Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Just how sovereign is God?

I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—the fall of sear leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche. (Charles Spurgeon, ‘God's Providence’, sermon on Ezekiel 1:15-19, 1908.)
In one of his sermons, John Piper tells the story of a couple who approached him one day, and shared that they had learned more about God's sovereignty during six months at his church than in their whole Christian lives previously. Some time later, their family went through a time of terrible suffering. The mother thanked Pastor John with tears in her eyes, saying that they could never have made it through this time without the conviction of God's sovereignty.

I find God's sovereignty immensely comforting. It enables me to face the future with courage, bear small trials with patience, and entrust my family to God. But when I was at university, an older Christian shared the view that God controls the big history events, not the small, everyday occurrences of life. In other words, God is sovereign, but perhaps not sovereign over the day my son has no friends to play with in the playground, or the day my daughter struggles with an unknown sickness, or the day my car runs out of fuel and I'm stuck miles from a petrol station with four young children. God is sovereign, but not entirely sovereign.

I'm uncomfortable with this idea:
  • theologically: It seems to me that God is either sovereign, or he isn't. If God is only half sovereign, his power and glory are vastly diminished: “For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Ps 135:5-6).
  • philosophically: Since big occurrences are a collection of small ones, I'm not sure it's possible to control a tsunami without controlling every drop of water within it, or ordain all the days of a life, but not the small happenings (Ps 135:6-7, 139:16). It seems unlikely to me that there's a certain point at which God's sovereign control comes to an end.
  • biblically. When the Bible says ‘everything’, I assume it means everything (Eph 1:11, Dan 4:35, Ps 115:3). Jesus tells us that not even a tiny sparrow will “fall to the ground apart from your Father“ (Matt 10:29).
  • pastorally: I need to be assured of God's loving providence when I catch a cold, not just when I get cancer. If not, how can I respond with patience, joy and confidence that God is bringing good out of my suffering (Rom 8:28, Heb 11:5-11)? How can I encourage my fellow believers to endure faithfully, trust God, and hope in him during their trials?
So I give thanks to God that when I meet him in the Bible, he not only sustains the universe, but counts every hair on my head (Heb 1:3, Luke 12:7, 21:18); that he directs not only the hearts of kings, but the outcome of every roll of dice (Prov 21:1, 16:33); that he determines not only the fate of nations, but every one of my days (Job 12:23, Ps 139:16).

Every atom, every electron, every quark and undiscovered subatomic particle, every unseen thought and feeling of the human heart is under God's sovereign command. I can face every moment of every day, and every moment of every future day with confidence, knowing that my loving Father guides every circumstance for his glory, my good and the good of the gospel.

This post first appeared at Sola Panel.

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