Who's in charge here anyway?

Part 1: A look at the sovereignty of God

By Dolores Kimball

The sovereignty of God is one of those high-sounding doctrinal terms that theologians kick around at length. So what if God is sovereign? Moreover, what if He isn't? What difference does it make? At a recent women's retreat, I asked the women to write down the top 1-2 things they fear most in life. The results were predictable (if you don't count that fear of regurgitating campground toilets thing)—death of a loved one, children dying without knowing Christ, terminal illness, financial ruin.

Yet the Bible consistently tells us to "fear not." How can we be fearless if at any moment the worst may happen to us or those we love? Can we even be fearless in this world? As Christians, the question we struggle with is who or what determines whether these things happen? Who or what causes anything to happen in our lives? If we don't know, then we face the future fearfully because fear of the unknown is the greatest stress producer in life.

There are only a certain number of possibilities as to who or what controls the events of our lives. What are they? God, us, other people, demonic forces, fate/random chance. Let's dispense with random chance at the outset. Chance can't be the cause of anything because chance is not a force. When we flip a coin, we say there is a "50/50 chance" that it will come up heads.

But chance doesn't cause the coin to come up heads. The force with which it's flipped determines how many times it turns over in the air. That, combined with the weight of the coin and the distance it travels in the air, determines which side it lands on. Chance causes nothing because chance has no determining will to do anything and no power to make anything come to pass.

Ok, what about us? Don't we determine what happens in our lives? Don't we have the free will to make choices and determine our own fate? Freedom is considered by many to be the highest virtue, particularly in the West. But when the storms of life hit, when a loved one dies, when terminal illness strikes, when an accident finds us rushing to the hospital, when jobs are lost and the bills begin to pile up, when friends reject and hurt us, where is our freedom then? Do we really want to turn to our "freedom" for comfort?

If we think rationally about it, we're not free from sickness, pain, heartache and death. So are we really free at all? Do we really control our lives and our destinies? More importantly, do we really want to? I give you this scenario: You have two choices. Either you can give control of your life over to a sinful, unpredictable, unreliable person whose wisdom is limited, who frequently makes bad choices, and whose decisions are often swayed by emotion.

OR you give control of your life over to an all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, gracious, merciful, loving person who has nothing but good intentions for you. Which would you choose? You'd have to be crazy to choose the first. But when we insist on controlling our own lives, and depending on our ‘free' will as the ultimate power in life, that's exactly what we do. Is that comforting?

Do we really want to turn to our free will as our comfort in hard times? We like the idea of free will when it's our free will, but when others' free wills stomp on our free wills, that's not so appealing. But that's what you get when you see free will as sovereign. If your will is free, then so is mine and that of your abusive boss, the mean girl in your class and the crook with a gun at the local 7-11, and Osama Bin Laden, and every other evil creature in the world.

So our freedom isn't really free at all because it's at the mercy of those whose power, strength or position makes their free will ‘freer' than ours. And that means our lives are in their hands, not our own. So where does freedom get us? Does that kind of thinking make us strong and fearless? Not in my universe. And not, I suspect, in yours either.

Part 2: Is God Sovereign or What?  |  Part 3: If God is Sovereign, so What?

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Republished on 5-16-13