In my book, Good God: The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace, I tackle one of the most widely held false notions about God – his sovereignty.
For some time the church has held to this idea that God is divinely controlling all things – the bad and the good – and that our lives are the result of his choice, will, and dominion. Although this might sound spiritual, it’s actually a form of Gnostic teaching and rooted in pagan mythology. The Gnostics believed that “god” was both light and dark; that is that he embodied both good and evil. In fact, they taught that the father was “dark” and the son was “light” and that the son came to save us from the father. This is why John writes in 1 John 1:5, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” This would have been revolutionary to the Gnostic people. John proclaimed that the God of the true gospel is all light and that there is no darkness – no confusion, nothing hidden, no ill intention. From his biblical understanding, in Christianity, we understand that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all one in the same – God in three persons. Gnosticism taught their separate identities, much like the various deities that dwelt together on the Greek’s Mt Olympus.
Today, this Gnostic teaching, has resurfaced in Western theology through the doctrine of extreme sovereignty. I believe one of the reasons why sovereignty teaching (and hyper-Calvinism) is so attractive is because of its removal of personal responsibility on the life of the believer. As Christians, many are frustrated today by the continual devaluation of personal responsibility in our society. According to today’s world, crime is due to guns and not criminals, sexual perversion is due to nature and not sin, the list goes on and on. So removed is the idea of personal responsibility that in several countries in Europe pedophiles actually received disability benefits. But it’s important that we see that this loss of personal responsibility does not exist only in the world today – it’s also in the church. Through the doctrine of sovereignty, adherents distance themselves from the power of their own decisions and behavior, by claiming things like God “has them in this season”, “is leading them through a desert time”, or “trying to teach them something”. Cloaked in spiritual language, religious minded individuals unable to come to grip with their own depravity, cling to the idea that God is in control of the outcome of their lives, and hide from the reality that, outside of the impact of others’ freewill and the result of a fallen world, their lives are the summation of the choices they make.
This is the exact same belief system that Job was rebuked for in the last chapter of the book of Job. Job, a man who faced massive amounts of suffering and loss, mistakenly thought that God was the source of his pain. Job, overconfident in his own righteousness, was unable to see how his fear and pride (two of the biggest themes in the book of Job) affected his life. He was also completely unaware of the existence of Satan. Job saw all things (light and dark/good and evil) as existing in the Godhead and would rather blame God than himself, nature, or the enemy. But in the end of the book, upon finally seeing God face-to-face, Job saw the error of his ways, repents and says, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
In reality, God’s goodness is displayed in the freedom to choose that he bestows upon his children. Personal responsibility should actually empower us, not condemn us. When we realize that God is not the cause of our pain, it frees us to draw near to him, rely on his grace, and seek his guidance in our life. If the problems of life are God’s will for us, what hope do we have? But if God is really “for me”, then I can stand firm, resist the enemy’s advances, and walk in victory. This doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen, but if and when they do, I can rest in the knowledge that God is not the source of my pain.
Theology is simple, “If it’s good, it’s God. If it’s not, it’s not.”