In the middle of a discussion regarding God’s sovereignty and prayer, Frank asserted, “If you truly believe that God is sovereign, then you do not need to check your side mirror when changing lanes.”
Frank’s assertion argued for a rigid application of the classic view of sovereignty.
A Classic View of God’s Sovereignty: Divine Determinism
The classic view of God’s sovereignty is that God is in total control of everyone and everything. If not directly, certainly indirectly He causes everything good and bad that happens in life including the holocaust, drug overdoses, and job terminations.
This view of sovereignty, often labeled as “divine determinism” declares that God foreordains and determines all that is. John Piper, for example, reportedly commented that if a dirty bomb goes off in Minneapolis, that is from God.
Once I heard R.C. Sproul say that if there is even one maverick molecule in the universe, God is not God.
John Calvin himself wrote,
There is no such thing as fortune or chance. Again, no wind ever arises or increases except by God’s express command.
Roger Olson summarized divine determinism by saying,
All events are traceable back to God who controls history down to every detail according to a blueprint. God has never taken a risk. God micromanages history and individual lives. Nothing surprises God. Nothing happens that is contrary to God’s will.
If this view of God’s sovereignty is correct, are we in any meaningful sense responsible for what we do??
Divine Determinism and Prayer
If the above statements about God’s sovereignty are correct, why bother to pray?
Our prayers will have no negative or positive impact on the outcome of God’s actions, people’s choices, or daily events. The only benefit of prayer is the comfort we receive from drawing near to God.
A Relational View of God’s Sovereignty
According to the relational view, God, man, and creation live in linked relationship with one another, each impacting the other.
On the one hand, God’s nature is unchanging: He is and always will be holy, righteous, just, loving, all-wise, and all-knowing. On the other hand, God’s strategies, processes, and procedures may change.
Because God values His relationships with His creatures, He interacts with us and His interactions are real.
Just as God can and does affect His creatures and creation, so human beings – the apex of God’s creation – can and do affect our God. How else can we explain the instances in Scripture, such as Amos 7:1-6, where God relented?
O Lord God, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” The Lord relented concerning this: “It shall not be,” said the Lord.Amos 7:2-3, ESV. See 7:1-6.
Interestingly, the next verses in the chapter (Amos 7:7-9) point to God’s plumb-line judgment. No prayer is offered to change it.
In a similar vein consider the Prophet Jonah who preached to the wicked people in Nineveh (Jonah 3:4). When they repented (Jonah 3:5-9), God “relented;” “He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).
After reading the above, a friend commented, “Would God have saved Nineveh whether Jonah went or not? I think so. God involved Jonah because His secondary plan was to work in Jonah’s life, teaching him life-lessons about obedience and mercy.”
God could have saved Nineveh without help from anyone, but God is relational.
Generally, He invites people to work with Him to accomplish His agenda.
Relational Sovereignty and Prayer
• There are some things that God will not do even if everyone prays.
• There are some things that God will do even if no one prays.
• There are other things that God will do only in response to the prayers of His people.
God is not aloof and impassive. As a relational God, He patiently interacts with us without ever compromising His core nature or objectives.
God does not need us, but in His sovereignty, He chooses to include us. We matter to the process. God’s ends are settled and unilateral, but the means to His ends are open for discussion.
God leads the dance, but He does not dance alone. God is powerful enough to override our wills, and occasionally He does, but for the most part He chooses to be interactive.
Is God sovereign? Yes!
Is He open to responding to our prayers? Yes! because He is relational.
On the chessboard of life, we are not His pawns but His knights.
On the dance floor of life, Jesus leads the dance, but He does not dance alone. Some of His moves are influenced by our desires and our prayers.
Dance well friends and pray on!
A relational view of God’s sovereignty is one that regards God’s will as settled in terms of the intentions of His character but open and flexible in terms of the ways in which He acts because He allows Himself to be acted upon.
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