Lou Venden: We should not use the idea of God’s sovereignty as an excuse to ignore issues related to His character.
Graham Maxwell: I think where that idea really comes from is Romans 9, where you have the verse, “who are you to question God? Who are you to answer back to God?” (Rom 9:14-26, especially 20-21) But Romans 9, I believe, has been misunderstood by some very saintly people, including a notable theologian in reformation days. One really needs to put Romans 9 in the whole context of Romans —certainly in the context of chapters 1 through 9.
In Romans 1-8, Paul has been saying to his audience (which is made up of both Jews and Gentiles) “I have great good news for you. God will save all who trust Him—whether you are Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female. He’ll save everybody who trusts Him.” And as Paul was developing chapters 1-8, he could sense that certain members of His audience (descended from Abraham) were not taking this too kindly, because they thought that they had a special relationship with God. It was as if God had made a deal with their ancestor in their behalf. That’s why they were so concerned with things like their genealogy.
When Paul got to the end of chapter 8, therefore, he sensed that some of his readers would be quite offended. So in essence he turned to them and said, “I sense that some of you don’t like what I’ve said, that God is the kind of God that would save all who trust Him. But when you think that way, aren’t you suggesting that you would run the universe better than God? Are you saying God cannot save all who trust Him? Let me tell you something: God is going to run this universe precisely as He wishes. Just as the potter takes a lump of clay, and makes of the same clay a vessel for honor, and a vessel for dishonor (Rom 9:21), so God has the right—if He wants to exercise it—to run His universe any way He likes!”
Some people take that out of context and say, “God takes the material we are all made of and makes some to be saved and some to be lost. So, what’s the use of trying to know Him at all? Our destiny has already been determined.” No, what Paul is saying in Romans 9 is that God has just as much authority as the potter—actually much more so. He created this universe. He’s going to run it precisely as He wishes. And He won’t ever change. You can count on it. Does Romans 9 mean that God is arbitrary? Not in the context of chapters 1-8 where Paul has already explained how God runs the universe. God is so infinitely gracious that He values nothing higher than our freedom, and will save all who trust Him. But He doesn’t expect us to trust Him as a stranger, so at infinite cost He has revealed the truth about Himself. And that’s what Paul’s implied audience didn’t like. So Paul is really saying in Romans 9, “You impudent, irreverent people. How dare you tell God how to run His universe! How does God run His universe? Please read Romans 1-8. God’s treatment of the universe is infinitely gracious.”
Lou: But that raises another question, why would a God who is infinitely powerful, who can run the universe any way He wants to, allow a conflict like the one we read about in the twelfth chapter of Revelation? Why would He allow a war in heaven to happen?
Graham: That’s a great question. If God has that much authority and power, how could a war in heaven even take place? This question is the reason why those who stress the sovereignty of God have great difficulty allowing for a war in heaven. And it’s the reason many of the reformers really couldn’t use that sixty-sixth book of the Bible. Luther, for example, says “it was fancied that there was a war.” He just couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea. But to me it’s one of the most wonderful things about God. Though He had the infinite power necessary to stop such a war before it even started, He did not do so. God must consider something else of far greater value than our mere submission to His power, because He allowed Lucifer’s rebellion in heaven to grow and grow. By secular standards of good administration, God was weak. It was bad management. I mean, how long would a pastor last in our church, if there was such chaos in the membership? The committee would meet!
Lou: The pastor would move on, wouldn’t he!
Graham: Yes. Shall we ask God to move on, then, because of weakness on His part? We know He has infinite power, yet He allowed this war to develop. He allowed the questions to arise. That tells me there is something of even greater importance to God than our mere submission to His infinite power.