For The Lord God Omniopotent Reigneth…Hallelujah!

It’s that time of year when we’ll hear people playing and singing Handel’s Messiah.  Including the capstone…the Hallelujah Chorus.  What a wonderful piece of music, and what a wonderful time of year is advent when we hear music everywhere hailing Jesus’ birth and life.

There’s a line that gets repeated in the Hallelujah Chorus quite a few times that I used in the title:  “…for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”  The Lord God omnipotent reigns.  That word omnipotent is one we don’t use in everyday language any more.  It means “all-powerful.”  To reign means to rule, to control, like a king.  Jesus, the Lord God all-powerful, rules over all.

A few weeks ago our area was hit with a couple of tornadoes, one of them extremely bad and a local town has a huge section that was just leveled, and hundreds of people are currently unable to live in their homes, if those homes are even still standing (which for many they aren’t).  After the tornado a local pastor posted a noble attempt at comforting those who have had lives turned upside down:

I believe nature happened. The weather was the optimal condition and houses were in the way. I don’t believe God sits in heaven playing with us in such sadistic ways. God did not put his finger down and wipe out your home. Nor do I believe that God was saving some people and neglecting some to suffer. Last I checked everyone – Christian or not – whose home was in the path lost. I do not believe God plays a cosmic games of “duck, duck, duck cancer/tornado/hurricane,” arbitrarily dishing out human tragedies.

via Duck…Duck…Duck…Tornado. | Charlie Dean.

I replied to the post, which while well-intended, left a picture of God that is anything but all-powerful and ruling:

While I share your frustration with many of the quotes you list, I find it very concerning that you display such an uninvolved and impotent God. Is God so out of control that tragedies like this happen outside of His will? I think Ephesians 1 and Romans 8-9 are clear that this is not that case.

I find it equally puzzling that you think that there were tornadoes and hurricanes in the garden. This beautiful creation, which God pronounced “good” did not contain death and destruction until man brought sin into it. Creation itself is marred by the sin of man, and Jesus brings redemption to sinners like you and me, but also to the whole of creation.

Is it helpful to note that destruction is rooted in original sin? Not always, but I think at times it is. It is comforting to know that when Jesus restores all things in the New Heavens and the New Earth that there will be no more of this.

Our God is powerful and controls every molecule and atom in creation…there is not one stray electron in this world. And through the work of His Son and His Spirit He is over time putting all things right and will destroy every enemy including death.

I applaud your desire to ensure the watching world does not see God as displaying a sadistic favoritism, but to display God instead as an impotent overlord who couldn’t do anything about those weather conditions or uncaringly decided not to do anything about it is just as wrong as the careless use of clichés.

I had a friend in college who, while Christian, was troubled, just as this pastor is, with the idea of anything bad happening in a world ruled by a sovereign God.  A God who controls all things, and is working a plan in history, and yet who allows horrible things (like this destructive tornado) to occur.  And her solution to this troubling thought was to raise Satan to a level of power where he could wreak havoc outside of God’s control.  I remember more than a dozen conversations before we just agreed to disagree on the matter and put it aside.  And this pastor seems to have a similar difficulty, saying in his reply to my comment, “no. I don’t believe that God stirs the molecules to form a tornado to destroy a small town for some arbitrary reason.”

And there’s the rub.  In my friend’s mind, and in this pastor’s proclamation, there are only two options:  God chooses to have nothing to do with the weather and lets it roll as it will, or God does this arbitrarily (or worse yet God is actually mean to some people).  And this false dilemma leads to poor conclusions.

You see, God isn’t doing this for some arbitrary reason.  God is never, ever arbitrary!  

Consider this from Romans 9:

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

These are hard words to us.  God hardened Pharaoh?  But when we have a problem with what God says He does…the problem is not with the Word or with God…it is with us.  God is good, and does only good.  And He has good purposes in this…see what He says?

….that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

God allows evil and horrible things to occur for His own glory.  To show His power and so His Name will be proclaimed.  We may not understand at the time all the reaches of how this works (and we’re not supposed to try, cf Deuteronomy 29:29**) but we know that He is working things for His glory, and for the good of His people (Romans 8).  And He truly controls all things that come to pass.

As my college friend later came to see (we found each other on Facebook a few years ago) this isn’t problematic:  it’s comforting.  If God controls even the hugely destructive tornado then you and yours can hide in the basement and pray for God’s protection and He can do that.  If God lets the weather go as it will, there is no purpose to any prayer in the midst of a tornado or hurricane.  God won’t do anything.  But knowing that He not only can, but does control the events in this world allows us to pray and to trust in His power and wisdom.  God’s sovereign hand is reigning over all things, and can be trusted to do what is right and just in every circumstance.

So be comforted! God is good and He is powerful and He actively rules over all creation!  The Lord God Omnipotent Reigneth!  Hallelujah!

