An Email to a Friend

An Email to a Friend August 1, 2011

A precious friend of mine made a remark in an email recently that provoked a lengthy response from me. It’s a very important issue to me as a pastor, and as you read more, I hope you’ll understand why. My friend said it would be OK for me to share the discussion with you. Here’s what I wrote:

“I want to comment on your very last statement. Our beliefs regarding free will and sovereignty actually make a tremendous difference, at least in one particular area: what goes on in our soul in our day-to-day relationship with God. In my own experience as a skeptic-lately-turned-believer in sovereignty, I see an utterly profound difference in my inner experience with God, especially as relates to humility and its attendant fruit: gratefulness, prayerfulness, joy, peace, etc. This is especially true when suffering hits. Those with a deep and strong belief in God’s sovereignty are much more prone to rest in His goodness, assuming per their convictions that He has a wise and benevolent purpose in their pain. Stoic fatalism it is not, for we still find ourselves struggling with fear, doubt and disappointment; but all of those reactions get processed through our day-to-day relationship with a loving Father whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts. In the end, our beliefs call us to sweet and simple surrender, yielding our dreams and our wellbeing to a God who has committed Himself to our ultimate and eternal joy. And we know He is powerful enough, wise enough, and loving enough to bring it to pass.

“Those without this conviction about God’s sovereignty have no such ground for hope. According to their belief system, their pain arises from random evil in the universe, not the design of a benevolent Father. Their expectations for the future are limited to the hope that God can somehow salvage at least some good results from this otherwise awful situation, but even in this belief, they have to borrow heavily from the belief system of those who hold to the strong-sovereignty view. The result is that those who deny sovereignty either 1) go into some form of denial and make up reasons to be happy, 2) borrow confidence from a belief system that is not actually theirs (which is what more free-willers do), or 3) go into despair and lose their faith altogether. I’ve seen all three as I’ve walked with people through times of deep suffering and loss.

“So I would suggest that what you believe about the free will/sovereignty issue is extremely important practically. As a pastor, I am committed to doing everything I can to help my people walk humbly with their God every day and suffer well when their calamity comes. I know of no better way to do that than by deconstructing their false hope in their own free will and building up a strong, biblical confidence in the absolute sovereignty of God.

“Hope in God, my friend!”