deconstructing sovereignty with a relational god

The thought of a sovereign God rattles my bones and not in a good way. As a child, I would listen to my Mom’s Sunday School lessons on biblical characters and try to grasp at their closeness to God. I wanted to be the young Samuel and have God wake me up in the middle of the night. I desired to be called like Jonah and have the chance to run away just to be saved by God through a big fish. I wanted to be so close to Jesus that I could touch his garment and smell his sweat. This longing has never went away; if anything, it has intensified.

God calling Samuel

Of course, these desires evolved as I matured. As a youngster, I wanted to know for certain that I could be found in heaven when I died. So I would raise my hand or walk upfront week after week during the altar call. I felt God close in those moments. You know, the moments when you are the most afraid, but hope is budding within your soul. Those were the experiences that transcended everything. I was in the arms of God, and God was cradling me, and singing to me that everything was going to be okay. I get that in different ways now, since I attend churches where the altar call is absent.  For me, my thin places are not places at all, but spontaneous events. It’s these surprises that I sense the divine. This is why I find myself in churches where they stand and clap when they feel led. Congregants dance in the aisles and preachers give messages bent toward justice. This is surely the fullness of the Spirit.

So going back to the idea of the sovereignty of God. The word ‘sovereign’ does not appear more than four times in the Christian Testament. 1 of the 4 times it only relates to a human ruler. Of course, one cannot just rule out because it has rare instances in the Bible (since most fundamentalists command similar attention when it comes to the few verses on apparent homosexuality). What I find curious though is that the first one to write in depth on sovereignty was St. Augustine, which was during the time when Christianity was the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. Thus, we could conclude that pre-fourth century Christians did not have the vocabulary or context for sovereignty because they were found on the receiving end of the violence from the Roman Empire. God was with them rather than above them, controlling them.

This could possibly be why global theologies skip or rarely speak of God’s sovereignty because how can one speak of a God totally in control when your church was just burnt down, or when your family members go missing, or even when your religion is the minority in a country? Theologian Ivone Gebara strikes at the heart of the issue writing,

“i am suspicious of this omnipotent god, this self-sufficient god, this god beyond the earth and the cosmos, this god beyond humans and at the same time very much like humans, the celestial “double” of powerful men, whether to the right or left.

the god on high, in heaven, on a throne, the father of men, the god of blind obedience, the god who punishes and saves, is no longer useful even when he presents a liberator’s face—to our world, to the humanization of the human, to women, to the future of the poor. he too is the fruit of an authoritarian religion experience by the masses, a religion that produces sentimentalism and consolation as faith’s response to the nonsense of an existence reduced to survival, the existence today of thousands of humans scrabbling for a wretched loaf to exist.” – from “The Face of Transcendence as a Challenge to the Reading of the Bible in Latin America”

The world is a beautiful, wretched place. God can be seen in the tiniest of moments and tonight children will go to sleep hungry. The old question, that should be retired, ‘how is there a good God when evil avails?’ no longer makes sense without a sovereign God. Like the early Christians constructing theology from their experiences with a relational divinity. We too need to experience and be open to the divine in all things. If God is in control of all things fine, but to live as so could block us from opening ourselves to God. For example, when thinking of vulnerableness, the comic strip  Coffee With Jesus comes to mind. Characters sit and chat with Jesus over coffee. They complain about life, grieve over loss, and sometimes even Satan makes an appearance. This one seems appropriate for taking the stance of openness:

Let things Go

In conclusion, I have drawn closer to a process relational theology because of my past and present experiences with the divine and my interpretation of the Bible. God is relational, moving, loving, listening, caring, judging, and suffering with us. We are not alone, and we are not called to be alone. This is why religious communities are extremely important for our development and transformation. Indeed, we also are not meant to leave the world as it is either. Our relational God walks with us pursuing justice, equality, and life for all.

Whether the doctrine of sovereignty points to God or not, the real question is whether we are following God through the shadows of death or sitting idly by?

