“You are exalted as head over all” (1 Chron 29:11)
“The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.”
Those are the words of a prayer poured out by an ancient woman named Hannah. Many of you will know her story: barren and bitter; then prayed and pregnant; then gave birth and gave her son to God. That son would grow up to be the famous herculean prophet of God, Samuel. As a weaned little guy she brought him to the temple and left him. After her sacrifices she prayed. And wow did she pray. Follow along in chapter 2…
The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.
What Hannah so beautifully described as she prayed was something theologians call the “Sovereignty” of God. She acknowledged that all things are under the exalted control of the Creator. Whether by His direct command or by His permission, nothing comes to pass in the universe He created.
We are not riding on some rock that is careening wildly out of control in a chaotic, lawless universe where there is no order, no system, no guidance or supervision. Neither humanity as a whole nor our own personal lives bump about randomly on this rock we call earth. And the reason is because there is a God who is self-existent, eternal, infinite, transcendent, triune, holy, just, faithful, loving, merciful, wise and….Sovereign.
SINGULAR IN HIS SOVEREIGNTY
There is no co-sovereign. God is it. “You are exalted as head over all” (1 Chron 29:11). “The LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.” (Dt 4:39). There is a question that when asked to God is an act of worship. See if you recognize it: “Who is like you, O God?” See that? Its a rhetorical question. We ask it to highlight the fact that no one is like Him. “Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Ex. 15:11) God asks us a question too to emphasize that His sovereignty is singular. See if you recognize it from Isaiah 40:25, “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal? Says the Holy One”
There is no one who shares His sovereignty with Him. No angel, no man and no beast. He and He alone is sovereign.
The sovereignty of God is an awesome thought. It means He owns it all ultimately. Everything He created belongs to Him. Deuteronomy 10:14 says, “Tot he LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” “For every living soul belongs to me” He says in Ezekiel 18:4. Psalm 50;10 says, “For every animal of the forest is mine and the cattle on a thousand hills.” Nothing belongs to itself, but, everything is owned by Him. “For all things are from you and through you and to you” “For you created all things and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Rev 4:11).
God is sovereign also means that He is the absolute highest authority in all existence. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” Jesus said in Mt 28. “My Father…is greater than all” Jesus said in John 10:29. Colossians 1 says about Jesus, “For fby him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities all things were cretated by him and for him.” Nothing is above Jesus – all is beneath Him. And Jesus says, “My Father is greater than I” (Jn 14:28). All other authority is beneath His, and, answerable to Him – whether church, civil, home authority all will give an account for how they exercised their authority on earth.
His sovereignty means He controls everything and nothing controls Him. Daniel 4:35 says,
“All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.”
Or as Deuteronomy 32:39 says, “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.”
He is free in this sense. He is obligated to no one and nothing. “Who has a claim against me that I must repay?” He asks in Job 41:11. That’s rhetorical, remember. “If God is obligated to anyone for anything it really is that God is obligated to Himself. Judgment Day will bring justice for every human being, but God ultimately is bringing reward and retribution so as to express His own just and righteous character in the act of judging. That God is sovereign means that He’s the one who has the rights to do what He pleases with what He has made.
Everything is what it is, where it is, and when it is because that is what He determined. “God determined the times set for every man to be born and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26) Everything has the freedoms and the limits He sets, and what happens and doesn’t happen is ultimately by His set will.
WORSHIPED AS SOVEREIGN
His sovereignty also means that He is owed all majesty, glory and honor. I said “owed”, meaning creation is obligated to worship Him. Nothing breathes or moves, lives or dies, prospers or suffers, flourishes or withers apart from His sovereignty.
One of the greatest liberating realizations in the Christian life is that God is sovereign. It liberates me from the slavish desire to control everything in my life – and other people’s lives. I no longer fight with God for control because I’m seeing and trusting that He is sovereign and He is in control. And the reason I trust that is because He is far more “good” and “wise” and “just” and “right” than I am. Of the two of us it is best that He is in control! And He is!
