divine sovereignty

Divine Sovereignty. III. Success Despite Our Failures

“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:8–11; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“The Flight of the Prisoners” by James Tissot (1836-1902), depicting the Babylonian exile. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Divine sovereignty grows out of God’s unique status as the self-existent One, the ground of all being, the Creator of all. He is all-knowing, able to tell the entire story from the beginning, including events that have not taken place as though they already have. He can accomplish all of His plans and use whomever He chooses to fulfill His will.

Isaiah 46 describes God’s judgment upon the Babylonians and their gods. Even though Babylon was the world power of his day, God maintained His authority over that nation. All who rejected His laws—whether the acknowledged Him as Lord and God or not—would be deemed “transgressors.” He counted them as rebels whether they believed He was God or not, no matter how sincerely they believed in something.

A popular lie today claims that “All roads lead to God.” Many believe that God is at the top of a spiritual “mountain” with numerous paths, each one a different religion, leading to Him. This contradicts Scripture. In fact, it is contrary to most religions. I invite you to subscribe to weekly prayer alerts at Voice of the Martyrs’ https://www.icommittopray.com/ website. This ministry mobilizes people to pray for Christians throughout the world who face persecution—disowned by families, attacked by mobs, arrested, assassinated, executed, etc. The perpetrators are not only government officials. Sometimes, they are Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist monks, etc. They do not see Christians as “fellow travelers climbing different roads to seek the same God.” Instead, they see Christians as a threat to be silenced and punished. These religions do not believe we are worshiping their deities. Christians should not assume they are worshiping our God under different names. Exodus 20:2, “You shall have no other gods before me,” prohibits this. Either our God is true and all other gods are false, or our God is not true. Because He is the One True God, having revealed Himself in the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus, He is able to judge all creation. His sovereignty extends to all.

(I realize some people will claim Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God, since “Allah” is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew “Elohim” and Arab Christians also call the biblical God “Allah.” However, the nature of the Muslim Allah is very different from the biblical God. Despite the name, they are very different beings.)

We can trust God even when He executes His judgment. He knows the end from the beginning. Isaiah’s prophecies warned of an impending Babylonian exile. In 587 BC, approximately 100 years after the prophet died, the nation of Judah was conquered by Babylon, and its leaders were taken captive into exile. One would expect that the people of Israel would cease to exist. The words “Israelite,” “Jew,” and “Israel” would slip into the archives of history, joining the Hittites and Midianites as peoples of the past. Think about it—When is the last time you met a Hittite? Do you know anybody whose DNA test says they are 25% Midianite? The same fate should have met the Jews and other Israelites.

However, God had chosen to use this superpower to discipline His people. Even though, humanly speaking, the Babylonians could have wiped Israel out of the history books, God knew the end from the beginning. He knew how things would turn out. He knew how to intervene to ensure that the Jewish nation would survive, revive, and one day fulfill their mission to be a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:3), which He would accomplish by sending His Son as our Savior.

He not only knows the end from the beginning. He knows us inside and out. He knows we are sinners. He knew before we were born which sins would become our greatest temptations and how we would fail. He is not shocked by our sin. No matter how horrible your sins sound to you and others, He will not scream, “You did WHAT?!? Are you kidding me? How could you do that?” (Incidentally, if your sin has a name, then somebody else committed it before you did. You have created no new sins. God has forgiven it before.)

White House Special Counsel Chuck Colson, ca. 1969. White House photo, Nixon Presidential Library via Wikimedia Commons.

Even when we think we have completely destroyed our lives, God can bring good and blessing out of our mistakes. Chuck Colson was a member of President Richard Nixon’s staff who was sentenced to prison for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. One could easily have assumed that his life was a failure and he would be remembered as nothing more than Nixon’s disgraced henchman. However, through his criminal trial and eventual conviction, Colson came to know Jesus Christ and started sharing his faith with fellow prisoners. After his release he continued to minister to them. He formed Prison Fellowship, a ministry sharing the love of Christ with prisoners and their families, which also touched the lives of many other Christians. His sins and eventual repentance paved the way for a life of ministry and blessing to God, His people, and countless transgressors.

Saint Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders as a teenager and sold into slavery as a shepherd, which he often believed was a punishment for some sin committed in his youth. Seven years later, he escaped and returned to his family. However, during his bondage, he learned to love the Irish people and eventually returned to his land of captivity to spread the Gospel to a nation bound by idolatry and superstition. His greatest low point, his time as a shepherd, which should have destroyed his life, became God’s opportunity to use him to change a nation and history.

These were ordinary men, not comic-book superheroes. God worked through their misfortunes, mistakes, and even their rebellion to accomplish His will. Nevertheless, God’s will was not thwarted. His will cannot be thwarted in your life either. He can turn our rebellious behavior around to accomplish His will. Even when we think we have completely destroyed our lives, He can turn our circumstances around and bring good and blessing out of our lives. He will succeed in accomplishing His will. “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” He will not fail.

Let us each surrender our will and lives to the care of God, knowing that He can bless us and others with His abundant life, no matter what we have done before. He will not be defeated by our past, present, or future. He will always be in control.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Divine Sovereignty. II. Ruler of the Nations—Whether You Like it or Not!

