
“These terms simply refer to the fact that sometimes the phrase ‘will of God’ refers to the sovereign plan of God that always comes to pass, and sometimes the phrase ‘will of God’ refers to what he commands, which does not always come to pass.”
In other words, God’s revealed will are those things that He wills and they always happen. Things such as the sun rising and setting each day, seasons, and gravity. God’s decreed will are those things He wills but they sometimes do not happen. This would include such things as people murdering other people, or that “it is not God’s will that any should perish.” (2 Pet. 3:9)
However, in understanding sovereignty and God’s will, we must understand that there is not division or conflict within God. The sovereignty of God operates with perfection with God’s will in all things that take place in human history. This truth assures us that whatever happens, whether we view it as good or bad, is under the authority of God’s sovereignty.
Our initial reaction to this news might be to wonder whether there really is such a thing as free will. We might begin to question whether free will is an illusion if God is in control over everything. If these are your questions, you aren’t the first person to ask them. I would encourage you to watch this short video by R.C Sproul in which he addresses the question of man’s free will. Sproul speaks about the will of man being in bondage to sin, helpless to escape. Essentially, man’s “free will” is nothing more than a will to sin, reject God, and be eternally punished.
This naturally leads us to a discussion concerning God’s sovereignty and salvation. If man’s will is in bondage to sin, and there’s nothing man can do to save himself, how is salvation possible? Piper answers this question for us:
“In 2 Timothy Paul says, ‘[The Lord’s servant should be] correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will’ (2 Timothy 2:25–26). If we put those two texts together, 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Timothy 2:25, what we see is that, on the one hand, God desires all people to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved. On the other hand, he may or may not grant them to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved. Of course, this is not the only passage where we’re told that all human beings are dead and helpless in their trespasses and sins and only God can deliver them.”
Here we have a clear example of God’s two wills working in perfect harmony with His sovereignty. God’s decretive will is that all should be saved. God’s revealed will is that some are predestined for salvation while others are not. God’s will in salvation is accomplished as some bring Him glory in salvation and others bring Him glory in judgment.
God’s sovereignty is one of the most intricate and critical aspects of God. It is one aspect that must be properly understood if we hope to have a proper understanding of Who God is. Without a proper understanding of sovereignty our view of God can be skewed to the cultural view of God as a benevolent grandfather; or the extreme view of God as a wrathful dictator. Sovereignty provides the balance needed to understand how God’s attributes – love, wrath, justice, mercy – work together.
Understanding God’s sovereignty will not stop us from asking “why” when things happen in this world. But it will provide us with peace knowing that God is control of all things and have a purpose for what takes place in this life. We will still want to know the details, but we will be content to rest in the knowledge that God is at work and we may not get all the answers in this life.
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