Absolute Praise – 3. If God Is Sovereign, What Then?
Psalm 103: 19 - 22
“The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” There are as many reasons not to believe this verse as there are to believe it. This verse teaches a doctrine that many find troublesome-the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. The term “sovereign” refers to a king or a ruler. To be sovereign is to have authority in a particular realm. Sovereignty is the rule a king establishes in his realm.
God is sovereign over the universe -he rules all things. His throne is settled and established. It cannot be shaken by the affairs of men. His kingdom rules over all. In the abstract, we have no problem with this doctrine. It is not hard for us to believe that God orders the path of the stars in the skies. We can’t say how he does it, only that he does it, and if he didn’t do it, the stars would cease to shine. That’s not hard to believe. After all, somebody’s got to take care of the stars. God does. We accept that.
Our problems start when sovereignty becomes more personal. To speak of the stars is one thing. We can leave that with God because we have nothing to do with the stars anyway. But to say that God is in charge of all that happens to me-the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the positive and the negative-and that he is working out his plan that somehow includes everything that happens to me-to suppose that he works out the details of my life and gives me what is best for me every day-that’s another story.
When there is trouble, we want to know who is running the show.
Three Thoughtful Objections
“The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” I can think of 3 reasons to doubt that this verse is true. In saying these things, I am not looking for objections. I am saying the things that honest men would say as they think about it.
1. The Problem of Unexplainable Catastrophes
This objection focuses on those strange events-freak accidents-natural disasters-bound up in the fine print of an insurance policy as “acts of God.” Like a volcano - Like a hurricane - Like a tornado - Like a famine - Like an earthquake - Like a tsunami.
These things happen so often that we don’t pay attention to them unless it’s a really big event - or really close to us. Then we shake our heads and wonder why. Why? Why them and not me? Why me and not them? Why here and not there?
There are lots of ways to answer that question, but in the final analysis the only answer we can safely offer is, “We don’t know.”
2. The Prosperity of the Wicked
Some things that happen to us are explainable but still undeserved. We didn’t deserve to have our marriage break up. We didn’t deserve to be cheated. We didn’t deserve to lose our job. We didn’t deserve being abused as a child. We didn’t deserve to have our children end up on drugs.
This sort of thing bothered the godly men and women of the Bible. “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” Psalm 73: 2. The Bad Guys seemed so carefree, so happy. They act like they don’t have a problem in the world. They’re living on Easy Street. If they want to swear, they swear. If they want to rip someone off, they do it. They thumb their noses at God. “This is what the wicked are like-always carefree, they increase in wealth” v. 12.
The good die young, and the wicked live to be 85. Where is God when his people are backed against the wall? What does it mean to say “His kingdom rules over all” when we are kicked in the teeth? It’s a vital question. If you do not grapple with it sooner or later, you may end up losing your faith.
3. The Paradox of Sovereignty and Free Will
We’ve all thought about it at one time or another. If God is sovereign and in control of my life, how I can have truly free will? Or if I have a truly free will, how can God be sovereign?
From our limited, finite, extremely human, “We’re-not-God” point of view, you can’t have it both ways. I may be a puppet or I may be a free agent, but I’m not both. That can lead you to some very interesting questions, such as - If God is sovereign, why pray? He’s got it all worked out anyway. If God is sovereign, why not just sit back and watch TV? Why do anything?
In laying out these objections, I am not saying, nor do I believe, that there are no answers. There are many helpful answers. I am merely pointing out issues that thoughtful believers, including our best theologians and spiritual leaders, have wrestled with for thousands of years. Where do we turn for help in believing? Or how do we keep believing in a world like this?
Three Crucial Considerations
1. There are Two Wills Let Loose in the Universe.
In the beginning there was only one will - God’s. When there was only one will, the universe was filled with peace and harmony. But now Satan (whose will is completely opposed to God’s will) has been set free to roam about the universe, working his diabolical deeds. Ever since Lucifer fell from heaven and became Satan, there has been another will in the universe. A will opposed to God as completely as one can ever be opposed to another.
God is light. Satan is darkness.
God is truth. Satan is a liar.
God is the source of life. Satan brings only death.
Now, in this age of two wills, there is untold misery and heartache. Satan committed the first sin. He led the first rebellion. He engineered the first temptation. He was in the Garden of Eden. He was there when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. He roams the world today like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. He stirs up trouble, makes false accusations, and incites us to commit every sort of evil deed. He is a world-wrecker and a home-destroyer. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He comes to steal your purity, your honesty, your integrity, your decency, your kindness, your compassion, your generosity, and every other godly impulse. He intends to destroy your friendships, your home, your career, your godly ambitions, and he certainly wants to destroy your marriage and your family. He’s taken dead aim at your church too. He wants to stir up controversy, hatred, division, strife and quarrelling so that churches split, Christians become bitter, friends part ways, pastors give up and churches blow up. He does all that he does so that God’s work might come to an end and he might remain the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Never forget that “the Evil One controls the whole world” (1 John 5:19 NCV).
