The short answer to the title question is “yes,” but I’d like to deeper consider what we mean by that, and what implications we draw from our interpretation of that thought.
A widely accepted perspective about God is a perspective that I will give the label (for the purpose of this discussion): ‘absolute sovereignty.’
By ‘absolute sovereignty’ what I mean is the perspective that God controls literally EVERYTHING that happens; that nothing happens in this world except what was specifically ordained of God. A lot of high Calvinists hold this view… actually I *think* it is the basis view which leads people to accept Calvinism, and deeper degrees of Reformed theology.
I recently had a conversation in which someone told me that they believed God wasn’t really God if He was not perfectly sovereign over all things.
I believe that at the root of this perspective is an attempt to give God credit as ‘all-powerful,’ that is: we want to acknowledge that God is powerful beyond comprehension, and we believe that this perspective would be the fulfillment of His complete all-powerfullness (that is: I believe the root of this perspective is an attempt to honor God in our thinking).
However, this perspective also presents peculiar issues that must be resolved in our thinking such as the existence of sin, suffering and death. If God controls all things, did He not also necessarily create evil? If so, then does that make God evil, or a doer of evil?
Of course those who hold the absolute sovereignty perspective (I don’t) have ready responses in which they can (or believe they can) justify God in these questions… OR (some, I have found) won’t bother attempting to justify God to you because He is all-powerful, and who are you, oh man – the thing formed – to question to He who formed it? ‘God controls all things and if you don’t like it, you are clearly not elected to salvation.’ What a loving Gospel, eh?
Certainly, God needs no justification from us, however, I also think that the root of this premise is mistaken to begin with. I believe it is missing the heart of God, and therefore the fruit of its belief falls short of a right presentation of the Gospel.
In the absolute sovereignty perspective, we elevate God’s ultimate sovereign POWER in our reasonings FIRST (that is: we want to show God mighty thus justifying His greatness), rather than FIRST elevating His CHARACTER.
We want to FIRST have faith in God’s POWER so that we are rightly elevating and trusting His ability, and then after we have assessed His power first you’d think it would be easy to also put faith in His Personal character. Unfortunately, we find that our prayers are not always answered; we suffer in situations and circumstances that do not appear, or seem to be anything close to what God’s will could be. Then, because we have first elevated God’s ability, we have to come to terms with why God, in His absolute sovereignty is putting us through such things as do not appear from His Word to be His will. Our best justification of God in these circumstances (so that we can continue to follow Him – which is good and noble) is that somehow His bigger, ultimate plan and purpose are working the best possible good in the world. We readily come to fear God in a way that is not righteous – will God make me suffer my worst fears? Will He ‘allow’ the things I worry about to come to pass? Why does He ‘allow’ starvation, and sickness, and brutal murders? The problem is that the question is mistaken because our fundamental approach to understanding God, and the universe is incorrectly ordered.
One once made this observation about reputation: “I had rather be known as a person who is willing to help if I could, than being known as a person who is able to help, but unwilling.”
Do you suppose that God would rather have us esteem His power, or His love as the pinnacle attribute of His Person? (Don’t get me wrong here, I am not bringing God’s power, or ability into question, but what do you thing God would want us to worship Him for FIRST, His POWER, or His LOVE?)
Personally, I must believe that God’s love is supreme over His power; I believe that when God works in the world it is because He is compeled by love not because He is ultimate power. Now I don’t want to negate the idea of God’s ability with this point, but to readjust our perspective in our approach.
Hebrews 11:6 says ‘Without faith it is impossible to please him [God] for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, AND that HE IS A REWARDER OF THEM THAT DILIGENTLY SEEK HIM.’
According to this verse, biblical faith is more than believing that God exists. One must also believe that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Believing IN God is not good enough. Again, this is only the first step to biblical faith – if I may be so bold: believing that God is capable of controlling all things is only believing that HE IS GOD. It does not credit to believing good of His character – it falls short of believing that God is the rewarder of them that seek Him.
We already believe in God’s existence, the verse doesn’t tell us to believe in God’s existence, AND in His absolute sovereignty, rather it says we should believe in His existence, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Notice that this thinking puts emphasis not on God’s power or sovereignty, but on something positive about His character.
“If God is really God, He must be perfectly sovereign.”
No, If He really is God, then He must a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Scripture doesn’t say we have to believe absolute sovereignty; we need to believe in the absolute goodness of God.
If God must be perfectly sovereign as His primary attribute (rather than good as his primary attribute) He could literally be nothing more than a big all-powerful sovereignty machine (in fact, I may argue that that would be the only way a God of utter sovereignty could logically exist because the absence of man’s freewill would make the history of humanity (God’s creation) nothing more than a pre-planned autonomic program; it makes humanity robots which can do nothing but what they were predestined of God to do… but I digress). The utter sovereignty perspective elevates God’s power, rather than His goodness as the first and primary emphasis of our belief in Him, whereas God (being a Person) reveals in His word that He would rather we think well of His character than of His power (ability).
