As noted before (most recently here and here) I have been thinking a lot about the Sovereignty of God/Free Will dilemma and the different worldviews that grow out of our understanding of this mystery. Today I want to explore what Sovereignty of God would look like if seen through Jesus.
Or to rephrase the topic, what kind of king is Jesus and how would he rule?
Before we start, I must admit to a strong presumption that colors everything I see. Namely I believe that Jesus is the most clear picture we have of the Creator King. To see Jesus is to see the Creator (John 14:9). Or has St. Paul wrote, Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
Practically this means that when I seek to know what God the Creator is like, I will look to Jesus as revealed through the four Gospels rather than looking toward the Old Testament or the letters of the New Testament. I know that this method of theology is frown upon by some people…but at this point in my life, this is where I fall. 🙂
Returning to the topic at hand, let us chat a bit about how Jesus would rule. To do this, let us create two lists with words that we would associate with how we would think Jesus would rule and how we would think we humans would rule.
While we could add more words to each list, I think the pattern has been established. Namely the way in which we humans try to rule is vastly different than the way in which Jesus would rule. Knowing this we can now shift our thinking to the way in which we see the Sovereignty of God as typically promoted by evangelical church in the USA. (Sovereignty, by the way, is just another way of saying Kingdom – as in, how one would rule?)
Sovereignty of God (i.e. the typical view of how God rules within the world)
- Control – God is in control of everything; nothing happens within the universe that he doesn’t allow
- Coercion – Coercion is the practice of persuading someone to do something by user force and/or threats. Under the typical view of the Sovereignty of God, we see a God who threatens humanity with eternal damnation if they don’t follow his rules. Furthermore, humanity and creation doesn’t really have a choice in the matter as God controls every detail of life, including whether or not someone choices to obey or not.
- Intervention – Under this view, supernatural events (i.e. healings, miracles, etc.) are typically seen as interventions by God within the world to make sure things continue to go the way he wants it wants it to.
Sovereignty of Jesus (i.e. the rule of the Creator seen through the person of Jesus)
- Consent – To consent to something means giving permission for something to happen. It is the opposite of having control, for rather than trying to micro-manage everything one gives away one’s power and authority to others. This attribute can be further broken down into two sub-groups:
- Natural Law – Gravity, weather patterns, atoms, plant life, etc… The typical Sovereignty of God view states that since God has complete control over everything, then the weather patterns we are see are directed by God as is the movement of the smallest ant or bacteria. Under the Consent view, the Creator has granted power and authority to the forces of nature to act according to set parameters. For example, gravity always pulls smaller items of mass towards those of greater mass (i.e. things fall downward). Rain, as Jesus said, falls on the just and the injustice (Matthew 5:45) and towers will fall, sometimes killing people and sometimes not (Luke 13:1-5).
- Human Freedom (Free Will) – To have love, one must be willing to face rejection. A view of God who has absolute control does not allows for true love, which is one of that view’s greatest weakness. The Sovereignty of Jesus is a rule that consents to give away the power of choices to humanity and creation. The ant can make a decision about where to go just like a human can choice to love Jesus or not. The four Gospels shows this consent beautifully when you see Jesus gave up control over his mission to 12 guys who, at times, truly screwed up. Yet rather jumping in and taking back control, Jesus work with them and taught them a better way to live.
- Participation – This is one of the most powerful attribute of a kingdom ruled by Jesus. We know from multiple sources that Jesus was the Creator God who entered into this world as a human. This shows us a ruler who didn’t just set up the universe and then walk away. Rather, we have a Creator who enters into this crazy, screwed up world to show us the way forward. He didn’t give up on us and take back control over every detailed (a fear based action, btw). Rather he joined himself to us in an act of love.
- Mediation – Mediation by definition is the act of stepping into a dispute in order to resolve it. Jesus is like this. There are times when he steps in mediate the actions of humanity and the laws of nature. This is what miracles are – mediations by the grace of God in which he in, through, and around the laws of nature and the consent of humanity to resolve the issue at hand.
If I’m completely honest with myself, I can see the draw of having a God who is in complete control over the good and bad things of this crazy world. I can also see the benefits of having a God who controls and coerce me into doing what I do – not to mention having a God who will step in and fix things when the details get a bit off. Under this view, I – Josh Hopping – really don’t have much to do outside of living. If something goes great, awesome! I’m glad God was there. If things go haywire, great! It’s not my fault so talk to God.
I know that this may be a bit critical of the typical Sovereignty of God worldview…yet I believe it captures the essence of that view. Yes, the control and coercion bits can be dampened down a bit with Scripture verses talking about humanity’s choices and actions. This is what Arminianism tries to do in reaction to Calvinism. There is also a neo-Calvinism movement within the USA that tries to dampen things down a bit while staying true to the five-points. However, I would argue that all these sub-movements are nothing more than, to use a common phrase, lipstick on a pig. They try to make the best of a bad foundation rather than solving the underlining issue.
I fully recognize that embracing a consenting, participating and mediating Creator is scary. Living in a world in which bad things happen for no reason – where we have an enemy who is trying to destroy us (i.e. satan and the forces of evil) can be daunting. It can mess your mind and make you wonder how anything could ever happen….
This is why we have the Scriptures and why we have Jesus. The Scriptures give us a story into which we can join; a story that has a beginning, middle and an end. A story of the Creator participating in and among his creation where he does NOT leave his children alone. Rather he binds himself to humanity with promises that he will and has kept. We don’t have to be scared because we know the end of the story even though we may not know all the details.
Jesus. We can never forget or have enough focus on Jesus. He is the reason we can keep walking. He is the Creator God who enter into our world so that we would know that we serve a Creator King who understands the pain, heartache and troubles of this screwed up world. Jesus is our High Priest to whom we can go when times are hard – when our children is in pain, when our life is out of control, when evil seems to have won – and he will receive us with mercy, grace and love (Hebrew 4:14-16).
Jesus, a consenting, participating and mediating Creator who loves and understands each of us individually. Powerful stuff.
[box]For those who are curious, a lot of the material in this post was pulled from my class notes with Dr. Brad Jersak at St Stephen’s University. His book, A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel, also explores this topic a bit. From what I can tell, the view of a consenting, participating and mediating Creator is the view of the Eastern Orthodox Church who did not embrace the view of St. Augustine like the Western church did. (St. Augustine laid the foundation for the controlling, coercing, and intervening view of God that has dominated Christianity within Europe.) [/box]