For years, I never used the word “sovereign” as a noun. I knew it could be used in this way—”Like a sovereign,” writes Shakespeare “he radiates worth, his eyes lending a double majesty”—I just never did. But trial and tragedy have a way of waking us to words and realities overlooked. There was a time that whenever I closed my eyes to pray I was leveled by the image of the throne, and it was empty. It was somewhere in the midst of this recurrent vision that I realized my neglect of the noun. Was God indeed the Sovereign who spoke and listened? I had often used the word as an adjective. But adjectives, like good moods, seem to come and go.
The prophet Jeremiah depicts a Sovereign that cannot come and go, simply because He is. God’s sovereignty is not a coat that can be taken off when all is going well or when all is going poorly. God does not cease to be the Sovereign though the world refuses to bow or “distant” seems a better adjective. And God’s words are not stripped of their sovereignty though no one is listening or no one responds. The Sovereign of all creation is always sovereign, active, and near. It is we who are inconsistent.
Jeremiah chapter 6 begins with an image of the Sovereign speaking to a people unwilling to listen, an honorable Judge whose words are dishonored. “To whom shall I speak?” the LORD inquires. The question is a lonely one, reflecting both the prophet who speaks and the Sovereign whose words are ignored. The inquiry also has the force of sarcasm: Why bother speaking to a people who won’t hear? But the words are not a commentary on God’s behavior; God is not throwing his hands up and suggesting the route of silence. Rather, it is a commentary on God’s words themselves, which are weighted with the compulsion to be heard. Though our ears are closed and we scorn his warnings, the Sovereign speaks and his words go forth with power. “God is always coming,” says Carlo Carretto. “God is always coming because He is life, and life has the unbridled force of creation. God comes because He is light and light cannot remain hidden.”(1) God’s decrees from the throne create and sustain the world. There is a person enthroned in every word, bidding the world’s response to every call and every sound.
Yet we listen with stubborn ears and apathetic wills. It is not a blind and stiff obedience God seeks, but a response appropriate for the Sovereign embodied in God’s words and concern for creation. The people of Israel were responding with formality in sacrifice while acting shamefully in other areas. Today we might respond the same, making nods to religion in public or private, but refusing to wholly bow to the Most High, and hence, settling for something less than real humanity. For in their failure to listen, the Israelites were losing their ability to perceive altogether. “They acted shamefully…yet they were not ashamed; they did not know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15). In human failure to kneel before the Sovereign of all creation, we lose something of what it means to be human.
I don’t know why the throne was empty every time I closed my eyes some years ago. Perhaps I had removed God from the throne long before tragedy hit like a roaring sea and seemed to remove everything in its wake. Perhaps God was ruling from the rooms where we needed God most. I don’t know. But the emptiness of the throne forced me to reexamine the one who inhabits sovereignty itself. Carretto’s words once again hit the gist of such examining: “The true problem is this: Is God an autonomous presence before you, like you before your friend, the bridegroom before the bride, the Son before the Father? […] Can you meet God as a person on your road and prostrate yourself before Him as did Moses before the burning bush? […] Can you experience his presence in the dark intimacy of the temple as did the prophets? In short, is God the God of transcendence, and thus the God of prayer, the God of what lies beyond things, or is He only the God of immanence, revealing Himself in the fruition of matter, in the dynamics of history, in the promise to free mankind?”(2) Is God the Sovereign you will trust at the center of all things? Upon a throne high and lofty, God asks us to look again, calls us to walk in ancient paths, and promises we will find rest for our souls
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Carlo Carretto, The God Who Comes (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1974), 3.
(2) Ibid., Intro.