The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is a wondrous biblical truth. However, this article will not be a detailed examination of this topic. Indeed, how dare I be so foolish as to attempt to cover in a short essay what entire libraries have already dealt with? All I wish to do here is look at one aspect of this doctrine as it relates to our responsibilities and duties in this world.
I write it because of what has been a common occurrence: often when I have just written about some grave threat facing us, or some major conflict that we must be aware of, I will get people writing back with a brief comment with words to this effect:
-Yes but God is in control.
-No need to worry – God is sovereign.
-Do not forget about God’s control of all things.
-Fortunately God is in charge.
-Hey don’t panic – God is on the throne.
This sentiment comes expressed in different ways, but it comes often when I raise issues of real importance to all of us. Now there are two ways to respond to this: yes and no. The yes part is easy: Yes of course God is in control. Yes the doctrine of divine sovereignty is a wonderful biblical teaching. Yes we must never forget that God is ultimately in charge of all that is happening.
If my commentators simply mean that we must not get overwhelmed by looking at all the evil, mess and chaos around us, but keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, then yes I fully agree.
If my commentators simply mean that we must not forget that even in all this darkness and evil, God is working out his purposes and plans, then yes I fully agree.
If my commentators simply mean that God is ultimately going to triumph over all the sin and evil in our world today, then yes I fully agree.
If my commentators simply mean that all the plans of evil men will one day come to an end, and ultimately all evil will be defeated, then yes I fully agree.
But I suspect that perhaps more often than not, this is not quite what they have in mind. They may have this partly in mind, but I suspect they also have another thing in mind. And it is this bit I must strongly disagree with. Often they mean by this that there is no need to get involved in these battles, or to even think or worry about them.
‘Just relax and trust God,’ seems to be the intent. ‘He is in charge, so there is nothing we can do about it.’ They seem to believe that whatever happens, happens, and they have almost subscribed to a fatalistic – and unbiblical – understanding of God. They believe that whatever occurs must be God’s perfect will, so there is no need for us to get concerned about anything or do anything.
This is where my no comes in, because it betrays a faulty understanding of God’s sovereignty. Or more specifically, it betrays an imperfect and unbalanced understanding of biblical teaching. It in fact takes one biblical truth and pits it against other biblical truths. While the sovereignty of God is taught throughout Scripture, that is not the only truth we find there.
We also find the truth that God calls us to act on his behalf; that he expects us to do our bit; and that if we will not be salt and light as he calls us to be, then his will is not being carried out on earth as it is in heaven. God for some strange reason has chosen to work through us. He has decreed that part of the way that his job gets done on planet earth is by means of his people.
Of course he does not need any one of us to accomplish his purposes. He could do it all himself if he wanted. But he has so arranged things that you and I are to be up to our ears in work for the Kingdom. We have been given enormous responsibilities, and God expects us to do our part, and not sit on our tails thinking we have nothing to do.
Everywhere in the Bible God tells his people to do things for him and his Kingdom. There are hundreds, probably thousands of commands, exhortations and orders found in Scripture which we are meant to carry out. There is no thought anywhere in Scripture that we are to just sit around and expect God to do everything for us.
Instead, he chooses to work in and through us. So we all have a job to do; we all have our Christian responsibilities to perform; and we all must be busy with the work of the Kingdom. As Jesus instructed us, we are to ‘occupy till he comes’. We are to keep busy with the tasks he has given us.
This is certainly true when it come to obvious things like evangelism and discipleship. God could have done all this directly himself had he so chosen. But he instead has entrusted us with these great tasks, with these vitally important responsibilities.
And he also orders us to be salt and light in a very needy world. We are to work with God to resist evil and promote righteousness. We don’t just sit back and smile at every new inrush of evil. We seek God’s broken heart on all this, and agree to work with him to stop its spread.
Imagine if Wilberforce got some of these comments when he was battling the slave trade: “Hey Wilby, just lighten up. Don’t you know that God is in control? Why get so hot and bothered about all this. You need to let go and let God. He will work it all out. You can’t take the place of God.”
Of course that sort of attitude, if accepted, would have meant that we would still have slaves today in the West. Blacks would still be treated as second class citizens. It is a very good thing indeed that Wilberforce did not listen to these perhaps well-intentioned but gravely mistaken brethren.
Imagine what the Jews in Auschwitz would have thought if Christians in America or England simply said, “Hey, don’t get so agitated about Hitler. God is sovereign. You need to just trust God. This is not a physical war but a spiritual battle. Just let God work things out.”
The truth is, such an attitude would not have emptied the concentration camps nor halted the Nazi terror advance. Indeed, we would all be speaking German right now if that silly attitude prevailed. It was not a resigned fatalism that saved the Jews and won the peace, but Allied tanks.
Imagine if these comments came through when discussing the threat of militant Islam and a nuclear-armed rogue Iranian state. Well, these comments are coming – right now. As I try to alert people of this very real danger, I am still getting Christians – and not necessarily just Calvinists – coming back with what is almost a cheap cliche: “Yea, but God is on the throne. Nothing to get worried about.”
There is everything to be concerned about here. Freedom and democracy, as imperfect as they may be, are at stake. They are always worth fighting for. If lazy Christians want to sit back and allow the Islamists to take over the free West, that is up to them.
I however will fight this with all the ability God has given me. In the same way I will fight on all the other battle fronts which we face. And I will fight on all levels: political, social, legal, cultural and spiritual. I will pray like mad about these things, but I will also work like mad about these things.
I will take the attitude of Augustine when he said: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” The interplay of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is ultimately a mystery. We don’t really know how it all works. But Scripture insists upon both elements of the equation.
God will certainly do his part. The question is, will we do our part?
Postscript: Also related to this discussion is an issue I am often queried about. People will ask, “But could it be that God is using the Muslims (or the radical homosexuals, or the whoever or whatever) as a means of judging the West, or the church? My answer is again yes and no, but that must be the stuff of another full-length article at least. So stay tuned.