Tuesday, November 18, 2008

sovereignty

OK, here's something to chew on: I've thought of this before, but in class today we were talking about this so it reminded me and helped me put it into a framework that makes this dichotomy easier to see.

So Christians who believe God is in control of everything have a difficult paradox with which to deal. If God is completely sovereign, if God is in control of everything that goes on in the world--even if we ignore the question of why bad things happen to good people (theodicy)--we still have the question of whether anything we do matters at all, and whether we should criticize the world as it is.

If God is in control, if God puts those in power that God wants in power, who are we to complain about it? Isn't what happens God's divine plan, so we just go along with it and submit to whatever that authority says? If we say anything else aren't we questioning God's sovereignty?

But most of us feel like this world is not perfect, is not the way God wants it (if we believe in a God). Christians say we're not of this world--we're citizens in the Kingdom of God--so that seems to implicate that we shouldn't worry about what happens in this world and just wait for the "next" one. What we do here, then, makes no difference. If we do what is "good," fine. But if we do what is "bad," God can make "good" come of it, so what's the difference? This of course also runs into problems in terms of beliefs in heaven and hell, because if everything we do is according to God's plan then why should we be blamed for it?

Either we have to believe in a God who would want horrible things to happen to people under oppressive governments, or we have to believe that God is not truly sovereign (so this dichotomy would have us believe).

This is a tough one, because if we speak prophetically against the "world" we are really speaking against God, who we say is in control of the world.

But if we support the unjust systems and power structures of the world, putting God's rubber stamp on them, we are supporting a very different God from the one presented in the Bible.

Is this really such a dichotomy, though? Maybe it's just our view of what it means for God to be "sovereign" that is skewed. Or maybe we don't understand God's kind of "control." We can say all we want about God bringing good out of bad situations, but that doesn't explain away the fact that some people's existence was made horrible, or ended prematurely, because God allowed something bad to happen in order to bring good out of it.

I believe in the prophetic voice, that the Kingdom of God is the blueprint laid on our hearts for an ideal world, and that it is that world toward which we can strive. Our actions do make a difference, because we can choose to live in the Kingdom of God right now (not just after we die), or we can choose to live in the dichotomy of submission or God-rejection. Bad things happen because of our and other people's poor choices, of choosing not to live into the Kingdom of God. I don't know why God made us in such a way that we find it more expedient to not live in the Kingdom of God, but apparently that's how we are.

I don't claim to understand this situation. And in many ways I'm angry about the way it's set up--it doesn't seem fair. Why should my great grandchildren be "punished" through neuroses I accidentally pass down through my child because of my (and my great-grandparents') poor choices? Why should bad things happen at all? Why can't we all see and know truth fully rather than in a clouded way?

I think it's OK to be angry with God, in such a way that we present our "grievances" and are honest with ourselves and with God about what's going on. That's what the Psalms and many other parts of the Bible are all about. God wants to be in relationship with us--sometimes in the Hebrew Scriptures God even changes God's "mind" after a prophet or someone requests it (I think of Abraham asking on behalf of Sodom). If God can change God's mind, doesn't that mean God isn't omnipotent or sovereign? I don't know, but it's in our scriptures!

How do you all come to terms with this paradox?

3 comments:

Barry Clemson said...

I don't see a paradox.

1) Take away free will and have God be totally in charge of everything and Have God totally determine everything that happens and you have a universe that is about as interesting as a five year old playing in a sandbox with toy trucks. I really don't thik that is the universe we have.

2) Give humans free will (including the ability to make really bad, even evil, choices) and a God who respects that and all else follows to get the universe we actually observe.

The God who respects our free will also has promised to be with and help all those who earnestly ask for that help.

My wife is a pastor and she likes to say (only half-joking) that George Bush did his job -- he set things up to elect Barack Obama.

Mrs. Chappy said...

I don't have any answers, but I do know that after experiencing some hardship and pain this last year I came to these questions again, almost as if a new believer trying to understand God's role in pain and "bad things" happening to me. And truthfully, I didn't come up with any definitive answers. What I did conclude, however, is that I do think God is sovereign, and though I may not understand now, or ever, I trust that God's hand is in my life and God sees the big picture that I don't. That may be blind faith, but it's what I hold on to when I can't understand in human terms.

Anonymous said...

Cherice, I get frustrated every time I hear someone say "God is in control." Does this mean God controlled Adam and caused him to sin? How can I believe God controlled what Adam's descendants did when Genesis says that God got so mad at them God drowned almost all of them?

I do believe, however, that God is in ultimate control, overall. But fortunately or unfortunately, I think I have control over whether I make good or bad choices.

Gr. Ralph