The practicality of sovereignty

In Family Bible Hour recently, we had some discussion regarding the sovereignty of God and what it means practically to us. It struck me afresh during our discussion that our understanding of God’s sovereignty, or at least of its day-to-day implications, is often somewhat narrow.

I do not mean that we disbelieve the sovereignty of God, or that we believe wrongly about it, only that we don’t think through all its implications.

It’s probably fair to say that all Christians believe in the sovereignty of God. As Packer says, “it is not true that some Christians believe in divine sovereignty while others hold an opposite view. What is true is that all Christians believe I divine sovereignty, but some are not aware that they do, and mistakenly imagine that they reject it.” Packer puts this “odd state of affairs” down to “the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic.”1

Further, it is not as if we believe complete heresy regarding the sovereignty of God. Few Christians would go as far as to suggest that man’s wishes can override God’s sovereign plans. To be sure, they might suggest that we can persuade God to allow our wishes instead of his own, but even then it is ultimately God who decides what comes to pass. After all, as Packer notes, Christians pray, “and the recognition of God’s sovereignty is the basis of your prayers.”2

But we often think too narrow about the scope of God’s sovereignty. We do not deny that God is sovereign over all. With Kuyper we cry, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”3 We concur with Sproul who, in a talk in Austin, Texas in 1991, said,

If there is one maverick molecule running loose in this universe outside the scope of God’s sovereign authority, power, and control, no Christian has any reason whatsoever to put any faith or any trust in any future promise that God has made to his people. For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost, for want of a horse the rider was lost, for want of a rider the battle was lost, for want of a battle the war was lost. . . . One maverick molecule could destroy the best laid plans, not of mice or of men, but of God, if God is not sovereign.

The problem is that we tend to think of God’s sovereignty only in the “big” things in life: for example, God’s sovereign control in Joseph’s life. Joseph was hated by his brothers, beaten and sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, unjustly imprisoned, and ungratefully forgotten by the chief cupbearer. Then, in a matter of a few hours, he was hauled out of prison, placed before the most powerful ruler in the world and promoted to Prime Minister of Egypt. When he later reflected on all that had happened to him, he said to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

Of course, it is not incorrect to think of such monumental events in terms of God’s sovereignty. The sovereignty of God is writ large in the lives of Joseph and others in Scripture. And we rightly stand amazed as we witness God’s sovereignty at work in those situations.

But how does God’s sovereignty apply to me? I doubt very much that I will ever be beaten by my brothers, sold into slavery, unjustly imprisoned, and suddenly promoted to the position of the second most powerful ruler in the world. So, how does his sovereignty play out in my life?

When it comes to our own existence, we sometimes tend to think of God’s sovereignty only in times of darkness. Our affirmation of sovereignty gives us comfort when storm clouds are on the horizon. This is biblical. God’s sovereignty ought to be a comfort to us in trials. But it means—or, at least, should mean—so much more to us than that.

Jesus said that the sovereignty of God determines where the sparrow falls. The death of a sparrow is virtually meaningless to us. Certainly it will not have global political ramifications. But God decrees it, notices it, and cares about it. And if he cares about the death of a sparrow, he surely cares about everything that happens—whether “spiritual” or not.

For example, consider the events of the past week. In the last seven days, God determined the capture and death of Muammar Gaddafi. That was a display of God’s sovereignty that, in all likelihood, will have far-reaching consequences. At the same time, God’s sovereignty in the past seven days also determined that the Sharks and the Golden Lions advanced to the final of South Africa’s provincial rugby competition, at the expense (respectively) of the Cheetahs and Western Province. God decreed and determined that the All Blacks would prevail over the French in the IRB Rugby World Cup final, and that South Africa would crush Australia’s cricket team at St. George’s Park. These events will not have global ramifications, and in one sense are ultimately meaningless. And yet the God who notices and ordains the death of the sparrow also noticed and ordained sporting results over the weekend.

But a practical outworking of God’s sovereignty must take your own circumstances into consideration. You see, the God who ordained the death of Muammar Gaddafi and the victory of the All Blacks also specifically ordained everything that has happened in your life. Your responsibility is to submit to what God has ordained and to respond biblically in it.

Let me offer a practical illustration of this truth. Recently, Tim Challies tweeted that he was busy playing Civilization V multiplayer with his son, and added that he loves being a dad. When I saw his tweet, I was sitting on a pink chair at a green plastic table having an imaginary tea party with my four-year-old daughter. Girls—or my girl, at least—are just so girly!

My daughter loves her daddy and frequently begs me to play with her tea set, to sit while she does my makeup, and to watch Barbie movies with her. Those are things that I would ordinarily not be doing in my spare time. But then I remember that God has sovereignly given me a daughter. And my responsibility before God as a father is to raise, not a young man, but a young woman. And if that means imaginary tea parties, makeovers and Barbie films, so be it!

God’s sovereignty extends to the sex of my only child. And if I believe that God is sovereign (and I do) then I must respond by doing what God has given to me to do. It would be wrong for me to raise my daughter as a son. She is most definitely not a tomboy. She is a girl’s girl, and God wants my wife and me to raise her to be a godly woman. One day, she will be a wife and a mother. We need to raise her in such a way that she exemplifies biblical femininity—not worldly (or even biblical!) masculinity.

So, what circumstances has God brought into your life? Has he brought some storm? Then find comfort in his sovereignty. Has he sovereignly decreed a circumstance of great joy? Then search the Scriptures to find out how to biblically respond. God’s sovereignty calls for our response—in every area of life. Let us be thankful that “our God is in the heavens” and that “he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). And let us respond by doing his pleasure in every circumstance that he brings across our path.

  1. J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1961), 16.
  2. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 11.
  3. Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty” in James D. Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 488.

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