When we see a marriage on the brink of break up and divorce, we need to remember that Satan has his evil hands at work in that situation. We fight back through prayer and spiritual warfare because that’s what this is-not just the break up of a marriage but true spiritual warfare. Seeing it that way clarifies things and moves it from the relational (he said-she said) to the realm of the spiritual. Satan has struck a blow and now we must ask the Lord to deliver us from his power.
Is God sovereign over the devil? Absolutely. Why doesn’t he destroy him? He will. Until then we live on the battlefield of a vast spiritual conflict between God and Satan, between good and evil. We happen to be on the winning side, but that does not mean we won’t suffer casualties as the battle ebbs and flows.
2. There are Two Ways to Look at Life.
From the bottom-up or from the top - down.
From the top down means to start with God and then go to the problems of life.
From the bottom up means to start with my problems and then work upwards to God.
Most of us start from the bottom and go up if we can. What difference does it make? All the difference in the world. Maybe the difference between keeping your faith and losing it. The difference between joy and bitterness, between self-pity and victorious faith. If you start with you, you’ll end with you and be no better off.
If you start with God, you’ve started in the only possible place to find any lasting answers. This is the central message of the book of Job. Job faces unimaginable loss, a series of catastrophes that left him scratching his sores on the ash heap, with a wife urging him to curse God and die. The largest part of the book is a dialogue with his friends over why these things have happened. Here’s the most amazing fact. Job never finds out why God chose him for such suffering. His central question remains unanswered. He apparently never finds out about Satan’s part in the whole scheme. So in terms of specific answers, he is left in the dark. But by the end of the book there is a huge difference. When he at last bows before the Lord, he acknowledges God’s sovereignty. “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you” Job 42: 2. I suppose the question might be put this way: Am I willing to believe that God knows what he’s doing in my life when I don’t have a clue?
3. There Are Two Choices We Can Make.
God is sovereign, God is love, and no matter how bad things get, Christians should praise him. The real test of praise is not when things are going well but when they are going bad. You say, “I just can’t buy what you say about praising God in the midst of evil and hurt. I don’t believe that when you lose someone you love through death, or you have cancer, or you lose your job, that you ought to praise God.” “What other alternatives do you propose?” If God is not sovereign, then who is? If God is not in control, who’s running the show?
The good news is this. Our God is in control. “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” I admit that it doesn’t always appear to be so. But it is true.
There are two choices we can make. We can reject God’s sovereignty, which ultimately leads to despair and frustration, or we can bow before him in humble submission, which leads to praise and freedom.
If God is sovereign, what then? See the application in v. 20-22.
Since God is in control, let the angels praise him. Since God is in control, let the heavenly hosts praise him. . Since God is in control, let all his works praise him. Since God is in control, let everyone praise him.
God’s Track Record
Only one question remains. How do we know - really know - that what God has in mind for us is good? We know this because we have seen him in action. He has a track record and that record is good.
It is an old story, the one about a young boy who worked for days building a toy boat. One day he took the boat down to the pond to see how it would float. When a gust of wind blew the boat out of reach, the boy ran alongside the bank crying for his boat to return. But soon it drifted out of sight.
Day passed, then weeks. A while later the little boy was walking in the town and came upon a second-hand shop. In the window he saw his toy boat. Someone had found the boat, taken it out of the water, and sold it. The boy ran inside, found the owner, and said, “Sir, you have my boat in the window. I made it myself.” The owner said, “If you want your boat back, you will have to do as all the customers do and buy it.”
Over the next few days the boy did odd jobs around the neighborhood. He mowed grass, carried out garbage, walked dogs, washed cars and painted fences, saving every cent. When he finally had enough, he went back to the shop, hoping his boat was still there. Paying his money, he reclaimed his boat. Walking out of the store, he was heard to say, “I made you. I lost you. I found you. I bought you. Now you are mine forever.”
So it is with God. He made us, we left him, he found us and bought us with the price of Jesus’ blood. Now we are his forever.
That’s God’s track record. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8: 31.
So far from being a cold, hard doctrine, the sovereignty of God fills the believer’s heart with comfort. In this world with so many questions, we know with certainty that his throne is in heaven, he rules over all, and he loves us so much that he gave his Son that we might have everlasting life. He who upholds the universe holds me in the palm of his hand. He who guides the stars guides my life too. He who knows all things from beginning to end knows me. I entrust my life to him. Amen.