In the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated). The words are so familiar that we rarely think about what they mean. A good paraphrase may be, “May Your kingdom come and your will be done—to the same degree it is done in heaven, let it be done here on earth.” By extension, perhaps we should add, “Since I’m praying for Your kingdom to come and Your will be to be done fully on earth, let it be done in my heart and life. I’m on earth, but let Your will be done in me just like it is in heaven!”

When we speak of divine sovereignty, we acknowledge that God is King, Lord, and Ruler. We acknowledge that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Jesus (Matthew 28:18). He hold all rule and authority, and that includes in our own lives.

God’s Word tells us that He rules over our lives:

“The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

This rule extends not only to individual people, but even to all nations—even those that refuse to acknowledge His authority:

“Sing praises to God, sing praises!
    Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
    sing praises with a psalm!
God reigns over the nations;
    God sits on his holy throne” (Psalms 47:6–8).

God is in control and He holds all authority. Are we willing to believe it, accept it, and submit to it?

Photo by Michael E. Lynch

Even when we think that we are in control, God has the ultimate control. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us that people often make their own plans, but God has a way of overturning them. A friend of mine used to paraphrase this verse by saying, “Man makes plans but God laughs.” I have a small mini-plaque on my desk that reads, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.” Much of what we call coincidence, luck, chance, etc., is really God acting behind the scenes. Sometimes, He acts in spite of our decisions. Perhaps you can recall a time when you planned to do something, but then some unexpected event kept you from completing it. I think of people I know who worked at the World Trade Center, but called in sick or missed their morning train on September 11, 2001. “Coincidence” or “luck,” in the form of illness or unexpected lateness, saved these people from the terrorist attack that day. God was in control of their fate.

Even when we choose not to follow God’s will, He has the final decision. He is not hindered by our disobedience or unbelief. Whether we are Christians or unbelievers, faithful or faithless, God is sovereign over our lives. The only differences are that those who follow Him reap the blessings of God’s rule, and those who believe in Him will recognize when He is involved in their situations.

When Psalms 47 said that “God is the King of all the earth” and “God reigns over the nations,” it did not draw a distinction between faithful and faithless nations. In the Old Testament, “the nations” usually referred to the Gentile nations who did not believe in Israel’s God, those who worshiped idols and did not follow His laws. “All the earth” covered all nations, not only the tiny Israelite region. While God was recognized as the Great King in Israel, He was also the Great King over those nations who rejected Him or never even heard of Him.

God is the King—whether you acknowledge His rule or not. God reigns over the nations—whether you obey Him or not. God’s kingdom will come, and His will shall be done, whether you want it or not. Believe Him, trust Him, follow Him, and worship Him. He will be King, God, and Sovereign Ruler of your life whether you follow Him or not; but, if you follow Him, His rule will be gracious and bring blessing to your life.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

God will accomplish His perfect will. Will it work together for good in your life or not? The choice to follow Him is yours to make.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Divine Sovereignty. I. God Is In Control

As I write my next few posts about the sovereignty of God, I may at times be preaching to myself. Over the years, I have struggled with depression. During hard times, it is easy to slip into doubt; to believe I have made choices that will haunt me for the rest of my life; to think there is no way out; or to think that even God cannot help me now. Those are some of the lies of depression, and one of the believer’s weapons against it is to fill your mind with the truth of God’s word. If you need to be reminded that God is in control the same way that I do, I pray that these posts about divine sovereignty give you hope, faith, and encouragement. A clear biblical understanding of divine sovereignty is essential to a faith that can trust God in hard times.

“Jesus walks on the Sea,” by Gustave Doré (1832-1883). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

What do we mean by “sovereignty”? The Disciple’s Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 1988, p. 1738) defines it as follows: “God’s freedom from outward restraint; His unlimited rule of and control over His creation.” This is closely related to some of His other majestic attributes (being all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere present, eternal, etc.) and describes how God utilizes His majestic power and glory to govern the universe He created.

In some forthcoming posts, I will share different areas where God’s sovereignty extends. For this post, I will remind you that God’s authority extends over all of creation:

“For I know that the Lord is great,
and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps” (Psalms 135:5-6; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

God created the universe. He created the sky, earth, atmosphere, seas, oceans, lands, and every part of our planet that we cannot see. He observes our planet’s molten iron core! He created every other star and planet in the universe. He is in complete control over all of them. When He became a man, Jesus Christ, He exercised His authority over nature by changing water into wine (John 2:1-11), walking on water (John 6:16-21), commanding a storm to cease (Matthew 8:23-27), and other miracles that defied the laws of nature.

Let this statement encourage you. God is in control of those things that man says are uncontrollable. We cannot control the Sun, but God can. We cannot control the weather, but God can. If problems are beyond your control, place them in God’s hands. If He can handle the Milky Way galaxy, He can handle your health, finances, marriage, job situation, etc. No matter how many bad choices you have made or how badly you have failed in different areas of your life, God is in control.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

That statement applies to all who follow Jesus. He will cause all things to work together for good for you. His hands are not tied. No matter what your problem is, He is in control and He is able to resolve it. Just trust His love, grace, and sovereignty.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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