Published by brother timothie

I am a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. My interests include constructive theologies, liberation theologies, documentaries, far-left politics, homelessness ministries, creative liturgies, poetry, and pop culture.

8 thoughts on “deconstructing sovereignty with a relational god

  1. Great insights. I’ve also found closeness with God through a church that doesn’t sugarcoat issues of justice. Very refreshing from what I grew up with. 🙂

  2. Hi Brother. I don`t think the writers of the New Testament were building doctrine on personal experiences which they were going through. It was God, the Holy Spirit, telling them what to write down, verbal dictation is the only possible conclusion dear friend. To find God`s sovereignty as a whole you must add passages from the old testament, as well to see the whole picture dear friend. Blessing , Peace, and I`m still a right-winger with a heart full of sin, crucifying that sin, for the sight of the Glory of CHRIST.

    1. God loves all, Mark, even right-wingers. 😉 We do disagree with how the writers of the Hebrew and Christian Testaments came to write their books. There were times that Paul included his personal testimony, especially in 1 Corinthians 7:25. Personal experience does not take away from inspiration. It also never even mentions in the Bible that it was verbally dictated.

      Certainly there are sunspots of sovereignty in Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, but I do not think that there is any consensus, which is fine, but depending on our theological flavor, we chose to read some Scriptures over others. For example, God changes God’s mind many times throughout the Torah, especially in the Genesis 2 Creation narrative, the Flood story in Genesis 7-8, and in the book of Exodus Moses debates with God to let the children of Israel not be killed. Then throughout these same books, you can read in Joseph’s story that God is working through everything.

      Everything’s complicated, and when we boil down the Bible to one thing it loses its imagination and its life-givingness.

      Let’s keep on confessing and crucifying! We have no place to go, but up.

  3. Hi Brother, Love disagreeing so peacefully with you. Are you sure dear Timothy that God loves everyone? I certainly doubt God loves everyone on earth. The Psalm says over -n- over that God HATES sinners(Unrepentant sinners, of course). Real sinners will be burning in a real HELL, with a real ANGER from God on them for eternity. Are you seriously a universalist, now???? Seriously Tim??????

    1. Mark, you took my first sentence a little too seriously. I even put a winky-face after it just so you would know that it was joke. I was trying to come from the left side of the debate because usually it is right-wingers who believe that they are always in the right, they’re the elect and to question their way of interpreting the Bible is a sin. So I was trying to say that one can follow God and have multiple ways of participating in politics, culture, and the world.

      I am sure that God loves everyone, although not everyone loves God back. I would rather believe that than to even fathom to think that God does not love some.

  4. Love you brother. Sorry for offending you, if I did. I agree with you in the fact that I don’t want to believe that God does`NT love everyone, but many verses say that he does hate sinners, what can it mean? Its inspired writ, we cannot change it. I guess my Right- winging attitude is`nt going to win you over to my side. Do you laugh at me in secret, yet to my face you are very respectful. Question Mark. Maybe you are thinking, “That little Hillbilly, Mark, He thinks He is always right, that little right-winger……..HaHaHa Lol, LoL Smiley with a wink.

    1. You are putting words in my mouth, Mark, and I do not appreciate it. I respect and love you very much.

      I was just pointing out attitudes that right-wingers as well as all ideologs perform to those who think differently. Left-wingers have arrogant attitudes as well. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

      Know that I do not think any less of you because we believe and think differently. That’s okay and if we were the same, what a boring world this would be.

  5. Sorry Dear Tim, for putting words in your mouth, my hands were clean, by the way, hahaha. I was prideful and that is sinful, so sorry. God forgive me. I`m trying to understand Romans 14 and the fact that those of different opinions are accepted by God (Romans 14:3) The question, for me, is, is Romans 14 dealing with food and Days of the week, or can it leak out into different theology’s as well. For myself, ( one who thinks everyone should be on the same page theologically) I struggle with Romans 14, where different opinions are actually smiled at, BY GOD???????? This is a blow to my pride. Please accept my humble confession, and will not bother you again.

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