As surprising as it may seem, God even governs the evil that men commit. Joseph recognizes this when he rebukes his brothers: “‘But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good’” (Gen. 50:20a). The greatest crime in history was perpetrated upon the Son of God. Nevertheless, the Scriptures declare, “‘For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done’” (Acts 4:27–28).
All of this mystifies us. We strain intellectually and morally. How can we reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom? How can we justify God’s righteousness and His control over evil? Yet the stubborn fact remains: The Scriptures repeatedly, emphatically, unflinchingly declare the absolute, comprehensive, predetermined sovereignty of God. We are lost in mystery. Yet mystery is expected due to the very nature of the case: We are finite, sinful creatures striving to comprehend the infinite, perfect Creator. Does not God warn us: “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isa. 55:8–9)? Did not Paul exclaim in wonder: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33)? If the Creator were exhaustively comprehensible to the creature, He would be less than the infinite, eternal God. If the Judge of all the earth were subject to the bar of man, He would not be the absolute, authoritative Lord.
The Communication of Sovereignty
As a “communicable” (shared) attribute, God’s sovereignty is exhibited in man. In the Creation account, God determines to “‘make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’” (Gen. 1:26a). Then God’s image is immediately and directly explained in terms of sovereignty: God says, “‘Let them have dominion over’” the animals (Gen. 1:26). Man was to “‘fill the earth and subdue it [and] have dominion over’” the animals (Gen. 1:28).
The narrative shows man reflecting the sovereignty of God. Not only is God’s image defined in terms of subduing and dominion (functions of sovereignty), but we discover correspondences between the action of God and the labor of man:
- God sovereignly “calls” things to function for the purpose He created them (Gen. 1:5, 8, 10). Man’s creaturely sovereignty names (calls) the animals, thereby designating their functional use in his realm (Gen. 2:19–20).
- God creates vegetation in the earth (Gen. 1:11–12). Man “tends and keeps” vegetation in the garden (Gen. 2:15).
- God creatively “makes”; for instance, land (Gen. 1:9), cattle (1:24), and man (1:26–28). Man tends the land and manages the animals created by God.
Thus, as God’s vicegerent in the earth, man rules and reigns: “The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s; but the earth He has given to the children of men” (Ps. 115:16). “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Ps. 8:6). God constructively creates as the absolute Sovereign; man reconstructively re-creates as the vice-sovereign.
The Responsibility of Sovereignty
We see then that we are images of God, reflecting our Creator, and that a key component of our imaging God involves sovereignty. We must also note the Creation account’s emphasis on the moral character of God’s sovereign action: He creates a world that is “good” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25)—indeed, “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Furthermore, the absolute Sovereign tests His vice-sovereign to determine his obedience to his calling: God appoints the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” as a trial to see whether man will accept God’s ultimate determination of morality or whether he will arrogate that authority to himself. Man is not appointed as a sovereign in the abstract, but as a vice-sovereign in a God-governed context.
After all, is not God’s sovereignty in salvation to a moral end? Did He not sovereignly choose us “that we should be holy and without blame before Him” (Eph. 1:4)? Did He not predestine us “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29)? Did not Jesus declare that “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16)?
Consequently, as images of God, we must seek not only to creatively exercise dominion in the earth (living as creaturely sovereigns), but to live for a moral end (acting as righteous sovereigns). We are stewards of the resources the sovereign Creator has placed under our control; we must discharge our duty as good and wise images of God. We must exercise not only a creative dominion, imaging the sovereign God, but we must do so as responsible creatures reflecting a righteous Lord.