Have you ever questioned the sovereignty of God? I want you to give this a thought this morning. Be prepared for some unpleasant questions and answers this morning.
Sovereignty in a secular political setting is defined as the quality of having an independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make laws that rests on a political fact for which no pure legal definition can be provided. In a spiritual setting Sovereignty means that God, as the ruler of the Universe, has the right to do whatever he wants. Further, he is in complete control over everything that happens. This is a simple enough fact that everyone understands and probably have heard many times. However, the problem comes when we have to accept this in practice. We generally have problem in accepting God’s sovereignty in good times, when things are going well, and we are the recipients of many blessings. But what about when things are not good? How about bad things happen to us? What about when we ourselves or our loved ones fall ill, have cancer, crippled for life or pass away? How about when natural calamities strike and innocent people die, (including believing, true blue Christians)
This is one topic where there is a clear divided view within the Christians themselves. One view mainly propounded by the prosperity gospel preachers is that God is good and only good things can come from God. Every bad thing is from the devil and cannot be from God. These preachers thus “defend” God’s goodness “absolving” God of ability to do bad things to human kind. They also quote the bible to substantiate their views. For example, they quote the story of the woman healed of her infirmity in Luke 13:10-16, where Jesus explicitly mentions that she was bound by Satan for 18 years. This view got a boost with the bestselling book by Rabbi Kushner “When bad things happen to good people”. The book was written after Rabbi Kushner’s son died of a rare disease called progeria, a disease that speeds up the growth process at a bizarre speed, where the young boy grew bald wrinkled and weak and then finally died. This had a huge emotional connect with the readers, and thus it became a best seller quickly. In this book, Rabbi Kushner basically accepted God’s love, but questioned God’s power to stop evil from happening. His conclusion was that “even God has a hard time keeping chaos in check” and that “God is a God of justice but not of power” meaning that he wants to prevent bad from happening in this world, but does not have the powers to do so, in other words, his hands are tied. This view appeals to many, because it prevents us from putting the “blame” of bad things onto God.
The problem with this view is this. If God is not in control of the world fully, if there are things outside of God’s control, we have much much bigger issues than cancer or progeria, or earthquakes or Tsunamis. If God is not in control, then who is running the world? Do you want to believe that Satan runs the world affairs? Then why did Jesus come? Why did Jesus die on the cross, why did Jesus raise up on the third day? If this view is true, can we truly say that Jesus defeated Satan?
The second view is that God is sovereign and he causes suffering and pain and bad things to punish people for their sins. The proponents of this view draw numerous instances from the Old Testament where God explicitly states that He will bring calamities on the people for their stubbornness, sins, disobedience. This view makes people believe that suffering is for “teaching a lesson” to the sufferer. This is the view expressed by Job’s friends. His friends told him “ Job, God is trying to tell you something. No one suffers for nothing. You must have done something wrong, you must have sinned. Hence, just repent and be rid of your difficulties”. Many modern day Christians hold this view. They quote the Bible passages on reaping what you sow. However this view fails to answer the question, why me? It does not answer the question why “good people” suffer? Among thousands of cars moving in a highway, why a particular car gets into an accident? Why was my father chosen for the cancer, among so many others? It is interesting to note Jesus’ response to such a query in Luke 13:2-5 (NKJV): And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” In another instance, the followers of Jesus asks him about the blind man John 9:2 (NKJV): And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ response was John 9:3 (NKJV): “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”.
If we believe in Jesus, if we believe in the death on the cross, where Jesus died for our sins, our past, present and future sins, we cannot even think that our sufferings and pains could be because of our sins, or because God is punishing us for our sins. He took all the punishments. He paid for all our sins, once and for all.
This brings us to the third view. This view affirms that God is sovereign in ALL circumstances. Good or bad, pleasure or pain, wealth or poverty, sickness or health, joy or sadness, life or death. My study of the bible indicates that this is the only view that leaves no questions unanswered. This is the only view that the bible completely supports. Perhaps some of us wince at the very direct bible verses that state that bad can really come from God. Ecclesiastes 7:13 (NKJV): Consider the work of God; For who can make straight what He has made crooked? Lamentations 3:37-38 (NLT) Who can command things to happen without the Lord’s permission? Does not the Most High send both calamity and good? This is not something we can digest easily. Can a Good God cause calamities? Jesus acknowledged God’s sovereignty over His life (and the horrible death on the cross) when he told Pilot in John 19:11 (NLT) “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” Jesus knew that if it happens, it will happen because God is in absolute control, and not because Pilot or those who handed him over to Pilot had the power. Jesus did not blame Satan for his excruciating pain and death on the cross. That is why Jesus prayed in Matthew 26:39 (NLT) “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Jesus elaborated God’s control over even the minutest event in our lives when he told in Matthew 10:29 (NKJV) Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will”. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground apart from God’s will can an Airplane crash happen without His will? Can a calamity occur without his will? Can a deadly disease come over without His will? There are numerous such evidences both in the New Testament and the Old Testament that affirms God’s absolute control over all the events of our lives. He is the one who guides the thoughts and actions of kings and rulers; He is the one who controls nature, the wind and the sea. He is the one who controls the nuts and bolts of mechanics, He is the one who controls viruses and bacteria, He is the one who has absolute control over everything.
So what must we do? Firstly, rather than being offended by Bible’s assertion of God’s sovereignty over good and calamity, we should be comforted by that thought; the thought that God is in absolute control. Job did exactly this, after the long advices from his friends and questioning God, when God did not give him any direct answers but rather revealed to Job who He is. Secondly, we must trust and believe that the same sovereign God is also a loving God and a wise God. We must trust that God does not and will not exercise his sovereignty in a whimsical, or impulsive or unpredictable manner, but only in a way that His infinite love seems fit for us. Jeremiah said in Lamentations 3:32-33 (NLT) Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow. We must also acknowledge that God’s sovereignty is exercised in infinite wisdom, far beyond our comprehension. Paul acknowledged this in Romans 11:33 (NKJV) Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
But in order to trust God for his sovereignty, love and wisdom, we must know him in an intimate personal way. David said in Psalm 9:10 (NKJV) And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You. James 4:8 (NKJV) tells us to “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. The only way that I know to get personal with God is to accept Jesus Christ and know that He is the only way to the Father. So to trust in a sovereign God we must first receive the gift of faith. Let us not be like the Tom Hanks character in the movie Angels and Demons, who said “ Faith is a gift I am yet to receive”. But let us receive the faith through the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ this morning. Let us close by reading this together Hebrews 12:1-6 (NLT) Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”
Let us Pray!