Consider that for just a moment: what does it mean to us when we say that we put faith in any other person (besides God)? I would say – of myself, at least – it means I have confidence first and foremost in that person’s character; trusting that he/she has ability to do what we expect of them may be implied, but primarily if I say I have faith in someone, it means that I have confidence that that person has their heart in the right place. I don’t have faith in someone just because they have ability, I would say I have faith in someone because I know their character to be good. In fact, I would have faith in a person whose character I knew to be good, even if their ability was in question. Why? Because that is a person that I know would do their best, and even if they weren’t able to accomplish what they intended: that they would do their best to do the right thing.
But for God we have a different standard we think we do Him dis-service if we don’t believe primarily in His power. I hear it often: “I know that God is ABLE to help me, I just don’t know if its His will.”
We are told in scripture that True faith in God esteems primarily this attribute of His being: that of a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Add to that our faith in His total ability, and God’s power in our lives will be an unstoppable force!
Frankly, believing in God’s ability is easy; for anyone who believes IN God (the Creator) to begin with, trusting that He is all powerful is not much of a stretch in our carnal little minds. Trusting His character, on the other hand – especially in the light of some of the things that we face in this world – is very difficult.
Esteeming God’s character first, let me build in brief, a biblical perspective which will help us not only to appropriately justify God’s in our minds, but may also be a springboard of faith to make us overcoming children of God in this world:
When God created the world, He commanded man to take dominion of it Gen 1:26-28. Following this man fell into sin, however, God did not therefore revoke man’s dominion in the earth for King David declared centuries later that man has dominion over all the works of God’s hands – His earthly creation (Psalm 8:6).
Man was put in charge of the earth; biblically was given ‘dominion.’ That means God gave man responsibility in the earth – He delegated sovereignty to man in the earth. His delegated sovereignty does not imply that is not sovereign, but it does imply that He has chosen to implement His sovereignty in the earth through man. God wants to co-labor with you.
This also falls right in line with New Testament understanding in which God implements the plan of salvation in the earth through man by the preaching of the Gospel.
Bear with me now as I use a logical deduction to make a statement of thought which assumes that God is not only all-powerful, but also gives Him the benefit of the doubt, personally:
If God delegated sovereignty in the earth through man, and man fell into sin thus corrupting the whole world with the curse of death, then God did not control that act, rather it was a result of man’s mismanagement in the earth.
God did not predestine the original sin; He gave man sovereignty in the earth, and WE stepped out from under His sovereign will by disobeying Him. Ah! But didn’t God ‘ALLOW’ this? Umm… no; not really – He gave a command, and He punished our disobedience to it with the necessary punishment. You wouldn’t accuse a parent who told their kids a rule, and then punished them for disobeying that rule of ‘allowing’ their disobedience, would you? Then why do we accuse God of ‘allowing’ sin in the world?
Does God, by apparent inaction allow sin? Well, technically yes, but our assumption that He should be micromanaging every momment and every event culminates in an indicting perspective of what we mean by that. Often when the topic of auffering is broached and someone points out: ‘God didn’t cause that wickedness.’ The ready and immediate response we hear is: “No, but He did ALLOW it.” Certainly that’s true, but pointing that out in such a context implies that ultimately, God wanted it to happen, or didn’t care to stop it. Our usage of the word ‘allow,’ here implies God’s intent (by this absolute sovereignty perspective) is present in the allowance.
Yet if God is not absolutely sogereign over all events – not because He is incapable, but because He has delegated sovereignty – then His allowance falls under the realm of man’s responsibility, not God’s negligence or intent.
In Psalm 82, God asks this question: ‘Why do YOU allow suffering in the world?’ In John 10:34-38, Jesus interprets Psalm 82 as speaking to those to whom God’s Word has come. That means you (if you are a Christian) if you have God’s Word and know what God’s will is, why do YOU allow suffering? God has delegated sovereignty to man in the earth. He does not control every event; but you DO have power to effect the events in this world. You don’t have absolute sovereignty, but neither does God take absolute sovereignty in the earth because His hands and feet are down here to do His work in the world.
God works sovereignly in the earth – Ephesians 1:11 declares that He works all things after the council of His own will; Romans 8:28 declares that God works all things together for good to them that love God, who are called according to His purpose.
Isn’t that awesome?! Combining those two verses, we can see that ‘the council of His own will’ is expressly our GOOD! But I digress – many take these verses as proof positive that God controls all things. Is that so? No, if all things were under His absolute pre-determined will, then would God have to ‘work’ anything? God uses His sovereignty in the earth expressly for the purpose of redemption.
Adam sinned, and corruption entered the world in full force (because as the person to whom God delegated sovereignty over the earth, Adam was able to corrupt the whole physical universe in his sin). God did not redact man’s sovereignty, therefore sin and suffering exist in the world as the basis condition of the earth (1 John 5:19 says:
the whole world lieth in wickedness), and can only be redeemed in the lives of those who come into right relation with Him.
Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Don’t be discouraged – you might be in a situation that looks impossible; God wants to redeem it, wants to help you. Put faith in Him for your own situation, and: redeem the time, for the days are evil (Eph 5:16) – that is: not happening according to God’s will without our intervention.
