“God is also sovereign over the choices of human beings. If God does have sovereignty even over the choices of human beings, and they do evil things, is God morally culpable for their actions? No. This is the mystery of compatibilism, according to which both the sovereignty of God and the moral responsibility of human beings are perfectly compatible, neither canceling out the other.”
Few things are more controversial among Christians than the sovereignty of God. Is God truly sovereign over everything, including calamity, natural disasters, death, and demons, or is his sovereign control restricted to those things we typically regard as good, such as material blessing, family welfare, personal salvation, and good health? Today we turn our attention to ten things we should all know about God’s sovereignty.
Before we begin, it’s important to distinguish between natural evil, which would include such things as tornadoes, earthquakes, famine (although famine can often be the result of moral evil perpetrated by those who devastate a country through greed or theft), floods, and disease. Is God sovereign over natural evil? Does he exert absolute control over these events in nature, such that he could, if he willed to do so, prevent them from happening or redirect their course and minimize the extent of damage they incur? Yes.
Moral evil has reference to the decisions made by human beings. Does God have sovereignty over the will of man? Can he stir the heart of an unbeliever to do his will? Can he frustrate the will of a person whose determination is to do evil and thereby prevent sin from happening? When a Christian does what is right, to whom should the credit and praise be given? And how is it possible for God to exert sovereignty over all of life without undermining the moral responsibility of men and women? These are the questions that find their answer in Scripture.
(1) Numerous biblical texts explicitly teach that God exerts complete sovereignty and meticulous control over all the so-called forces of “nature.” I encourage you to take time to read Psalms 104; 147:8-9, 14-18; 148:1-12. Also consider Job 9:5-10; 26:7-14; 37:2-24; 38:8-41. Other texts include:
“It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom; and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightning for the rain, and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses” (Jer. 10:12-13).
“Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things” (Jer. 14:22).
“I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither” (Amos 4:7).
“When he summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread . . .” (Psalm 105:16).
Jesus exercised this authority/sovereignty when he rebuked the storm on the Sea of Galilee, provoking this response from his disciples:
“And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. . . . And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:39-41).
Does this mean that God can put a halt to the destructive path of a tornado or redirect its trajectory, or that he can stop the waves of a tsunami? Yes.
(2) God is also sovereign over events that from our limited human point of view appear to be entirely random:
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33).
(3) His sovereignty extends to the affairs of our daily lives and the plans we make for each day:
“A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” (Proverbs 20:24)
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21)
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. . . . Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15).
(4) God is sovereign over both life and death. Many are ready to concede that God is sovereign over the beginning of life but they do not like the idea that God is sovereign over the time and manner of its end. But note the following:
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39)
“The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Samuel 12:6)
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 5:13-15).
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