The Sovereignty of God: Surrendering to Sovereignty
Einstein’s life began badly and kept getting worse. At birth, his parents were alarmed about his malformed head. They prayed his brain was not damaged. He was slow to speak, raising fears of retardation. “Classmates regarded Albert as a freak,” said a friend. “Teachers thought him dull-witted because of his failure to learn by rote
by Richard A. Swenson, MD
Today's Christian Doctor - Winter 2009
Einstein’s life began badly and kept getting worse. At birth, his parents were alarmed about his malformed head. They prayed his brain was not damaged. He was slow to speak, raising fears of retardation. “Classmates regarded Albert as a freak,” said a friend. “Teachers thought him dull-witted because of his failure to learn by rote and his strange behavior.” When his father asked what profession suited the boy, the headmaster said, “It doesn’t matter; he’ll never make a success of anything.”
When Einstein was 15, his father experienced financial problems – again – and went bankrupt. This necessitated a move to Milan to be near his mother’s prosperous family. Albert remained in Munich for his education. He was miserable. He felt trapped in a despised boarding school, couldn’t get along with his teacher, and was horrified by the possibility of Prussian army duty.
Impulsively, he fled the school to Italy and surprised his family. His parents were baffled by their “draft-dodging, high-school dropout with no skills, no profession, and no future.” His father advised engineering; Albert wanted philosophy.
It was decided he should attend the rigorous Zurich Polytechnic Institute, partly because it didn’t require a high school degree – you only needed to pass the impossible entrance exam. Young Albert flunked French, chemistry, and biology, but he did so well in physics and math that the principal promised him entrance the following year. He spent the interim at a relaxed high school in nearby Aarau and renounced his German citizenship.
Entering the Polytechnic, he was intelligent but incorrigible. He often skipped classes to work in the lab or read books, then scanned classmates’ notes. Professor Weber, who initially thought well of Albert, withdrew his support. Another physics instructor gave him the lowest grade, saying, “You’re . . . hopeless in physics. For your own good, you should switch to something else, medicine maybe, literature, or law.” A math professor called him a “lazy dog.”
Albert decided to play it safe after that – falling in love with the intense, dark, brooding Serbian classmate, Mileva, who was four years older and walked with a congenital limp. His mother hated her.
In 1900, at age 21, he graduated with degrees in physics and mathematics, then discovered he was the only one not given a teaching assistantship – an intentional insult. Additionally, Professor Weber sabotaged his references across Europe. Albert applied for Swiss citizenship, but that required employment. He thought of busking with his violin. “I am nothing but a burden to my relatives,” he wrote. “It would surely be better if I did not live at all.”
His father, after spending his wife’s inheritance and much of his in-laws’ money, was again bankrupt. With no prospects for support, Albert searched out tedious teaching jobs. From 1901-1902 he taught in schools but was fired. He was close to starvation and thought of switching to insurance.
Mileva twice flunked her final Polytechnic exams, ending her physics career. She returned to Serbia and wrote Albert she was pregnant. He was thrilled, but never saw the baby who died (apparently) a toddler.
Out of the blue, in 1902, a friend found him a job with a miniscule salary as a patent clerk in Bern. Soon thereafter, he learned his father was dying. Albert rushed to Milan, where the elder Einstein gave him permission to marry Mileva; but Albert was stricken with the lifelong feeling that he’d failed his father and family miserably.
Completing the Biography
If we stopped here, Albert Einstein would seem an irredeemable mess. But, of course, we know the rest of the story.
Jump forward to 1905. Einstein’s brain continuously engaged the problem of light, where science contained irreconcilable conflicts. One evening, after discussing the problem for hours, he finally gave up. Totally exhausted and depressed, he admitted defeat. On the streetcar home, he glanced at the Bern clock tower and wondered what would happen if the streetcar raced away at the speed of light. “A storm broke loose in my mind,” he said. Instantly he understood – his own clock would continue normally, but the Bern clock would stop! “The solution came to me suddenly.” He had tapped into “God’s thoughts.” For six weeks he furiously worked out the “Theory of Special Relativity,” wrote it down on thirty-one pages, handed it to Mileva to check the math, and went to bed for two weeks. In that “one miraculous year,” Einstein single-handedly upended the entire scientific world, publishing five papers dealing with relativity, time, space, light, photons, energy, speed, and E = mc2. Any one of these would have secured his place in history forever. “The level of genius,” wrote one observer, “is practically incomprehensible.” He returned to Zurich as Professor Extraordinary, won the Nobel Prize for physics, and, in 2000, was Time magazine’s Person of the Century.1
Why is Einstein’s life important for our purposes here? Because our current era is much like his initial twenty-five years – almost hopelessly messed up. Just as Einstein seemed a complete failure and his prospects nonexistent, so we are confronted by a myriad of seemingly insurmountable issues. Perhaps it would help to change the channel, to step back, to contemplate a larger perspective, to consult God.
