Someone shared with me yesterday a post by a pastor, whose name I won’t mention here, that is a small picture of what truly toxic theology and unbiblical counsel looks like. Sadly, this is pervasive in the American church, where identity politics, misdirected kindness, and compassion cloaked half-truths have formed a different “gospel” that is not the true gospel elevated by the whole counsel of God’s word.
The pastor said this, “As a pastor, I want to encourage folks to avoid toxic theology today (and every day). ‘No matter what happens, Jesus is King’ is a form of faith that invalidates the lived experiences of faithful people all over the country who have been harmed by this administration.”
There’s a lot in this quote that is problematic; not from the perspective of my personal opinion, but from a biblical perspective. I’m sure this guy is a great guy. But great people can often have poor theology. If we were to sit down over a cup of coffee, I would simply ask,“That’s an interesting statement. Where can I find that validated in the Scriptures?”
To his statement encouraging people to “avoid toxic theology,” I say “Amen!” There is a great deal of toxic theology that is being poured into the streams and wells to which spiritual leaders are leading their flock. And just so I am clear, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd to whom we look and follow, but as Peter strongly encouraged the the spiritual leaders within the church, “ . . . shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you, not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3). Before leading those whom God has entrusted to your care to different pastures in which to rest, and streams from which to drink, you need to make sure you’re leading them to the right pastures and streams; not spiritually modified pastures that look and feel good, yet are filled with deadly toxins that kill the soul rather than nourish.
The next statement this pastor made was to clarify what he believes to be “toxic theology.” He said, “‘Jesus is King,’ is a form of faith that invalidates the lived experiences of faithful people all over the country who have been harmed by this administration.”
I’m fairly certain that he wasn’t referring to Kanye West’s album of the same name . . .but in all seriousness, what is implied in those words, “Jesus is King” is the sovereignty of God. So, in my view, a question arises that we need the Scriptures, all of Scripture, to address: Is God really sovereign? Or, is Jesus really King over all? . . . which is another way of asking: Is Jesus Sovereign?
This is a crucial question to answer (which I will get to in a moment) because if I believe that God is in fact sovereign (He has the power and the right, and does rule and reign over all; He is in control), and Jesus is King, then based on this pastor’s statement it invalidates the lived experiences of people suffering. In other words, God can’t be sovereign, Jesus can’t be King, if people suffer and are harmed “by this administration.”
And just as a side note, I remember hearing this same and seemingly genuinely expressed statement, “Jesus is King,” by a people living under a different administration that did much harm to pre-born children, religious liberty, and race relations (Based on research done by the non-partisan and credible Pew Research Center, which I’ll be glad to share).
Rather than answer the aforementioned question based on what we have experienced, or are experiencing, or what we feel, it would be best to let God speak for Himself, through His word. Allowing our experiences to determine what we believe, is a foundational chemical in the toxic theology of “me-ology.”
So what does God’s word say about His sovereignty? And if He is sovereign, does His sovereignty remain true even in our suffering?
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1
It’s hard to argue with any credibility that God is not sovereign over all things when He, in His eternality, is before all things and created all things. The apostle Paul says in his letter to the Colossians (which is just as pertinent for us) that, “He (speaking of Christ Jesus), is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning of the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.” Colossians 1:15-18
“ . . . but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom He also created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.” Hebrews 1:2-3
With just these few verses of scripture, it seems crystal clear that God is sovereign over all creation. I’m confident no one could trump (no pun intended), the One who upholds the universe He created by the word of His power.
In Captivity (Israel in Egypt, Babylon, Persia)
On the surface, it would seem to not make sense that God would allow the people of Israel to be held captive by her enemies over the course of history, and for the people of Israel to experience suffering at the hands of the governing administrations who ruled over them.
• They were held captive in Egypt; oppressed by those to whom they were enslaved.
• The northern kingdom of Israel (Samaria), was invaded and occupied by the Assyrians, under the reign and rule of Shalmaneser V., with tens of thousands exiled to Assyria.
• The southern kingdom of Israel (Judah), was invaded by Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire. Many were killed, the temple was destroyed, the walls of Jerusalem were left in ruins, and many were taken captive and led into exile in Babylon for 70 years.
• The Medo-Persian Empire, ruled by King Cyrus and later Artaxerxes, allowed the Jewish people to return to Israel and rebuild Jerusalem and then the temple. God used this empire to set His captive people free, fund the rebuilding of the temple, and encourage His children that they are never forsaken.
