Keith Getty and Stuart Townend put it perfectly in the first and third verse of their new hymn, “The Perfect Wisdom of Our God.” (© 2011 Thankyou Music and Gettymusic)
“The perfect wisdom of our God,
Revealed in all the universe:
All things created by His hand,
And held together at His command.
He knows the mysteries of the seas,
The secrets of the stars are His;
He guides the planets on their way,
And turns the earth through another day.
Oh grant me wisdom from above,
To pray for peace and cling to love,
And teach me humbly to receive
The sun and rain of Your sovereignty.
Each strand of sorrow has a place
Within this tapestry of grace;
So through the trials I choose to say:
‘Your perfect will in your perfect way.’”
Exactly 365 days ago today I stood and listened to the slowing pace of my wife’s last few fighting breaths. I remember holding my own breath to listen. I remember how deafeningly silent the room was while we waited to see if she would inhale again. That happened a couple of times before the room went completely quiet. In that moment, and in the weeks and even months leading up to it, I had a heavy reality to grapple with. Like it or not, I am living under the hand of an Almighty, Sovereign God. Some of us have accepted this fact in faith, and others have not. This series of posts is intended specifically for those of us who have already accepted it in faith and have chosen to be followers of Jesus Christ. Accepting God’s sovereignty in faith doesn’t automatically mean a person understands the full biblical picture of that sovereignty. Nor does it mean that they are doing well, living in a way that acknowledges that rulership. So whether it be instruction, correction, or a timely reminder, my prayer is that the same God I am seeking to exalt would – by His grace – use these posts to help you live as you ought to be living.
So, how do you live under the hand of a Sovereign God?
Have you ever signed up for something and then realized that you were in over your head? I know many people who have a bad habit of over-committing to things and then they end up realizing that their commitments are much bigger than their abilities or schedules will allow for. I’ve done it quite a few times, so I get how it feels – that moment when you realize, “What have I gotten myself into?” My journey through Heather’s cancer, her subsequent death, and then starting down the pathway of remarriage have all brought me face to face with the reality of God’s ability and right to do anything He wants to do with my life. I was forced to figure out how I was going to respond to that new awareness of reality. I remember thinking, “Uh oh. I signed up for a life of submission to God’s control. But I didn’t know it was going to look like THIS.” The first factor in living under the hand of a Sovereign God is wrapping your mind around the scope of the sovereignty of God itself.
I. The Scope of Sovereignty:
Just how much control does ‘sovereign’ entail? I can remember many times in my 24 years as a Christian when I ‘surrendered’ my life to the Lord. But how do you surrender control to someone who already has it? (My intention here is not to dive into the turbulent waters of the various perspectives on salvation/sanctification (Keswick, Arminian, Perseverance of the Saints, Lordship, etc.). Suffice it to say that the experiences along my post-conversion path were nothing more than human efforts to pay for my own shame and an attempt to do better this time. In fact, I can honestly say as I look back on my Christian life – even in the pastorate – that I never truly grasped how much control God had/has over my daily life.
Between these “God-experiences,” he seemed far away, silent, and uninvolved. But now I know that it was only my untrained eyes, ears, and heart. Some people see the hand of God in coincidences (like if they happen to be praying for someone then find out that the person really needed prayer that day – it must have been God!). Some claim God’s hand at work in certain things that they feel – claiming, for instance, that He gave them peace about a particular decision. Or, something sensational will happen (however big or small – maybe “sensory-ish” is a better word here) and they will say that they’ve seen God move. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not attempting to diminish what might be – in some cases – the legitimate work of God in a person’s life. But here’s the point: sadly, everything in between these experience-based “signs” often unintentionally gets demoted to the realm of being merely human. I think you can see where I’m going with this. If someone gets saved, God is sovereign! Some are even willing to go into more detail than that: If it rains on the church picnic day, then God willed it in His sovereignty. But what if my new vehicle ends up being a lemon? What if my flight is cancelled? What if a duck gets separated from the rest of the flock as they fly north over the prairies in the spring? What if a mosquito gets into my tent on a camping trip and it never manages to bite me the whole night? Is that God’s sovereign hand of protection? Here, we are dealing with the question of scope.
The biblical record is full of answers to the question of the scope of God’s sovereign control. But rather than survey all of them – or even a few of them, we need only consider the very first verse: “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth.” Before His decision to create (in the beginning), there was only Himself – the eternal, Triune God – alone, self-sufficient, and intrinsically independent of anything outside of Himself. Because He wanted to, He spoke, and things that didn’t even exist yet obeyed Him, coming into existence out of nothing! Everything that is not God is under the control of God. This is the scope of His sovereign control. It encompasses everyone and everything (physical and non-physical). He holds galaxies, hearts, dreams, decisions, mountains, oceans, lives, health, desires, fires, jobs, circumstances, safety, outcomes, words, weather, squirrels, appearances, sleep, tornados, food, time and even hands in His hands! Basically – aside from God Himself – if you can think of it (or even if you can’t think of it, for that matter) it is under His control.
But what about those areas we tend to disconnect from His direct authority and influence? Is there anything too small to be considered His territory? Matthew 10:29-31 tells us that the answer to that question is no. Your hangnail, that person’s weird laugh, the average temperature of our planet, how many times you’ve yawned while reading this post (or will now that I’ve mentioned it) – all of it falls within the realm of God’s hand of control. And yes, the deep pains some of you are carrying, the times you’ve been hurt, betrayed, sinned against, or sinned against someone else – even these are under God’s control. You heard correctly – sin, sickness, pain, hardships, trials, death, and Hell itself are all part of the realm of God’s sovereignty. In terms of scope, there truly is NOTHING that is outside of His control. If something is it’s because He allows it to be. And if something is not it’s because He hasn’t. He’s in charge of it all.
This first Bible truth certainly begs a few questions:
1) How can He be in charge, have all the power He does, and still allow these things to happen while claiming to be a good, loving God? Is God responsible for the evil we see? This debate was certainly raging after 20 elementary-aged children were shot in Sandy Hook Elementary School. And I felt the tension inside my heart while sitting there listening to my wife groan in pain over and over again. It’s a question we are supposed to ask. And it’s a question that the Bible has a very clear answer for.
2) How can people choose to go completely against His will if He is in charge of everything a person does, thinks, and is? Does man have a free will, and if so, how can God truly be Sovereign over my spiritual growth? Who is responsible for the pace of my growth?
I’m glad you asked. Stay tuned for parts 2 and following…
Take away truth:
I never have to feel like things are spinning out of control because God tells me that He is in charge (Col. 1:16-17), that He is faithful (Ps. 111:1-7), that He wants (and defines) what is best for me (Ps. 37:4, Rom. 8:28), and that all that is is working towards His planned goals (Eph. 1:11).