Sovereignty – Is God in complete control?

“When a person settles it Biblically, intellectually and emotionally, that God has ultimate control of all things, including evil, and that this is gracious and precious beyond words, then a marvelous stability and depth come into that person’s life” (John Piper)

Yet some would soften this by saying “allowed” or “permitted,” or by even stating that God does not plan wounds and trouble:

“None of Job’s friends distinguished between God’s will and God’s permission–that is, what He did not plan, but allowed to happen for His greater glory and Job’s greater good… A good example of the mix-up is in the sentence, ‘He woundeth, and His hands make whole’ [Job 5:18]. This is often given to sick people to comfort them, but there is no comfort in it. If the wound is His doing, then what right have we to take anything to ease it? Eliphaz took it for granted that God’s hand had wounded Job, but as we know from chapter 1:132, it wasn’t God’s hand. It was Satan’s, though God allowed it in order to fulfill His own great purposes.” (Amy Carmichael)

We may note the following verse here, though: “Come, let us return to the Lord, for He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.” (Hosea 6:1).

And if God is in complete control, how is God not the ultimate cause here, though certainly the devil carried out the actual actions, and the devil’s intent was different? So even “allowed,” if God could stop any given sinful event, still means complete control by God, and thus responsibility, yet let it be noted that the responsibility is for the motive, and in the actual outcome.

James 5:11  As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

And didn’t Job attribute all that happened to him to God, as well?

Job 1:21  “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Now if the Lord did not take away, if this was really God’s action, then Job sinned in attributing this to God. Yet we read further down:

Job 2:10  “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job is saying we must accept trouble from God, and this implies that God is the primary cause even of the trouble that comes to people in their lives, yet Job did not sin in what he said.

But should we seek healing, if it is God’s hand that has wounded us? Certainly healing may be next in the plan of God:

2 Corinthians 12:8  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

And that was not a sin, yet when the Lord told Paul that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” he stopped asking for relief, and instead was glad that Christ’s power would rest on him as a result of this trouble and continuing affliction.

And eventually, though God indeed wounds, for those who trust him, there will be healing:

DT 32:39 “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.”

Isaiah 30:26  The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted.

There is no way in each instance to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21) if God is not in control of sinful actions, if evil can really win to some degree, at times. How is it better if there is irremediable evil, outside the bounds of what God would rather have had happen?

1 John 3:8 The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

But if the devil really does accomplish some of his purpose, to “steal, kill and destroy,” and if there is sometimes no remedy, then the devil’s work is not destroyed.

Romans 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Gen. 50:20 “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”

“The text says, ‘You meant evil against me.’ Evil is a feminine singular noun. Then it says, ‘God meant it for good.’ The word ‘it’ is a feminine singular suffix that can only agree with the antecedent feminine singular noun, ‘evil.’ And the verb ‘meant’ is the same past tense in both cases. You meant evil against me in the past, as you were doing it. And God meant that very evil, not as evil, but as good in the past as you were doing it. And to make this perfectly clear, Psalm 105:17 says about Joseph’s coming to Egypt, ‘[God] sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.’ God sent him. God did not find him there owing to evil choices, and then try to make something good come of it. Therefore this text stands as a kind of paradigm for how to understand the evil will of man within the sovereign will of God.” (John Piper)

“This is the same lesson we learn from 2 Corinthians 12:7 where Paul says that his thorn in the flesh was a messenger of Satan, and yet was given for the purpose of his own holiness. ‘To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself!’ Now, humility is not Satan’s purpose in this affliction. Therefore the purpose is God’s. Which means that Satan here is being used by God to accomplish his good purposes in Paul’s life.” (John Piper)

And “given me” must then refer to God as the giver, not Satan.

ISA 45:7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.

MIC 1:12 Those who live in Maroth writhe in pain, waiting for relief, because disaster has come from the Lord, even to the gate of Jerusalem.

AM 3:6 When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?

“Only two alternatives are possible: God must either rule, or be ruled; sway, or, be swayed; accomplish his own will, or be thwarted by his creatures. Accepting the fact that he is the ‘Most High’, the only Potentate and King of kings, vested with perfect wisdom and illimitable power, and the conclusion is irresistible that he must be God in fact, as well as in name.” (A W. Pink)

God’s sovereignty over natural processes:

PR 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

JNH 1:7 They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.

Psalm 147:15-18  He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes. He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast? He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.

Psalm 148:7-8  Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding…

God exercises control over, and changes peoples’ wills:

Exodus 34:24  … and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.

1KI 8:58 May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers.

1KI 18:37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.

Psalm 22:9  … you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast.

PS 105:25 … whose hearts he turned to hate his people, to conspire against his servants.

PS 119:36 Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.

Isaiah 63:17 Why, O Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?

LK 1:17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

1SA 10:9 As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day.

EZE 36:26-27 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

PHP 2:13 For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

JN 11:51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied…

And God can affect anyone’s intentions:

Ezra 7:27  Praise be to the Lord, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in this way…

Nehemiah 7:5  So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families.

2 Corinthians 8:16  I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you.

Revelation 17:17  For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled.

But what about these verses?

ISA 30:1-2 “Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the Lord, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge.”

But did their plan succeed? No, actually, it didn’t, because God was in control:

ISA 30:3 But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame, Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace.

ISA 8:10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us.

Yet another question could be asked, does God change his plan? If so, he would not seem to be in complete control:

JER 18:8 If that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.

“Planned” could mean “devised”, as in verse 11, “I am fashioning calamity.”

JER 18:11 Thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.”

