I love the thought that God is completely sovereign over all the details of my life – and the world. It is, to me, a great expression of His love and a necessary ground of my great confidence in Him. I need not fear any failure of mine, any sin, any weakness: God in love is sovereign, and He will not permit the purposes of His love to fail because of my sinfulness. When I proclaim the Gospel, I need not fear either my inadequacy or my sin, because God is in control, and He loves me and everyone else. I need not fear any power of man: if I am tortured, God’s love will have chosen – out of perfect, stunning, all-encompassing love that staggers all imagination, love tenderer than a mother’s love for her newborn child and I mean that! – every throb of pain, every firing of the nerves, every detail, great or small, whether of intensity or quality or anything else, so that I will receive it as by His tender lovingkindness. When I look around at the world, I know that the brightness and colors of the clouds at sunset, that every hair on every blade of grass, is what and where it is because of God’s express will, and that He has made it all – exactly and precisely how it is, down to the exact position and length of each hair on each blade of grass – because He loves me – He loves me in Christ, for none of this takes away from the fact that the Father glorifies the Son in all things and only the Son, because the Son of God died for me and I am a member of His body. If you are in Christ, you can insert your name everywhere that I have spoken of myself.
This is what the sovereignty of God means to me. It is, first and foremost, an expression of His love. It is the reason for my confidence. Because God is sovereign, I can see His love for me in everything that happens to me and everything that is around me, whether it is the kind word of a friend or a hard prison floor. I can see His love for me in everything, whether is the hugeness of the sky or the smallness of a grain of dust. His love will expose me to no temptation in which He will not provide a way of escape so that I can stand up under it, and to no suffering in which He will not provide a refuge in which I can find peace and joy. The sovereignty of God is the fullness of the love of God.
From my perspective, with regards to whether I am helped or afflicted, cozy or suffering, all things are ordained by the choice of the wisdom of the love of God. Thus, to use again the illustration of torture, God will have ordained all the details of my suffering, when and how and what and by whom and to what degree, out of perfect tenderest love. He will not have decreed that the perpetrator, that the human being who becomes the torturer, should sin or do these evil things. In love, it would be His will that it happens to me: it would not be His will that any human being – including the particular responsible one – sins or does these things.
I sometimes use the phrase ‘ordains to allow’ when speaking of God’s providence in evil, but I am rather uncomfortable with it. I rather hate it when people talk about God allowing evil things to happen. I could not believe more strongly in God’s loving hand directly behind my personal experience of evil or suffering: I could not believe more strongly that it is against God’s will that the evil-doer commits atrocities, however large or small.
I know that it may seem that I am contradicting myself to some people. However, I know these things and that they do not contradict each other. I hope that someone may be encouraged by seeing this clumsy attempt on mine to tell about these things. I know that it is encouraging whenever I see or read about someone who knows something of that love and that glory of which I also know something, however small, and that it is helpful to see (and to learn from) the attempts of others to tell about that love and that glory.
Copyright 2018 Raina Nightingale
6 thoughts on “The Sovereign Love of God”
Hi Raina, I’m Grant from Eclectic Orthodoxy. You invited me to have a discussion in the context of this essay.
That can be found here for any reading, and my comment in response to a poster called The Iron Knuckle there (rather than repeat it here 🙂 ) :
Following from that post, and what you post here, I would affirm both what you say in terms of His sovereignty as the ground of all Being, that all things in their entire existence flow from, are bound in and go towards Him, brought into being by His eternal Act of Creation, and all the complex dance of all things together in response to the call from nothing is enfolded in that eternally dynamic Act which would for us be providentially acting in and through all things. So that nothing occurs without His allowance, including the temporary allowance of death’s complex effects in creation (and on ourselves), including or rather is His providence ordering in relation to our fallen situation without in anyway detracting from our and all creation’s freedom of being which is both it’s given existence and it’s continuous call into being. And I fully affirm at His sovereignty is that of love, God is love, and both His creation and that providential ordering (which is part of the greater dynamic dance of creation from, with, in and to it’s Creator, which is itself being drawn in towards the deeper and eternal dance of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit). are nothing less than His love being both given and expressed superabundantly and without reservation all us all, and all things.
