Who’s Your Father?: Returning to the Love of the Biblical God by Robert Bernecker“What is neglected by most Christians today is the comforting, awe-inspiring truth of our God’s sovereignty, his great love for each of us, and the eminent trustworthiness of his eternal purpose, which includes each of us in infinite detail. This negligence robs us of our real joy and comfort in our Father who loves us, chooses us, redeems us, and perfects us.” “A ‘god’ whose will is resisted, whose designs are frustrated, whose purpose is checkmated, possesses no title to Deity, and so far from being a fit object of worship, merits naught but contempt.” (A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God)
Last year I was contacted by the author of Who’s Your Father? Robert Bernecker, who asked me if I’d read and review his book, which he had recently published. He was kind enough to send me a copy and patient enough to wait for me to read it. Mr. Bernecker is not a theologian, pastor, or seminary professor, but merely a layman who came to an understanding of the sovereignty of God through his own personal, in-depth study of the Scriptures. His book is written for the lay Christian and is chock full of scriptures. For example, Bernecker cites or quotes some 80 verses or passages in just the first chapter of 16 pages to support or illustrate his points. He also draws from the works of many highly-respected Puritans, Reformers, preachers, evangelists and authors, including: Augustine, Tyndale, Luther, Whitefield, Edwards, Spurgeon, Tozer, Pink, Packer, Boice, and Sproul, as well as others.
The topic of Bernecker’s book is the important and much-debated topic of the sovereignty of God, a biblical truth and beloved doctrine held by the early Reformers, but resisted and even denied by some Christians today. Americans historically are do-it-yourselfers who take pride in being independent, self-sufficient individuals who have attained success by “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps,” if you will forgive the use of the cliché. But the idea of a person being “the master of one’s own destiny” is nothing less than atheistic thinking, and the boast of being a “self-made man” is a prideful denial of God’s sovereignty. I believe this mindset has to some extent carried over into our theology and has undermined this doctrine. While the belief in God’s sovereignty is often said to be balanced by the truth of man’s responsibility, many churches have no problem emphasizing the latter, while neglecting or downplaying the former.
God’s Sovereignty over Nature and Circumstances
Many who are not professing Christians are willing to concede the existence of God, at least “a detached hands-off observer-god,” but Bernecker sets forth many scriptures to show that this is not the God of the Bible – scriptures that describe a God who did not merely set universal laws and “mother nature” into motion, but who is actively involved in and is the first cause of everything that takes place.
It seems that some people are willing to allow God a certain amount of sovereignty or control over some aspects of life, but perhaps not every aspect, or at least not all the time. One man I dialogued with acknowledged that the Bible shows God has the ability and at times chooses to control or manipulate elements such as weather, animals, disease, even death, but because He can doesn’t mean He always does. For example, we know that God sent hail as a plague on the Egyptians and the flood of Noah’s time, withheld rain during Elijah’s time, and that Christ Himself calmed a violent storm. So does that mean whenever an earthquake or tornado hits, that God caused it? The man mentioned above would say No. Yet Amos 3:6 states, “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” In fact, if God has the knowledge and power to intervene or manipulate natural elements, His apparent “inaction” demonstrates His sovereignty just as much as any perceived or obvious action. (Christ’s delay with regard to visiting the sick Lazarus is an example of this.) If instead of saying God caused a tornado we say He “allowed” it, we are still recognizing that He demonstrated His sovereignty over it. Psalm 115:3 reminds us, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.” On the other hand, Bernecker comments,
…a god who does not get what he wants is not God at all. There would necessarily be some limitation to that supposed god’s power, knowledge, resources, or abilities – otherwise that god would, in fact, be able to get what he wanted and to do exactly as he pleased.
Bernecker observes that it’s actually illogical and pointless to pray to God, wait on Him, trust Him, or give thanks to Him unless we really believe He is completely involved and in control of all circumstances. Additionally, “we cannot realistically thank our God for all circumstances if we presume our circumstances to have possibly slipped past his only-occasional attention, authority, and administration.”
Again, some people make a distinction between those areas in which God is “allowed” (or invited by us) to take control (ie. jobs, illness) and other areas in which He is not involved, for whatever reason. Regarding this distinction, Bernecker says,
Our God is the author of both the miraculous and the mundane, and this is a realization that will revolutionize our walk with our Father… It is common for people of our day to label an unusual event that they perceive to be a good thing as “a God thing”…Our error is to attempt to compartmentalize those things that we will choose to allow to be God things while refusing to acknowledge God’s involvement in those things we perceive as less than spectacular.
