I was pondering a “What if” question today regarding certain decisions I had made and found myself with some regret about days gone by and things I’d decided to do. Then a thought occurred to me: if God is sovereign, then why am I worried about what has already transpired? Not a single stroke of any word, moment, decision, or feeling can be changed. It’s done, finis, over and it was all done according to plan… if I’m really a sovereigntist, that is.
But, while I am a theological sovereigntist, I am, at times, a practical humanist with some neat Christian mysticism thrown in for good measure. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that God is sovereign and will affirm it loudly and clearly. I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sin and paid the debt for my depravity (previous, ongoing, and future) and through His sacrifice I have been adopted into the family of God and, therefore, no longer fear His wrath and look forward in joyous rapture to the day when I am granted the magnificent inheritance of dwelling in His house forever and in His presence for eternity future. Amen!
But not today. Well, not right now. Maybe later. Definitely later… and well, a few minutes ago. And again – now. My heart swells, my mind soars, my excitement builds… all at the very thought of being with God for eternity future. Paul hits this dead on of course in Romans 7. We are freed men in Christ that find ourselves constantly reshackling our hands with the chains of sin while the Holy Spirit constantly reminds us that these shackles DO NOT EXIST any more.
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
(Romans 7:13-25 ESV)
What if? There is no what if… there are no alternate realities where every potential decision spawns some sort of other reality in a multi-verse (makes for great sci-fi though – love me a good multi-verse story). What happens is what happens. When someone dies, there is no “what could they have done” – they couldn’t have done anything, because they are dead and, in His sovereignty would always be dead at the specific time they died. There is no hope in longing for what can never be or have been… hope is found in the truth that “…for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28 ESV)” All things… ALL THINGS. Even the crap that happened yesterday, last year, a few moments ago, throughout our entire lives… ALL THINGS for good.
I don’t know about you… but man, that is an awesome bunch of hope right there. Can I trust Him in it right now? Will my life truly reflect this reality? With the help of the Holy Spirit and more revelatory moments such as this one… yeah, I think it just might. Believing anything else would be futile…
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
(Romans 8:29-30 ESV – emphasis mine)
Postscript: My penchant for clarification forces me to explain that I am not saying one is not responsible for one’s actions nor am I saying that actions do not beget consequences that can, at times, be quite tragic. I am also not saying that you can decide to do whatever the hell you want, future be damned and say that it was all in God’s plan anyway, so whatever. We get our brains in a twist when we try to understand the two concepts of human responsibility and God’s sovereignty as some type of an intersection. It isn’t that simple. God’s sovereignty completely encompasses man’s responsibility, but His sovereignty does not make our decisions any less our responsibility. Somehow, our character, our deliberations, our thoughts, they all fall within His sovereignty in the sweetest and most amazing way possible… through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (a mark of His sovereignty) He guarantees common grace to all mankind, He delivers His adopted children into a life of eternal discovery of the beauty of His grace, and He ensures our continued life with Him at the end of days. There is no downside here. He who is most beautiful and most perfect reveals Himself to us who are most imperfect and invites us to spend eternity with Him.
Hopefully, you see in these writings a man who is staying The Course and pursuing The Path amidst the pitfalls and selfish ways of being a son of Adam. I pray earnestly that my writing would encourage some of you by showing you that this journey - though arduous and sometimes tragic - is a journey of great satisfaction. A satisfaction greater than our greatest imaginings. The trials and refining fire of tribulation are to be recognized as a small shadow of the suffering of our Savior so that we can rejoice, as Peter and the disciples did, to be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the Name.