Many Christians acknowledge the sovereignty of God as a necessary doctrine, but they do not feel that they have to like it, or even talk about it. But when the full biblical vision of this doctrine is given to us, it opens up a world of sweet consolations — and this is good because we live in a world where very hard things happen, and sweet consolation is not really a luxury.
“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth. Why should the Gentiles say, ‘So where is their God?’ But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell; they have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them” (Ps. 115:1-8).
We really only have two choices — God or idols. Either we worship God as He has revealed Himself, or we turn to the worship of idols. When we do that, we are on the road to darkness and confusion of mind. The point of true religion is this — glory is to go, not to us, but to His name. Idolatry always winds up somehow giving honor and glory to man. That is the point of idolatry.
We know from the catechism that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. But this is so because it is also God’s chief end. “‘Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘I have both glorified it and will glorify it again’” (John 12:27-28). And of course this not divine narcissism because God is triune — self-glorification is not what it would be in a unitarian set-up. In the former situation it is fully consistent with John’s observation that God is love, and in the latter scenario it is just raw, ultimate selfishness. If we want to see what triune self-glorification is, we should look at the cross. How does God’s self-glorification work? We see at the conclusion of John that it works by ultimate self-giving.
The Gentiles taunt — “where is your God?” But we reply, “Where is He not?” Enthroned in heaven, He does whatever He pleases, whether in heaven and on earth. This is the only answer we can give which does not reduce our God to the same level, in principle, as their idols. They are externally constrained; our God is not constrained by anything other than His own pleasure, which is in turn the expression of His own nature and character. God is constrained by what He is, but by nothing else.
Contrast this with the idols — they cannot see, speak, hear, smell, handle, or walk. This is the case despite the appearance of their sense organs, very carefully carved. And our God has none of the organs, but all of the functions. He has no eyes, and sees everything. They have eyes and are blind.
As an idol is blind and deaf and dumb, so are those who serve such idols. There is always a family resemblance between the god and the worshiper of that god. So just as we should not expect an idol to see, neither should we expect an idolater to see. Only God can make an idolater see.
Our God does as He pleases in the good things, in the pleasant things. This is an important mark of our piety — we must always remember to thank God for our food, and drink, and marital love, and health — the continued list of blessings is greater than we can even imagine. But our duties here are also obvious. For what we receive, we do give thanks.
But God also does as He pleases in the hard things. We live in a world where wicked things happen, and we profess to serve a good God who is omnipotent. Be a thinking Christian and stand up to the implications. The heart of our faith, the center of our faith, is the death of Jesus Christ, which was nothing less than a predestinated murder (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28). And yet it was the greatest act of love our world ever saw. How can a murder be an act of envy and hatred from one agent, and an act of love from the orchestrating, predestining Agent? While we are not able to do the math, we know that this is true because Scriptures tell us.
When Job was severely afflicted by Satan, he attributed it all to God. When his wife wanted him to hand it in, cursing God as he did so, he said her theology was like that of the foolish women (2:10), and in saying this he did not sin with his lips. “Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed?” (Lam. 3:37-38). Far too many Christians today have adopted the theology of the foolish women, and they need to quit it.
And last, we are eternally grateful that our salvation is one of the great things which it pleased God to do. The ground of His pleasure — the divine approval from heaven was given to Christ, and all His works. He is the Son of God, with whom God is well-pleased (Matt. 3:17). And it was God’s pleasure to bruise His Son (Is. 53:10). Because God was pleased with Him then, He is pleased with us now. And God sent a preacher to declare His good pleasure to us. This is the instrument of His pleasure — God sent a preacher to proclaim the Word because faith comes through hearing. This appointed process of saving sinners was His good pleasure (1 Cor. 1:21). And the result of His pleasure is more pleasure. The end of all this was our justification, which means that God now delights over us with singing (Heb. 13:11-16). That too is His sovereign good pleasure.