• The Greek Empire, (Hellenists), initially led by Alexander the Great, controlled the land for almost 300 years. The temple was desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes IV, which led to the revolt by the Maccabees.
• The Roman Empire, ruled the land and suppressed the Jewish people for over 350 years. After Titus, who destroyed the temple in A.D. 70, many of the Jewish people scattered into other parts of the world to avoid death and persecution. This would become known as the Diaspora.
• Many other empires, kingdoms, and administrations would rule in Israel:
• The Byzantine Era
• The Arabs
• The Crusades
• The Mamelukes
• The Ottoman Empire
• The British Empire
• And then you have Nazi Germany who, under the evil rule of Adolph Hitler, sought to exterminate the Jewish people by means of the Holocaust, which led to over 6 million deaths.
In each of these moments of exile, God used the enemies of Israel to carry out His judgment, as well as to draw the hearts of Israel back to Himself. It was Israel’s disobedience, of which God repeatedly warned Israel through His prophets, that led them down a destructive path ultimately leading to the bondage of their captivity. Sin always does, though.
Yet somehow, with all the kingdoms, empires, and nations that have ruled, and in many cases sought to eliminate the people of Israel, God has not only sustained His people, but has used, is using, and will continue to use all of this to accomplish His purposes in the lives of the Jewish people. As Scripture teaches, in the end, all true Israel will be saved. And, He is doing the same in the lives of all who profess to be followers of Jesus.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll highlight just a few more ways in which we see the sovereignty of God in Scripture. There is SO much more, but this should suffice:
In the Suffering of Christ
“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him . . .” Isaiah 53:10
“No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father.” John 10:18
In the Rule and Reign of Christ
“ . . . and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on the earth.” Revelation 1:5
“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” Revelation 1:8
“The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all.” Psalm 103:19
“O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty.” Daniel 5:18
“The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom He will and sets over it the lowliest of men.” Daniel 4:17
“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will.” Proverbs 21:1
“The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” Psalm 2:2-4
“The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.” Psalm 33:10-11
“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” John 12:31
“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on Me, but I do as the Father has commanded Me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” John 14:30-31
In the Suffering of Believers
And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Acts 4:24-31
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. Revelation 6:9-11
“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” 1 Peter 3:17
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you in prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10
And read all of 1 Peter, and of his encouragement to the followers of Jesus who suffered and many who were torturously killed under the tyrannical reign of the brutal emperor, Nero.
And then there is Habakkuk, who expressed his lack of understanding at what was going on with the Assyrians and the soon coming Chaldeans (Babylonians) against God’s people.
There is a sense of honest rawness that comes from Habbakuk in his prayerful cries to God. He asks great questions. His frustration and lack of understanding is real. He is no different from us, when we don’t understand what is going on and why what is happening, is happening.
God answers Habakkuk’s prayers by telling him that He is raising up the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to invade. To that, Habakkuk replies, in essence, “How could you do this?!? Are you kidding me?”
Do you get the sense that Habakkuk could’ve said, “The administration of Assyria has done great harm, and the coming Babylonians will do even more harm, so don’t tell me that God is sovereign. To have that kind of faith and believe that God is sovereign in the midst of all this, invalidates our lived experiences and the harm that we have experienced from Shalmaneser, and will experience through Nebuchadnezzar’s administration”?
Yet, as God speaks to his prophet, He reminds Habakkuk of this: “But the LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Habakkuk 2:20
Sovereignty, even in suffering.
God’s sovereignty is somewhat of a mystery, and at times is hard to accept. Without a doubt, God is broken over the sin that has scathed this world and left a wake of heartache, pain, and suffering. But our lack of understanding God doesn’t make Him any less sovereign.
Regardless of what we experience, God gives much grace to still find much joy and hope in the difficult moments and days of life. He is writing this story, and the twists and turns are not without the sovereign strokes of His pen.
I would encourage you to avoid the dangerous road of seeking to reconcile your feelings with your faith, rather than reconciling your faith with God’s character and who He is.
As I write this, the election has still not been determined; at least not officially. Although some would report it as such, the process has not run its course. It would be true regardless of what party was contesting an election, such as in 2000.
Nonetheless, my hope is not in a political party. Thank you, Jesus! And I can with full confidence say that regardless of whatever takes place, Jesus really is King. He has never ceased to be, nor will He ever. And if that hurts your feelings, I would encourage you to surrender your feelings to God, and let the truth of His word guide your feelings to the goodness of His sovereignty.
So, dear pastor and friends, our only hope and joy is found in Christ, and the sovereignty of a King who has always reigned and always will.
Come, King Jesus.