Tragedy & God’s Sovereignty

Tolstoy wrote:  “Men’s minds cannot grasp the cause of events in their completeness, but the desire to find those causes is implanted in man’s soul. And without considering the multiplicity and complexity of conditions any one of which taken separately may seem to be the cause, he snatches at the first approximation to a cause that seems to him intelligible and says:  ‘This is the cause!’  In historical events … the first and most primitive approximation to present itself was the will of the gods…”

At least one thing has changed since that “first and most primitive approximation;”  In my world, the people I know do not attribute tragic events to the “will of the gods,” but rather to the will of God (with a capital “G”).   Time and time again, after tragic and horrific events, well-meaning confessors of faith will shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, it is God’s will.”

I want to take this opportunity to say, “NO IT ISN’T!”   On the contrary, it is God’s will that we all love one another.  Any time we act in a non-loving way we are acting outside of God’s will for us.

The idea that when something tragic happens it is God’s will arises from a misunderstanding of what it means to say that God is sovereign.  It is a misapplication of the term to assume it must mean that God dictates or determines everything.  It pushes the meaning of the term too far to insist that it means that nothing happens outside of his will.

Rather (in this context) his sovereignty means two related things:  First, since God is sovereign, he and he alone determines moral law; that is, he sets the standard of what is right and wrong.  Secondly, he serves as judge and jury.   Because he is sovereign, he and he alone will determine guilt or innocence.  Because he is sovereign he and he alone will pronounce sentence.

One does not diminish or overthrow God’s sovereignty simply by breaking his law; one would have to also escape God’s judgment.   That cannot be done.

One final thought to cerebrate:  Being shown mercy by God is not the same thing as escaping his judgment.  If we are shown mercy it isn’t because we have overthrown God’s sovereignty.  Rather it is precisely because God is sovereign and can show mercy to whomever he chooses to show mercy!

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