I was very disturbed yesterday, very disturbed indeed. I visited a website of a well known ministry, whose teaching has been in circulation in our congregation, only to find that one of the basic foundations for his doctrine is a denial of the total sovereignty of God.
"The widely accepted doctrine that God controls everything is a deception. If Satan can confuse and deceive you on that issue, he’s got you!"
Yikes! This is such a serious error! If God is not sovereign, then he is not God. If he is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all. This is the most ancient of all heresies: Dualism. The belief that God does not have total control, but that Satan or some other power has a competing portion of the total sovereignty of the Universe. This view is the one caricatured by the image of God and the Devil playing chess for the souls of men -- it's only because God is so much smarter that he is going to win.
The root of this problem is also age old. It's the apparent contradiction between the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. In human logic it must be one or the other. If God is sovereign then human free will is just an illusion. If men truly have free will, then God is not in total control. The argument gets even more complicated when you throw in the problem of evil. If God is totally sovereign does this mean he is responsible for all the evil in the world? If God is not sovereign over evil does this mean we have a weak or complicit God who is unable to exert his will over Satan?
The argument has been played out down through the centuries of Church history. Between St. Augustine and Pelagius; Calvin and Arminius. It's a sad comment on our ignorance of church history that the same old debate is coming around again -- if we do not learn from our history we are destined to repeat it.
The Bible teaches both God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. If we ignore one or the other we wander into error, and even blatant heresy. If we ignore the free will of man, then the inevitable result is fatalism and passivity. Why evangelise, if the elect will get saved anyway, and the damned never will? Why pray if God is going to do what he has predestined to do whether we pray or not? But even more serious are the errors we fall into if we deny the sovereignty of God: Satan becomes a little-god, and God becomes no god at all. If you worship a God who is not totally sovereign, then you do not worship the Sovereign Lord of the scriptures -- you are an idolater! Sorry to put it in such stark terms, but these things need to be said. Peter puts it in even stronger terms:
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. (2 Peter 2:1)
So how can God be sovereign, and man's responsibility not be diminished? Well it is a mystery. God wouldn't be God if you could totally understand him would he? But there are some analogies in nature. How can an electron be both a wave and a particle? How is it that when you pop a balloon, each molecule of air continues to do its own thing in total ignorance to the state of the balloon, and yet the air always flows out. How can it be that the individual radioactive decay of an atom is one of the securest forms of pure random data in the world, and yet radioactive half-lives can be calculated with accuracy down to fractions of a second? Did you know that your right eye and your left eye see two conflicting two-dimensional views of the universe? Yet we would have no concept of the world's true three-dimensional nature if they saw exactly the same thing.
But ultimately our best recourse is to the scriptures themselves. If you are struggling to understand the true meaning of God's sovereignty, let me prescribe a good dose of Romans chapter 9.
Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, `Why did you make me like this?' " (Romans 9:18-20)