Stephen Unthank

Sovereignty and Government

Even though the nations rage and plot in vain and the kings and rulers of the earth set themselves against the King of kings, even still “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:4). Our King is laughing at all the geo-political hubbub emerging from our current zeitgeist. As citizens of Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom, let’s laugh with him.

From the very opening pages of Scripture we see God’s sovereign rule over mankind in an authoritative and governmental way. He gives his law to Adam that he is not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And when Adam and Eve do eat of that tree they are depicted as being in rebellion.[1] This is political language through and through. And this rebellion isn’t limited to a vertical warfare, man solely against God; it becomes horizontal—man against man. An unnatural law of sorts has commenced: hating God and hating your neighbor as other than yourself. This is exactly what we see in Genesis 4 with the killing of Abel by Cain and the emergence of depraved societies and power-hungry Cities of Man, Lamech being its most infamous tyrant.[2]
It is out of this dark setting wherein we see God graciously institute government—human government—to mitigate against this hellish proclivity in men to kill fellow image bearers. In Genesis 9 God gave Noah, and hence humanity, the power of the sword, but not a sword grounded in the unnatural law of rebellion and murder but a sword grounded in the God given natural law of life and protection. It is, as Paul will later expound in Romans 13, a ministerial power of coercion to keep men from killing men, a sword handed down from heaven to protect against the swords of fallen men.[3]
“From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” (Genesis 9:5-7)[4]
The obvious must still be stated: That throughout this history, no matter the evil, no matter the depravity, and no matter the unnatural lawlessness, God is still sovereign, bringing good out of evil. Indeed, that is arguably the “melodic line” of the book of Genesis: What God made good, man corrupted with evil and yet God promised to not only bring good out of evil (Gen 3:15) but ultimately does (Gen 50:20; Rev. 12:13-13:4).[5]
It was from a similar dark setting and scenario that led Augustine to also write his famous City of God. In fact, as Greg Forster rightly argues, “the overarching purpose of The City of God is to vindicate the Christian conception of the good by showing that the world is superintended by God, who is good and is guiding everything that happens in history for good purposes; thus any concept of “the good” is empty if it does not ultimately point to God. The introduction to one modern edition comments that “the great lesson of The City of God is that out of all things comes good.” This echoes Paul’s comment to the Romans that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28).”[6]
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Prayer Tips: The Word

Praying biblically saturated prayers takes work, concentration, and a keen attentiveness to what God has said. And let the obvious be stated: praying biblically saturated prayers means being someone who is himself saturated in the Bible. It means opening up and reading the Bible, daily meditating upon its life-giving and life-changing truths.

In First Kings 8 we see King Solomon lead in corporate prayer and what stands out about his prayer is that it is Solomon pleading for what the Lord has already promised. He uses language like “keep for your servant David my father what you have promised” (verse 25) and “let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken” (verse 26). This is what the Puritans referred to as “pleading the promises”, a way of praying which brought the person praying closest to the will of God.
To be sure, this ought to be the habit and heart of every Christian’s prayer life, pleading the promises of God and praying according to God’s will. 1 John 5:14-15 tells us, “that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” What does it mean to pray according to God’s will? It means to pray according to the intentions of God’s heart. Of course, there is God’s secret will of decree that we can’t always know. Nonetheless we do have God’s revealed will, his word – be it His promises, His character, His warnings, or His threats. Here then is a solid epistemological ground from which we can boldly approach the throne of grace.
Archibald Alexander (1772-1851) makes the staggering but obvious point that although God, “is everywhere present, yet he is invisible… the great Architect is concealed. As far as reason can lead us, we seem to be shut out from all intercourse with our Maker; and whether prayer is permitted would remain for ever doubtful, were it not for divine revelation.”[1] In other words, how foolish it would be to presume to know the will of God if he had never spoken and yet still offer up prayers with the expectation of divine approval! No wise man would dare come before a king and make a request unaware of whether or not the king was sympathetic to such a plea. “Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right” (Proverbs 16:13).
And yet we do know that our God is ever attentive to his children’s requests, but we only know this because he has spoken; we only know this because of his word. Johannes G. Vos (1903-1983), in his excellent commentary on The Westminster Larger Catechism, says there is only one way to know how to pray in a God glorifying way, “and that is by studying the Bible, which is the revealed will of God.”
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