A few years ago, during a low point in my life and ministry, I had somewhat of an awakening spiritually. While I had been a believer and even was in ministry, it was one of the first times that the pages of Scripture came fully alive to me. Reading through Genesis, I began to see the story of Joseph more fully than the old flannelgraph stories could ever describe. The story is well known that Joseph suffered through the wrongful actions of his brother selling him into slavery, as well as the false accusation of Potiphar’s wife sending him to prison. Most of us know the story well enough that we could, with little preparation, re-tell the whole account at a moment’s notice. The awakening came to me when I began to see that what took a few pages to cover in Genesis was actually many years in the life of Joseph. I began to wonder what Joseph must have thought during those years. Did he wonder if it had been worth saying no to Potiphar? Did he question why his father sent him to check on his brothers that day? What opened my eyes to a hint of what Joseph might have felt was Genesis 40:14, where Joseph asks the cupbearer to “mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house.” Surely I had read it before, but for the first time, it became clear, Joseph was not just robotically believing the truth of Genesis 50:20 “God meant it for good,” he was struggling through the wilderness of evil that his brothers’ actions had intended. Joseph, like me during that time in my life, wondered why God would have allowed this and, at times, schemed for ways to escape.
I give this long introduction to lead into our topic for today: the sovereignty of God. There are many directions we could go with this topic, in particular as it relates to our understanding of salvation. However, for our purposes, I want to focus on the sovereignty of God and its impact on the totality of life in Christ. We love to talk about God’s sovereignty at the end of the road looking back, as Joseph in Genesis 50, but we are less inclined to find comfort in the Genesis 40 moments of life, when the story is not quite finished. Most of our lives are lived in the Genesis 40 moments, where we are required to reach out in faith, trusting that God really is sovereign. How might have Joseph acted differently in Genesis 40 if his faith in God’s sovereignty was strong? Is God sovereign in those transitional stages of life, when the diagnosis is not great, the road seems closed ahead, or the pain simply will not lift? In these and in every moment, we need to lean heavily on the solid theological foundation that our God is always a sovereign God.
Sovereignty is a term that indicates both a position of prominence as well as power or rule. The one who is sovereign has the authority and the ability to have dominion over a group of people. Considered biblically as one of God’s attributes, we understand the sovereignty of God to mean that He has the rightful position as our Creator as well as the all-powerful ability to rule the whole universe (Psalm 24:1-2). The earth (and the whole universe) is the Lord’s because He made it. The challenge with this doctrine, however, is that it runs counter to our culture of independence. We do not easily accept others telling us what to do and even less do we allow others to tell us what we have to do. We value free will in our lives so much that to suggest that God is sovereign, is to admit that we are not. The sovereignty of God must also address the question of how human decisions fit within this theological assertion. Failing to adequately answer this question leads us down the road toward the so-called “open theology of God,” which states that God is somehow subject to what man decides. It is true that humans are given the opportunity to decide, but we must hold this in tension with the truth that all such decisions do still happen under the sovereignty of God.
Perhaps one of the best biblical texts to examine closely in the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is Isaiah 46:8-10. From the midst of the Babylonian captivity, as God prepares the way for a return to the land, God tells us:
“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying ‘My counsel shall stand and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far away country. I have spoken and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”
From this passage, I see three things that God wants us to think about as we consider the sovereignty of God. First, there is the need to actively remember the sovereignty of God. Three times in verse 8 we are told to remember, recall to mind. In our Genesis 40 moments of life, we will be most tempted to forget the sovereignty of God. Second only to these times will be times of plenty and comfort. Nebuchadnezzar found this out the hard way (Daniel 4). However, most of us will be on the other end of the spectrum, where the pain seems unending and the prayers seem unanswered. There is nothing so important in our walk with God as remembering God is sovereign when the trials come. It will strengthen our faith if we remember this. It also has potential of wrecking our faith if we forget. This is the difference between Job saying, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” and Job’s wife saying, “Curse God and die.” Remember God is sovereign and by His will the trials come and you will stand firm.
Second, we are to think about the truth that God is God. We have to understand that the sovereignty of God is important simply because God is God. He is eternal, holy, good, wise, and all the attributes we have been reading about in this series, clearly demonstrate that He is God and there is none like Him. To say that God is sovereign is to acknowledge that the right and rightful One has the keys to the universe. This critical truth has been the case from the beginning and will be until the end. The seemingly insignificant things in life do not escape the view and the will of God, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matthew 10:29) This is the God who we rely on as our sovereign God. The sovereignty of God has meaning only when we understand the truth about the sovereign God.
Lastly, God wants us to know that He is the God who keeps His promises. Isaiah 46:10b-11 serves as a megaphone to this truth, “My counsel shall stand,” “I will accomplish”, “I have spoken and I will bring it to pass”, “I have purposed, and I will do it.” Recently, a friend and I were talking about Abraham and how he struggled to believe God, despite the fact that God had promised him verbally that He would make his descendants as the stars of the sky. At one point in the conversation, when applying it to our uncertain future, we thought, at least Abraham had a verbal promise of what God was going to do. However, we gently rebuked each other to recall that we have a whole book of God’s promises, those that have already been fulfilled in the lives of others and those which are applicable to us today. We remembered that God promises to never leave us or forsake us, that He promises to provide for our needs, and that He promises to take us home to be with Him in eternity. A solid faith in God’s sovereignty helps us to stand in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations. God will do it because He said it.
Whether you stand right now in a Genesis 40 moment, where doubt creeps in and seeks to take over, or in a Genesis 50 moment allowing you to look back on the Word and works of God, fight to remember the sovereignty of God, both now and forever, and stand firm on the solid foundation of God’s sovereignty.
Rick Hanna serves as Senior Pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Guilderland, NY. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Heather, and is a father to ssevenchildren. He is passionate about international student ministry and adoption and enjoys reading, music, and sports (though as a Philly fan & Purdue alum, it usually means supporting the losing team).