On God’s sovereignty

May 17, 2007 at 4:12 pm Leave a comment

My last couple posts have (predictably) prompted a bit of disagreement regarding my challenge to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. While I agree that God is sovereign, my last post explored the suggestion that God does not fully exercise His sovereignty and is not actually the causal agent behind all events in this world.

Given the criticisms of my view, I want to flesh out one reason (among several) why I am hesitant to view the Bible primarily through the lens of God’s sovereignty. It goes like this:

It is true, of course, that God’s sovereignty is one of the overarching themes of the Bible. Against this, however, there is another overarching theme: that of cosmic conflict. The Bible repeatedly describes what might be termed a “great controversy,” a trans-earthly war between God and other powers (both supernatural and earthly) who revolt against his governance.

Evidence of controversy

Consider these examples:

  • In the Garden of Eden, an adversarial serpent incites Eve to rebel against God by telling her that God has lied to her (Genesis 3).
  • Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 describe a controversy in heaven in which a created being sets himself up to be “like the Most High” and is then cast down to earth.
  • Revelation 12:7-9 also refers to “war in heaven,” this time between the archangel Michael and Satan. The latter is thrown to earth along with his angels, where he becomes “the deceiver of the whole world.”
  • After the prophet Daniel receives a series of disturbing visions, an angel comes to relieve his anxiety, but explains that he has been detained for three weeks before coming to Daniel because he’s been busy fighting the prince of the kingdom of Persia (Daniel 10:13).
  • Satan challenges God about the righteousness of the latter’s servant Job, whereupon God allows Satan to subject Job to a variety of afflictions to test Job’s character (Job 1-2).
  • Jesus experiences temptation at the hands of Satan at the end of 40 days in the wilderness (Luke 4; Matthew 4).
  • In Ephesians 6, Paul urges believers to “put on the whole armor of God” and prepare themselves for spiritual warfare. He elaborates, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (vs. 12).
  • After the resurrection of the righteous, Paul states that Christ will destroy “every rule and every authority and power” and will “put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24-25).

Where does God’s sovereignty fit?

All these examples point to the same conclusion: the earth is the center of an extensive (albeit largely unseen and not necessarily physical) controversy between two opposing forces.

I should note that I do not believe this war is a purely dualistic affair, or that the outcome is in doubt. It appears that God simply permits the battle to occur for the time being, even though He is fully capable of halting it. Nonetheless, there is a war.

The theme of controversy would seem to suggest a bona fide revolt and bona fide free will, implying that God does not actually control every movement of His creation.

So my question is this: If God exercises complete sovereignty and has already predetermined every event in the universe, why is the theme of warfare so prevalent? How does the notion of God at war fit with the notion of a completely sovereign God?

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Profile

profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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