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  Aug 17, 2022
 
2022-2023 Academic Catalog 
  
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2022-2023 Academic Catalog

Theme for 2022-2023: Trusting a Sovereign God


The thoughtful believer who prays the words of the Lord’s Prayer recognizes immediately some core truths, perhaps even unsettling truths, about the expression of YHWH’s sovereignty.  The harsh fact of Trusting a Sovereign God is that at times a biblically misinformed trust can lead one to falter in one’s journey of trusting God. Poorly conceived ideas about the nature of God’s sovereignty can lead the best disciple to a painful dead end in an otherwise noble quest.  The few words of Matt. 6:10, barely more than a dozen in either Greek or English translations, draw the believer simultaneously into both the celestial and terrestrial worlds of God’s reign.  In the former world, one is reminded of God’s eternal sovereignty, power, holiness, majesty, and love, while in the terrestrial world one is reminded often of the realm of Satan who owns “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (Matt. 4:8). 

When thinking over the upcoming year’s theme at Harding School of Theology, Trusting a Sovereign God, I am struck by a salient insight offered by Jesus in this didactic prayer.  God’s unique Son was certain that the Father’s reign was not as forceful on earth and his will was not as fully embraced on earth as they were in heaven.  Since this is true, it would be in total disregard for Jesus’ statement of Matthew 6:10 (“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”) to continue with a bumper-sticker theology that glibly affirms that “God is in control” (on earth).   A contemporary believer should avoid, it seems to me, affirming that everything happening in this troubled world is “under God’s control” just like things “in heaven”  are under God’s control, lest we make a mockery of the Lord’s words at this point in his prayer.  Jesus states these words expressly because the sovereign will of God in heaven should not be confused with earthly realities and conditions where God’s reign and will have not yet come.

One lens for viewing this age-old issue about divine sovereignty, an issue that pre-dates Christianity, is to distinguish between God being “in control” and God being “in charge.”  Most can think of a multitude of relationships where someone is in charge but many times not necessarily in control.  This is especially true of those in positions of authority such as police, parents, bishops, and those in various levels of governments.  Those holding these positions of authority are in charge of various domains and relationships, but almost never exercise full total control over them.  There are, after all, criminals, dishonorable children, disobedient congregants, and uncooperative citizens. 

In his prayer, Jesus teaches that there is a heavenly Father, whose kingdom, whose reign, has come to full expression in heaven and whose will is done completely in heaven.  In that place God is both in charge and in control.  Both Jesus and the apostolic voice of the New Testament writings are clear, nevertheless, that the world around them is heavily influenced by Satan and evil which resides with him.  The Johannine letter states, “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), and Paul adds, “making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16).

While Jesus was always faithful in his obedience to God’s will on earth, the same was not true of those to whom Jesus preached.  Looking at the ministry of Jesus, we can see more than one instance when God’s sovereign will through his Anointed Son was rejected on earth (Matt. 23:37-39).  Likewise, the Acts of the Apostles interacts in an inspired way with the vicissitudes of the Christian missionary story.  Luke brings this 28-chapter story to a close with a reference to Paul’s “proclaiming the kingdom of God” (Acts 28:31), immediately following the observation that “and some were convinced by what he [Paul] said, but others disbelieved” (Acts 28:24; cf. 17:32-34).  After all these decades of preaching, those early believers still had to trust in a God who was not in control: “others disbelieved” (Acts 28:24).

The lens of the Lord’s Prayer is certainly not the only lens through which to look into the topic of Trusting a Sovereign God, but it is an often-overlooked one.  In these words Jesus wants to focus God’s sovereignty on the realities of the Kingdom of God and the will of God coming into the prayers and lives of the disciples.  The Lord’s Prayer is not primarily drawing a disciple into trusting a sovereign God who will identify his future spouse, her future job, his future house, and who will resolve many other “first world” personal decisions: the sovereign God of the Lord’s Prayer does not rent-out a crystal ball.  Jesus did, however, tell us what to look for when the terrestrial will and Kingdom of his Father began reflecting the celestial.  When that happens, the earthly will of God embraces both the “in charge” and the “in control” of God’s sovereignty.

And when the sovereign God’s reign comes to earth, Scripture has taught us explicitly whose reign we can trust.  The sick and wounded are healed, idolatrous gods crumble, the poor are fed, the fainthearted are encouraged, the Gospel is preached, the brothers and sisters are loved, Scripture is obeyed, justice is announced, and that promise made to Abraham will not be ignored.  Indeed, that unforeseen seed that God planted in the heart of the Patriarch to bless the human race will begin to grow wildly, colorfully, and luxuriantly over the face of the earth as trust in the sovereign God is proclaimed by his followers:

 

Your kingdom come,

             your will be done,

                        on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10)

 

Richard E. Oster, Jr.

Professor of New Testament