Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is Yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all. In Your hand are power and might, and in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank You, our God, and praise Your glorious name.
- 1 Chronicles 29:11-13
This week, I’m beginning a series of reflections on the qualities of God. What is God like? We have a host of opinions, but most are just general impressions we’ve picked up over time. The biggest mistake we are inclined to make is assuming that God is like us. So much of Christianity has been reduced to “all about me” belief. God’s interests are my interests, and God’s will is my will. That is exactly backward, but in a society that has completely privatized religious belief, it is hard for us think about God in any other terms. If discussion of faith and morality are not tolerated in the public square, then what else can God be but our own private personal Lord and Savior?
Oh… so much more… That is why we’re starting with the sovereignty of God – the rule and the authority that belong to God alone. We can believe any number of things about God, but our belief is not the basis of truth. What is true about God is what He has shown us and told us through the Scriptures and the traditions of the Church passed down over the centuries. Our task is to seek God as He is not as we wish Him to be. Only when we know Who God is do we begin to understand who we are. Contrary to what we are encouraged to think in this generation, we do not know ourselves by looking inward. We see ourselves in the light of Christ, more or less the reflection of our Lord, and only then do we begin to know who we really are, both our seemingly endless capacity for sin and our unmerited and wondrous potential as a new creation. So it is then, that the sovereignty of God is the source for great hope and necessary humiliation.
As we watch American culture falling apart, and all that was considered good now stands accused, it’s hard to see that God is allowed any place at all, much less a sovereign place in our society. Ideas that were once taboo are emblazoned across our culture as progress. We’re being herded toward a utopian world of someone else’s vision, a vision in which there are no limits placed on any person – not the limit of knowledge or skill or even biology, except race. Race is a hard limit. After decades of striving to cultivate respect and bring equality of opportunity (now a racist term), division, conflict, and hatred are being encouraged again, this time with the white population on the receiving end. Whatever one thinks of our political solutions, such as they are, the frivolous prosecution of political opponents has been going on since the first tribes and peoples followed a leader. King Solomon was right. There really is nothing new under the sun.
That’s important for us to recognize. For all the advances we enjoy – and from which we may be about to suffer, there still is nothing new about human beings and human nature. From the early nineteenth century (and before, really) and continuing today, the prevailing thought among philosophers and scientists was the negation of belief in God. Therefore, all of our current knowledge, experimentation, and exploration proceeds without any consideration of our Creator, without any understanding of what it means to be created. The solutions for today and the plans for tomorrow are solely the expression of human imagination, based on the assumption of human dominion and rule. Efforts to be rid of God in the most significant areas of our life together have been so successful that we never hear any meaningful discussion about the role of God in science, in medicine, in universities, in policies, or entertainment, but what a dismal success. Hatred, idolatry, division, perversion, greed, dishonesty, futility, meaninglessness… That tells us a lot about what human beings are.
When we read the Bible, we think of the stories in the important snippets recorded for us. The Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt was an incredible event in the history of the Jewish people – the central event of Judaism. The account of Moses leading the people out of Egypt is powerful! What we don’t read is what the Hebrews were thinking as the Egyptians increasingly marginalized and restrained them until they finally were reduced to slavery. My guess is that the Pharaohs who ruled over the Hebrews never concerned themselves with the God of the Hebrews, never mentioned His name, and never considered His perspective on their decisions. What we do know is that God told Abraham that his heirs would be enslaved and not enter the Promised Land until the “iniquity of the Amorites is complete.”
To say that God is sovereign is not to say that He controls everything, although to have sovereignty means that God possesses the power to rule and to exert authority over everything, including us. But God created human beings with free will. We can choose what we believe, how we spend our time, what we put in our minds, and how we fill our hearts. Thus, God allows our actions and decisions to limit Him as a matter of His respect for us, but our free will does not negate His sovereignty. As King David proclaimed in the passage above, “all that is in the heavens and the earth” belong to God. God has the power to make great and to grant riches, which also means He has the power to make small, to humble, and to impoverish. He is sovereign over history, over human life, over the rise and fall of nations.
Jesus showed Himself to be sovereign over the natural world in giving sight to the blind, in the calming of the storm, and in the multiplication of fishes and loaves. He revealed Himself as sovereign over disease and death in the healing of lepers and the lame, in the resuscitation of life of Jairus’ daughter, of the son of the widow of Nain, and of Lazarus. He proved Himself sovereign over evil in casting out demons and in allowing Satan to sift Peter like wheat, but by His prayer ensuring Peter was not destroyed.
The most compelling account of the sovereignty of God over human affairs occurred when Jesus, on His way to crucifixion, told Pontius Pilate that he’d ‘have no authority at all if it hadn’t been given to him from above.’ The Bible has several accounts of God’s sovereign rule over events and nations, such as the Pharaoh in Egypt or Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. I have no doubt that they thought they were supreme rulers in their time, impervious to challengers or prayers to a God in Whom they did not believe. Finally, the quintessential illustration of God’s sovereignty over everything – the created order, human life, powers seen and unseen, the breadth and depth of human sin, and the worst of evil – is the Resurrection followed by the Ascension.
My point to you is that, in spite of the determination of human beings, God is sovereign. He will allow only so much arrogance and rebellion before He intervenes. He may be willing to let us destroy one another, but He is not going to let us destroy His creation and His ordained order of creation. The Fall was enough. We introduced death into creation, and He destroyed death with life in Jesus Christ. Personally, I suspect God will not tolerate the manipulation of human life that is being explored in science labs and medical offices, such efforts as attempting to create a different type of trans-human being with nanobots and internal computing chips. Human beings are made in the image of God, and as awful as we can be, we are what God created. To cast that aside reflects hubris beyond description. We are essentially telling God that we can create a better “creature” using all our technology, thereby rejecting His image in us.
I just saw a headline about an embryo grown from stem cells without using a sperm or an egg. I can promise you if it’s taken too far, that’s not going to end well. What is a human being without a soul, without a conscience given by God? I know this, not by any human wisdom but because God is sovereign over life and death. We need to be humble before that truth.
So, we’re back to where we started. The sovereignty of God gives us great hope because God will thwart the plans of the wicked. Will we see it? I couldn’t say. What little humility I possess demands that I not try to guess what God’s next steps will be, for I would surely be wrong. We do not have the knowledge, the wisdom, or the right to play god with God’s creation. The creature does not tell the Creator what to do.
A little fear of the Lord is good for us. It reminds us that we are not God. A little joy of the Lord is good for us, too. It reminds us that we are treasured far more than we deserve.
“Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head above all.” Cause for hope and cause for humility. As David said,
“And now we thank You, our God, and praise Your glorious name.”
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau