Tuesday, November 17, 2009

God's Sovereignty over Sin

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
Col 1:15-16 (ESV)

Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
Col 1:15-16 (KJV)

Somewhat recently, the overwhelming 'topic' of God's Sovereignty over sin has consumed my thoughts and my devotional time. I figured I would write some thoughts Ive had concerning God's Providence and His Sovereignty over sin.

What is the point of recognizing or giving thought to God's Sovereignty over evil and sin? "Why should I study this? What is its signifigance in my life?"

As stated in Colossians 1:15-16 above, Christ made all things. All things were made by Him and for Him. When you think of ALL things, it means ALL things...without him was not any thing made that was made (John 1:3). Everything we see, and everything we cannot see was made by and through Jesus Christ, whom John calls The Word. Colossians further explains that ALL things were made for Him. The immediate question that springs into my mind is 'For what?' What is the purpose in that all things were made for Him. Isaiah 43:7 says "everyone who is called by my name,whom I created for my glory,whom I formed and made." Psalm 19:1 says "The heavens declare the glory of God,and the sky above proclaims his handiwork."Psalms 145:10-13 says "All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,and all your saints shall bless you!11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power,12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.13Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,and your dominion endures throughout all generations." Simply put ALL things were created for God's glory - that He might be glorified in all of His works. Colossians follows "in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible" by also saying that thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities were all created by and for Him. Powers and principalities are the same words in the original language that are also mentioned in Ephesians 6:12. These powers are clearly evil in Ephesians and it is safe to assume the same for Colossians 1 because in Colossians 2:15 these same powers and principalities are being triumphed over by Christ. So these powers are evil, wicked, and they are what Satan uses to war against God and war against the saints. We wrestle with these things according to Ephesians 6:12---So if God is Holy, Pure, Hating Sin and wickedness, how could He create these things...originally being good, knowing that they would become evil? Much more, how do they serve to glorify Him? Real life questions people may be thinking concerning these things: In this sinful and evil world we live in, with so many crazy chaotic events, horrible calamities, and atrocious crimes committed against men (abortions, genocide,sicknesses, murderings and more) 1) How is God in control? 2) How can God be glorified? 3) If He is in control and will be glorified, How can I live with that reality on one hand, and apply it to the reality of this "crazy world" on the other?

Some points that Scripture has helped me with and some quotes to follow:

Briefly collect the images that you have in your mind of this "crazy world" and then push them back to make room for the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture. Some facts:

1) All things work according to His will and Purpose

Proverbs 19:21 - Many are the plans in the mind of a man,but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
Isaiah 14:27 - For the Lord of hosts has purposed,and who will annul it?His hand is stretched out,and who will turn it back?
Isaiah 46:10 - I am God, and there is none like me,10declaring 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,’
Job 42:2 - I know that you can do all things,and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

a) God's purposes are NEVER thwarted,frustrated,or disappointed. NEVER!
- so if this is the case, then does this mean that calamities and Satan's devices dont hinder or mess up God's plans? CORRECT.
- Ok. So, if these things dont frustrate God's plan, then why does He permit them or not stop them from happening? A: Because they fall into place into 'working according to His purposes'. Even more: God would even ordain or cause (secondarily*) some of these things to come about so that they might accomplish His plans and purposes. This idea is not foreign in scripture either.

Isaiah 45:7 - I form light and create darkness,I make well-being and create calamity,I am the Lord, who does all these things.
1 Sam 2:6 - The Lord kills and brings to life;he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
Amos 3:6 - Does disaster come to a city,unless the Lord has done it?
Job 1:21-22 - And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Psalm 105:16-17 - When He summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread,17 He had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.

(Ill address more of these verses in Point 3 concerning God's permission and overruling of sin.)

All of the evil intentions, sinful actions, and wickedness of men - although inherently sinful and heinous in the eyes of God, and although they will be justly punished and condemned - these actions DO NOT frustrate or thwart God's pre-determined plan, but only serve to fall in place and accomplish His will - that He might be glorified.

*Secondarily, meaning that although God might ordain that a sinful thing come to pass in order that His greater Good might be accomplished through it, He is never the primary cause in committing the sin - for He CANNOT sin, and forces no one to sin or be tempted by evil (James 1:13), but He permits a sinful action committed by a totally willing and responsible agent (Satan, sinful man, spirits) and directs and overrules that sin to accomplish His pre-determined plan. Ex: Joseph and his brothers (Gen 50:20); A lying spirit sent by God to entice Ahab (2 Kings 22:19-23); Samson lusted after the Phillistine woman to be his wife; God worked through his lust because He sought an opportunity to destroy the Phillistines.(Judges 14:3-4)

2) God is in control of ALL things: From - the Universe, the Earth, the beasts and creation, mankind.

John Piper states:
This "all things" includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).

God's Sovereignty includes the absolute control over ALL things. If anything were to be outside of His control, He wouldnt be God. Logically, if He works "all things" for the good of those that love Him, and after the counsel of His will (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11)then He must have control or Supremacy over all things - whether He is the cause of them or not.

Im definitely not a Star Wars fan, but I found this quote by 'Drew' on "Elect Exiles" to be very helpful.

"What happens at the end of Star Wars Episode IV? Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi fight and Darth Vader strikes Obi Wan down and kills him. Is George Lucas responsible for killing Obi Wan? We would not normally say that would we? No we would say that Darth Vader killed Obi Wan, but who ultimately decided that this would happen? George Lucas right? Our response as we watch the movie unfold is that we want Vader to suffer for this crime. In fact the rest of the Star Wars movies are the quest to bring Vader to justice because we know that he is responsible for this murder! None of us want to hunt down George Lucas and bring him to justice—why not? Because it’s his play, it’s his movie and as it is his, he has every right to do what he wills with the characters in it. In fact as the play unfolds we marvel at how Lucas builds the Rebels’ struggle against the evil Empire and we rejoice when we see evil conquered in the end."

Now, of course you will probably say to me: "This is not a movie Ray!! Real lives are at stake here,real people die everyday and horrible crimes and sinful actions are committed!" But just imagine the characters in this scenario as non-fictional; Do the ethics change any? Can Darth Vader cry out "injustice" to Lucas because he was made in this way? No. Likewise, when you have a man named Job, a righteous man, who has been granted permission by God to be harassed severely by Satan, what happens when God responds to the man who is trying to figure out "Whats going on?! Why me?!"

Job 38
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements- surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

In other words: "You answer my questions first and I'll answer yours!" What right do you have to question God? Maybe if He were on the same playing field as us we could demand a little more from Him...but He is NOT: He is in a whole other League than us, a whole other genre. And these words are only earthly to describe an infinitely transcendent relationship between the Creator and His creation.

Or even on the other hand this still applies. Take Pharoah, an unrighteous man, a man whose heart was hardened by God, and then hardened by himself. Can He cry out "Injustice!" to God because He was made that way, or because this hardening happned to him? No. Rather God says to Pharoah "For this purpose (God's holy and righteous purpose) have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth..." Paul summarizes this point in saying that "Therefore He has mercy on whom He will have mercy and whom He will He hardeneth."(Romans 9:17-18)

Paul also jumps in on the subject as well when he answers a similar question in Romans 9:19-20

19You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" 20But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?"

Notice Paul is NOT trying to get God "off the hook" in His answer to this question, but instead, he gives a similar response as the Lord in Job 38 and puts man in in his place - "Who are you?"

Lets take a breather...these are hard passages, meaty verses, and weighty topics, but in the end, they help us to truly behold a God who is in control of all things - not fatalisically, as the Muslims say "Whatever Allah does, he does". No. God does all that He does purposefully, and even His ordination and permission of sin through secondary causes is done with an infinitely holy and wise purpose in mind, namely for His glory and for the good of His people. His purposes in both working good for His glory and for permitting evil for His glory are not always known to us in the present, may not always be discerned in the past, but Scripture tells us that they will bow down for His glory in the future. It is not our job as mere humans to discern things that are only set forth and discussed in the "counsel of His own will." Deuteronomy 29:29 says "The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."

3) God is not the Author, or source of sin.

God is Holy

Rev 15:4 - Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?For you alone are holy.

Isaiah 6:3-"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;the whole earth is full of his glory!"

Hab 1:13- 13You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong,...

1 John 1:5 - This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

James 1:13 - Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.

God is Holy, and transcendently Holy. He is the essence of holiness, and the essence of all that is pure and clean and right. He hates sin and will punish it justly; He will not let the guilty go unpunished, and He declares that the soul that sins shall die. Although the Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, He hates wickedness and His justice and wrath blazes to consume even the smallest trace of sin. Let it be said that in God's permission and allowance of sin, He does not and will NEVER place His seal of moral approval upon any sin, and He will most definitely punish ALL sin. Sin is only permitted/ordained by God for the ultimate purposes of His will. Let's be clear by saying that NOWHERE in Scripture does anyone ever declare or attribute anything evil to God, and NOWHERE in Scripture does man sin willfully, thinking in the back of his mind "Im fulfilling God's will and plan". Romans 6:1 says "shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? Certainly Not!!" So, In God's sending of calamity, in His destruction of nations, or in His taking of life, He is never regarded as evil and is never the cause of sin; and man, in his sinful condition, and carnal mind (which CANNOT please God) always sins for his own selfish motives - yet in these sins, that God will justly punish, He overrules them for His own holy and wise purposes as a ringmaster tames the ferocious nature of the lion for the good purposes of entertaining the crowd.

Eric Landry says

"God does not cause or approve of sin, but only limits, restrains, overrules it for good. The mode of God's providential government is altogether unexplained. We only know that it is a fact that God does govern all his creatures and all their actions; that this government is universal (Ps. 103:17-19), particular (Matt. 10:29-31), efficacious (Ps. 33:11; Job 23:13), embraces events apparently contingent (Prov. 16:9, 33; 19: 21; 21:1), is consistent with his own perfection (2 Tim. 2:13), and to his own glory (Rom. 9:17; 11:36). "

For many, this concept of God's Sovereignty over sin is a hard one to grasp, and for many others, it is a resting place - a cleft in the rock where one can hide under the shadow of His wings knowing that God is working all things for the good of His glory and for the good of His people, those who love Him.

This facet of His sovereignty is still largely a mystery in terms of defining God's absolute control over all things and yet our responsibility in being free moral agents, who willingly sin for our own selfish purposes and yet God's purposes are never thwarted. I pray that you would lean upon the scripture passages listed above and continue to search the scriptures for these things as the noble Bereans did in Acts 17:11 to see if these things were true. With that said, God's Providence still has areas of mystery to finite human minds that "see through a glass darkly" - and this is understandable, especially since we serve an Infinite God whom we will spend eternity trying to and yet never being able to grasp all of who He is.

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