Peter has just warned his readers against the erroneous teaching of some scoffers who were claiming that Christ would not return. Their problem seems to be the expectation that God would work on their timetable. They hadn’t caught on that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8). Peter wanted his readers to know that the Lord is not slow in keeping his promises. What may seem to be an unnecessary delay is actually God exercising his patience for their benefit – “he doesn’t want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance” (vs. 9).
It is this last phrase that I want to talk about somewhat theologically. It seems to say that God is not in charge of the future. He doesn’t want something that is going to happen anyway (some will perish) and he does want something that won’t happen (for everyone to repent). That sure looks like God’s sovereignty is limited. Obviously this doesn’t fit the standard portrait of an omnipotent Deity who spoke and what is came into being (Heb. 11:3). How could one of such creative power be unable to overrule my little decision about whether or not to accept his offer of salvation?
Granted, this question has been around for a long time. Way back in the early years of the church, the fathers argued about the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. There’s little chance that we will solve the problem now! But here is what is for me the closest thing to a satisfactory answer. I accept the sovereignty of God as clearly taught throughout scripture. He covered the face of the world with water when he wanted to (Genesis flood). He brought a man back from death (Lazarus). He maintains order in a universe larger that we can imagine and expanding faster than the speed of light. But we also know that through the years vast numbers have rejected his offer of forgiveness and apparently he is unable to do anything about it. How could this be? Doesn’t all-powerful mean there can be nothing more powerful?
My “solution” is that God, in the creation of the human race, intentionally gave to us the ability to disobey. What he wanted was for us to accept, love and follow him out of our own freewill. So he placed a restriction on his own sovereignty so as to have a people who would love him freely. But, you ask, doesn’t that put his sovereignty in question for other areas? I don’t know. I believe what he has declared, that he is Lord of lords and King of kings. There is none greater. There is none more powerful. J. I. Packer, the Christian theologian of note, calls these two statements an “antinomy.” Each is clearly taught in scripture while at the same time are opposed to the other. I find myself willing to accept both statements in spite of the fact that considered within our finite world of logic they raise a question. In fact, I am quite sure that I don’t want a God who is limited to my ability to understand him fully.