NOTE: This post is part 2 in a series. Please check out part 1 for a fuller context.
Knowing that God is in charge of everything can be a neat, tidy, easy truth sometimes – that is, if you try not to think about it too much. When life is rolling along nicely and everything is going well for you, God’s control is no problem. It’s easy to accept because the weight of it isn’t pressing in on you. It only seems to be such an agreeable truth because His will happens to line up with your plans and your life. But when His control of your life steers your circumstances in opposition to your expectations, plans, opinions, etc. then how do you respond?
You will never truly know how deep your submission to God’s sovereignty goes until it is tested. Living through those tests is simultaneously the most excruciating and most rewarding thing a person could ever experience. And it is only because of the rewards and the benefits that I hope that God will test you as He has been testing me. Trust me, if there was a way without the pain, I would wish for that instead. But they are inseparable in His design. How else can we claim to follow Christ if we won’t follow Him through pain, considering the joy set before us as He did?
In the previous post, we posed two questions:
– How can God claim both goodness and omni-ability, and yet still allow bad things to happen to people He claims to love?
– Can there be responsibility for us to act/think/be a certain way if God is ultimately in control of everything we act/think/say? Isn’t there a tension between these two claims?
For the sake of time and space, I’m going to assume a certain level of understanding on these topics already and attempt a skim treatment. (Hopefully I’m not too far off in guessing the understanding level of my audience. Come to think of it, I’m not actually sure who my audience is. That’s one of the strange aspects of going through a major trial – God can use it to channel grace through you to people you’ve never even met.)
The answer to these questions begins in Romans 5.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (vs. 12, 18).
Sin – by definition – is crossing the “line” of the will and character of God. In short, to sin is to go against God. As soon as God created beings with the freedom to obey Him or not, the possibility for sin came into existence. But Romans 5 is clear, the decision to plunge humanity under sin’s weight was made by one representative, literal human being – not by God. Every betrayal, every sickness, every emotional pain, every physical pain, every instance of suffering, every act of evil that you’ve committed or been the victim of – all of it traces back to Adam’s choice on our behalf. There is sin because we are sinners. Scripture – while affirming God’s all-encompassing sovereignty – denies any option of charging Him with responsibility for our sin-caused suffering.
Because sin is at the root of all suffering, if God is not the author of sin, then He is not the culprit in my suffering. To be convinced of this, a person needs to absorb the following passage and really chew on it.
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:12-18).
James makes a concerted effort to credit us (as a collective race) with the consequences of evil as a result of our sinful choices and then to credit God with good. Scripture is full of examples of God working to hold the evil of humanity back from its full expression. In fact, scripture promises a full restoration of creation and justice for all sins committed.
In short, God is in charge of it all. He exercises an active, overarching control over everything – including your freedom to choose between right and wrong. Scripture is consistent in holding you responsible for all of your thoughts, actions, and feelings while attributing simultaneous control over them all to God. Illogical? Yes. Inconsistent? In a sense, yes. Confusing? People have been debating the implications for 1600+ years.
So there’s the sovereignty of God in a nutshell. Trying to describe it in a few paragraphs is like taking the energy of our sun and condensing it into a popcorn seed without letting it pop. But it was important to summarize in order to set up the next post.
Here’s the trick: A truth so complex and paradoxical as this is intended to have some pervasive impacts on how you think, how you feel, and how you live. Just how do you live under the hand of a Sovereign God? We’ll ask Habakkuk in the next post. He knows.