God is sovereign – and you’ve heard that before. Three common questions that follow are: 1) “Is He really?” 2) “What does it mean for God to be sovereign?” 3) “How does His sovereignty effect us?” I would like to address these three questions in this article. This is obviously not a treatise on the sovereignty of God, but hopefully it will help us all see a little more clearly why God’s sovereignty is relevant to His church!
Is God Sovereign?
Assuming that you are a follower of Christ, addressing the “Is He really?” question would be a waste of time – because you already know He is. As J.I. Packer presented in his book “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God,” you believe God is sovereign because you pray to Him. Why would you ask Him for a need if you didn’t believe He could provide it? Why ask for healing if you thought He was unable? And who would call on God for salvation if they did not believe that He was powerful enough despite any circumstances to save them, that the gospel is in fact “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16)? The sovereignty of God is not something that needs to be debated or proven here, and so I shall not spend any more time trying to convince you of it.
What Does it Mean for God to be Sovereign?
The second question addresses what it specifically means for God to be a sovereign God. Let’s see what Isaiah 46:5-11 has to say about this issue.
God scoffs at idols in v.5-7, saying that “though one may cry to it, it cannot answer; it cannot deliver him from his distress.” The idol has no power, no ability to save. Thus, the Lord’s rhetorical question in v.5 makes sense, “To whom would you liken Me and make Me equal and compare Me, that we would be alike?” With this in mind – that these man-made gods have no power to deliver – God boldly makes His declaration, “For I am God, and there is no other; i am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.'” God is unique, in a class all by Himself. He is not simply quantitatively, but qualitatively different than all other things. This is a big part of what it means for Him to be holy (Isa. 6:1-6). This uniqueness of God is what He is stressing in this passage. In what way is He that no one else is? What is said about God that can only be said about God, no one else?
The tenth verse shows us how God is unique here. He declares the end from the beginning. This is a declaration by God of the occurrences of time. We may immediately say, “Yes, God can do that, because He is omniscient.” This is very true, but I believe the text chooses a different explanation. God says, “I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” God knows all that will come to pass not simply because He is all-knowing, but also because He is able to accomplish anything He desires. He knew that the Israelites would leave Egypt, because He had the absolute power to make it happen. He knew that David would succeed Saul as king of Israel, because He was omnipotent to bring it about. He knew that Abraham would father a nation, Daniel would survive the lions den, Jesus would die on a cross, and Paul would write his epistles.
You may think of a small child who comes to his father and says, “Let’s wrestle.” The father, being human, does not know the future – but who would deny that the father is going to win this wrestling match? The father engages in the wrestling match rather playfully, because he knows without a shadow of a doubt what the future will hold: he will triumph over his offspring. Now, of course this isn’t a perfect example – there are several inconsistencies. But you understand? God has the absolute power and control to bring about whatever He desires to happen. For that reason, God knows all that will happen.
We also see here that God has plans for His creation. He doesn’t simply sit in heaven, doing random deeds on earth as He wills. He has an agenda for history, a purpose to be established. We see in Isa. 46:8-11 that God has absolute power and control to bring about all that He desires to occur. The Psalmist attests to this as well: “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases,” (115:3); “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps,” (135:6). Nebuchadnezzar agreed in Daniel 4:35: “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does acording to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” In Ephesians 1:11, Paul sung the same song: “Also, we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”
When I read any story in the Bible, it is clear to me that God indeed has absolute power and control to bring about all that He desires to occur – and this is where I will rest a definition for His sovereignty. He is sovereign (having the power and control to bring about all that He desires) over nature (Exod. 7:14-10:29; Ps. 78:12-16; Matt. 5:45; 6:30; 10:29-30; Lk. 8:22-25), over nations (2 Chron. 20:6; Ps. 2; 33:10; 47:1-4; Isa. 40:23; Acts 17:26), over human plans (Ge. 45:7-8; 50:20; James 4:13-15), over health and prosperity (Ex. 4:11; Deut. 32:39; 1 Sam 2:6-7; Ruth 4:13; Isa. 45:5-7; Amos 3:6-7), and over all other things. There is no opponent or circumstance that can abate God from accomplishing what He desires to accomplish – and that is what it means for God to be sovereign.
How Is God’s Sovereignty Relevant to Us?
This is good stuff. These are facts – truth straight from the Word of God. A computer or robot might stop here with the definition of God’s sovereignty, but we need a bit more, don’t we? The truth is, most of us aren’t scholars. Most of us don’t enjoy spending hours reading thick theology books by people who can’t even have the decency to have a last name that we can pronounce. Maybe it’s not so much that some of us wouldn’t enjoy to do that every day, but more because we simply don’t have time to be scholars. We have jobs to work so that we can provide an income for our households; food to cook so that our families can eat; children to care for so that they don’t grow up to become the next Hitler; weddings to plan, classes to pass, bills to pay… Unless we’re getting paid to do it, we just don’t have time to sit in a study and contemplate these things all day.
But let’s take honesty hour a little further. Many of us hurt too much to explore these things. Our homes foreclose; our jobs get laid-off; our children go to college and walk away from the faith; our spouses leave us in affairs; our husbands die of heart-failure; our best friends lie helpless in hospital beds after car crashes; our wives miscarry pregnancies. Tragedy strikes, and often the last thing on our minds is theology. “I need something practical,” we say. “I live in the real world, not simply in the realm of contemplation.” I think we can sum this all up into one question: how is God’s sovereignty relevant to us?
Here’s the thing – and please hear me, this is so important: God doesn’t get cancer. God doesn’t get tired. God doesn’t wear-out. God doesn’t double-cross. God doesn’t forget. God isn’t subdued. God isn’t tricked. God isn’t withheld. God doesn’t lose a leg to a drunk driver. God doesn’t get wounded in combat. God doesn’t get caught off-guard. God doesn’t have affairs. God doesn’t die. God doesn’t lose.
The sovereignty of God is relevant to you because no matter what happens, you can rest assured that Your Father is completely in control. The sovereignty of God allows us to sing hymns on the way to the hospital. It allows us to smile at funerals. It allows us genuine confidence in the face of financial drought. We face tragedy and calamity with confidence and joy, because we know without a shadow of a doubt that God has the power and control over all things, to do what He wills. If we are saved, His will is that we be kept in His hands for all eternity. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
If you are called by God and love Him, then there is a place in your mind that cannot be abated. It is a city encased in high walls, deep with marble and granite. Its battlements are lined with soldiers, having sharp spears and thick armor. Its towers climb higher than mountains, never swaying to the wind. This city is called The Sovereignty of God, and upon the North wall of its keep is embroidered, in pure gold, the truth that is its very foundation: “Thus saith the Lord, ‘I will accomplish all my good pleasure.'” This city stands in your mind and is strengthened every time you read the Word and learn more and more of God’s absolute power and control, and love for His church.
God’s sovereignty is very relevant. It keeps our soul anchored when our lives toss and turn at sea. So be confident, church! I encourage you to scrounge around in your week for time devoted to studying these things! It is well worth it, because the more you learn about God and His sovereignty, the more at peace you will be in a world of unpredictable tragedy. When calamity arrives, rest in that city: The Sovereignty of God. Plant it firmly in your mind, and it will plant you firmly in peace.