As I write this, Hurricane Irma has made landfall. Time will tell how devastating the destruction will be, but it appears catastrophic. In times like these, many people ask: “Where is God when this happens?” I want to answer that question (or at least try!) in what follows.
1. How Not to Talk about Sovereignty
There are two major dangers when we talk about the sovereignty of God. First, there is the danger of thinking God is not sovereign over all things. Recently I heard a speaker say, “Any definition of God’s sovereignty that allows for evil to exist as a part of his will and purpose is an immoral definition of sovereignty.” This view is perhaps the most popular one in the church. Seeking to get God off the hook, we try to distance Him from all kinds of things that occur in our world: hurricanes being one relevant example.
The only problem with this view, of course, is the Bible. Not only does the Bible not try to get God off the hook for “working all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11), it goes further: “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). Clearly God is totally sovereign over all creation, including over evil.
But there is another danger. If the first danger is not thinking that God is sovereign over all things, the second danger is to talk about sovereignty in such a way as to crush your audience. How easy it is to destroy those who we are trying to help! The sovereignty of God is like a baseball bat: It is indispensable to the game, but if used incorrectly it can bring tremendous harm to its victims. How careful we must be when we say that God is sovereign over all things!
2. The Sweetness of the Sovereignty of God
The remedy to our two problems from above is to see how God is sovereign and to see who the sovereign God is. We tend to focus on whether or not God is actually sovereign, but we should also talk about the nature of the God who is sovereign. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25).
My brother was in a minor car accident the other day (everyone’s fine, don’t worry). After a few hours, he texted me this: “I know what Romans 8:28 says but I’m really not seeing it here.” What a picture of the Christian experience! We know in our minds that God is fully sovereign, even over car crashes, but we can’t always see it. That’s why I answered like this: “Sometimes the sweetness of the sovereignty of God tastes bitter to our lowly souls.”
And surely now, as Irma makes landfall in Florida, the sweetness of the sovereignty of God tastes bitter to millions of lowly souls. In this moment we must not reject the sovereignty of God, but acknowledge that the Judge of all the earth will surely do right. I am not suggesting that God sent Irma because of Florida’s wickedness, but I am saying that God is fully sovereign over all creation and could stop the storm at any point He wishes. Even in the wake of destruction, we say it is the good, righteous, and just God who “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
3. Even the Winds and Waves Obey Him
Story time. There once was a group of men who were crossing the sea by boat. At some point in their voyage, the wind began to strengthen. These men, a few of whom were fishermen, worked hard to keep the ship from sinking, but the wind was far too strong for them. Eventually, water began to fill the boat. They were frightened, and rightly so! Who wouldn’t be scared to be at sea during hurricane-like conditions?
After some time, the men woke their teacher and asked: “Don’t you care about us at all?!” The teacher arose from his slumber and uttered three words: “Peace! Be Still!” Guess what happened next? “The wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” The men marveled in terror and said, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Can you imagine the scene? The Lord of all creation, asleep in the bottom of the boat, not worried in the slightest about what’s going to happen next. He is fully in control of everything, though his disciples are weak in their faith. It is here (Mark 4:35-41) we find that our gentle Lord has authority over all things. Here is where we find the sweetness of the sovereignty of God.
4. The Security of the Sovereignty of God
I close with six brief reflections on the sovereign goodness of God:
A) God’s purpose always come to pass. Listen: “I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose'” (Isaiah 46:9-10). God has a purpose, and He will surely accomplish it. If God is not sovereign, God could not accomplish his purpose. The security the believer has in the sovereignty of God is this: God will always accomplish his purpose.
B) God will never fail to keep his promises. A related truth is that God’s promises are always fulfilled. We read: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us his precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:3-4). The point of this is to show that God’s word will never fail! “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). God’s sovereignty is our security, our hope for knowing that He will do what He has said He will do.
C) God will not fail to preserve his people to the end. Jesus says in John 6:39: “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” The believer finds security in the fact that Jesus Christ, sovereign Lord of all, will not fail to save his people. Tremendous promises like “Nothing else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39) and “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28) are rendered completely meaningless if God is not completely sovereign. How sweet are these promises from our sovereign God!
5. The Supremacy of the Sovereignty of God
D) What it means for God to be God is this: “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other” (Isaiah 42:8). Behold the supremacy of the glory of our sovereign God. If God gave his glory to another, He would be guilty of idolatry! If God ultimately prized or cherished something other than the infinite worth of his own glory, He would not be God. Therefore, God must seek his glory in everything He does. This is the supremacy of the sovereignty of God. God will ultimately ensure, by his sovereign power, that his name is honored throughout the earth (cf. Isaiah 40:5).
E) God is utterly committed to our good since our good is God’s glory. How is God’s commitment to his glory good for his people? My answer: the ultimate good of God’s people is the glory of God. That God is thoroughly committed to upholding and displaying the glory of his name throughout the earth, also means that God is thoroughly committed to making his creatures happy in Him. The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever, to put a small twist on a classic phrase.
F) The supremacy of God’s sovereignty and glory is seen most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ. We see this in Acts 4:27-28: “In this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” God put forth his Son (displaying his sovereignty) so that sinners would “have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7). And why did God do this? “To the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14). The supremacy of the sovereignty of God means that God seeks his glory ultimately by saving a people through the death of his Son in order that his glorious grace would be praised!
Thanks for reading. Have any additional thoughts? Leave a comment below if you feel so inclined.