I was not convinced of God’s “exhaustive, meticulous sovereignty” (to borrow Bruce Ware’s phrase) until September 11, 2001. I had been wrestling with the matter all summer. Conversations piled up. Readings on God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility proliferated. I had entered the summer as an ignorant open theist, had been confronted by a number of friends who argued from the whole counsel of Scripture for God’s unerring and unswerving sovereignty, and by the fall I was theoretically convinced of God’s perfect control of the world (cf Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Job 42:2; Isaiah 46:9-11; Daniel 4:34-35; Ephesians 1:10; Revelations 4:11).
But to turn theory into embrace took something more. It took two terrorist planes slamming into New York’s Twin Towers to convince my heart of the matter that “God Reigns,” and that I am not in control of my life, any more than I can control the events in NYC.
Thinking back on that infamous day, I will never forget walking up the stairs into my dorm. I had spent the morning glued to the television watching the horror unfold in New York. Ascending the steps, I remember telling a friend, “Unless God is totally sovereign, I do not know how to make sense of that act of terror.”
I don’t know why in that moment, the Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart the conviction of God’s sovereignty, but I can mark it to that day, that God, in his sovereign grace, invaded my heart with a love for his divine control. I submitted to his sovereignty.
Such a reaction to the claims of God’s sovereignty are not uncommon. Many Christians I have spoken to have articulated a similar journey–from arguing against God’s sovereignty to embracing it as one of their greatest comforts.
Marking his own journey towards sovereign submission, Jonathan Edwards writes:
From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty…. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God….
But never could I give an account, how, or by what means, I was thus convinced, not in the least imagining at the time, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit in it; but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections.
And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, in respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense…. I have often since had not only a conviction but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so (Jonathan Edwards, “Personal Narrative,” in Jonathan Edwards: Representative Selections, ed. C. H. Faust and T. H. Johnson [New York: Hill & Wang, 1962], 58–9; quoted in John Piper, Desiring God [Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003], 38).
I suspect that anyone who arrives at delighting in God’s sovereignty, did not do so naturally. It was aided by the Spirit of God and prompted his Word, a revelation that is filled with inescapable claims of God’s complete control.
Consider just a few: The Bible speaks of all creation existing under his and being sustained by his powerful word (Job 38-39; Psalm 135:5-7; Acts 17:27-28; Heb 1:1-2), kings and individuals are directed by God’s invisible but omnipotent hand (Prov 16:9; 21:1; Dan 4:34-35), nations, good and evil alike, accomplish his intended,though often unintelligible, purposes (Psalm 33:10-11; Isaiah 10:5ff; Habbakuk 2:1ff), and that every roll of the dice at the river boat bounces as God intends (Prov 16:33). All things happen according to his will (Eph 1:11). Even the world’s greatest evil–like September 11–is mysteriously governed by God (Isa 45:7; Lam 3:37-38), in a way preserves God’s absolute innocence and purity (James 1:13) and yet maintains that even the gravest tragedy will be turned for good (Rom 8:28; cf. consider the unlawful murder of Jesus, ordained by God before the foundation of the world, Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; 1 Peter 1:19-20).
Even with the testimony of Scripture mounting, embracing God’s sovereignty grates against our fallen condition. Ingesting the fruit in the garden put within every human being a penchant from liberty apart from God. Our innocent freedom was traded for bondage to sin (cf Romans 5, 8). Consequently, our human nature revolts against the idea that we are not sovereign in our own lives. We long to be God and to suppress the truth (Gen 3:1-6; Romans 1:18ff).
The irony about embracing God’s absolute sovereignty is that it does not make us robots, it makes us more human. Men raging for their own sovereignty are less than human because they are denying the position God gave them as ‘created beings’ under his rule (cf Gen 1:26-28). Why is this so hard to accept? Because the effects of the fall still poisons our hearts and blinds our eyes. The Bible renews our minds, mends our hearts, and opens our eyes to see the world not from our fallen human condition, but from God’s omniscient position.
Jonathan Edwards was exactly right: Embracing God’s sovereignty is not natural. It is an act of submission, a denial of self, a willingness to give God back his crown. Yet, in so doing, mankind is made most like its creator, submitting to his sovereign plan and purpose, one that is unstoppable in turning independent men and women into slaves of righteousness who find their greatest freedom in servile obedience to the King of Glory, the Lord of grace and truth.
May we humble ourselves and embrace God’s sovereignty. Why? Because that’s our human responsibility.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss