The question of sovereignty

Is God sovereign? That’s a no brainer to answer but the difficulty comes in when we define the nature and extent of it. Some believe that if God is not in direct control of every aspect of life that he is not sovereign at all. Others believe that God’s sovereignty doesn’t need to control every aspect of life to achieve its ends.

How you view God’s ultimate purpose in creating mankind will likely color your answer. If you believe that God created the world and humans to bring glory to himself, then it’s easy to see why he would want to control every aspect of our lives and leave nothing to chance.

If you see God’s ultimate purpose was to give himself to human kind so as to enter into a relationship with him, then you are more likely to see God as providing some room for true freedom to make choices.

Without getting into the philosophical nature of choices if they are free if God knows what we will do beforehand, let’s look at a couple of examples in the Bible if we can see some clues as to the answer.

The first clue comes in creation. God creates this wonderful world and garden and then creates man without a woman. Then God remarks that it is not good for man to be alone which is unusual. With all the rest of creation God puts into place methods of procreation but not man.

The first thing that God says about himself is that he is plural. There is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that exists in a beautiful, uniquely harmonious relationship that they have been enjoying for eternity. God does not exist outside this relationship. Thus in making man alone, man realizes that he is alone and needs a counterpart. The most beautiful garden and easiest life is nothing if not shared. So God makes woman by taking a part of man.

Even in giving life to man, God breathes life into Adam which is unique from what he did to the other living things. God gives something of himself to be in relationship with man. Man gives something of himself to be in relationship to the woman and his first words upon seeing Eve reflect that:

Genesis 3:23
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

Next we see that daily, God would walk with man during the cooler hours. We don’t know what this was actually like but it reflects a growing, loving relationship where man got to know God not as an source of information but as a friend.

Did Adam glorify God by acknowledging his greatness? There is not doubt as God unfolded things to Adam and Eve that they would have done so. Worship flows naturally from those who know God.

But God’s desire wasn’t for Adam to hold worship services but to know God and spend time with him. Even God’s command to them did not include worship or a demand for glory. In fact, God told them to be fruitful and multiply. He wanted more people to enter into a relationship with.

When God created the tree of knowledge of both good and evil, God gave man a choice because no relationship is valid unless freely entered.

Thus God’s sovereign purpose in creating mankind was to have a relationship with him and give God an opportunity to give of himself to us. That is the pleasure of God. The 100% giving of self is also reflected in the trinity.

Since God must always act in accordance with his nature and character, the freedom to choose and enter into relationships flows from who God is. Thus God’s sovereignty makes room for us to freely make decisions so that his sovereign purposes can be accomplished.

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A bona fide offer

One of the challenges I have in accepting the premise of Calvinism is that the offer of salvation and general preaching of Jesus do not appear to be bona fide (or genuine) offers.

Jesus, being from God and the express image of God, would certainly understand how God works when it comes to people and how they get saved. Calvinism states that God chose who would become saved which has the equal effect of not enabling others to experience salvation.

So the question remains why Jesus went from town to town offering salvation generally if he knew the hearts of people specifically? Furthermore, why would Jesus make the offer of salvation propositional if people really didn’t have any choice in the matter?

For example, there were some who were complaining to Jesus that Pilate was mixing the blood of Jews with their religious sacrifices. Obviously the Jews who died at the hands of Pilate suffered greatly and as was the popular thought, the ones who died deserved their fate because of some sin.

But Jesus corrected them by stating that the ones who died were no worse than the one who lived. Then he followed up with another account to illustrate a powerful imperative found in Luke 13:

“Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

This is a clear example that Jesus understood and consistently preached that the hearer is responsible to respond to the offer of salvation. It would be inherently dishonest for Jesus to tell them that they have an option if they really did not because they weren’t chosen.

The point is that if Jesus is pure truth and incapable of lying, then what he says and does must be authentic and honest. If that is true, then whenever Jesus calls people to repent and to believe in him, they must be bona fide offers of eternal life. Otherwise, His entire ministry would be shadowed with a cloud of deceit. Not only that, the message really couldn’t be liberally called “good news”.

If we understand that God makes bona fide offers to us and enables us to accept them if we are willing, then God’s reasonings and pleadings with mankind throughout the ages makes sense. If God had already chosen our fate beforehand, then trying to reason with us or sending people to speak to us doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Can you imagine a man who has decided that he will not marry a woman yet spends his effort to win her heart as one would to make her his wife?

If truth is a core attribute of God, then we must take God at his word and we can trust that we are not being deceived by a hidden agenda.

If you are a Christ follower, you didn’t have to worry if the offer of salvation could truly be made to you did you? Knowing that the offer is available to all should motivate us Christ followers to spread the good news to everyone.

Every theological position that we have must reflect God’s pure, undiluted character.

And so the journey begins

I have spent a lot of time studying and reading about Calvinism and Arminiasm and have not been happy with the conclusions of either framework.

I do like frameworks because it makes God, the Bible and the world easier to explain. But frameworks are inadequate to fully explain God or even understand the complex world we live in. We can’t even explain our climate. Not that there aren’t good explanations but we have to be satisfied that God revealed to us what is important to know so that we could know Him and know how to honor Him.

I am reminded of the account where people were trying to figure out who is worthy to be saved and Jesus mentioned the tragedy of the tower that fell and killed 18 people. He didn’t explain God’s sovereignty but commanded people to repent or suffer a similar fate.

So even though I will add my thoughts to this conversation, I do so fully recognizing that those who differ with me are still my siblings in Christ and we have a common agenda to be fishers of men. The world likes to draw lines and make enemies. Christ followers should show a better way.