Humans live on two tracks – the temporal and the timeless. It’s just we don’t realize it. We see into the temporal well enough, but the timeless track is only dimly perceived2 and, sadly, is largely discounted. Sadly, I say, because it is by far the most significant and abiding.
We see only in “real time” (actually, a misnomer). God, however, sees from the beginning to the end. This means He “outsees” us by infinity to one. We know only a tiny narrow swathe of reality. God, however, knows the Eternal Reality. This means He “outknows” us by . . . let’s just say it’s like the Milky Way compared to an air molecule. We operate out of our temporal narrative, but God operates out of the completed script of His own finished infinite, redemptive, glorious purposes.
Still, we resist. We dig in. We feel trapped. We sit in our distresses, our worries, our parochial views, and we resist the simplicity of surrender.
Our Situation, God’s Sovereignty
Humanity today finds itself upon a launch pad of unprecedented challenge. It is a time of epic transition. The global experience has grown massive in scope and nearly incomprehensible in complexity. Mathematics has slipped its leash and was last seen going vertical. One editorialist remarked, “I’ve lost track of the zeros.” Exactly.
It is a day so unprecedented that even those who realize how unprecedented it is don’t have a clue how unprecedented it is. It is exciting. Historic. Destabilized. We have a destabilized healthcare system and a destabilized economy within a destabilized society within a destabilized world. Nothing can continue to change in this kind of trajectory.
This is not to say we are in trouble, but it is to freely admit that we are troubled – and so we ought be careful. Since this world system has never been here before, we do not know what is around the next bend. With a mixture of anticipation and anxiety, many of us swallow a tranquilizer and then, on tip-toes, slip an eyeball around the corner straining to get a peek.
For three decades now, since 1982, watching the unfolding story of history has been my privilege. It’s always been a fascinating business. But what’s coming at us now – what’s just now rising above the horizon and headed our way – well, never before have I seen anything like it.
This is disorienting. People are not confident about the future of the nation, of their profession, of their retirement, of their children. Actually, people are not confident about next Tuesday.
God, however, never worries. He never lacks confidence. He is not proud in an egotistical way, but He is completely self-assured. This is called sovereignty – He is sufficient unto Himself. And He knows it.
God remembers what it was like before the universe was created. He knows what it will be like after the curtain is brought down. He knows that God - universe = God.
He is God; we are not. We need to hear His thoughts and see His timeless perspective. For us to live in God’s reality is vastly superior to stewing in our own juices.
The Sovereignty Perspective
1. He cares
Only God can say, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”3 Our jobs can’t, our houses can’t, our bank accounts can’t, even our families can’t. Only God.
2. It’s all grace
We didn’t create the air we’re breathing. We didn’t create the food we eat, nor the ground in which it was grown, nor the ability of the seed to germinate. We didn’t instruct our GI tract to digest. We didn’t ask our retinas to perform non-linear differential equations in one third of a second that would take a Cray-1 supercomputer 100 years to do. We didn’t tell our brains to acquire language. We didn’t tell the DNA in our initial single cell to grow us. We didn’t create the 1028 atoms in our body. “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.”4
3. It’s about love, not productivity
God spoke and 1050 tons showed up, otherwise known as the universe. Obviously, He doesn’t need help with productivity. Yes, He wants us to be active in healing, but, in the end, it’s all for love’s sake, not productivity’s sake.
4. We’re not so smart
The human brain is the most complex and densely organized matter anywhere in the universe. But 96 percent of the universe has gone missing and we don’t even know what it is or where it went. Actually, we don’t even know how our toaster works. “Everything is a miracle,” said Einstein. God is our source of truth, wisdom, and understanding.
5. Our lives are vaporous
Einstein said, “The distinction between the past, the present, and the future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one.” Scripture says our lives are a mist, a vapor, a breath. That means our problems, too, are vaporous. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”5 This is not a trick of science or semantics – it’s the truth. And it’s a pretty good deal, when you think about it.
6. We do not manipulate God – we only yield
Only God can act in history whenever He wishes to accomplish whatever He pleases. “And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything . . . .”6
7. Don’t call it a failure until God has spoken
We dare not label our practices, our lives, our kids, our churches, or our world as failures until God pounds the gavel. Massive surprises await us, perhaps in this life, surely in the next. God knew, for example, that Einstein was an unparalleled genius even when Albert was at his lowest. And God smiled when that streetcar approached that clock tower.
We labor for His purposes, not our own. We use His power and wisdom, not our own. We harvest a timeless glory, not our own. We live by faith, don’t worry about tomorrow, never lose heart, and seek to rise above – not because of the temporal evidence, but because of timeless truth. When we finally see clearly, we will understand. And we will be so very glad.
1 Einstein material from many sources, particularly Einstein’s Cosmos (2004) by Michio Kaku
2 1 Corinthians 13:12
3 Hebrews 13:5
4 John 1:16
5 2 Corinthians 4:17
6 Acts 17:25
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