I have to admit, I wince whenever someone remarks, “It was a God thing.” I just want to reply, “Isn’t everything really a God thing?” Not that everything that goes my way is a “miracle” (like finding a close parking spot in a crowded mall lot, for example.) God sometimes intervenes in supernatural ways, but MOST of the time He just uses what are called ordinary means – people, laws of nature (that He put into place), modern technology, etc. to accomplish HIS ordained purposes.
God’s Sovereignty over the Will of Man
Robert Bernecker goes on to address another attitude or view held by people, particularly Christians, regarding God, and that’s the idea that God is a gentleman who would never force His influence or even His love on a person who didn’t want or ask for it. Those who hold this view seem to feel the need to defend God and to protect His reputation, but in so doing, they unwittingly present a picture of God that is not to be found in Scripture. Where, I ask, does this idea of a Gentleman God come from within the Word of God?
The author provides numerous examples from Scripture where God intervened and influenced the attitudes, emotions, wills, desires, and decisions of men in order to bring about His ordained purposes. In fact, when we pray to God to accomplish something, aren’t we often asking God to influence the will, desire, and/or actions of others? For example, if we pray for someone to get a job, aren’t we asking God to intervene in the situation, to open a job position somewhere, and to influence the will of the person making the hiring decision?
The author doesn’t deny that humans have a will and do make choices and decisions, but he addresses the question, Which comes first – God’s decree or man’s decision? Which has more weight or plays a more significant role in the outcome of any situation? Knowing that God works with the choices of man and intervenes in their will and choices is actually a comforting and freeing truth (see Prov. 19:21, 16:9; Eccl. 7:13). It means that I can make plans and decisions in faith, knowing that nothing I do will ruin, interfere, or thwart God’s plan or purposes. Again I ask, Why do Christians resist this truth, when it is in goodness, love, and wisdom that our Father acts and intervenes on our behalf and for our good?
Bernecker also discusses the implications of the foreknowledge of God, what it means and especially what it doesn’t and can’t mean. He explains that God isn’t merely responding to the choices and actions of men, nor anticipating their actions and adapting accordingly. Jeremiah 51:12 tells us, “The Lord has both purposed and performed what He spoke.” (See also Is. 46:10-11.) As Bernecker puts it, “God’s words do not merely predict history, but rather the unfolding of history fulfills God’s words…when God foretells the future, he is actually stating what it is that he will do in the future, not merely what will happen.” In his discussion about God’s knowledge of the future, Bernecker also touches on the modern belief system known as open theism – a false view that teaches that God is limited in His knowledge and is always growing and learning. This view is becoming increasingly more popular because “the church is already well down the road of ripping sovereignty from God and handing it to humans who are only too delighted to accept such ‘empowering’ doctrines,” as Bernecker observes.
God’s Sovereignty in Salvation
Bernecker talks about God’s sovereignty not only in the universe at large and in individual lives in general, but specifically with regard to salvation. He discusses in some depth the idea of man’s free will, a pet subject for many modern evangelicals. Salvation is an area where many Christians especially like to limit God’s sovereignty. Sure, He causes it to rain. Yes, He heals people of sickness. Okay, He provided Dad with a needed job. But wait, He changed a person’s heart? Okay, now you’ve gone too far. In fact, the same person that insists that God allows man to exert his own free will to choose Him, will also pray for the salvation of a lost loved one. I find this ironic, because in doing so, isn’t he actually asking God to influence the heart and will of the lost person? With regard to the role of man’s will in salvation, the question may be stated like this: Does a person become a child of God if and when he responds to the Gospel and believes in Christ? Or does he repent and come to faith in Christ because he had been “chosen before the foundation of the world” by God (Eph. 1:4) to be His child (which is what Bernecker and I believe the Bible teaches)?
This is how some Christians describe conversion: God is offering everyone a gift – His Son/Salvation – and all you have to do is reach out and accept it (citing John 1:12). But, it’s your decision to make, for God is not a celestial puppeteer, and we are not merely robots, they would argue. Bernecker deals with this common objection against the doctrine of election and the role of God’s sovereignty in salvation. It requires an act of God to intervene in circumstances, open the eyes of the blind, and make that which was spiritually dead alive, enabling the sinner to hear and his will to respond to the Gospel. God does more than offer salvation — He grants repentance and faith to the sinner. It’s God who softens or hardens a heart – turns one toward repentance and leaves another in his state of rebellion. While from our perspective, a man makes the decision to place his faith in Christ, God’s work of grace precedes human choice – it must or else salvation would be brought about by the will of man, which many verses such as John 1:13, John 8:42-47, and Romans 9:16 clearly deny.
Not only does it require the will and act of God to change a sinner’s heart, but it is always up to the will of God who will be saved, when and how. Some like to say that God is “doing everything He can to save sinners,” but it is up to them to respond and accept Him. They say that it wouldn’t be fair of God to choose to save some people but not others. Bernecker explores this idea of fairness in relation to the doctrines of predestination and election. We can see in the Bible examples of God taking extreme measures to save certain individuals – the apostle Paul, for example – but not others. Bernecker observes,
How many unbelievers, or even outright atheists, would certainly choose to believe if they too were stopped in their tracks by supernatural, blinding light and the deafening voice of the resurrected Jesus calling them by name?…Some people are given a greater exposure to the Gospel than others, and some people that would surely repent if they were exposed to the Gospel are not given the opportunity…on the other hand, Romans 8:28-30 teaches us that God will do all that is necessary to save those people whom he has chosen.
Comfort in God’s Sovereignty
Now I can certainly understand why unbelievers would reject this all-sovereign God that is seen in the Bible, because it would mean that someone beside themselves is in control of their life, their “destiny.” But I simply don’t get why so many Christians shrink back or bristle at this truth about God. I believe it was Spurgeon who stated that we can never view God as too sovereign, nor man as too sinful. Another writer put it this way:
I do not understand how it is possible to exaggerate God’s sovereignty. To exaggerate is to present something as greater than it really is. How is this possible? God’s sovereignty is infinite and absolute. How can one ever present that sovereignty as greater than it really is?
To me, this doctrine not only magnifies God and makes Him all the more wonderful, but it’s an amazingly comforting, reassuring truth. While this understanding of God puts man in his proper place, at the same time it inspires the humbling thought, “Who am I, that You, O Lord, are mindful of me?” (Psalm 8). As Bernecker puts it,
Our Father is unlimited in perception, unlimited in power, unlimited in ability, unlimited in resources, and unlimited in wisdom…such a realization can yield nothing less than unmitigated worship and adoration for our Father, who is sovereign over every detail in the universe and still chooses us to be his very own.
Additionally, when we truly understand the sovereignty of God,
Confidence in prayer comes not from knowing that we can change our Father’s purpose, but rather from knowing that his purpose can never be changed…We pray confidently, knowing that we are not attempting to alter God’s perfect purpose with our own ideas; rather, we are affirming and accomplishing his perfect purpose with our prayers!
With this attitude we surely can go boldly to the throne of grace with our needs and concerns!
Robert Bernecker’s desire and intent for his book, Who’s Your Father? is primarily to remind the Christian reader that God’s sovereignty is closely linked to His love for His children. Having a proper view of God’s sovereignty will inspire awe, love, faith, and worship towards our God. Confident belief in God’s sovereignty will affect our worship, our prayer life, our attitude in trying circumstances, and our approach in witnessing to the lost. If as a Christian you have struggled with understanding or accepting just how sovereign God is, I believe this book will provide much food for thought along with the Biblical grounds for seeing and embracing this tremendous aspect of our Heavenly Father.
Today, you are in one of two places: either you are in the arms of a loving, all-sovereign God who is your Father, or you are in the hands of an angry God who is your Judge. There is no other option. Where are you?On a personal note: Just this past week I came to see the sovereign hand of God as a friend of mine died suddenly from the flu. Jessica was a follower of I’m All Booked and commented here frequently, and I’ll miss her encouraging posts. But I rest in the knowledge that God has ordained every day of each life, and in His wisdom and goodness had determined that it was her time to join Him.
Other great resources on this topic include:
Related Sites and Articles
- An interview with Robert Bernecker (www.monergism.com)
- Christian Book News: Who’s Your Father? (steadfast-kingdom-of-god.blogspot.com)
- God’s Absolute Sovereignty (www.gty.org)
- Part 2 in the Chosen By God series: God’s Sovereignty (www.ligonier.org)