I would though (assuming I read you correctly) as it my response to The Iron Knuckle not call the suffering itself an expression of God love, nor His will, both rather as there, God’s love and call into being, to bring all us and all things into full love and full freedom of being and life, allows temporarily as part of that positive creation for creation’s faltering movement in and towards Him to falter in it’s free response and turn to non-being, bringing the effect of death and sin (which is the turn to non-being). But this effect is not as said there, of God’s will nor His creative gift, it only for a time enables it, but since the gifts of God are without repentance and His purposes for all things are love and freedom with Him (and the very response inhibits full freedom and life and love under the tyranny of death) He will without ever effecting the created, freedom of existence we have (thus free-will to an extent, since we cannot see clearly or know the good clearly now, we are not free, and under the tyranny of death, lacking full freedom, and can only be free through the Son from death and sin) to response freely as we can to Him, but will work through all things to liberate us and bring us to Him (and has done this with and centred in Christ, uniting us to Him in the Incarnation and by death destroying death, already and will bring all creation to full freedom through the Resurrection).
In this I would say that God rather is working through all things, including the terrible effects of evil which remain ever against His will directly, and opposes Him and indeed is His enemy, death being the last enemy, defeated in Christ, and one that will be destroyed. But though God can and does work all things to His purpose and will bring about His good purposes despite that evil (clearly seen in the Cross) such events remain evil, and are not of God, death having nothing and not deriving from Him whatsoever. Rather, as ever seen with Christ, God works through and overcomes these evils within and without, in-spite of it and the futility that entraps ourselves, our beings and minds and all creation, being in all things united to Christ, and He in us to bring us and deliver us through the shadows of death, and no matter how far we confusedly run and what due to the complex dance of creation befalls us, as it like us is fallen and given it’s free scope of being that could lead to many fallen events both man-made or not, and is part of our own hope of full salvation to being (we are never saved alone, but only with part of and with all others, and all creation in Christ to the Father, and can only be fully our true selves that God calls us to be with all others also being their true selves in union with Christ, with creation freed from futility).
Because of that allowance of freedom to respond and be drawn into liberation freely, in the context of death’s shadow, much is allowed to happen in so many ways, not from Him at all, but no matter what He is within us and is working through all things, even the most terrible of things to bring all things through, overcoming all the terrible hurt, pain, suffering, and isolation, reconciling all things to Himself in Christ Jesus, and all things to each other, providential ordering bring Christ at work to deliver us from all evil, and free us from death, and into full freedom and life, into His absolute love, until death is swallowed by Life, and we are brought out and beyond it, to stand with Him, as He is and see Him clearly, death, the great enemy of the Lord being destroyed by fading into the nothingness it is, and God’s purposes in Christ all being achieved.
Indeed, nothing can separate us from His love in Christ, not life nor death, not powers, or principles, not anything in creation, His love will never fail nor achieve the purpose to which it called all things.
I would rather say, He is in and with us (and indeed has been absolutely by joining Himself to in our full humanity) and both takes on and is with us in the suffering that we hit, and that it can never remove us from His love or it’s saving power which works through even these evil things. However such things are not from Him, they are allowed, as creation is allowed to be fallen for a time, to allow death to oppose and damage His creation for a time (for our temporal perspective anyhow) but death remains His enemy. But it is an enemy that has no existence of it’s own, rather only an effect of a confused turn and misunderstanding of and towards God, and He has already and eternally overcome it in Christ, defeating death by death and swallowing up by Life in the Resurrection, and within us brings all things out of it as more than conquers to share in that Victory and towards salvation from it’s hold, overcoming it and bringing us through it’s storms until the flood passes as His glory fills the Earth dismissing it’s shadows. It’s Him with us even in it’s depths, having overcome it, and because of the Incarnation we can never be separated from Him or His love, and He has and (for is in time) will liberate us from all effects and hurts of death, drawing us through and out of death, to Himself, and healing and reconciling and liberating all things.
