God’s Sovereignty vs. God’s Love

In my study of reformed theology over the last year or so I have noticed a common denominator that seems to be a very good indicator as to whether a person is reformed (Calvinist) or non-reformed (Arminian).  The fact that God IS sovereign and that God IS love cannot be denied by anyone.  Both are clearly taught throughout the Bible – explicitly and implicitly. 

People who are “reformed” in their theology usually seem to place the priority on God’s sovereignty.  After all, He is the Creator of all things, He has the right to do with His creation as He pleases.  If God is not sovereign then He is not God!  People who are “non-reformed” in their theology usually place the priority on God’s love.  They would say, God is love, He therefore has to love everybody, He is bound to do certain things and not do certain things because of His love. 

To my knowledge, nowhere in the Bible is there a ranking of God’s attributes.  By this I mean, nowhere is one attribute given a higher ranking than others.  (If I am wrong on this, please correct me.)  But we as flawed humans like to rank things….so we read the Bible and assign priority to the attribute we believe to be the primary one.  Most people, it seems, choose either Sovereignty or Love. 

Once a primary attribute of God is chosen then all biblical study/activity is done through that filter.  How we relate to God comes through this understanding, Scripture is read and understood through this, preaching/teaching is done through this understanding, witnessing is done through this understanding, our relationships are undertaken through this understanding, etc., etc.  It becomes part of who we are. 

I know this is an oversimplification of this subject.  God is His attributes.  He is each one at the same time all the time.  He cannot be separated from any of them.  The question comes to mind then, how do we not assign priority to one attribute over the others?  Can we study God’s word and understand it without assigning priority? 

As for me personally, I have always leaned in the direction of God’s Sovereignty being primary.  I have come to realize this through my studies over the last year or so.  For me the first 5 words of Genesis clinch it – “In the beginning God created…..”

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13 Responses to God’s Sovereignty vs. God’s Love

  1. Brett says:

    I believe that the observation you have made is correct for many people, but what fascinates me is that what is antithetical in the mind of man is not antithetical to God. I don’t think God experiences this “Sovereignty vs. Love” dilemma at all. Rather, I believe that there is no competition between God’s sovereignty and His love.

    Additionally, could it be that God’s choosing to save some but not all is a reflection of God’s LOVE for Himself?

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  2. Tom says:

    Brett,

    I am not sure that I understand you last comment. Please explain what you mean by “God’s love for himself”

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  3. David Hewitt says:

    Brother Tom,

    There is one attribute of God that is truly above his others in priority, and one that governs everything else He does, and it is not His love or sovereignty.

    It is His holiness.

    More than once, God is called “Holy, Holy, Holy” in the Bible (Isaiah 6, Revelation 4). A three-fold use of a term is, in the Hebrew mindset, the strongest form of superlative. Never is God called “love, love, love” or anything else — only His holiness is given such a description.

    More than God’s sovereignty, I would say the Reformed (such as myself) emphasize His holiness, though His sovereignty is certainly not left unemphasized in the Reformed community. 🙂

    SDG,
    dbh

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  4. Tom says:

    Dave,

    You are correct. I had forgotten about this. I stand corrected.

    Revelation 4:8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

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  5. Rob says:

    Perhaps it is better to think of God’s holiness, not as the governing attribute, but that attribute that is the summary of all the others? I wonder if we don’t do some sort of injustice (from our perspective, not his) if we attempt to say that one characteristic is somehow superior to the others. Everything he is, he is completely, perfectly. His holiness, his otherness does not govern as much as it describes. This does not diminish his holiness, rather, it makes him (again by our perception) more holy.

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  6. Billy Birch says:

    I agree with Rob and would like to add that non-Reformed persons believe and long to exult God’s Sovereignty, but do not define His Sovereignty using Reformed suppositions and definitions. God cannot be anything other than Sovereign, Love, Holy, Just, Great, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent, etc. God bless!

    Billy

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  7. weethan says:

    I just have a couple of questions, please do not take offence to them, they are simply just innocent and inbiased queries that I would like to be answered.

    1) Who wrote the bible? Was it just one person, or was it a group of people? When was it written and where was it first published?
    2) Who first knew about God or spoke the word of God? Was it both Adam and Eve, or did everyone originally know about God?
    3) Is it common knowledge and practice to capitolise “He” and “Him” when speaking about God? Or there another reason for the capitolisation?

    Thanks so much.

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  8. Tom says:

    Hi Weethan,

    First let me say that I will never be offended when someone sincerely asks a question about my Lord. We are commanded in God’s Word to always be ready to give a defense for the Hope that we have.

