I was on Jury Duty recently and as I was waiting in the Jury Room to be called up or not called up to court, I thought about how at that moment the government had so much sovereignty over my life. Whether or not they called my name would determine if I would go to work the next day or back to the courthouse. If I was assigned (I was), it could be a quick 2 day trial or my life could have to revolve around a trial for months (after all, I live in L.A. County).
I think God’s sovereignty is sometimes hard for us to understand as American Christians because we don’t have any clear examples of “absolute” authority such as was so common during the time the Bible was written. The government’s “power” to make me come in to Jury Duty and to decide what would happen with the next few weeks of my life, or to force me to pay taxes, is about the extent of my personal involvement with the government’s sovereignty. I used to wrestle quite a bit with God’s sovereignty. Although I accepted it, as God is clearly displayed and explained as sovereign again and again and again in God’s Word, and although I wanted to understand it, it sometimes made me question my understanding of God. My understanding of God needed to be questioned and expanded.
I remember reading a quote by Jonathan Edwards that exclaimed, “…Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God…” (quoted in Desiring God, p. 38, by John Piper). I could tell by the way Edwards worded it that he rejoiced in this attribute of God. I had a hard time saying this the same way, much like the struggle that Habakkuk had at the beginning of his prophecy, before he waited on the LORD . I think it was because I wanted to rejoice in God’s sovereignty, but all of the theological and practical “problems” were getting tangled up in my mind. Praise God that I can now agree with Jonathan Edwards in the rest of his quote: “And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, in respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense…I have often since had not only a conviction but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so…” (quoted in Desiring God, p. 38, by John Piper).
The Lord has been teaching me this doctrine again and again over the last 15 years as I have studied the Bible and constantly been confronted with God’s absolute sovereignty and also as I have seen it lived out in my own life, family, and ministry with others. I love God’s sovereignty now. I love to exclaim with the Psalmist, “The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Psalm 97:1) I am prepared to accept and deal as biblically as I can with any confusion that may cause (more posts on that in the future, in particular regarding “Sickness” and “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God”). The fact that the LORD reigns is actually the greatest comfort now during times of trial rather than a question mark. It is a sweet doctrine to be embraced rather than to be feared. One thing that has helped me in my understanding of and rejoicing in God’s sovereignty is knowing that His sovereignty is always exercised in a way that corresponds with His other attributes, such as His love, mercy, compassion, justice, etc. A favorite way that I like to express this truth is that “God is both sovereign and good.”
There is a sense in which, when God is seen as sovereign, He is seen more clearly as God than with any other attribute. Everything else is created, but only God is the ruler of the universe. That is why so many of the Psalms (the “worship book” of the Bible) call attention to God’s greatness and sovereignty, because reflecting on this aspect of His character inspires worship. I remember hearing R.C. Sproul teach pastors that if they hide an aspect of God’s character from their people then they are guilty of veiling the glory of God. May we as God’s people never be declared guilty on that count!