God is Sovereign?
In the discussion of Hebrews last Sunday, our group got off on a tangent about sacrifice, and someone asked if the Bible offered a reason for God's acceptance of Abel's animal sacrifice and rejection of Cain's fruits-of-the-field offering, a story presented early in Genesis.
We speculated, some suggesting that blood sacrifice was the paradigmatic one and that the text presupposes that the reader would know this, others proposing that the motives of the two brothers were opposite one another, Abel offering his sacrifice with a proper heart and Cain presenting his offering with an impure heart.
We seemed to have reached an agreement that the text offers too little information to strongly claim one or the other reading as correct, except that one young man offered a third suggestion at that point (and I hope that I've got this right):
"In the final analysis, God is sovereign and can do as He pleases."That sort of statement is usually a conversation-stopper, so I leaned forward and objected:
"But there is a strong Christian tradition that God is rational and would not decide arbitrarily."The young man hesitated, then said:
"But God is far beyond our rational abilities."I agreed, conditionally:
"Certainly, but He would not contradict himself."We got no further on that issue, but I have given some thought to how one ought to respond. The Christian tradition generally insists that God is rational, that He is good, and that He is not arbitrarily willful (unlike some Islamic conceptions of Allah). If one agrees to this, the issue becomes one of whether or not we could judge some actions to be impossible for God because contrary to His good, rational nature. He could not declare evil to be good -- for instance, declare that rape or murder is good. More generally, He could not arbitrarily declare one individual's action better than another individual's action.
The appeal to God's sovereignty, however, seems to imply that he could do precisely this, namely, that God can arbitrarily choose, for instance, to accept one sacrifice and reject another for no good reason!
But perhaps I've not understood the appeal to God's sovereignty . . .
UPDATE: Blogger did some maintenance all day Friday the 13th (2011) and 'trashed' the fine comments that had been posted here. Apologies . . .