3 Mistakes We Make When Talking about the Sovereignty of God

The following is a conversation that recently took place in my daughter’s middle school group. And I think it does a good job highlighting three mistakes that we often make when we talk about the sovereignty of God and how it relates to sin and suffering in the world.

suffering pain sovereignty of God depression

Youth pastor: God is sovereign. That means he controls everything that happens.

Middle-schooler: So God was in control when my dog died? Why would God kill my dog?

Youth pastor: That’s a tough one. But sometimes God lets us go through hard times so that we’re prepared for even more difficult things in the future. I remember how hard it was when my dog died. But going through that helped me deal with an even more difficult time later when my grandma died. Does that make sense?

Middle-schooler: (Long pause.) So God killed my dog to prepare me for when he’s going to kill my grandma?

Youth pastor: (Silence.)

Ah, youth ministry. There’s nothing like a question from a 12-year old to make you realize that what you just said doesn’t make as much sense as you thought it did when you said it.

Like I said, if you look closely at this quick exchange, I think you’ll see three mistakes that people commonly make when talking about the sovereignty of God and how it relates to the bad things that happen in the world.

1. Answering the Wrong Question

This one actually relates more to how we handle difficult questions in general. It surprises me how often I hear someone ask a really good, thoughtful question, only to receive an answer to a completely different question. Notice in the dialog that the student wanted to know about why God killed their dog. That’s a question about God’s direct, personal agency in something apparently bad. But the answer had to do with why God permitted the dog to die. That’s a related, but distinctly different, issue.

And this isn’t a small problem. Many people won’t realize that your answer didn’t actually match the question. Instead, they’ll assume it did. And that can set them up for some serious misunderstanding.

That’s what happened in this dialog. The student asked about God killing the dog. The youth pastor skipped that question and went directly to God’s permissive will. But the student (understandably) thought the youth pastor was answering the question he actually asked. So he concluded that the youth pastor was agreeing that God did in fact kill the dog, and was just trying to explain why God would do such a thing. That clearly wasn’t the youth pastor’s intent, but by answering the wrong question, he set the student up for that misunderstanding.

All this to say: listen to questions carefully. Answering the wrong question can cause problems.

2. Confusing Authority and Agency

When talking about the sovereignty of God and how it relates to sin and evil, it’s important to distinguish two concepts: authority and agency. When we say that God is “sovereign,” we’re affirming that God has authority over everything that happens in the universe. He’s the king. And as such, he has sovereign power over everything that happens. If he wants to make a river flow backwards, he can do that. It’s his river. As king, he has the requisite power and authority.

But that’s different than saying that he directly causes everything that happens, which is a question of agency. A king may have sovereign authority over the merchant in the market, but when that merchant sells a bag of rice, we don’t say that the king personally performed that action.

So agency and authority are distinct concepts. And we can combine them in different ways when understanding how God relates to sin and evil. Pretty much all Christians agree that God has authority over everything that happens, even the bad stuff. (Yes, even Arminians affirm that God is sovereign in this sense.) But they disagree on precisely how to understand God’s agency. Some will say that God directly causes everything that happen. Others want to talk about different kinds of causation (i.e. divine and creaturely causation are both at work in every event, but God’s agency is somehow less direct and he is thus not responsible for sin and evil). And I could go on. The point is to recognize that different approaches to divine agency still affirm divine authority. They just unpack it the relationship differently.

In our story, the youth pastor failed to recognize the distinction and answered a question about agency with an answer about authority. Don’t do that.

3. Trying to Make Evil Sound Good

There’s a fine line between helping people see that God is amazing enough to use even the worst situations for his good purposes and making it sound like those horrible situations are actually good things. Yes, God can use a bad situation for good ends. He does it all the time. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and God rescued people from famine. The Babylonians crushed Judah, and God demonstrated his awesome holiness. Jesus was executed on a cross, and God redeemed a sinful world. Our God is amazing, and he is always at work in the midst of even the most horrific situations.

That doesn’t mean those horrific situations are actually good. It just means that God is good. And creative. And powerful. And redemptive.

We don’t praise God for evil, we praise God in the midst of evil. Those are critically different responses. And we must avoid the former lest, in our hurry to comfort, we minimize evil and suggest that God is somehow culpable in the very sin he works so actively against.

Discussing the sovereignty of God with someone struggling through a difficult situation is always a challenge. You have to be careful not to minimize their pain and make it sound like they should somehow be able to just “move on” simply because you’ve reminded them that God is in control. The sovereignty of God doesn’t make the pain go away, it just puts the pain in context. That is a good thing to do, but it must be done carefully.

Comments

comments

35 Responses to “3 Mistakes We Make When Talking about the Sovereignty of God”

  1. RicciNK June 13, 2013 at 10:10 am #

    I am curious as to what biblical facts back up the agency vs authority point. I can’t think of a verse that makes that distinction.

    The idea of God just standing back and allowing things to happen aligns less with a true and loving God than believing He is directly involved in everything. God elected His son to die, if He can do that I believe in Him and trust Him when he lets my Grandpa die, my sister die, and, yes, even my dog. Why are we afraid to admit this could be the case? I cannot remember the exact verse (I know, makes the is statement moot) but The Bible says if you ask your father for a stone will He give you a snake? No. But continually when we ask God for healing, it does not happen (at least in my experience).

    I agree with you, that we make mistakes when approaching the subject of God’s sovereignty, but I think we should also ask more questions before we jump the answer that best suite our opinion of God (myself included).

    • Charlotte Jackson June 28, 2013 at 9:30 am #

      Using the term “let” or “allow” I think is right. God gave us a “choice”. We chose the world or we chose him. When we chose the world than God leaves us to our own decisions. Although he never leaves us he does allow us to make our own mistakes. Death is part of living since the fall of man. God said, “it is appointed once for man to die and than the judgement.” Whether that death be human, animal, or vegetable, we must all face it because of our choices. When we accept Christ as our soverign lord than death becomes the one step we look forward to for eternal life with him. I think we are looking at this issue with carnal minds only and not also with spiritual minds for complete understanding. Our God is love, compassion, understanding but we must accept him personally before the curse of the world can be broken from us.

  2. Krista June 13, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Well said. Now, did the dog go to heaven? Because, we might have a lot of cats waiting for us.

    • Charlotte Jackson June 28, 2013 at 9:33 am #

      The issue is not where the dog went but why did the dog die and why did God allow it? Again, it comes down to the worldly frame of mind of understanding.

  3. Murray Vasser June 13, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    Hi RicciNK,

    I am always a bit surprised when people appeal to the crucifixion as evidence that God causes every event in the universe. Are we really to suppose that the death of your dog was “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” simply because the death of Christ was? On the contrary, it seems to me that the emphasis upon the crucifixion as determined by God implies that not all events in human history are so special.

    As for a Biblical distinction between agency and authority, I would say that it is all over the place. Here is just a very small sampling:

    “[The] built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind.” – Jeremiah 19:5

    “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.” – Acts 7:51

    But as for Israel He says, “ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE.” – Romans 10:21

    While the Bible indisputably teaches that God has sovereign authority over the universe, these verses (and many others) imply human agency resisting the will of God. You simply can not make sense of the Bible without acknowledging this reality.

    • Murray Vasser June 13, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

      One more point: I notice that while you seem to disagree with the notion of God “just standing back and allowing things to happen,” you go on to state that he “let” your relatives die. That type of language is so hard to get away from because, for those of us familiar with the Bible, it is so obviously true! It would be monstrously misleading to say that God killed your Grandmother or your sister.

      • Murray Vasser June 13, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

        Sorry, I had just one last thought: The story of Job is probably the clearest example of the distinction between agency and authority. Satan killed Job’s family, not God, but God let it happen.