GOD IS SOVEREIGN AND SPEAKS
One of the things that stood out to me is reviewing all the places in the Bible where sovereignty appeared it appeared in connection with God speaking.
GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY & HUMAN SERENITY
Coming to grips with God’s sovereignty means letting go of my grip on being in control. There is a peace and serenity that comes with trusting God is sovereign that far surpasses any peace I might get from thinking I’m in control. We are either wrestling to get control of people or situations or we are scared that we are going to lose control. The scope of peace is far more vast for us when we resign our effort to control and instead look up to the One who truly is in control.
God’s sovereignty also means you don’t have to be afraid.
GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY & HUMAN SUBMISSION
Maybe an odd place to start with this point is James. James is rebuking his audience (go figure!) in chapter 5. Turn there with me and lets read verses 13-15….
Do you see how James saw all human activity happening underneath the tent of God’s soveriegnty? We ought to make plans for tomorrow, but, do so with an attitude that says, “I don’t know what tomorrow holds. I’m not in control. God is. If He permits my plans then they will succeed, if not, then they won’t. And His will is good.” James is admonishing his readers to live with a “God-is-Sovereign-consciousness”. That means living each day fully aware that God is in control of the world I live in and my own personal “world”.
Now the sovereignty of God also means moral submission to Him. I live out the moral commands God has given because God is the highest authority. Now at times you will have to fight your flesh in this. Your flesh will want sin and want to be “sovereign” over you.
It isnot only our moral life that should be lived out under God’s sovereignty. Our convictions should also be shaped by God because we know He is sovereign. What is true and false, right and wrong should all be governed by the word of God.
GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY & HUMAN SUFFERING
How is God sovereign in hurricanes or earthquakes? How is God sovereign in elections? Or in Afghanistan? How is God sovereign at my doctor appointments? How is God sovereign in the possibility that I might die from covid? How is God sovereign when my kids turn away from Him? Or when a loved one suddenly and unexpectedly dies? Or when I miscarry? Or when I lose my job? How is God sovereign?
Upon the news that his 10 children were killed by some freak accident, and he had lost his wealth and possessions, Job ripped his clothes, shaved his head bald, and collapsed to the ground. The first words his trembling lips uttered were
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away”. And then he followed with perhaps the most profound words that can be uttered in suffering: “May the name of the LORD be praised.”
The book of Job sets forth the sovereignty of God over human suffering as clearly as any place. Nothing harm could come to Job without permission from God Himself. Chapter 2:6 records God’s words to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands, but you must spare his life.” Satan was the acting agent against Job, but Satan had to have permission to harm Job. Like Jesus told Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you.” God allows, permits, lets, suffering and evil happen. And it only happens by His sovereign decision to allow it.
But how can God be good while allowing evil and suffering?
First, the question is a legitimate question. Job wrestled with it. Has not every human being at some point wrestled with it? You must wrestle with it.
Second, the assumption we make that says, “Well, I’m good so therefore….” is utterly wrong. Our own goodness is the wrong starting point. It means God is judged by my goodness when in reality its the other way around. The Bible makes it crystal clear we are not good. Let’s start with more humility
Third, it is a mistake to think that allowing evil and suffering in the universe He created is somehow a negation of God’s goodness. God is
It’s not “how” is God sovereign? because He is sovereign. He owns you, your body, your soul, your possessions, your job, your kids, your country, your President, your world, and everything. He knows everything that will come to pass, even all suffering. Itis not a question of God being good and not wanting bad things to happen but somehow not having the power to prevent them from happening. It is not about God’s ability. He is able. If that is how God is then we are left with a sentimental comfort that God wished us well but we have a condescending attitude that He’s really not that big of a God to do anything. Like a helpless friend He just puts on a sad face and cries with us.
But that’s not God. He could prevent evil and suffering. But He doesn’t. Which throws us into the question of “Well, if He could stop something bad why doesn’t He?” Now our faith is put to the test. Specifically our faith in the goodness and the justness of God.