    In answer to your questions:
    1) The Bible was written by God – It is His inspired Word. He chose to give it to us through 40 or so divinely inspired human authors over a period of about 1500 years. The Bible we have started out as a collection of histories, narratives, letters, poetry written by the divinely inspired human authors. I assume when you say “published” you are asking when was it compiled into it current form – I cannot answer that. Maybe someone else can help us out with that. I can say that it was at some point before the Council of Nicea in 325AD because it is my understanding that the canon of Scripture that was being used at the time was ratified or endorsed there. It was not set as a common myth says. I am not well read in the area of church history so if I am wrong on this I ask for some to correct my error.

    2) Adam was the first to know about and to speak to God. Adam was the first created human being – we are all his descendants. The Bible teaches us that now we are all born with a knowledge of God so that nobody can say they did not know about Him – Romans 1:18-20.

    3) I think it is a fairly common practice to capitalize “He” and “Him”. It is a sign of respect and also shows His position of importance. One of the few complaints I have with the ESV translation is that it does not capitalize the these pronouns.

    If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask them. If I cannot answer them I am sure someone else here can.

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  9. Qwerty says:

    Christianity=Bollocks

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  10. Qwerty says:

    Christianity=Bollocks

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  11. Craig says:

    Hey,

    I’ve been reading Merlin Carothers’ Prison to Praise in which he talks about giving thanks to God for all things in all circumstances. My mind reels at that though I feel like there’s something profoundly right about what he’s saying. (hopefully you’ve read the book or what I’m saying might not make much sense)

    That’s where this sovereignty vs love meets the road for me, so to speak. If a man comes into my house and shoots me in the leg how can I give thanks to God for it (as Carothers is stating God wants me to do)unless God is some how responsible for it? I guess my question is, is it possible that both these statements could, some how, in some way beyond my comprehension, be true. One, God sovereignly caused the man to shoot me in the leg, and two, the man chose to shoot me in the leg? If so do you know of a book or website with a solid description of the relationship?

    God Bless,
    Craig

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  12. Tom says:

    Craig,

    I have not read that book but I am familiar with the concept. It it a biblical concept. We are to be thankful and praise Him in good times and bad. Both seem hard for us to do. In good times we forget that we need Him because we seem to be able to sustain ourselves. In bad times we want to question Him. Why is this happening to me? Why does God not fix this situation? What is his purpose in this bad situation? Etc.

    Many people can accept that God ordains the results of something. But few seem to be able to accept that God also ordains the means that will bring about the results. By “ordains the means” I mean that God sets the details of how the results will be obtained. He may directly cause the details or He may simply allow someone to operate within their sin nature. We will never know this side of Heaven how He does this but “how” is not as important as the fact that He does it.

    God is sovereign over all things. Take comfort in that fact and all else will be secondary. I hope that answers your questions. As far as some references I would point you to the study of Reformed Theology. It will help you to understand the relationship better. That is how I came to my understanding of the relationship. You can start with my blog under the Theology heading and look at the links to the various reformed websites in the right sidebar. I would also point you to RC Sproul and his books and website.

    If I can be of any more assistance, please let me know.

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  13. Craig says:

    Cheers mate,

    It’s the ramifications of what Carothers is saying that keeps striking me. He talked about how a woman had been praying for God to heal her alcoholic husband for 20 odd years without result but after one week of actually thanking God for her husband being an alcoholic he was saved and healed. There are many more examples. It got me wondering about a lot of things.
    For instance, ought I start thanking God that children in certain countries are being sold into slavery and are being raped every second day? On the surface that idea seems utterly horrific and loathsome, as if I were saying that something unthinkably evil was actually good but on the deeper level isn’t thanking God for it a humble recognition of His sovereign loving hand being on a situation in which any whif of a loving God seems for all intents and purposes to be completely absent?

    Not only does it alter the way I’m seeing prayer but how I see reality in general. A worldview that recognises that God is in complete and utter control of a situation that at first glance seems to be chaotically evil is… well it ignites a kind of warm courage. It creates an image of being able to stand on the bow of a Viking ship as it tears down the surface of a 100 foot hurricane wave, laughing all the way. I know there’s something deeply profound about all of this but trying to grasp it with my mind is like trying to get the ocean into a tea cup. It’s not the kind of thing I feel at all comfortable presenting a logical argument for.

    Thanks for your help. I’ll look into those resources. Thanks.

    God Bless,

    Craig

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