Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. God’s sovereignty has ever appeared to me, a great part of His glory. It has often been my delight to approach God, and adore Him as a sovereign God. —Jonathan Edwards
With majestic simplicity, the Bible confronts us with the infinite, personal God acting as absolute Sovereign: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).
The Creation account quickly humbles us before God’s immeasurable power: He creates the material mass of creation (1:2). He causes the flashing light to penetrate the absolute darkness (1:3). He then forms a beautiful, rational, fully functioning universe, causing the light to regularly alternate with darkness (1:4–5), the waters to gather into the sea (1:9), the flora and fauna to effloresce throughout the earth (1:11–12), the heavenly bodies dramatically to appear in the sky (1:14–18), and more.
The prophet is awestricken by the glory of God’s creative power (Isa. 40:26, 28) and the psalmist with the majesty of the excellence of His created order (Ps. 8:1). Even the angels are moved to praise Him for the splendor of His creation (Rev. 4:11).
The Reality of Sovereignty
Scripture not only opens with God as Sovereign, but relentlessly declares His all-controlling providence: He “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11), even ” ‘declaring the end from the beginning,’ ” for His ” ‘counsel shall stand’ ” (Isa. 46:10). “He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Dan. 4:35). He governs even the most inconsequential issues of life, such as directing the lot that “is cast into the lap” (Prov. 16:33), guiding the eagle’s flight (Isa. 46:11), numbering ” ‘the very hairs of your head’ ” and determining a sparrow’s death (Matt. 10:29–30). Truly, “our￼God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115:3).
God’s sovereignty is total, controlling even our free actions: “The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:1). Even “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1). The Christian must realize that “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
God sovereignly determines even the salvation of individuals, for “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world … having predestined us to adoption … according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:4– 5). The Gospel is effective in the apostolic era because “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Paul clearly proclaims that God “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim. 1:9).
Salvation is a gift God freely bestows upon those whom He sovereignly chooses: ” ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:15–16). ” ‘All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out’ ” (John 6:37). Consequently, the Father sovereignly overcomes man’s sinful resistance, for ” ‘no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day’ ” (John 6:44).
Paul even replies to man’s complaint against absolute sovereignty, forthrightly reiterating God’s sovereign right: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?’ But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” (Rom. 9:19–21).
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.