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This makes a lot of sense to me.
It’s quite impossible to say everything we mean exactly as we mean, and as the full revelation is not clear to our perception, we don’t mean things exactly as they are, I think.
I certainly agree with you, “it is an enemy which has no existence of its own.”
As these things are an enemy which has no existence of its own, they certainly are not willed by God, who never wills evil. (Is it even sense to will a non-thing, a non-existence?) As they are the vehicle, form, and expression of glory and love, transformed by that glory and love, a way in which we are united with glory and love, a servant of glory and love, of our union with God and knowledge of His love – as they are seen in glory and love, as they are known or experienced in love – they are willed by God, an expression of the will of God. Or, in other words, in so far as they have any real existence, they are willed by God.
“But though God can and does work all things to His purpose and will bring about His good purposes despite that evil (clearly seen in the Cross) such events remain evil, and are not of God, death having nothing and not deriving from Him whatsoever.” I agree with this, too. Evil is evil. I don’t like anything that presents evil as not being horrible, being less horrible than it is. God is All-Good. Evil is more hateful to Him than it is to me.
Through the evil God fashions and invites us into a glory and a knowledge of love which would not be what it is, the specific and unique glory and knowledge of love, apart from the evil – the enduring of it, the experience and knowledge and union with God in glory and love through and in this suffering. “O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the death of Christ. O happy fault that brought us so great, so glorious a Redeemer.”
I think this might be the same thing I was trying to say in this post. It certainly seems very similar to me. The distinction between the evil and death which is not, and the glory and love which is, strikes me as parallel to the distinction between the evil as evil, as sin, and its effects of suffering as union and knowledge of Love. I still find the way I said it in my original post more meaningful, more concrete, more present. Perhaps it is this (what I’ve said above in this reply) as I think it and experience it – as best as I can say it, for I cannot say it as I think and experience it. Words are not strong enough. Just as I never want to make evil out to be less than horrific, I never want to make the suffering endured out to be less than the gift of the Love of God, less than a revelation of Heaven, indeed, less than I-cannot-say-but-it-is-good.
(How funny. Your comment is longer than my post.)
Unfortunately I have a habit to wax on overmuch and say things more complicatedly necessary 🙂 . The one thing I would particularly not agree to would be the necessity of evil in any way, so that Adam’s sin and the Fall were not necessary, God does not require evil to achieve His purposes (and indeed requires nothing and needs nothing to bring about His purposes and ends).
With that I would say that in the transitional fallen reality we are in, in which suffering and evil are in effect, we come to understand and grow towards and in God in the midst of suffering effecting and damaging God’s good creation (ourselves included) and so both in that good going towards and drawn into Him as the Good, and suffering under the privation of evil (or the twist to non-being, or sin, and so death) we find God’s love within even those times and in the presence of evil and suffering. There just as we find Him in moments of pleasure and joy God with us, in the later rejoicing with us, in the former with us in it’s midst drawing us to Him as with joy, His love with us undefeated and overcoming it and it’s hold on us, even ordering it (as well as the fact evil’s very parasitic dependence on that which it seeks to destroy, being and existence, and therefore God as Being always thawt it’s ultimate purposes) that and found and towards Christ it is even in it’s actions lead to it’s own defeat and to bring God’s purposes (including our sharing and knowing and participating in His love and Life) despite it.
But this would be and I think is inspite of it, and were there not a fallen condition we would, much more easily know God’s glory and love, but no matter the devastation of death, God will bring His good purposes for creation to bare, and has and will overcome it in Christ, it will pass, and He will bring His purposes for all through all free acting creation, even through it’s fallen and most death-bound actions, to it’s own defeat and the healing and restoration and glory of all things to His glory.
