The Knowledge of the Holy: The Sovereignty of God
[Editor’s Note: This is a 23-Day Series exploring different aspects of God’s nature and personality, using Tozer’s “The Knowledge of the Holy” as a discussion starter. You can read the introduction of the series here.]
What should we think about a God who is infinite, eternal, unchanging, and all-knowing? Do we think that He can be opposed? Can anyone stop Him from having His way? At the end of our time in the Knowledge of the Holy, after hearing about all of the attributes of God and delving into His nature, we come to the place where we have to consider, who can resist His rule? And if someone can, how is that possible? These are the thorny questions that must be answered in order to understand God’s sovereignty.
God’s sovereignty is His ability to reign without being resisted. This by necessity means that God is totally and 100 percent free. We know very little of being totally free. We as Westerners insist that we are free, but forget to quickly in our inter-connected world that the use of our freedoms results in conflict. This conflict proves that we are not truly free, not totally unencumbered by resistance. God has a kind of freedom not dependent on anyone else.
To understand this, we don’t need to look any further than Psalm 115:3: “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that he pleases.” The implication is that God, in His greatness, has no one who can resist Him. And because of this, obviously, things go the way that He chooses. Tozer takes the time to highlight two questions that rear their heads whenever we begin to discuss the fact that God reigns: 1) Why do things that God hates exist if God reigns? and 2) Can humans resist God’s will and if not what are the implications of that?
The first question is easy to answer. Tozer spends time comparing Christianity to another religion where there are two gods, one good and one evil. They both exist and are unleashing good and evil simultaneously. They are both gods, but neither are sovereign for one resists the activities of the other. No such thing exists in Christianity. Instead, we can look at the Bible and see that God has permitted sin to exist. Because sin exists, it changes the world in a way that God would not have it. In His wisdom, this is a choice that God has made, even if we don’t understand why. Some day we will and we will glorify Him for it.
The second question is more complicated. If God is sovereign, then isn’t every human only doing what God wants? And if that is true, then how can man be held accountable for something God willed him to do? Here Tozer delves into the Calvinism/Armenianism debate and tries to reconcile both camps with an analogy of tourists aboard an ocean liner. The people aboard have freedom to choose what they do, but the ocean liner will still depart and arrive at the same place. Tozer paints God as in charge of the macro events and leaving the micro events up to our personal decisions.
And while I love Tozer and have grown greatly from reading Him, this is the one point where I disagree with Him. He seems to in fact almost verbatim recount an argument Paul anticipated: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:19-21).
Much could be said about this conversation and I would bet millions of hours have been spent on the internet debating these realities. I think a few things should and can be said: No man can come to the Lord unless the Lord is drawing Him (John 6:44), so God exercises His sovereignty here. And yet, somehow in the mystery of the ages, God calls us to make a choice to follow Him and holds us accountable for not choosing Him (Matthew 7:13-14). God isn’t being unfair or evil, He is sovereignly moving to save us from a fate we couldn’t save ourselves from. There will be punishment for those who don’t choose. And some how, through the mystery, God will be sovereign and we will be the benefactors.
I do agree with Tozer though about the need to choose Jesus. This reliance on God’s sovereignty can never produce apathy. Instead, it should produce great confidence in God. We have a God with the power to move the hearts of men. He doesn’t just try to convince men unsuccessfully, He moves them. And because we serve a God as powerful and free as our God is, we should be bold and vibrant in our walk and our message. Jesus has the power to affect the hearts and wills of men. This is good news we must take to heart.
That’s my takeaway today. What’s yours? Leave a comment so we can all grow together!
Day 22: The Sovereignty of God
Day 23: The Open Secret