        • RicciNK June 13, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

          Saying “let” was a bad choice of words and not what I meant, I should have said He purposes or willed the death if my family members just asHe did the death of Christ. Jesus become the new Adam, the first to die and be giving new life thus changing all other deaths for God’s purposes. I have no idea if that better articulated what I was trying to say or not, but I wanted to try to clarify.

          I admit the understanding of all this can get pretty complicated. The verse definetly help me see your point more clearly.

          I will just say this, if God wants something to happen, it happens, if God wants to stop something it will stop, He can change hearts and heal, or He can allow for pain. In whatever way we think of the nature of God’s sovereignty, He is still worthy of and desiring our praise. That is the message at the of Job as well.

          And I think Matthew 10:29-31 is a good verse for the young who worry about death, God loves and cares for us even though we struggle to understand what His hand is in death.

        • Charlotte Jackson June 28, 2013 at 9:39 am #

          Finish the story. Satan was allowed to do anything to Job but take his life, that belonged to God. It was to prove Job’s love and loyalty to God regardless of how bad the circumstance of life became. We worry about our lives be taken but the bible says “to worry about the one who can take your body and your soul. Only God! Again, it is a demenstration to prove our love for and to the Holy God.

    • Dustin Burdin June 20, 2013 at 6:23 am #

      Good point with these verses. Great help illustrating the difference in God’s Authority and Agency from His actual Word.

  4. Marc Cortez June 13, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    Keep in mind that the point wasn’t to argue for any particular understanding of how agency and authority are related, only to note that they are two distinct concepts. Even someone who says that God’s meticulously causes all things in the universe to happen should still be able to affirm that causing something to happen and having the authority to do so are distinct concepts. (My daughters routinely cause things to happen without the authority to do so!) And, similarly, someone can have a different view of divine agency (e.g. one that emphasizes God’s permissive will or a different view of the relationship between divine will and human free will) without rejecting divine authority.

    So the point was just to note that there are two distinct concepts involved in this discussion. Missing the distinction can cause some significant confusion.

  5. Steelwheels June 13, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    How does this perspective address the origin of sin question?

  6. Dan B June 15, 2013 at 5:36 am #

    Here are some of the verses supporting the SOVEREIGNTY of GOD and man’s responsibility:

    1. biblical facts back up the agency vs authority point?

    Man directly responsible verses:
    -Gen 37:18,19 They saw him from afar,and before he came near to them “THEY CONSPIRED” against him to kill him. They said to one another,Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” (Joseph’s brothers WILLFULLY decided to kill their brother because of “ENVY.” They were not in a TRANCE acting like robots when they conspired).

    God’s Sovereignty rules verses:
    Gen 45:5 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for “GOD SENT ME BEFORE YOU” to preserve life.

  7. Dan B June 15, 2013 at 5:48 am #

    Here are some of the verses supporting the SOVEREIGNTY of GOD and man’s responsibility:

    1. biblical facts back up the agency vs authority point?

    Man directly responsible verses:
    -Gen 37:18,19 They saw him from afar,and before he came near to them “THEY CONSPIRED” against him to kill him. They said to one another,Here comes this dreamer. Come now, “LET US KILL HIM” and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” (Joseph’s brothers WILLFULLY decided to kill their brother because of “ENVY.” They were not in a TRANCE acting like robots when they conspired to kill Joseph).

    God’s Sovereignty rules verses:
    Gen 45:5 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for “GOD SENT ME BEFORE YOU” to preserve life.

    Gen 45:8 8 So “IT WAS NOT YOU” who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

    Now, the greatest event of all time which Jesus did on the cross to redeem His sheep showing God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in killing Jesus.

    Acts 2:23 23 this Jesus, delivered up ACCORDING to the DEFINITE PLAN AND FOREKNOWLEDGE of God, YOU CRUCIFIED and KILLED by the hands of LAWLESS men.

    “Peter combines a clear affirmation of God’s sovereignty over world events and human responsibility for evil deeds. Although Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, showing that God had both foreknown and foreordained that Jesus would be crucified, that still did not absolve of responsibility those who contributed to his death, for Peter goes on to say, ” you crucified and killed” him. Though one may not understand fully how God’s sovereign ordination of events can be compatible with human responsibility for evil, both are clearly affirmed here and in many other passages of Scripture (Acts 3:13–16; 3:17; 4:27; 4:28)by the hands of lawless men. Peter also places responsibility on the Gentile officials and soldiers who actually crucified Jesus.

  8. Dan B June 15, 2013 at 5:58 am #

    I am a physician and I face the same question almost everyday at my office. As my patients would utter… Where was God when bad things happen to good people?”

    I would like to share an article that I wrote for my own benefit. I hope that we get to understand that even I as a physician can not in any way make your life longer than it is appointed. I can only make your life comfortable and manageable in-between your birth and death.

    May the reader rest on the sovereignty of God knowing that all things whether GOOD or BAD work together for good to us that love God and to use that were called according to God’s sovereign purpose.

    Is there a God? If so, where was God when bad things happen to good people? (My own exposition of God as a physician)

    Is there a God? If so, where was God when bad things happen to good people? These are questions most people ask. Even beings who call themselves Christians ask these same questions. It appears like these questions are becoming more common nowadays. However, the bible clearly stated: “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:” Romans 3:10.

    I decided to expound on this because I myself am looking for best explanation as to why this is happening. I tried to search for reasons… internet, books and other resources other than the Word of God. It perplexes me everyday because these are the same questions some of my patients ask as I share the Word to them.
    Until one day, another patient said to me, “I have not been to church since I got married.” I asked him why. He just plainly states, “I find it hard to believe that there is God anymore. I just could not understand why bad things happen to good people.” Well, his reason was that there was a big accident in Cincinnati and one twelve-year old person died in that event. It is indeed traumatic to die in this manner and yet he thinks this same 12-year old person was a “GOOD person.” I am not sure why he concluded that the latter was a GOOD person when he does not even know the person. Has this person not lied? Has this person not had evil thoughts at one point? I tried to explain God but in that instance but in the end I could not! Why? Simply because I do not know the real answer why that person died! I just decided to share Jesus to him and His plan of salvation. I left that conversation open-ended and I just prayed to God at the end of the day that the Spirit of God quicken the heart of that man if He so wills it.

    While studying Genesis one afternoon of Jan 25, 2013 after closing my office early due to inclement weather, it dawned on me that surely after the incident in the Garden of Eden, that we as beings or creatures became MORTALS! Genesis 2:17 was clear about sure death. Was it spiritually? Was it physically? Was it both? There are different schools of thought on this but I do believe in the concept that we died spiritually and we shall die physically one day. As it is written: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins… (Ephesians 2:1)… made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:5-10).

    Now, back to my topic. Is there a God? The answer to that is a big YES- even to an unregenerate heart. Romans 1:20 states that (For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse). The handiwork of God is present all over and yet people continue to reject God and they blame Him for all these catastrophic events. The mere fact that they question the existence of God proves that deep in their heart they know that there is a God. They just keep blocking the thought of God’s existence. Psalm 14:1 states: “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” Of course, they do not have the ability to know the true God because the things of God and the plan for salvation are only spiritually discernible. 1 Corinthians 2:14 states: “But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
    In summary, “they know and yet they do not know.” Kind of illogical reasoning but let me describe this further; all of us know who the president of the US is but he himself does not personally know us. This is the kind of knowledge that most people have about the living God.

    As we talk about physical death, it has become a part of us after our first parents sinned against God. We all die! We became imperfect! We get sick! We get cuts and bruises! I have been in the medical field long enough to understand this. No matter how much medicine or advice I give to a person, their lives will eventually end. Because we are eternal beings, we will definitely enter into another realm of life after dying physically. It simply is either heaven or hell. (Where do you stand)?

    (Ecclesiastes 9:2)
    “All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. ”

    Ecclesiastes 9:12
    “For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.”

    See below…

    15 Most Common Causes of Death in the United States
    Where you live has a good deal to do with how you will die. In the United States, the top two causes of death are responsible for more than 50 percent of the annual death toll. In the world at large, there’s a lot more variety in how you meet your Maker. Here is our list of the 15 most common causes of death in the United States:
    Cause Percent of Total
    1. Diseases of the heart 28.5
    2. Malignancy (Lung, Colon, Breast, Prostate) 22.8
    3. Cerebrovascular diseases (Stroke) 6.7
    4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases (COPD) 5.1
    5. Accidents (unintentional injuries) 4.4
    6. Diabetes mellitus 3.0
    7. Influenza and pneumonia 2.7
    8. Alzheimer’s disease 2.4
    9. Renal failure 1.7
    10. Septicemia (blood poisoning) 1.4
    11. Suicide 1.3
    12. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis 1.1
    13. Primary hypertension and hypertensive renal disease 0.8
    14. Parkinson’s disease (tied) 0.7
    15. Homicide (tied) 0.7
    My assumption of the most common death in the US: ABORTION!!!!!

    15 Most Common Causes of Death in the World
    You never just how you’re going to go, but odds are it’s one of these 15 causes of death. According to the World Health Organization’s World Health Report, these 15 causes of death make up about 58 percent of all deaths.
    Cause Percent of total
    1. Ischemic heart disease 12.6
    2. Cerebrovascular diseases 9.7
    3. Lower respiratory infections (e.g., pneumonia) 6.8
    4. HIV/AIDS 4.9
    5. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 4.8
    6. Diarrheal diseases 3.2
    7. Tuberculosis 2.7
    8. Malaria (tied) 2.2
    9. Cancer of trachea/bronchus/lung (tied) 2.2
    10. Road traffic accidents 2.1
    11. Childhood diseases 2.0
    12. other unintentional injuries (tied) 1.6
    13. Hypertensive heart disease (tied) 1.6
    14. Suicide (tied) 1.5
    15. Stomach cancer (tied)

    AMOS 4:12… PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD…

    My comment on this stat: ABORTION SHOULD RANK NUMBER 1!!!

    Countries with the Highest Life Expectancies in the World:

    1. Monaco 89.68
    2. Japan 83.91
    3. Singapore 83.75
    4. San Marino 83.07
    5. Andorra 82.50
    6. Australia 81.90
    7. Italy 81.86
    8. Liechtenstein 81.50
    9. Canada 81.48
    10. France 81.46

    Source: CIA World Factbook

    {Ad lib: There is something wrong with this picture! Where is the US of A? Are we missing something? Don’t we have the best technology and one of the brightest people in the world? Don’t we have the best doctors in the world? (I feel so ashamed of myself when I saw these statistics)!}

    Job clearly states that whatever happens to a person is not an accident but that event is appointed unto each of us. Job 23:14 states “For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind.” As John Gill expounds: “God is all wise, all knowing, all powerful, faithful and true, what he appoints must certainly be performed: and many such things are with him; besides what were appointed for Job, and performed upon him, there were innumerable instances in the world of God’s appointments, and the performance of them, both with respect to good things and evil things, mercies and blessings, afflictions and troubles: or besides what God had performed with respect to Job, especially with regard to his afflictions and sufferings, there were still many more things to come, which were secret in his breast, and which he had decreed and appointed, and would in due time be performed, though Job knew not as yet what they, were, whether good or evil things, though he supposed the latter.

    As we look back at that 12-year old person, she died from a car accident! Look at the statistics! Accidental death is one of top causes! There are several ways to face death. We do not know what type and when but as we know, we are getting closer to our appointment with death every day. It is a fact! It is appointed unto man to die (physically) once and after that the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Unfair? Certainly not! Was the 12-year old person born again when she died? I do not know that. Suffice it to say that death is a reality. We shall surely die one day! Whether it is due to sickness, accidents (God’s providence) or even murder/homicide, the “means” does not matter. Again, the fact is we are going to physically die one day! It could be today or it could even be years away. This is the reason why we should number our days because overall, our life expectancy is between 70-80 years old. Psalms 90:10 is clear on this. “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.”

    The one lesson I learned is that we are dying everyday for we are getting closer to our death- I mean our own appointment with death. It maybe heart attack or even car accident-related. There is no such thing as accident in God’s eyes! Otherwise, He should not be God! But alas, our God is Almighty and that He is Sovereign. He never sleeps! He never slumbers! Whatever God decrees, no man or any heavenly hosts can thwart it!

    (Isaiah 14:24)
    24 The Lord of hosts has sworn, saying,
    “Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass,
    And as I have purposed, so it shall stand:

    May we as children of the Almighty God rest on this hope that no matter what happens, however we feel about God or about ourselves, it is He who holds our salvation and that it is secure because this is His promise in his WORD. John 10: 27-30.

    • Amy June 17, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

      Dan B,

      You left out death by medicine administered by physicians to their trusting patients in a hospital setting. Fatal adverse drug reactions is somewhere between the 4th to 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. according to a meta-analysis published in JAMA (http://tinyurl.com/m7ka7n7).

      A Johns Hopkins safety patient team recently found that each year as many as 40,500 critically ill U.S. hospital patients die because of diagnostic “fatal flaws” in the ICU (http://tinyurl.com/8cyzgoa).

      And I could go on and on.

      The leading cause of death in the U.S. is not heart disease (http://tinyurl.com/kvt7u2).

      Jesus died for both our sins and sicknesses (Isaiah 53:4-5, Matthew 8:17). He bore (carried away) our diseases. Bodily healing is in the atonement. Jesus shed His blood to redeem the whole man at Calvary. And Jesus is still healing the sick today. Oftentimes that requires casting out demons in Jesus’ name. (You can’t medicate a demon. They won’t budge.)

      Jesus is the Great Physician. Forget not all His benefits, Psalm 103:2-3.

  9. Lou G. June 17, 2013 at 5:56 am #

    Hi Mark, Great points about the distinction between agency and authority in God’s sovereignty. I think the is another layer that also comes into play with this questions and that is God’s sovereign purposes. So, while in His permissive will, the Lord may allow evil to occur, I find it incredibly helpful to know and believe that even when evil and suffering occur (and although God is not the author of evil), He is still in control and has sovereign purposes for the evil that is permitted. Some people find that hard to swallow, but it’s crucial to remember that everything is about God glorifying Himself even in the face of evil and about our being conformed more to the image of Christ.
    It’s tough to discuss these things with non-believers, but most people who are even open theist get the concept that “things happen for a reason”. The trick is not to encourage people to go around trying figure out why every act of calamity, grief, suffering, pain, etc., was allowed to happen. Trusting God means knowing that He has His reasons and we don’t always get to see “Why” other than that He is God.

  10. DRW June 17, 2013 at 6:03 am #

    Read, “Spectacular Sins and their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ,” by John Piper. This small book has helped me much with the understanding of sovereignty. (Available free online at Desiring God!)

  11. Diane Woerner June 17, 2013 at 7:06 am #

    Hi Marc,

    I’m not a biblical language scholar, but I’ve always wondered in conversations such as this one, why someone doesn’t unpack the fascinating potential in Isaiah 45:7. Here there seem to be three different verbs for the actions of God, which in my favorite translation (NKJV) are rendered “form,” “make” and “create.”

    The other thought I have in sovereignty-of-God discussions is that there is commonly assumed to be an overlap of evil and suffering, if not interchangeability. But I would propose that evil be defined as that which contradicts the nature of God, whereas suffering is simply a contradiction of Eden (if you will). Thus Christ suffered, but did no evil.

