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Sovereignty // Eugene Cho

This post is a part of the Sovereignty of God Blog Series going on throughout the months of July and August. You can read about the series and see a schedule of the posts here. You can subscribe to all the posts here.

Today’s post is from Eugene Cho. Eugene is the executive director of a global grassroots movement to fight global poverty called One Day’s Wages.  He is also the founding & lead pastor of Quest Church and the founder and executive director of Q Cafe in Seattle, Washington. Eugene has been one of my favorite bloggers since I started blogging myself.

storm clouds

Let me attempt to postulate some of my beliefs about God’s sovereignty. I have been called by some as a borderline heretic for my views. Like many of you, I’m simply trying to understand…

For me, God’s sovereignty is directly linked to God’s love. We often see the cross of Jesus Christ and the sacrament of communion as beautiful expressions of God’s love and while it’s hard to argue against those powerful truths, I would contend for another possibility as the ultimate sign of God’s love.

Creation is a beautiful reflection of God’s character. And in that creation, he gives to humanity what I often interpret as the greatest expressions of His love: Freedom or Free Will.

What’s even more amazing is that God gives us the gift of freedom knowing the possibility that humanity could sin and rebel. For me, this is astounding love.

In giving the gift of Free Will, I believe God actually chooses to “relinquish” power. He still remains in control because power or authority isn’t stripped away from him but in His love, benevolence, and grace, God chooses to give the gift of ‘free will’ to humanity.

In essence, I believe that God is the one True God and sovereign over the entire cosmos and all that is within it. God creates man and woman and gives them this profound gift of free will & freedom and in so doing, chooses to place Himself within the framework that honors the true integrity of free will. In as much as he doesn’t violate the integrity of free will, God exercises his now “self-limited sovereignty” to work in, for, and through circumstances and situations as He pleases – for His glory, purposes, and plans.

While I can write so much more, let me refrain and seek to answer the one question one may naturally ask:

How is God’s power and authority limited by this “self-limited sovereignty?”

My answer: In the end, God will accomplish and fulfill everything. But in the process, I believe He will honor the integrity of free will and exercise this “self limited sovereignty.”

Some time ago, one of my parishioners asked me a question that in various forms have been asked of theologians and pastors:

  • Question: “Can God do anything?
  • My answer: “Yes, God can do anything.”
  • Question: “Can God create a stone He can’t move?”
  • My answer: “Yes, God can create a stone He can’t move?”
  • Question: “Then, how can you believe God is all powerful?”
  • My answer: “Because while God can do all things and can create a stone – philosophically speaking – He can’t move, He can then create (or send) Someone that can move the stone…” In the end, God will accomplish His purposes and plans.

Have I thoroughly confused you? (Think John 3:16)

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  • Rand

    Loved the last bit about the stone that can’t be moved.

  • Jonathan Brink

    Dig it Eugene. And, you’re not a heretic either. ;-P

  • Rob

    You ever read any Greg Boyd on this topic? This sounds similar to his thoughts, and it’s a way of thinking that I’m starting to resonate with more and more.

  • ric wild

    So far the most theologically intriguing contribution to the sovereignty series.

  • tam


  • Tyler

    I think you bring valid arguments and reasoning here Eugene. Something I’ve always struggled with is the notion that God is even more sovereign if he gives up some of his sovereignty for others to have free will. That part I have a hard time understanding completely. More so, I think God is sovereign if he uses his power to be sovereign. What do you all think?

  • mikesgateway

    Okay, so just to throw a wrench to make us all wrestle…which is what this blog is doing right? What do we do with Pharaoh? (God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he wouldn’t let God’s people go) Jeremiah? Jeremiah says to God, while imprisoned and likely to be killed, “You took me by force, I chose none of these” (literal translation, you RAPED ME). Jonah? (fish anyone?) Hosea? (marry a prostitute anyone?) I think there are countless places in the Bible where God has trumped free-will many, many times in the Bible, so what do we do with that if Free-Will is such a right that He will not infringe upon. I think God can make a burrito so hot that He can’t eat it, but can at the same time choose to eat the burrito that is so hot that He can’t eat it. He is after all God. I think as fallen, depraved creatures we are GREEDY over the notion that we can’t be controlled and that our right as a human trumps the creator…does the jar say to the jar maker, why am I like this? No! Hope this gets posted, hope this causes people to wrestle with Him….we are just a created being, and I think through depravity think that we are much more deity who can demand free-will, but I think there is evidence that it isn’t an a right forever….His plan, trumps ours. Period. Found this blog through a twitter follower, hope to have more discussions…(i won’t even open the pre-destination, only those who know Jesus come to the Father, those who know Jesus were called by the Father first debate, or maybe I just did!)

    • Tyler

      Devils advocate here Mike…what about the verses in the Old Testament that talk about God “changing his mind” or “relenting” of something. Wouldn’t that speak to a God that then changes his will?

    • Preston Nesselrotte

      Mike – Is God more interested about showing mankind how powerful he is or how loving he is?? Jesus said “When you see me you see the Father and “I and the Father are one”. In other words, when we see Christ HE IS the exact representation of God. When I see Christ I don’t ever get the clear picture you seem to be painting here and that is Jesus was all about showing us how powerful he is. Yes, Christ did display his power through the Holy Spirit – but most of the time it was done to point us right back to how loving he truly is (ie. healing, raising people from the dead, etc).

