Limitless Love, Limited God

The topic of God’s sovereignty is one that is both hotly defended and a point of particular pain for many…

The topic of God’s sovereignty is one that is both hotly defended and a point of particular pain for many Christians. The idea of an all-powerful God is pivotal to many people’s understanding of God. Yet, at the same time it brings up questions that don’t have easy answers. How can a sovereign God allow death, violence, evil, sin and all the things that move us to increased pain and suffering?

I too have run up against this question. Pushed through it, and I believe I have come through on the other side with a new awareness and understanding of what it means for God to be all powerful. Instead of trying to explain all of the death and violence in this world, I have come to a place of rethinking God’s sovereignty. The root of this new understanding is based in an understanding of God being in very nature Love. I start from this place because I know of no where else to start that does not degenerate quickly into a fearful theology that provides no hope.

Here is where I have come to part ways with a traditional understanding of sovereignty. The traditional understanding would say that because God is “before all” and has “created all” He can do anything that He wants. These understandings of God’s sovereignty find their logical and yet absurd end in the Calvinist teachings that God wills and controls all things. Even those things we would understand as antithetical to God’s love. Famines, wars and violence of all kinds are enveloped within God’s sovereignty. The problem with this idea is that it it can not be reconciled with an all loving God. Much theological thought has been devoted to attempting to reconcile an all powerful God and a loving God but I have yet to find anyone who combines those two concepts successfully.

What I have come to in pondering this incongruity is that leaving behind the traditional, Calvinist understanding of sovereignty is the only way to achieve a measure of harmony and peace in my theology. What then am I  left with? A powerless God who falls back on flimsy love and cannot affect us in any meaningful way? Nothing could be further from my thoughts.

I believe the real power of God is found in pure, unrelenting, unstoppable love. It is in this love that God’s sovereignty is revealed. If love is the defining character of God, we are forced to pin our hopes on love’s ultimate power. The hope of the follower of Christ is that Love has the first and the last word. The Alpha and the Omega. The first word is that of the divine risk of creation. Creation that is capable of choosing a path of love but is yet independent to choose otherwise. The final word is that of Love’s ultimate victory over all that is violent and that separates creation: “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

Jesus framed this alternate view of power to his disciples in this way:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This type of sovereignty is entirely different from a traditional understanding. It is a sovereignty of ends, not individual events. It is not a power rooted in God being able to do anything it wants. Instead it is a power rooted in having the final word. Ultimate victory.

Where does this leave evil for me? It exists. Evil is not from God and it, unlike love, does not get the final word. Even more than this, I have faith that though God does not orchestrate evil, Love is able to reinvent or reframe evil. Brother David Steindl-Rast frames this power in the words of gratitude:

“You can’t be grateful for war in a given situation, or violence, or sickness, things like that. So the key when people ask, can you be grateful for everything? No, not for everything, but in every moment.” ~ David Steindl-Rast

Gratitude can be found in every moment. Even if we aren’t grateful for all things. Love can be found in every moment and is working toward final victory.  “Perfect love drives out all fear.” This, is God’s movement, God’s power in the world: Unrelenting, unending, “final word having” love.

 

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March 9, 2016 @ 12:12 pm Trackback URL

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  • Mark says:

    Matt, your thoughts here remind me of the series of messages where Greg Boyd shared his understanding of this world as a war zone. Seeing God as causing all things is not required to affirm God’s power, sovereignty, and goodness. I don’t know about all of Boyd’s teaching, but I found these messages helpful.

    There are Biblical examples of wrong understandings of what is taking place in the spiritual realm behind bad things happening. I am thinking of Job. From what we read, there is no indication that God ever explained to Job what was happening. Job’s friends had ready explanations to offer, but they were wrong. Job, too, thought that “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.” But it was Satan who had taken away. As I remember Boyd’s comments, he talked about the error that we can fall into because we do not see all of the factors affecting a situation and try to make it too simplified.

    What anchors our souls is the unchangeable goodness of God. It is this goodness of God that he reveals to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. I am so thankful for how God underscores and assures of his character in the Word.

    Jeremiah 31:3 – I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.