Every Thursday, my son holds a meeting (now virtual) called Eclectic Christian Conversations (ECC for short) for people interested in discussing any aspect of the Christian faith. It is a great time to discuss the hard questions not typically addressed at church, such as, “How does evolution fit into our understanding of creation?” or “Is there such a thing as objective morality?”, or — like last week — “How do we come to terms with an extravagantly good God in the midst of a global pandemic?” Continue reading “Echoes in Eternity”
In our last two posts, we have been discussing God’s sovereignty — the fact that God is in complete control of His creation — and the two common difficulties we face. The first was understanding how God can be in complete control when we have free will, and the second was tragedy. Regarding tragedy, we explained God’s sovereign will never represents what He wants but rather what He intentionally allows.
But the idea that God allows, with intention (and this means He not only lets happen but orchestrates) every event in history and our lives carries with it a thorny implication: It means He is also orchestrating the tragic things that occur. Would that not mean God is the author of tragedy and (dare I say it?) even evil? Continue reading “Sovereignty and Evil”
In our last post, we discussed God’s sovereignty — the fact that God is in complete control of His creation — and how that relates to free will. Specifically, we addressed how it is possible that God can remain fully in control of His creation when we have free will. The answer is that God, unlike us, transcends His Creation much like a novelist transcends the novel. If we are thinking God cannot be fully in control of His creation in the face of free will, it is because we have made Him too small. Continue reading “Sovereignty and Tragedy”
I would first like to take time and thank InsanityBytes for hosting two of my recent posts with her own thoughts on the topic of being unpunishable. Feel free to visit. You may find our lively exchange in the comments section of interest.
Recently the topic of God’s sovereignty has hit my radar from two different sources. One is pastor Kris Vallotton of Bethel Church recently giving a prophetic word about us entering into a sovereign season. The other is pastor Bill Johnson discussing the recent tragic death of the two-year old Olive Heiligenthal, daughter of one of Bethel’s worship leaders, and his discomfort with the tendency of believers to label any tragic event “God’s sovereign will.”
Let’s define what we mean by God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty means that God exercises complete and total control over His creation. This means that all that happens in human history and in your life and mine reflects His sovereign will. That is: What takes place is ultimately what God orchestrated.
The definition of God’s sovereignty is relatively easy to understand. But what makes it difficult are two things: Free will and tragedy. Let’s first look at free will. Free will says I am an autonomous creature who has the power to make my own choices and exercise my own will. I am not, in other words, controlled by something or someone else: I control my own actions.
Free will makes God’s sovereignty problematic because to our finite minds, it would seem to the extent I am in control of my own actions, God is no longer in control of me — and therefore, not in control of His own creation. It just seems reasonable that there can only be one person in control. So what that would mean is we are either robots who have no free will, or God is not in control. At least that is what it would seem.
Free will makes God’s sovereignty problematic because to our finite minds, it would seem to the extent I am in control of my own actions, God is no longer in control of me — and therefore, not in control of His own creation.
What is ironic is that in the modern secular culture, there is a strong trend to believe we have no free will, not because of God, but because of nature. You would think of all places free will would be embraced would be in secular culture, where there is such a strong belief in our autonomy. But fate would have it that the very denial of God and the very insistence that the physical universe is all there is means that ultimately the chance interaction of matter, not us and not God, is what controls us. Of course, if we truly have no free will and what we call thought is no more than chance chemical interactions, then the very argument upon which such a belief is based is meaningless (a topic we have discussed before). This modern belief, therefore, is best understood as how far humanity will go in order to deny its own divine origins and the supernatural nature of reality, both of which lead to God. That at least is how I see it.
Whether because of God or matter, free will would seem to be incompatible with God’s sovereignty. However this is not what we see in Scripture. What we see is free will at the center of God’s relationship with humanity, from the Garden to the Cross and beyond. That is, the Bible makes clear we live in a world where humanity’s power to exercise free will not only exists but is the hinge upon which eternal and temporal consequences are determined.
And yet, simultaneously, we see God in control of it all. Pharaoh hardened his own heart, but God hardened it as well. A sparrow falls to the ground, but not outside the Father’s care. Humanity put Jesus to death, but God the Father gave His own Son. We chose Jesus, but in fact He chose us. We make our choices, but regardless of those choices, God is working all things for our good. Our decisions are paramount, but ultimately God is the one who decides.