    In fact, there is consistent scriptural elevation of the holiness of suffering, in the sense that it produces God-likeness. James says, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). Paul says, “We also glory in tribulations” (Romans 5:3). Peter says, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you…but rejoice.” (I Peter 4:12). Jesus says, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you..rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matthew 5:11,12).

    I think we do believers a strong disservice if we assume that the Bible makes the same assumption as modern Western thought, which is that the goal of life is to avoid (if not to eliminate) suffering. On the contrary, I have learned that suffering is not only not optional, but in fact is necessary for our three most desired goals in life. First, we never find God except as we encounter and acknowledge the pain of our own sinful lostness. Second, as I noted above, we never become conformed to His image except through the crucibles of suffering. And finally, there is no context for ministry apart from the suffering of others.

    God sovereignly chose suffering as the vehicle by which love can be most clearly revealed. He also permits evil because that’s the backdrop against which holiness becomes visible. Could He have found another way to communicate these things? We aren’t allowed to ask that question.

    Blessings,

    Diane

  12. Dustin Burdin June 20, 2013 at 6:32 am #

    Hi Marc,

    I found your blog from a link to this article on BiblicalTraining.org. I must say I am sad that I am only now finding your blog. This post you had was great and very much a blessing to me. I counsel with youth a lot, and I can say that as of yet I have not made these mistakes. But it was good for me to be made aware of them for the future. Particular, you had a great point in #2 on the Agency distinction from Authority. This is clear in the Bible (as the other repliers above are expounding)and a great comfort for us to better counsel with others struggling over the God’s Sovereignty and evil question. So thank you sir for this, it blessed me greatly. I am going to try now and keep browsing your blog.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks:

  1. Sunday Best: The Worst Charities, Hearing God, Boy Scouts and the Church - Seedbed - June 16, 2013

    [...] Marc Cortez writes on 3 mistakes we make when talking about the sovereignty of God. [...]

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    [...] the midst of my ongoing exploration of suffering here is another article I stumbled upon that relates to the subject. The last two points I found particularly [...]

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    [...] 3 Mistakes we often make when talking about the sovereignty of God. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading… [...]

  4. Destinations | Luggaged - June 17, 2013

    [...] is that as believers look at the cross, all believers in some sense become compatibilists. Second, this article addresses three mistakes people make when talking about the sovereignty of God. The discussion that follows [...]

  5. Good and Evil | - June 17, 2013

    [...] We don’t praise God for evil, we praise God in the midst of evil. Those are critically different responses. And we must avoid the former lest, in our hurry to comfort, we minimize evil and suggest that God is somehow culpable in the very sin he works so actively against. – Marc Cortez, Three Mistakes We Make When Talking About the Sovereignty of God [...]

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  7. 3 Mistakes We Make When Talking about the Sovereignty of God | New Leaven - June 19, 2013

    [...] 3.  We Try to Make Evil Sound Good.  “There’s a fine line between helping people see that God is amazing enough to use even the worst situations for his good purposes and making it sound like those horrible situations are actually good things. Yes, God can use a bad situation for good ends. He does it all the time. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and God rescued people from famine. The Babylonians crushed Judah, and God demonstrated his awesome holiness. Jesus was executed on a cross, and God redeemed a sinful world. Our God is amazing, and he is always at work in the midst of even the most horrific situations.”  More from Marc here… [...]

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    [...] Here are a few suggestions about mistakes we can make talking about sovereignty. [...]

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    [...] yet as Marc Cortez points out in this article on his Everyday Theology blog, we do need to be careful in answering the right questions clearly. I [...]

  13. Blog Casserole – 07/26/2013 | The Passionate Follower's Journal - July 26, 2013

    [...] Have you ever been confused about what “the sovereignty of God” actually means? Does it mean He causes all things (good and bad)? Does it mean He “allows” all things (good and bad). Here are 3 mistakes one author believes are common in talking about the sovereignty of God. [...]

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