A Problem with Man's Sovereignty

I cheerfully affirm the sovereignty of God in all things, even man's salvation. Some feel that this is a major problem, absolving me of the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel (which charge I categorically deny) and making man into some sort of fatalistic robot (which charge I, along with the apostle Paul also deny— see Romans 9:19–20).

The sticky point about sovereignty is that it is exclusive. If God is sovereign, then all things must be under his control. There is no such thing as some sort of "limited sovereignty." If it is limited, then he is no longer sovereign. Imagine an employer telling an employee, "You have complete freedom to do whatever you want, but you must run all decisions past me for approval." Similarly, if God must have his decrees approved by man's "free will," he is not sovereign, man is.

The sovereignty of man is not a problem for many. In fact, many build their presentation of the Gospel upon this assumption. However, this point of view seems to fail to take into consideration God's judgment of the wicked. Most would affirm the existence and reality of eternal punishment (in fact, this is why man should choose God— he should evaluate heaven and hell, and pull the lever and vote for the right choice). However, when man is sovereign, we are left with a bad taste in our mouth when God condemns people to eternal punishment just for making the wrong choice. And why can't they make the right choice later when they know better (as they stand before God)?

A few years ago, I was listening to a series of books on tape. The series was a fictional depiction of what might happen following the Rapture. For the most part, the events seemed to line up well with the biblical data. However, the writers adopted the sovereignty of man as the determining factor in salvation, which fact was repeatedly emphasized throughout the series of books. I endured this for the first several books, but I finally reached the breaking point when the Antichrist was standing before Jesus Christ.

I was appalled as the writer depicted Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, almost apologetic as he consigned the Beast to eternal punishment. I don't remember the exact wording anymore, but it was something to the effect of "You had so much potential, if only you had chose to serve me instead of Satan." At this point, I turned the tape off because I was so steamed!

The judgment of the wicked is a huge problem for those who place man's will over God's sovereignty. God is not glorified by judging the wicked; he is embarrassingly apologetic. This is nothing like how the Bible describes God's judgment. Consider Revelation 16:4–7.

The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood.
And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, "Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!"
And I heard the altar saying, "Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!"

In conclusion, the thinking that man's will is sovereign simply cannot explain how God is glorified by his judgment of the wicked. God is glorified both by those whom he saves and by those whom he judges.


Chris Anderson said…
I just came across this concept in my studying on worship, Mark (not so much of sovereigny, but of the judgment of the wicked glorifying God). The author pointed out that in heaven, God is worshipped precisely because He judges the wicked (Rev. 11:13, 17-18, etc.)

There is no blushing in heaven over God's judgment of the wicked. Instead, there are hymns praising Him for it. Not exactly the sort of hymn we sing, is it? Seriously, we don't like to think of God this way, so we make a god in our own image.