Introduction to God's Sovereignty
There is much debate over what the term sovereignty means in both a real world sense but also a Scriptural sense. I’ve spent the better half of my Christian walk indulging the study of Augustinian thought, Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism and other attempts at explanation. The irony of the exploration is that I wish I had compounded my research with what I learned near the end of the entire Biblical journey: Interpret the Bible with the Bible.
This practice is a must for any serious thinker, expositor and learner of the Scriptures. Further, learning the Original Languages was a huge benefit and would also be a recommended practice for those wishing to go deeper into the complexity of Scripture. I will note this: Scripture becomes LESS complex, the more consistent we interpret it with itself.
Our short journey begins in Genesis 2:17 where God say they were not to eat of one particular tree. He told them that if they did, they would surely die. This passage is of immense importance for decoding what Scripture means by God’s sovereignty. It reveals immediately that humans were endowed with not arbitrary means of choices but rather made in God’s image, so that they are not merely walking automata, but truly genuine moral beings to make genuine choices.
Human freedom gives humanity a genuine meaning. It, as we will see, gives true meaning to humanities choices and the plan of God to redeem them because of those choices. It is one of God’s greatest glories to bestow fundamental freedom to humanity.
I would like to stress that there is no conversation to be had of whether God reveals His sovereignty in Scripture. The Bible teaches the sovereignty of God, wholeheartedly. God is the initiator and source of a salvation that no man can merit. The issue to be raised is not whether it teaches such a doctrine - because it does - but rather what it means by teaching it. On one hand we see theistic determinism and the other we see God creating humans in the image of Himself with a capacity to choose, with all its marvelous potential of love, trust, and morality.
Divine determinism holds that it is even more glorifying to God to believe that human beings do not have these capacities and that their behavior is completely determined by God. However, I will show that this is far beyond the biblical teaching on God’s sovereignty that it doesn’t add to God’s glory but it truly removes from it.
The movement of every molecule, the actions of every plant, the falling of every star, the choices of every volitional creature, all of these are subject to his sovereign will. No maverick molecules run loose in the universe beyond the control of the Creator. If one such molecule existed, it could be the critical fly in the eternal ointment.
Now, on the face of it, everyone who thinks of God’s sovereignty thinks of Reformed Theology. I’ve said this in depth in other articles but I’ll quickly state it here: Reformed Theology does NOT equal Calvinism, Theistic Determinism or any by product of those two. It beholds them, but it is not limited to them.
Keith Stangin: “This historical investigation issues a tacit challenge to modern Calvinists, especially those that subscribe to a metaphysical determinism that brings with it intolerable theological conclusions”– such as, Muller adds, “the identification of God as the author of sin and the removal of human moral responsibility”.
There is much evidence in many authored research books that I will site at the end that give way to Calvin, Edwards and others deterministic view. There is high suggestions and problems with the idea that all Reformers held to what is known as TULIP or Theistic Determinism. However, There is clearly no point in arguing for compatibility between view X on determinism and view Y on human freedom and responsibility, if view X or view Y or both are inconsistent with Scripture in the first place.
Lennox asks the following question in a coherent way:
How can anyone believe that God is good, or that he is a God of love, if he fixes human destiny like a master chess-player or puppeteer, irrespective of the response of the humans involved? Some are created for eternal bliss and others for eternal torment? Indeed, if God causes sin in this direct way, how could the concept of a just God – or even the concepts of good and evil – retain any meaning?
There is a huge issue here if we look at this. Divine/Theistic determinism and the Atheist view of determinism don’t clash, they blend perfectly. They both render morality useless and meaningless. The point is that causal determinism cannot even be meaningfully affirmed, since if it were true then the affirmation itself would be determined, and so would not be a belief freely formed on the basis of weighing the evidence for and against. The affirmation is therefore irrational. Furthermore, it is common for determinists to try to convince non-determinists to convert to determinism. But that assumes that the non-determinists are free to convert, and therefore their non-determinism is not determined in the first place. The cost of holding human free will to be an illusion would appear to be impossibly high, as it entails the invalidity not only of human morality but also of human rationality.
However, I would like to look at that in a more in depth matter later on in different articles. We see the issues with the deterministic view of sovereignty above. Sovereignty means the “chief position, supreme, above all” and in these definitions we do not see “manipulator of all, determined all, etc” but rather we see what we see in scripture:
God is above all things and before all things. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. He is immortal, and He is present everywhere so that everyone can know Him (Revelation 21:6).
God created all things and holds all things together, both in heaven and on earth, both visible and invisible (Colossians 1:16).
God knows all things past, present, and future. There is no limit to His knowledge, for God knows everything completely before it even happens (Romans 11:33) (more on this in another article on the Analytical Approach to Perfect Knowledge)
God can do all things and accomplish all things. Nothing is too difficult for Him, and Whatever He wants to do in the universe, He does, for nothing is impossible with Him (Jeremiah 32:17).
God is in control of all things and rules over all things. He has power and authority over nature, earthly kings, history, angels, and demons. Even Satan himself has to ask God’s permission before he can act (Psalm 103:19).
We see that God upholds, is all powerful, all-knowing, and the supreme creator of all that exists and operates in our universe. This sovereign might is seen in the incredible use of ἐδόθη [edothē] ( . . . “was given”), a divine passive that points to God’s control of the events. Sovereignty could be defined in this: God is above all, in knowledge, in action, in all perfect tense characteristics.
The question is raised here: Is RC Sproul and Helm correct? Is God the determiner of all things?
It’s not a question that should be silenced, it’s one that should be asked. In the coming articles we will explore this question but I will leave you with this.
Only a completely sovereign and perfect God could allow real choices, real outcomes and still work everything together for the good of His people and plan. In other words, only in sovereignty are choices made real and not arbitrary.