Monday, July 09, 2012

Sovereignty and Mercy

I come from a theological perspective that is commonly (at least among this group!) described as a high view of God’s sovereignty. When I read the Scriptures and consider issues in life, everything is viewed through that lens: government/politics, the natural world, the church, salvation. While virtually no Christian would deny God’s sovereignty over some things, it is much harder to accept it when it comes to natural disasters or “bad things happening to good people”. It is exponentially harder to accept when it comes to salvation as it requires us to bend the knee and declare that salvation is entirely the work of God. In the “big picture” nothing really trumps salvation. Eternity doesn’t hinge on how you vote or the balance in your bank account or which denomination you belong to. Everything comes down to whether you are justified by faith through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit and by the atoning sacrifice of Christ or whether you find yourself before the judgment seat of God with nothing but your vain works and sin.

A high and proper view of the sovereignty of God is a good thing, a crucial reminder of the relative positions of God versus man. That view can also lead to an unhealthy fatalism if not coupled with an equally high view of God’s merciful and loving nature. One of the potential pitfalls of this focus on sovereignty is that the other attributes of God are overlooked or put on the theological backburner.

The problem seems to tie back to an overly anthropomorphized view of God, or in other words we project our human limitations and failings on God. While different people have different personalities, which explains the plethora of personality tests to identify which personality traits are more prevalent in certain people, where some people are more empathetic or stronger leaders or whatever, God is 100% of all of His attributes. He is not more sovereign than loving, He is not more just than merciful. He is completely and perfectly all of those and more.

A balanced view keeping God’s mercy and love in harmony with his justice and holiness and sovereignty makes it easier to deal with issues like children who die in infancy. What happens to a child who dies at birth? If we believe, as I do, that unique life begins at conception, what about unborn children who die in miscarriage or are tragically murdered through abortion having never heard the Gospel? Rather than some tortured attempt to form a doctrine where the Bible is silent, we can rest in God’s sovereignty and His mercy, knowing that whatever He does will be the right thing to do. I would rather we devote ourselves to embracing God as merciful, just, holy Soveriegn than trying to provide possible false and empty reassurance.

Of course this goes the other way. Many people seem fixated on God’s love. Amen! In doing so we must be cautious to view God’s love as a reflection also of His sovereignty and His holiness and justice. The divine and perfect judgment of God is one of the highest expression of His love as is His incredible mercy! A God who is loving but not holy, merciful but not just, is simply not the God of the Bible.

God is infinitely more complex than we can understand but a good place to start is to keep all of His attributes on equal footing.

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