Sometimes when I’m on my soapbox insisting that God’s love covers all things, somebody will encourage me not to forget about God’s sovereignty. Now, I know what they’re getting at; God doesn’t overlook sin as if it’s meaningless. He is holy and pure. I get that. But still, the indication is troubling because they are right. God is sovereign. So, how does an all-sovereign God exercise love?
Is he like the parent who prefaces punishing a child with the phrase, “I love you, but I simply can’t let this go, not this time”? Does he have some celestial sensor that triggers a switch between love and sovereignty as each situation necessitates? Maybe it works like an onion and God’s sovereignty envelopes all his other traits – his love, holiness, patience, mercy, faithfulness, etc.
If the latter is correct, then everything that is God exercises itself under the control of his sovereignty. His sovereignty commands his love, his faithfulness, his patience, and so on. Following this line of thinking, it is easy to see where God’s image is falsely represented as a lightning bolt God who gnashes his teeth at mortals and their failures.
But what if God’s love and sovereignty isn’t like an onion where the skin entraps all his traits or a see-saw where one trait wins over the other depending on the weight of circumstances? What if God’s essence, his spirit, is more like light, an orb radiating all his characteristics from a core of some type of energy, say love?
Not only does this configuration fit scripture declaring that God is spirit (John 4:24), that he is light (1 John 1:5), and that he is love (1 John 4:8), but it also fits the living out of God’s image in the body of Jesus Christ. In him, we do not witness a love regulated by sovereignty, but a sovereignty regulated by love.
Thinking and living in these terms does not in any way shelve the idea of God’s sovereignty, but it does place it within the heart of God’s love. From love, he rules.
Therefore, instead of asking how an all-sovereign God exercises his love, we might ask how an all-loving God exercises his sovereignty. This, I think, is the better conversation.