Stereotyping and the Sovereignty of God

If you want to read this, but only have a few seconds, scroll down and start reading at “The point of this blog.”

A bit of history

Stereotyping, I found out, was originally coined as a printing word.  Before stereotyping, printers used wooden blocks with images and text that could be moved around (movable type) to create a page.  Stereotyping, in contrast, was the setting in place of the text and images that composed a page onto a metal plate that was used on a printing press.  The upside of stereotyping was that it kept images and text carved on separate wooden blocks, from getting shuffled around or jumbled up.  Some downsides were that, once the stereotype plate was set, it could not be changed, the heavy metal plates had to be stored for reuse, and the process of creating a stereotype was expensive.

Transition to today

As you know, today we use the verb “stereotype” to refer to the “setting in place” of a person or group of people.  The upside of storing the stereotype in our mind is that we can categorize people easily and they become predicable to us – like cartoon characters.  The downside is these stereotypes are pretty much impossible to change and may cost us joy.

Typically when we speak of stereotyping we mean that we have associated a person with a group and assigned that person the group’s characteristics often set in place by the culture we live in.  But I want to suggest that we can stereotype in a different way.  We start by defining a person with a set of real or perceived unique characteristics. We can then stereotype this person – set him in place- by thinking and talking about him over and over in such a way that these defining characteristics become unmovable and unalterable in our minds

The point of this blog

This is where the sovereignty of God comes in.  When I mentally set a person (including myself) in an unalterable and unmovable place, the implication is that God is powerless to change certain people.  Phrases like “She’ll never change,” “I can’t change,” “We’ll see,” or “That’s just how he is,” reveal my underlying assumption that human character and will is stronger than God’s transforming power – stronger than the Holy Spirit.

If we stereotype unbelievers, believing they will never change, we deny God’s sovereignty in salvation and contradict Jesus’ words that all who are his will come to him and will not perish (John 6:37; John 10:28-29; John 17:2).  If we say a person will never change, we deny God’s sovereignty in transformation and contradict David’s prayer for God to create a clean heart and right spirit within him (Ps. 51:10).  In essence, when I set a person in place, I flat out deny God’s new covenant (now in effect) in which God promised his people a new heart, a new way, and a new spirit (Jer. 32:39-40; Ezek. 11:19; Ezek. 36:26).

An extra but equally important point related to joy. 

I think one area where this really hits home is when I believe my joy depends on change in a person.  If personal change drives my joy, stereotyping, the way I described, is nourishment for despair and despondency, dejection, misery, gloom, hopelessness, and joylessness.  And when these things surface, the misplaced hope I have set on others for my joy shows it’s ugly head.   My thinking has to return to truth.  “Hope in God!” I must tell myself (not change in others) for my joy.

Why are you cast down,
O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil with me?
Hope in God;
for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
Ps. 42:11; Ps. 43:5

You have put more joy in my heart
Than they have when their
Grain and wine abound.
Ps. 4:7