That which exists is good and willed and created by God (since it as you say exists) but not the extent to which death affects and warps it’s call to being. God works in and through it, and holds and calls it to full being in His love. But though His call to free being allows for temporary drift to non-being because of the good coming into being that allows it, He neither wills it or that state or effect (predation, disease, genetic afflictions, mortality and futility), He allows it and it’s fallen state as a result of misapprehension in coming into being towards God. But He will not let this devistation have the last word, nor let it stand, but as it derives from things existing and coming into existence which move, exist and have their being in Him, so orders dynamically in His Act of creation in response to our faltered and fallen emergence (and giving creation even frustrated and twisted by futility it’s nature and being in Him) that all things and actions will bring everything to be freed and to their full calling, so that no evil act truly thawt His purpose for creation or anything in it. The lion will become it’s true self, the Earth will be without destructive processes, the abuser and the serial murderer, despite what they do will find freedom from bondage, and become their true selves of love, compassion and justice, drawn and reconciled to those they hurt. And these actions despite their efforts ultimately frustrated and overturned, God working in all of it, even those actions working against Him to still no matter what to still bring those fallen things to freedom and the very death that has them captive, and so to that evil’s own destruction.
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The quote about the “truly necessary sin of Adam” is poetry. Generally, I would emphatically say evil is NOT necessary. Good is necessary. Evil is not. In another sense, I would be a little more cautious of saying what is and is not necessary. The best good is necessary because it is – otherwise it would not be the best good.
I would still maintain that evil is not necessary for God to obtain the greatest good, because that makes evil a necessity that God brings into being to achieve His purposes. This ultimately makes Him the author of evil, and dependent on evil and death existing or being in effect. The first ultimately flies in the face of Him being Love and the Good as such, the second effectively denies Him as God, becoming dependent on evil and death to achieve His highest purposes. Poetic it may be, but sadly to many pious hymns and statements are in effect an attack on God’s goodness or His nature as God (He needs nothing, for Himself not to achieve His purposes).
We can say in a limited, temporary manner that despite itself that evils works with all things His good purposes, but it is and always ultimately will be inspite of them, nit because of them, and had death and sin not been (if that sentence can make sense) God’s purposes would be achieved nonetheless and without suffering. As Jesus showed in His Person, He never looked on death and suffering with any accrptance as part of His Father’s will, but always healed, restored and raised the dead and morned over it. To be healed and restored is God’s will and intention in action, it is God’s Kingdom come. Death is and always will be His enemy, not ally or accomplice or partner, one that is overcome and will be destroyed.
Well those are my views on it I can’t see Christians accommodating death in anyway, and often find certain sentiments in that direction to be flirting with non-Christian attitudes (more like Stoic or ancient pagan thought, or sometimes certain strands of Islamic or Hinduistic thought) and have imported an aspect of the concept on inexorable Fate or Doom into the providence of God, rather then the glorious victory of the Gospel, of Christ’s judgment and victory over death, sin and all evil, all powers and principalities that hold creation captive and has and is and will rescue us and all creation from fultility. That in the revelation of the Father when we see Christ us that fallen creation is explicitly against His will (which must remain a fundumental truth and foundation to think about God’s providence).
Sorry if this comes off a bit strong, I get quite passionate about this, so I hope you don’t feel I’m attacking or talking down to you, I just feel quite strongly about it, but know others think differently. In the end we each have to walk and ubderstand as we can when terrible storms of the present age strike, but for me I feel as above.
Don’t worry; I don’t feel like you’re attacking me. We’re having a conversation, we each care, and, if we agree, we certainly don’t say it the same.
You write “….had death and sin not been (if that sentence can make sense) God’s purposes would be achieved nonetheless and without suffering.”
Perhaps, but each thing is unique. Each glory is unique. If there were no evil or suffering, there would be no obedience in suffering, no obedience to death, even death on the cross, and that obedience is certainly a good and a glory beyond conception – a good and a glory which would not be without death and the cross.
What “would have been” is not, I think, something we can talk about except in theory or in a metaphoric or analogous way. It certainly is not something we can know. Is it something that is?
I maintain that God is CERTAINLY NOT the author of evil. Your passion about this makes perfect sense to me; I share it. Nothing I ever write or say should be taken to imply that God is author of evil.
I say that nothing is purposeless; God does not allow anything that He will not or cannot make contribute to the good.