I’m a big believer in the sovereignty of God. What does “sovereignty” mean? It essentially means that God can and will do as God chooses.
I know that raises a lot of questions. Questions about the existence of evil and why God doesn’t always prevent catastrophes. And what about free will? If God is sovereign, how far does my freedom extend? These are important questions worth wrestling with; but I’m not going to address these questions—not in this blog post in any case.
What I do want to address is this: That in the end, God’s will is going to be accomplished.
That’s what God’s sovereignty is really all about. And that takes a tremendous load off of me. It reminds me that the healing of the world doesn’t ultimately depend on me. The world is in God’s hands and God will eventually bring full and complete healing, wholeness, and restoration to the world.
It also reminds me that God is already at work in the world out ahead of me. We see this reality throughout the scriptures. God’s sovereign activity is evident, for instance, in the Old Testament story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50).
God’s Sovereignty in the Life of Joseph
You probably know the story. Joseph, the eleventh and favorite son of Jacob, is sold into slavery by his envious brothers. While a slave in Egypt, Joseph rises to power because of his integrity and wisdom. Eventually, he becomes second in command only to Pharaoh.
In the end, Joseph saves not only the lives of Egypt and the surrounding nations but also the lives of his brothers and father. Joseph affirms God’s sovereign action throughout his life—including the sinful actions of his brothers—when he says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).
The “Previousness of the Kingdom”
To affirm the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is to affirm that God is in control. And that God is already at work in the world ahead of us.
Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t it incredible to think that God is already doing a work in places and in lives that are yet untouched by the church?
In his book, The Open Secre, famed missiologist, Lesslie Newbigin, refers to this as “the previousness of the kingdom.” This previousness is evident throughout the scriptures. The stories of Joseph and Daniel, for instance, tell of a God who gives dreams to pagan kings (Genesis 41:1-7; Daniel 2:1, 4:10-17). It isn’t until after God has been at work in the lives of these kings that Joseph and Daniel are invited to join in God’s work by interpreting the dreams (Genesis 41:25-32; Daniel 2:29-45; 4:20-27).
Of course, it isn’t only through the dreams of kings that God gets involved in the world. God’s previousness is evident among ordinary people, too—people like Rahab and Ruth. God was at work through Rahab, a prostitute, when God handed the city of Jericho over to the Israelites (Joshua 2:1-24; 5:24-25). Ruth, a Moabite woman, was another outsider in whose life God was active—in this case, to bless her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi (Ruth 4:14-15), as well as to become the great grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:21-22).
All this to say that God is clearly not limited to working only in and through his own people. God is at work ahead of us and invites us to participate with his divine purposes through our various vocations.