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Sovereignty // Justin Wise

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 Justin Wise. You can find Justin on his blog (Bedeviant) and on Twitter as well. Justin is currently attending Bethel Seminary and lives in Des Moines, Iowa. Justin has a great ability to deal with deep theological topics in a way that is accessible for everyone.

If you’ve ever done any thinking on the sovereignty of God, you know this to be a weighty issue. It’s a little more complex than asking, “How’s your day going?” or “What did you have for breakfast this morning?” Your perspective on this question can reveal a lot about what you think of God (and what he thinks about you, for that matter).

Even that word, “sovereignty,” has some weight to it, doesn’t it? For a word that does not appear in the canon of Scripture, sovereignty gives many a theologian doctrinal fits: What do we do with Hell? If God is all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing (a.k.a. ‘sovereign’) how can there be so much evil in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people? And on, and on…

Sovereignty, in my mind, is the freedom from any external control. In other words, one who is sovereign is free to call the shots: When they want, how they want, where they want, why they want.

In that way, I believe that God is the only True Sovereign that exists. In the same way that God is love, God is sovereign. The Uncreated One. The one who transcends all borders, boundaries, or limits. He exists ultimately and completely in himself–no strings attached.

While I believe God to be sovereign, I also believe him to be limited. A self-imposed limitation, but a limit nonetheless. When we see the person of Jesus, we see an infinite God bound by time, space, and flesh. We see the Word who spoke created order into existence being limited by the governing rules of creation that he put into place! Simply put, Jesus was held to the planet by gravity. Jesus got hungry, thirsty, tired, and even *gasp* irritated. Just like you, just like me.

So what do we do with a limitless being who imposes self-limitations? We could try and figure it out and define it. We could scrutinize and dissect and build complicated (and harmful) theologies around the concept of sovereignty. We might even tell others that the awful things that have happened to them are a bi-product of this limitless being’s sovereignty. However, I propose the only natural thing to do is to worship that being. They clearly exist on a different plane; that’s where I want to be.

What is more powerful? A being who has no limits or a being who has no limits and chooses limitation? I think the answer is clear. God, in his sovereignty, chose limits. Limits that bring you and me to life. Praise God!

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  • http://www.mattheerema.com Matt Heerema

    Interesting post. Indeed God limited himself when he “took on the likeness of sinful flesh”, other than that, do we have scripture that points to God limiting his sovereignty or power in other ways?

    • http://www.bedeviant.com Justin Wise

      Hey Matt.

      I was struck by your words, “other than that.” God taking on the sinful flesh of human beings … Is there a need to for anything “other than that”?

      Justin

      • http://www.mattheerema.com Matt Heerema

        Touche :)

        “other than that” = aside from a one-time, unique (if all-encompassing) event. Is this a regular habit of God’s?

  • http://www.witheringfig.com Stephen Hebert

    Thanks for your thoughts, Justin.

    I always get frustrated when people say that “sovereign” means “all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing.” That is not at all what “sovereign” means — we have other words for those attributes. Why do we naturally equate sovereignty with these ideas?

    Like Matt and Justin, I think of Jesus as God with self-imposed limitations. However (and also like Matt), I’m not sure that I see God limiting himself all of the time. Rather than impose some limits on God that probably don’t exist, I would rather think about what sovereignty really means. Just because God has supreme/ultimate power (sovereignty), does that mean that he chooses to use it all the time?

    Justin, like you, I am extremely glad that God chose to limit himself for a time so that I may live!

    • http://www.bedeviant.com Justin Wise

      Stephen

      I’m not sure I’m following you here. Could you clarify some things for me?

      1. How would you define sovereignty? It looks like you have a working definition as “supreme/ultimate power.” Is that correct? If so, how does that differ from “all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing”?

      2. In Jesus, God is necessarily limited all the time. If we believe the Word still exists in the flesh, seated at the right hand of the Father, that flesh is by definition is a necessary limitation. Wouldn’t that mean that God is limited at all times?

      Let me know what you think. Great discussion!

      • http://www.witheringfig.com Stephen Hebert

        Hey Justin,

        1. I tend to take the word sovereign at face value: “one who has ultimate or supreme power.” Having ultimate or supreme power does not necessarily imply “all-powerful” AND “all-knowing” AND “all-loving.” I’m not saying that those aren’t attributes of God. What I’m saying is that those aren’t part of his “sovereignty.” Sovereignty means that the buck stops with him, that the ultimate power rests in his hand; his authority is supreme; he is superior; he is the top of the food chain.

        Between omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, the closest, of course, would be “omnipotent.” But, I even find a distinction there. (Admittedly, I’m splitting hairs on that, and the distinction is probably not useful.)

        2. I’ll admit that I could be very wrong on this (and a lot of other things!), but I’ve always taken Jesus to be God limited when in human form. So, the question is this: “Is Jesus still in a human form…e.g., flesh and blood?” Yikes. I don’t know. My reading of 1 Corinthians 15 had always made me think “no.” BUT, it would be extremely arrogant for me to say that I really know what’s going on here. I consider all of that part of the mystery.

        In the end, I think of God as a God of possibility rather than a God of limitation. God can do whatever he wants and has the power to pull it off. While this may be a type of limitation (since he may indeed allow us to do what we want; he may allow for our free will), it feels very different from the sort of limitation that we’re talking about when we think of Jesus the human walking around the Galilee. On the other hand, God has made all things possible. And in spite of all of those universes of possibility running around out there, all things are working to his glory. To me, that is an extremely powerful God.

        Perhaps this is fallacious on my part; perhaps this is me trying to define who God is rather than letting God be who God is.

        Of course, I could be a total heretic…luckily Jesus loves heretics too!

  • http://www.shapingthespace.net David

    Awesome. Worship the limitless Being who has self-imposed limitations.

    Matt & Stephen asked what other limitations God imposed on Himself. I would think a big one is allowing sin to thrive until he chooses to end it, even though He can’t be in its presence. That’s mind boggling. He has had countless opportunities to wipe it out, but His love for His creation is another way He has limited Himself…by allowing His ability to wipe out sin be overruled by love. Wow.

    • http://www.bedeviant.com Justin Wise

      It is VERY mind boggling. I think it’s a reality that our non-resurrected minds cannot conceive!

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  • http://ash-nits.blogspot.com ash

    i very much agree w/ this…God knows all, but by choosing to limit himself, he is able to freely give us the gift of choice. it is certainly an idea that flies in the face of predestination….but it’s one that is important. w/o God’s limitation, we never have a value for sin…and the detrimental role it plays or perhaps conversely no value for the gifts, talents and successes we could experience. …..this also supports the idea of the Earth having a will. what i mean is God does not get up every day and say, “gravity, pull people toward the earth so they cannot float!”…no- when He created the earth- he set in motion for act and evolve as it does…and this is for better or worse in nature, in physics, the biological marvels we see or study.

    • http://www.bedeviant.com Justin Wise

      Bring it, girl. Have you ever studied quantum physics? That is some WILD stuff going on there. Just wild. Particles that know whether or not they are being observed and change their “shape” respectively. WHOA!

  • godsidekurt

    Well said! Made me think of this quote I heard in Seminary once;

    “What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?”

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