It is important we have a good understanding of God’s sovereignty, because it meets us where we are at. Faith is what moves mountains, and our faith in God’s sovereignty is no different. Earlier this year, I found myself in a really hard place. I had been through a lot in a short period of time and I just crashed. I felt like I had lost it, and I did not know if I was going to regain it. But what kept me going was God, specifically the knowledge that He was at work, orchestrating things for my good. In the midst of this season, I rested in His goodness. He would get me through this. And He did. And He continues to. In each of our lives, God is working all things for our good. He is in control. He is carrying us. And thank God: We are not carrying ourselves.
It is important we have a good understanding of God’s sovereignty. Faith is what moves mountains, and our faith in God’s sovereignty is no different.
But how exactly does God’s sovereignty work? Vallotton describes God’s sovereignty as a suspension of free will, explaining that there are seasons where God just takes over. I believe there are such seasons where God exerts His power and authority. But I see God’s sovereignty a bit differently. I think God has never had a need to step in and take over because He has always been perfectly in control. And the exercise of our free will always happens in the context of His sovereign will. In other words, the exercise of our free will is what accomplishes God’s sovereign will. This is because God, being God, not only knows the ultimate outcome of our choices but actually orchestrates them. He is that in control of His creation.
One way of understanding how free will and God’s sovereignty works is to think of the relationship of characters in a novel to the novel writer. Within the novel, the characters obviously exercise free will. The novel writer does not need to interrupt the story and violate their will to get them to do what he or she wants. And yet, the novel writer knows the end from the beginning. Not only this, the novel writer is writing it: Every chapter, every scene, every sentence. So it is with God. And it is equally important for us to realize that just as it would be impossible for the characters in the novel to fully understand how the novelist does this, so it is for us to fully understand God’s sovereignty.
Here is a good place to introduce the other difficulty with God’s sovereignty, and that is tragedy. But for the sake of brevity, we will leave that to our next discussion. Be blessed, and rest in the knowledge God has you and is orchestrating everything — everything — according to His perfect will.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge
I wish to return to and idea that has to do with the parable in our last post, and that is: Consciousness, free will and thought are non-negotiable: No theory can deny them without destroying itself in the process. If I say, “I propose I am not thinking right now,” then the proposal itself loses all credibility, for if I am not thinking, then I am not proposing. You cannot propose a thought without thinking.
Similarly, we have also said that no moral system can deny that morality is objective without destroying itself in the process. If I say “morality is merely an illusion” then any moral pronouncement I make (“thus and such is hateful”) becomes meaningless.
This is a recap of course. But what these two ideas have in common is that both are key features of the modern mind. We modern people like to think (or accept as unquestionably true) we are educated and sophisticated and are so much more advanced than our forebears. But we claim morality is merely a byproduct of evolution and yet continue to make moral pronouncements and live as though things like right and wrong actually exist. And we say consciousness is merely a chemical phenomenon, not realizing the very claim we are making is a product of that same phenomenon. For being so educated — and pardon the bluntness — we come across a bit dim.
There is also something troubling about such claims. It means things like beauty and truth and virtue and awe and splendor and compassion and love do not exist. These things seem core to who we are as human beings, even vital to what it means to be human. And yet we — as modern people — are willing to part with them. Quite easily, in fact. We are willing to part with them even if our very claims about truth that cause us to part with them are logically incoherent.
Why is this? I think it is because of the alternative. If we allow ourselves to recognize the logical incoherence of our conclusion, we would have to acknowledge that one of our assumptions is invalid. In the case of human thought being an illusion caused purely by chemical reactions, we would have to say, “Wait, no. That cannot possibly be true.” And then we would have to challenge the assumption that gave rise to that assumption: That humans are no more than biological machines. But what gave rise to that assumption? That reality itself is purely physical. This is the base assumption that cannot possibly be true.
But if our whole notion that reality is purely physical is not true, by definition that would mean reality is more than physical; it is more than nature. It would mean we live in a supernatural world. And this is something the modern mind is simply not prepared, or perhaps willing, to accept.
It is more willing to divest itself of all that is sacred and destroy itself in the process than acknowledge what cannot be denied. In short, it seems the modern mind would rather become nothing than acknowledge God.