I readily admit you are smarter than I am, so I’d like to stand on grounds I can substantiate scripturally. You reference a verse – Is. 45:7 About God creating evil; it should be noted in interpreting this verse that the Hebrew word used there is actually ‘destruction’ and does not necessarily imply moral evil. (This seems to be a staple-argument verse that I’ve responded to before, so in case you run into that comment I won’t respond exactly the same.) It is evident in scripture that God destroys, and even allows evil to manufacture results which end in His purpose. But considering that ‘sin’ or moral evil is expressly work contrary to the nature, or character of God, I would say that this verse is insufficient evidence to say that God made evil (again, even the Hebrew vocabulary does not make the same implication it does in English).
The next few verses you quote seem to hang on the Isaiah verse argument as you include evil (I think rather assumptively) in the ‘all things upheld by the word of His power,’ and ‘live move and have our being.’
(Interlude thought on total depravity: I think you read ‘Is sin a disease or a crime pt. 1’ did you read the second part, also? That better fills out my belief on depravity. I will be long in my response, so I won’t address it beyond saying I don’t believe in total depravity, and I don’t think that makes me an heretic. I grant also that most hard-line Reformationists are convinced via total depravity, but I am also speaking to a larger audience, and in the observation of my experience, its the utter sovereignty concept that by praxis pulls non-Calvinists in the further direction.)
Allow me to interject a different perspective: I believe that God is more concerned with man’s righteousnes than with any other thing in this world:
‘FOR THIS IS THE WILL OF GOD: YOUR SANCTIFICATION…’ (1 Thess 4:3) (this verse in its context is actually talking about sexual purity which is interesting to me because I think (personal theory) that many men (particularly seminary students) are convinced of total depravity because they have a libido, their stringent attempts to control their sexuality (which is not intrinsically sinful, its just a natural appetite of the flesh) is conflagrated to such a degree because they are attempting to live by biblical purity and find that their impulse is too great for them – I believe this because the law was added to control their impulse not because the impulse is intrinsically evil (Rom 7), but to many who are advised this is their total depravity rather than the law of sin and death at work in them, total depravity seems an evident culprit.)
God’s will is revealed in scripture, and as stated in thessalonians, there, it is most centrally man’s sanctification. God is, indeed, Almighty yet not everyone is utterly sanctified so His will is not being accomplished. It is also declared that God wants ALL MEN to be saved and come to a knowledge of the Truth (1Tim 2:4). And yet it is not happening so – there is a discrepancy between God’s will as revealed in the plain statement of His word, and what is happening in the world. I would assert (perhaps foolishly, but to the best of my honest understanding) that if God is utterly sovereign and ALSO working all things according to the council of his own will that He is failing at accomplishing what is declared to be His will in scripture. Instead of believing absolute sovereignty, I have to believe that God is telling the Truth about what His will is (the bible also declares that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2)); this is where I believe we begin to come into the ground of heresy (which I would define as: denial of the evident Truth of plai statement scriptures), where one may cling to the more ambiguous passage of Isaiah 41, rather than what God directly states to be His will (I am not here calling you, or any Calvinist an heretic because I think they’ve been convinced to the degree that they actually believe God would not let anythkng outside His will happen).
On the other hand if God is Almighty as the scripture says He is, and WORKING all things after the counsel of His own will, then it is evident that all His acts in the earth are for the purpose of bringing His will to bear – thus the coming of Jesus Christ into the earth, and the geat plan of salvation. This is a plan which God has, Himself, personally wrought in the earth, and it is effectual; I note that many places in scripture God delegates actikns to man, or to angels this to me gives evidence that His hand is not literally working every event in the earth in terms of the ‘absolute sovereignty’ concept, but still shows an over-arching sovereignty which allows for collaborative efforts with (includding failure of) man. Whereas if God controlled all things, they would be as effective in accomplishing His will as Christ was, and all events in the world could be counted as good as scripture.
Sorry, back to he perspective I was going to share: if God is primarily concerned with man’s sanctification, then the process of getting us to that point is less of a concern to Him than the end result. ‘…Jesus of Nazareth… went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him.’ (Acts 10:38 abbreviated).
If the devil was oppressing people, those people were under the devil’s will, not God’s; God showed His will when Jesus healed them. Could we argue that it was Gld’s will for them to be oppressed, so that He could heal them? We could, but I think we’d be over-thinking, and attempting to a reach an uncalled for conclusion that is not really implied in the statement.
If God’s will is our sanctification, and He works all things after the counsil of His will, (also works all things for the good of them that love him…) then He is ceaselessly working to bring His ends to bear in a constantly variable world.
Anyhow Imma digress – wrote a post called ‘Three Branches of Antichrist’ I’d be interested in hour thoughts on (not about Calvinism). I believe the only way not to be caught up in the antichrist system is in personal engagement with Christ (that will be the sequel post).
note that God uses angels to do things (even most direct enactment of God’s sovereign will in the earth where we have glimpses into the throne room – such as the Revelation, and some of the prophets (even the book of Job) God uses angels and does not directly cause actions in the frame of acting upon as He commands them to do.)