      If God has so much love that he wishes to share that with other created moral beings then we must ask ourselves this: “Can real genuine love be chosen or coerced?”. The thing to remember here is even if we don’t realize that God is forcing certain people to love him (elect) and others to hate him (damned), the bigger issue is that God knows in his own heart and mind that he is forcing people to love him and in the end this is not real/genuine love. Love must be freely chosen, never forced (that’s rape). Freewill is necessary

      As in the case of Pharaoh (and other certain events), I would never deny that God uses providential power to force certain events to come to pass – That’s why they are so unique whenever they are mentioned in the scriptures. But this is the exception and not the rule! Majority of the time God allows freewill to exist. However, there are moments in the bible whereby God will providentially cause someone or something to occur. Again, it is the exception and not the rule – this is why they are considered so unique or special when mentioned in scripture.

      God is indeed sovereign, but I am one that believes God is a lot more dynamic and free, and not in a fixed box like many reformed believers tend to put him in. As I like to say “what’s wrong with freewill”? Are you telling me God is intimidated by a little ol’freewill?”, Is God really needing to be painted as some micro-manager who must control every minute detail of his creation, or is God a little bit bigger and more dynamic than that??? In my opinion, it seems to me those who object or deny freewill are really the one’s who are limiting God’s power, and placing him in a very small box.

      BTW – Thanks Tyler for sharing Eugene’s comments here. Sounds like someone I can finally agree with on this subject ;-)

  • Kurt

    “In giving the gift of Free Will, I believe God actually chooses to “relinquish” power. He still remains in control because power or authority isn’t stripped away from him but in His love, benevolence, and grace, God chooses to give the gift of ‘free will’ to humanity.”

    I think your connection between relinquishing power and love is spot on. Can we truly love someone and still hold all of the power? Of course not. While some might be comfortable with pressing the mystery button here saying that our relationship with God cannot be compared to human love I am not. Throughout the bible God seeks to speak in analogies of human love when speaking of His relationship with us…He steps in our direction through inspired Scripture and reveals His love through analogies we can understand.

    God seems secure with relinquishing His power to be in relationship with us…why cant we rest securely in that?

    • Preston W. Nesselrotte

      Very well said Kurt!

  • Eugene Cho

    thanks tyler for hosting the dialogue. i’ll be cross posting this on my blog in the next couple days.

    i don’t have the energy to respond to the good questions that were raised via the dialogue here but want to comment on the God hardened Pharoah’s heart bit. Mainly because it’s one of the most common verses used to support God stripping free will.

    in my reading, i have to remind myself not to isolate a verse outside the larger meta narrative – both of the narrative of the entire Scriptures but also of that specific context.

    That verse by itself is pretty clear…God…hardened…his…heart. But in the larger context, God sent Moses (and others) to Pharoah on numerous occasions to repent. Pharoah had the capacity to choose to repent but chose not to…

    and thus, God hardened his heart.

  • David

    Far from being confused, it’s great to now have some way more eloquent words to use when trying to explain this concept.

  • Joe Louthan

    Curious: where in Scripture does it say that God gave us free will?

    And if so, how do we deal with:

    Romans 9:15-16 (ESV) For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

    Is that not make it perfectly clear that it does not depend on our will but God will choose whom He will have mercy on?

  • stephen

    i’ve been thinking this same thing for years and every time i spoke up about this, i got blank stares… I knew i couldn’t be the only one with those views. Maybe it’s because until recently i was going to a notorious reformed church not too far from the q cafe. :) Thanks for the post. well written and really helpful to see my thoughts articulated by someone else!

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  • mikesgateway

    Joe I agree, I think when we get bogged down in “our rights” we begin to become small g gods. I ultimately don’t get a say as to why I’m saved and why others aren’t. God is the God here, not me. The taking away of Free Will doesn’t make God “unloving” or “coercive”, He after all is God, capital G. In fact, Jesus’ ministry touched on (often) the idea that there are NO LEVELS in His church, Pharisees were often seen as “above” others because of their righteousness but Jesus fought this, too, there is no free or slave, male or female in the church, meaning, we are all on the same level. Anytime we add “I chose”, “I did”, etc, we believe that our “righteousness” give us a one up on others who haven’t done the same thing, but God said that our Righteousness is like dirty rags…nothing I do that is good is because of me, especially not moving towards a God who is my enemy (whom I hated before I was saved). The underlying RAGE in our hearts towards God keeps us from moving towards Him without Him causing it to happen. He gets to have mercy on whom He has mercy…elect (our politicians don’t elect themselves) and predestined (meaning a destiny chosen for us) all speak to God’s plan despite our will. Predestined doesn’t mean He saw what we would do and said “okay I predestine you because I see you are going to do it anyway.”…rather, “He has chosen certain parts of our stories, salvation is one of them and “good works for us to work though” is another….

    I love my child, and I am going to do everything possible to make sure he goes to college…in some ways, I will force it through any means possible, and I won’t feel guilty about that, it is the best thing for him…I also take him in for shots, (about to do that again this week), it has already been chosen for him, he gets no choice, is that mean? coercive? unloving? No, it is ensuring that he will be healthy later. Our earthly relationships are all SHADOWS of what is true between the Father and us…He loves us so much that He is willing to take us into surgery to have cancer removed, even if we dont want to go to surgery.

    Great debate, hope it continues, and continues with a friendly tone. Sometimes text can be read in ways that were intended….

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