** This, in part, is what I think was frustrating the pastor I’m responding to.  People do (and did) sometimes presume to know the specific purposes God has in an event like this. And sometimes we get a glimpse of that specific in this life, but usually we don’t.  We know that God is glorifying Himself in what He’s doing.  We don’t know why he spares one person and allows another to go unless we’re specifically told (like with Pharaoh in Romans 9).  I agree that this is presumption and is problematic at best, and should be avoided.  But the solution is not to deny that God is powerful and involved in His creation in intimate detail.  Don’t let frustration with those things that the passage says are secret keep you from rejoicing in and embracing and being comforted by truths that have been revealed like His omnipotent control over all things!

3 thoughts on “For The Lord God Omniopotent Reigneth…Hallelujah!

  1. Thanks for expounding on your thoughts James. As you know, I wanted to push back on your comments from Charlie’s blog. Although we appear to have very different views of God (and prayer, and science, and free will), I wanted to start by saying it is equally obvious that it is the same God and that I appreciate you approaching a difficult topic so calmly.

    “In my friend’s mind, and in this pastor’s proclamation, there are only two options: God chooses to have nothing to do with the weather and lets it roll as it will, or God does this arbitrarily (or worse yet God is actually mean to some people).”

    I think this is reductionist. I obviously can’t speak for Charlie or for your friend, but I don’t think this at all represents the options available (either in number or in fact.) Reducing difficult topics to a binary choice is convenient, but rarely effective.

    For example, I could claim that you only see two options in this scenario: Either God explicitly controls everything including the actions of humans- or he is impotent and unworthy of our praise.
    Obviously this would be a disingenuous statement because it not only reduces but also caricatures your viewpoint.

    Despite our differences on this, you say a lot I agree with. For example your application of Deut. 29 is relevant and I largely agree with your claim of “God allows evil and horrible things to occur for His own glory.” That much is apparent in the world around us. But there is a big difference between allowing and causing.

    God protects and shelters His people. For someone to say after a storm, “God protected me” gives glory to God. It doesn’t mean that God was punishing someone who wasn’t protected.

    If, as you say, God is controlling that tornado as it levels one house and not the other; damages one church and misses another; kills one man and spares another- how does that glorify God? You say that the prayers of those spared bring glory to God, but what of the prayers of those who weren’t spared?

    I met a man in the Dominican Republic on a mission trip years ago. We were in an area that had been devastated by a flood and he told me about his two children that perished in the flood, despite his prayers. What do I tell him? Why were his prayers not good enough? I honestly don’t remember what I said to that man in broken spanish. But the primary cause wasn’t his lack of prayer or election, but that poor people in his community had no choice but to set up camp near a riverbed that is known to swell in particularly rainy years.

    When Joseph says “what you meant for evil, God worked for good” he isn’t implying that God put him in the well, only that His will is imminent and He can use our screw-ups (and presumably nature) to bring Glory to Himself.

    Note: I just noticed your new blog come up and realized that is probably the one you told me was coming, not this one. I’m going to cut this short and address that one instead, but I’d be happy to continue this conversation as well. (Because I don’t know how to keep my mouth shut!)

    • I think Joseph did mean that God caused it for good. Just as God poured out all of your sin and my sin on Jesus on the cross, giving Him our punishment and giving us instead His inheritance (Rom 8).

      I see no functional difference between an all powerful God who could stop any evil act but allows it and an all powerful God who plans out every detail of History that includes men committing evil acts. God’s Providence, where He orders everything that happens, has an ultimate goal: His glory.

      The man you met in the Dominican Republic: How does his grief change if you tell Him God allowed the storm vs. God caused the storm? Our comfort in God’s sovereignty isn’t based in our ability to understand the web of things that goes on around us. Our comfort is in knowing that the God who cared for us, who knows us better than we know ourselves, who sent His own son to die on our behalf: that He controls what goes on around us and that He has a purpose in it even when we can’t see it.

      When the three Hebrews (Mishael, Azariah and Hananniah) in Daniel’s exile were cast into the furnace, what did they say? “Our God is able to save us from the fiery furnace. But even if He does not we will not bow down and worship your image.” They understood that the purposes of God may involve theyre martyrdom. As did many of the Christian martyrs over the years (I’d commend Foxe’s book to you). “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” That was spoken by Hugh Latimer while he and Ridley were being burned at the stake for their faith.

      Understanding Who God is, and what His aims are, and knowing that He has a plan that involves suffering and pain in this life but that it produces eternal glory in the next (2 Cor 4)…that is where true comfort and joy reside. If I thought for a moment that God did not order my steps and those of men around me I would find myself soon in despair.

      Are some of God’s Words hard to hear? Certainly! But what makes them hard is our both our unwillingness to trust God’s goodness and our inability to see the whole scope of His plan. Some of the most tragic events in our history have produced some amazing things by God’s Providence, and we can rejoice in those. They are not the product of luck or random weather, but the product of a God who has planned the story of history and the future for His glory. That in a particular moment you cannot see how something glorifies God does not change its truth.

      Read the passage in Romans 9 again. This is the Word of God. This too, is something revealed that gives us a blessing…it is not longer secret. And I will rejoice in the Lord God Omnipotent who reigns for ever and ever and ever, amen.

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