How big is God to you — really?
When we think of the sovereignty of God, we usually relate it to times of crisis. In those times, the usual platitudes that God is in control; that God is good, all the time, as a popular chorus goes, become like life-saving mantras. They are good and essential in those times when our weakened minds and hearts can wreak great havoc to our faith.
Once the crisis has turned one way or the other, we are back to ‘life as normal’; and the truth that God is sovereign seems like a distant doctrine destined to sit on some dusty shelf belonging to a wizened professor of systematic theology. But in fact, Scriptural stories are full of lessons for us about the sovereignty of God. The truth of God’s sovereignty was never meant to be an august doctrine that constantly needed to be defended against the free will of man.
The first time we read the small book of Ruth. most of us would be drawn into the tragic circumstances of Naomi’s life. She was bereft of everything that gave a Jewish woman her identity, security and purpose. Ruth’s enigmatic words at the start sound more like a liability than an asset. Indeed, she evaluates her life as ‘bitter’ and we agree with her.
But as I prayerfully re-read the account, I was astounded to find that the real actor in the story was God. “In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land..” (1:1) “So Naomi returned….as the barley harvest was beginning.” (1:22) “As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.” (2:3)
Again and again, the story hints at the presence of One who is in overall control of the situation. Consider the settings: famine, death, chance encounters. Most unexpectedly, Naomi found herself an unusually loyal daughter-in-law. Who could ever engineer these events? The entire account throbs with divine timing as the plot develops. The unnamed hand of God turns the pages, introducing turns in events too wonderful to be true.
But our sinful bent for autonomy again lures as we read the machinations of Naomi in chapter three. Scholars tell us that her suggestion was laden with sexual overtones. Yet we find no evidence that Boaz acted against his integrity.
Since that day years ago, the impact of God’s sovereignty has not left me. Could it be that for each of us, just as for Naomi and Ruth, God is truly watching over us to perform His desire for our life? Could it be that this watching is one of such intense longing and love that makes it possible for us to really relax into God’s goodness on a moment-by-moment basis and really begin to truly trust Him? What would our life look like if we did that? What impact would it have on our witness if we lived with such a deep assurance that God is truly watching over us to perform His purposes for our lives?
When the erstwhile unassuming Ruth is married to Boaz and bears a son, it is Naomi who is congratulated. The veil lifts on the whole saga; but sadly Naomi, who has been active as a lark, is silent at this point. It is the other women who see her blessedness and declares it:
“May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (2:12)
“‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you… May He become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age..” (4:14)
Will we look at Naomi and confess how prone we are to take matters into our hands, blind to God’s favour upon us?
There is more.
This sovereign God who has declared by the sacrifice of His Most Prized One – Jesus – that He is Sacrificial Love, also calls us to a vital relationship with Him where He does speak to us. This means that God who is sovereign, and sovereignly aware of the sparrow and has the ability keep track of our hair follicles, knows that your husband has neglected you, that your colleagues are rejecting your overtures of friendship, that your child may fall sick the following week, very sick to the point of death…and wants to speak to you about it. Would a God of love not have something to say to prepare you, to strengthen you, and to heal you?
“Who then is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him….The Lord confides in those who fear Him, he makes his covenant known to them.” (Psalm 25:12-14)
But O how we fret over the reactions of people, we worry about how our efforts are being assessed, how our dear ones respond to me….and we strive. Or we become bitter and angry, sullen or nonchalant…All of these ways of coping reflect something deeper: we have not learnt to trust in a sovereign God.
Ponder the life of Jesus: what a horrendously difficult life to live with all those expectations each day. Or consider the life of the apostle Paul who had to learn that his great exploits for God that contained more mystery than methods; such that he had to exclaim, “this surpassing power is from God… we are but jars of clay..” (2 Cor 4)
Or think of how so much of our christian life can seem like duty, drudgery and debate: submit to your spouse, honour your parents, obey your leaders…
All of it is impossible and meaningless if God does not sovereignly see and know, understand and commune with us. But he does. He is the sovereign God – who loves us and has given His Son to prove it. He is the sovereign God who watches over us even when we are asleep and unable to do anything further.
Let us learn to live – at peace – for we indeed have a Sovereign God.