Also, if “devising a plan” is taken literally here (you have to do this consistently!) then don’t you have to say that God is still forming his plan? i.e. that in the illustration God gives, he really isn’t changing his plan, rather he is still in the planning process. But then taking verse 8 literally means you have to say God *did* have a plan. So you get an inconsistency by being consistently literal here! So I think you have to read “planned” as “devised” in verse 8, and note that “fashioning calamity” is parallel with “devising a plan” in verse 11, and I think that explains the meaning, that God is “taking off his belt,” getting ready to punish them, that is part of his plan, but the actual planned outcome is not mentioned.

I think God does show his actual plan in the very next chapter, too:

JER 19:1-2 This is what the Lord says: “Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate.

I think these references to a finished pot, and shattering it at the Potsherd Gate, are intentional, and refer to the analogy in chapter 18. They show that the pot may be viewed as already finished, God’s plan *is* actually settled, even while Jeremiah is warning them. Also, the whole analogy of the potter forming and then reforming the clay suggests that the potter is in control all the way through, that there was nothing in the clay, per se, that caused the potter to stop shaping it one way, and start shaping it differently.

RO 9:21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

PR 20:24 A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?

RO 11:32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Thus even Adam’s disobedience was part of God’s plan.

RO 5:14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

Now you don’t make a pattern without making a plan. Adam was a pattern, and thus even his sin was in God’s plan.

RO 5:20-21 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign…

I think this applies to the command “don’t eat from this tree,” it had a purpose, “that grace might reign.”

Failure of God to accomplish a purpose would bring this condemnation:

Luke 14:30  … saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

God acts to prevent repentance:

Isaiah 6:10  Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.

Mark 4:11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

John 12:40  He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn– and I would heal them.

Isaiah 29:10  The Lord has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers).

Isaiah 63:17  Why, O Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?

God is acting here, in both cases, and to prevent insight, and repentance.

Romans 9:27  Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.”

And this is a statement from Isaiah that requires that God be at least ready to intervene, to prevent repentance, if need be, for this prophecy to be fulfilled, and similarly here:

Romans 11:25-26  I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved…

Saved in the future! Yet not until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.

John 4:37  Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.

So then there is a process! And immediate repentance is not usually even possible, it is not possible to repent sooner than when the harvest is ready. And part of preparing the harvest is to “bind all people over to disobedience, so he may have mercy on them” (Rom. 11:32). Thus a time of unrepentance is required here, thus again, immediate repentance is not possible.

Exodus 9:16  But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

By whatever means, God hardened him, now presumably the outcome would not have been according to God’s purpose, if God had not hardened him, this would seem to imply that Pharaoh would have relented otherwise, and thus at this point he was not free, and God was preventing his repentance.

I think the most compelling biblical case to be made in this area is simply to quote more of the overwhelming number of verses describing God’s sovereignty, there is nothing much that can be said after this, as far as a Biblical argument…

GE 18:14 Is anything too hard for the Lord?

JOS 21:45 Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.

2CH 20:6 “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.”

2CH 25:16 While he was still speaking, the king said to him, “Have we appointed you an adviser to the king? Stop! Why be struck down?” So the prophet stopped but said, “I know that God has determined to destroy you, because you have done this and have not listened to my counsel.”

NU 23:20 I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it.

JOB 23:13 “But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases.”

JOB 42:2 “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.”

PS 33:10-11 The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes [or thoughts] of his heart through all generations.

PS 37:23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord; and he delights in his way.

PS 115:3 But our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.

PS 119:89 Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven.

PS 119:91 Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you.

PS 135:6 The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.

PS 138:8 The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.

PR 16:4 The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.

PR 16:4 The Lord works out everything for his own ends–even the wicked for a day of disaster.

PR 16:9 The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.

PR 19:21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

PR 19:21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand.

PR 20:24 A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?

PR 21:30 There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord.

ISA 8:10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us. ISA 14:27 For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?

ISA 29:15-16 Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the Lord, and whose deeds are done in a dark place, and they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?” You turn things around!

JOB 23:13 “But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases.”

PS 115:3 Our God is in heaven; all he pleases, he has done.

PS 135:6 All that pleases the Lord, he has done, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.

ISA 46:10 “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”

DA 4:35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”

2SA 23:5 For he has made an everlasting covenant with me, ordered in all things, and secured; for all my salvation and all desire, will he not indeed make grow?

ISA 46:11 What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.

Isaiah 63:17  Why, O Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?

ISA 64:7-8 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

JER 1:12 “I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.”

JER 10:23 I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself; nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.

JER 23:20 The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has performed and carried out the purposes of his heart.

JER 30:24 The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back, until he has performed, and until he has accomplished the intent of His heart.

JER 32:17 “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”

LA 3:37 Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?

DA 4:35 He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.

DA 5:23 But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and your ways, you have not glorified.

JN 6:37 “All that the Father gives me will come to me.”

AC 2:23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.

AC 3:18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.

AC 4:28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

EPH 1:11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.

EPH 1:22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church…

ISA 14:24-27 The Lord Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand. I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders.” This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?

ISA 43:13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?

ISA 44:24-28 “This is what the Lord says– your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself, who foils the signs of false prophets and makes fools of diviners, who overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense, who carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’ of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be built,’ and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them,’ who says to the watery deep, ‘Be dry, and I will dry up your streams,’ who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.’ “

MT 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

RO 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.

1CO 2:7 No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.

2TI 1:9 … who has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.

REV 17:17 For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled.

JOB 9:4 His wisdom is profound, his power is vast. Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?

PS 146:9 The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

PR 22:12 The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge, but he frustrates the words of the unfaithful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *