My friend was stressing the point that “God is sovereign.” I had no reason to dispute that. But, I did have some thoughts that went beyond my friend’s limited comments. I began with the question, “What would ‘God is sovereign’ have meant to the original recipients of the Biblical material, whether they were reading it or hearing it proclaimed by a prophet?”
‘God is sovereign” was not a throw-out or stand-alone expression; the term would have been consistent with other ways Scripture refers to God.
For example, a common portrayal of God is that He is a King. National governments in the times of the Old Testament and the New Testament were not democracies, excluding Greece’s experiment with democracy. (Socrates’ end didn’t help the cause, eh?) Kings didn’t then and don’t now do everything themselves. They had their “people”, be it their military commanders, their economic advisors and financial overseers, representatives from the religions of the moment, judges and wise men, local magistrates, spies, provincial leaders in outlying civic arenas, to name only some of their “people.”
Common among the “king’s people” was their duty to carry out the king’s wishes. They had delegated responsibility. When they failed in their responsibility they would be replaced (the reader can supply the mechanisms for that procedure!! – review the book of Esther for a case study). To repeat, although the king could pretty much do whatever he wanted, he didn’t do everything.
God is also portrayed as the Creator, with his creation having purposes and goals. At the same time, God gave humans some laws by which they were to guide themselves as creation moved from the past to the future. Laws are “if-then” statements, laying out what will happen as a consequence of specific circumstances occurring. At the same time, people are free to decide whether they will obey or disobey the law. The creator does not do the thinking for the creatures.
God is portrayed as a Father, who delegates to his children the domestic tasks and holds them responsible to carry out their duties. The assumption is that obedience will benefit the family’s well being. But, the father doesn’t do all the tasks. He expects the children to do some of them.
In all three of these portrayals of God and humans, there is a symphony of God’s sovereignty and human involvement. The humans can go to the extreme of rejecting God’s rules and demands, and even declare why revolting against God would best serve humanity. In that case, another side of God’s sovereignty comes into view – the imposition of the consequences for said rejection and revolt.
So, yes, God is sovereign. But, let’s not use the word in a vacuum. Let’s not understand God’s sovereignty as a denial of human free choice. Let’s use the images of God the King, the Father, and the Creator to help us understand God’s sovereignty. And, keep in mind that there are other images about God even beyond the three that have been mentioned.