The Shortest, Most Complex Question
It’s a one-word, enormously complex question we all ask. It’s a question we first start asking as toddlers when we learn to form language and begin to understand the world around us. And it’s a question we never stop asking, all the way until the end of our life.
“Why? Why did this happen? Why would they do that to me? Why couldn’t I get what I wanted?”
Every human being asks why, but for those of us who live by faith in a God that we cannot see, hear, or touch, the question becomes even more profound.
“Why would God allow this to happen? Why would God not allow that to happen? Why didn’t God stop me?”
For Christians, beneath each of those questions is a deeply profound, life-changing question: “Is God sovereign?”
Well, of course he is! Isn’t he? At least, that’s what we say we believe. That’s the answer we’ve been taught to believe since our early years in Sunday school, and it’s the belief we publicly confess each Sunday in church.
But since our practical theology is significantly different from our confessional theology, I want to spend the next few weeks digging into the theology of the sovereignty of God.
I am deeply persuaded that the way we answer the question, “Is God sovereign?” at a daily, practical level will radically shape the way we interpret our world, direct the way we live, and determine if our heart is filled with hope, confidence, and peace or fear, doubt, and confusion.
When the Bible teaches that God is sovereign, what does that mean? Here’s a brief definition: God is in absolute control of his world and everything that happens, without any gaps, limits, interference, or thwarting of his rule.
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2, ESV)
God alone determines all that will happen and rules the means by which everything will happen. This is an important distinction; God’s sovereignty has two aspects: his decrees and his providence.
A decree is a decision or order made by an authority. God’s decrees are his eternal plan. God has decided what will come to pass. According to his own will and for his own glory, he has ordained everything that will come to pass. Because God is infinite in power and wisdom, his decrees are eternal and unchangeable. What God decrees will happen, will happen.
But God’s sovereignty gets even more specific. Providence means that our sovereign God doesn’t just decree what will happen and then sit passively above his world. Instead, God is an active participant in his world. He is in constant contact with the universe that he has made. He governs, sustains, affects, and controls.
He has not set the world in motion and walked away; no, the motion of the universe is the result of his active sustaining and governing control. He governs the most momentous things in the universe all the way down to the most minor and largely unnoticed things.
The famous hymnwriter Isaac Watts captured this complex doctrine so simply and concisely in the opening verse of, “Christ Dying, Rising, Interceding and Reigning”:
Maker, and sov’reign Lord
Of heav’n, and earth, and seas!
Thy providence confirms thy Word,
And answers thy decrees.
In the coming weeks, we’ll dig into how we should live in light of this belief.
Paul David Tripp
1. What are some “Why?” questions that you’ve heard other people ask recently? Consider the younger person who asked it and compare it to the oldest person. What were their questions? In what ways were they uniquely different because of distinct stages of life experience, yet simultaneously similar because of shared humanity?
2. What are some “Why?” questions you’ve recently asked? What did you ask yourself? What did you ask someone else? What did you ask the Lord? Reflect on the motivation of your heart behind the questions asked in those three categories: yourself, others, and God.
3. How have you exhibited a gap between your confessional and practical theology? What do you say you believe with conviction, but when the rubber hits the road in everyday life, you live as if you don’t believe, or at least, don’t live as firmly as you say you believe?
4. How has God displayed himself to be in absolute control of your life and everything that happens, without any gaps, limits, interference, or thwarting of his rule? When has your heart doubted that statement? What gaps, limitations, interferences, or thwarting did you feel you experienced under God’s care?
5. How can you grow in your confidence and belief in the doctrine of the sovereignty of God? What Scripture can you read? How can you pray? What do you need to tell yourself? Who do you need to spend more time listening to and learning from?