Tuesday, May 31

God's Sovereignty

In a post from last week discussing paradoxes, I mentioned that some people see God's sovereignty in all things and people being held accountable by God for their choices as a contradiction. No one who commented on the post seemed to find the two ideas contradictory (and I don't either), although in the past I've had someone--a few someones, really--argue that God purposefully restricts his sovereignty in order to give human beings genuinely free choices, because if God was ruling over a human choice, then it simply wouldn't be right for the person to be held accountable for it.

I thought it'd be fun to look at the two things separately--God's sovereignty and human responsibility--to see what scripture has to say about them. This post will look at the first part of the equation--the sovereignty of God.

When we talk about God's sovereignty, we're just talking about his rule or authority. Scripture defines God's rule or sovereignty for us, so we're not left to wonder how to define it. According to scripture, that God is sovereign means that he has a plan for history (or for his creation)--a "counsel of his will" that includes "all things"--and he is working throughout history to bring about all those things according to his plan:
....[God] who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will....

In case we might misunderstand the exact nature of "all things", Paul defines it for us in verse 10 as "things in heaven and things on earth". John Murray says it's "the whole of that reality that exists distinct from Himself". There isn't anything that exists or happens that is left out of those things that God rules over sovereignly--those things he is working in to accomplish his plan.
...all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, "What have you done?" (Daniel 4:35)
God has his hand in everything, and his hand always accomplishes what he sets out for it to do.*

We can see from these verses that there is nothing excluded from the list of things God's rule applies to. Scripture also names many of the things that are included on the list for us. Let's work together to compile a list of things specifically named for us in scripture as things God is sovereign over. I'll start the list, and you help me out by adding to it. The only requirement is that you have scriptural support in a specific text for the thing you name. You can also contribute by adding more scriptural support for the two things I'm starting out with, or for anything anyone else adds to the list. Put your additions in the comments, and I'll add them to the list.
  • Creation in general. It all came about by his word (Psalm 33:6), and it continues in existence only because he continues to direct it by his word (Hebrews 1:3). We tend to think of God creating things and then instituting certain properties by which things work, and this is not wrong, but it's not the whole picture, either. Creation doesn't run on autopilot now; it's not simply operating automatically on previously instituted laws. Even the laws created things operate under are sustained by him. Things behave in predictable ways because God continually directs the predictability of creation by upholding the laws he gave it.

    Martin LaBar adds Colossians 1:17:
    He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him.


  • Weather. The various sorts of weather are brought to us by God.
    O fire and hail, snow and clouds,
    O stormy wind that carries out his orders....(Psalm 148:8)

    “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;
    so two or three cities would wander to another city
    to drink water, and would not be satisfied;
    yet you did not return to me,”
    declares the Lord. (Amos 4:7-8)

    [Tim adds a verse I'd forgotten:
    He has sent His rain to fall on the just and unjust alike. (Matthew 5:45) ]

    The weather is simply carrying out what God has commanded.

  • Suffering. This one is added by David, who gives us the examples of Job and Joseph. After Job loses everything, he says
    The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. (Job 1:21)
    When he is afflicted with some sort of horrible skin condition, he says:
    Should we receive what it good from God, and not also receive what it evil? (Job 2:10)

    And in case we might think Job is mistakenly attributing these things to God's hand, we are told that
    In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with moral impropriety. (Job 1:22)

    Then there's Joseph, who includes his being sold by his brothers into slavery within God's intention or plan:
    As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day. (Genesis 50:20)


  • Pharoah's stubborness. This one is suggested by David as well. God says to Moses that he will harden Pharoah's heart so that he won't let the Israelites go (Exodus 4:21), and that Pharoah's continued stubborness suited God's purpose.
    But for this purpose I have caused you to stand: to show you my strength, and so that my name may be declared in all the earth. (Exodus 9:16)
    [Update: Read God's Sovereignty over Pharoah at Dead Man Blogging for more.]

  • Seemingly insignificant things. When a sparrow dies, for instance:
    Aren't two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. (Matthew 10:29)
    How much hair we have on our heads, too:
    Even all the hairs on your head are numbered. (Matthew 10:30)


  • Seemingly random things, like the casting of lots.
    The lot is cast into the lap,
    but its every decision is from the Lord. (Proverbs 16:33 ESV)


  • The daily plans of individual people. We can carry out the plans we make as long as they are God's will.
    Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into this or that town and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.' You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life like? For you are a puff of smoke that appears for a short time and then vanishes. You ought to say instead, 'If the Lord is willing, then we will live and do this or that.'


  • The crucifixion. Those who crucified Christ were working according to God's predetermined plan.
    ...for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,  to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4: 27-28 ESV)

    Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know - this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:22-23 ESV)


  • Choices and actions of people**. A few of these have already been mentioned above, but I'm putting them in this list as well, so we can see them all together.
    1. Joseph's brothers selling him into slavery. See scripture above.
    2. Pharoah. See scripture above. You'll find a link to a more detailed examination of God's determination of Pharoah's actions above as well
    3. The Egyptian people (or the Egyptian army) in their pursuit of Israel (Exodus 14:17).
    4. The people in the cities in the Land of Canaan in their attacks on the Israelites (Joshua 11:19-20).
    5. King Eglon of Moab so that he would defeat and enslave Israel (Judges 3:12-14).
    6. The leaders of Shechem so that they would be disloyal to Abimelech (Judges 9:23-24).
    7. Samson's choice of a wife from among the Philistines (Judges 14:1-4).
    8. Eli's sons' refusal to listen to their father (1 Samuel 2:25).
    9. Saul's mental illness, torment, or whatever you want to call it (1 Samuel 16:14)
    10. Absolom's adultry with his father's wives (2 Samuel 12:11-12)
    11. Shimei cursing David and his men (2 Samuel 16: 5-14, especially v. 11)
    12. David taking a census (2 Samuel 24:1, compare with 1 Chronicles 21:1).
    13. Hadad the Edomite causing trouble for Israel during Solomon's reign (1 Kings 11:14).
    14. Rezon son of Eliada causing trouble for Solomon, too (1 Kings 11:23).
    15. Raiding bands that took Job's livestock and killed his servants (Job 1) Also see commentary above under suffering.
    16. The Assyrians and the Assyrian king attacking and pillaging Israel (Isaiah 10). I've posted more on this one here.
    17. The Babylonians going up against Israel (Jeremiah 25:29).
    18. Prophets who are decieved (Exekiel 14:9).
    19. The men casting Jonah overboard (Jonah 1:15, 2:3
    20. Herod's actions in the crucifixion (Acts 4:27, see also Acts 2:23). (Use these verses are proofs for the three items following as well).
    21. Pilate's actions in the crucifixion.
    22. The men of Israel's actions in the crucifixion
    23. People's rejection of the Messiah (1 Peter 1:8).
    24. Those who don't love the truth believing what is false (1 Thessalonians 1:11,12)
    25. Specific Gentiles believing (Acts 13:48)

Got more? You know the drill by now. Have your say in the comments.

*David also adds Romans 8:28 as a text that puts "all things" under God's rule:
And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God...
"I would argue that God is sovereign over all things, otherwise he would not be able to fulfill [this] promise," he writes.


**Most of the items on this list are taken from Sytematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, pages 324-327.

All scripture quoted from the NET Bible unless otherwise noted.
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