The Sovereignty of God
Note: This post is part of an ongoing series of posts related to the attributes of God. Here are the links to the previous posts (Why Study the Attributes of God, The Holiness of God, The Power of God, The Presence of God, The Knowledge of God, The Fatherhood of God, The Love of God, The Wisdom of God, The Wrath of God).
“In the year 1902, a young English boy came down to breakfast to find his father reading the newspaper, which carried news of preparations for the first coronation in Britain in 64 years. In the middle of breakfast, the father turned to his wife and said, “Oh, I am sorry to see this worded like that.” She said, “What is it?” “Why,” he replied, “here is a proclamation that on a certain date, Prince Edward will be crowned king at Westminster, and there is no Deo volente, God willing.”
The words stuck in the young boy’s mind for the very reason that on the appointed date, the future Edward VII was ill with appendicitis, and the coronation had to be postponed. At this time, at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, the political, economic, and military power of the British Empire was at its zenith.
Yet, for all its great might, Great Britain could not carry out its planned coronation on the appointed date. Was the omission of “God willing” from the proclamation and the subsequent postponement of the coronation merely a coincidence, two events without any relation to one another? Or did God cause Prince Edward to have appendicitis to show that he was “in control?”
We don’t know why the situation occurred as it did. One thing we do know, however: whether we acknowledge it with Deo volente or not, we cannot carry out any plan apart from God’s will. The Bible leaves no doubt about that fact…God is in control; He is sovereign. He does whatever pleases him and determines whether we can do what we have planned. This is the essence of God’s sovereignty; his absolute independence to do as he pleases and his absolute control over the actions of all his creations. No creature, person, or empire can either thwart his will or act outside the bounds of his will” [Jerry Bridges, Trusting God, pp. 35-36].
“When we say that God is sovereign we affirm His right to govern the universe, which He has made for His own glory, just as He pleases. We affirm that His right is the right of the Potter over the clay…We affirm that He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is a law unto Himself, and that He is under no obligation to give an account of His matters to any” [A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 21].
God is sovereign [i.e., in complete control] over all the events of life―including reasons known to himself, those acts that are in defiance of his revealed will as found in Scripture. In other words, even the evil acts of human beings and the devil himself are still under the sovereign control of God, and he uses them to ultimately accomplish his good purposes.
Here are a few Scriptures that teach us about God’s sovereignty.
Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Isaiah 46:9-10 “9 Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. 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.'”
Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
Psalm 115:3 “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.”
Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”
Proverbs 21:30 “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD. “
Lamentations 3:37 “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?”
Paul clearly tells us that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” [Eph 1:11]. That’s sovereignty in a nutshell—God working out everything according to his will and pleasure.
We need to be careful in trying to defend God when evil happens by making statements such as, “God did not have anything to do with this.” Such statements deny the sovereignty of God. While God is never the author of evil [Hab 1:13; Jas 1:13], there is nothing that can happen outside the sovereign will of God. This includes evil deeds which ultimately find their role in the fulfillment of God’s sovereign purposes. The devil is not sovereign—God alone is!
What, then, are some practical implications of God’s sovereignty? A total of 4 are listed below.
1. It gives God his rightful place as the supreme being in the universe.
In other words, it acknowledges God to be God! It acknowledges God’s rule as King over everything. It reminds us that he is the Creator, and we are the created ones. God does not need us. On the other hand, we need him for the next breath!
Through the prophet Isaiah, God tells us, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols” [Isa 42:8]. By acknowledging God’s absolute sovereignty, we give him full glory. After all, we are created for God’s glory, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” [Isa 43:7]! So, let’s give God his rightful place as the supreme being in the universe by acknowledging his sovereignty over all things!
2. It humbles us.
Since God is always after a humble heart, what could be more humbling than the constant acknowledgment that “God is in charge of everything, and we are not!” This truth exalts God for who he is and what he has done for us!
Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest human king to have ever ruled the world, learned the hard way that a sovereign God humbles the pride of man. His pride deceived his heart as he boasted of his achievements, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” [Dan 4:30].
Notice how God cut him down in judgment by reminding him that God is the One who is sovereign over all, “31 Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes” [Dan 4:31-32].
Having been humbled, Nebuchadnezzar finally acknowledged that God is sovereign over all, “34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 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?”…37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble” [Dan 4:34-36, 37].
The more we embrace this doctrine of God’s sovereignty, the more we will grow in humility.
3. It brings great comfort during times of intense trial.
The sovereign Lord of the universe, who controls everything, has chosen to show us his love and mercy. What did we ever do to deserve such love? Nothing! And if God loves us despite our great sins and has made us his child, then why should we be conquered by fear when going through trials—even when those trials are intense?
Joseph had great confidence in God’s sovereignty. That is why despite going through extremely difficult times, he could still say to his brothers these words: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” [Gen 50:20]. He knew God controlled all circumstances of his life and hence did not cave into despair even though things got terrible for him.
Bridges also wrote,
“Even during our painful moments, we must believe that God is in control; he is still sovereign. As author Margaret Clarkson has so beautifully written, “The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God…All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch His children unless He permits it. God is the Lord of human history and of the personal history of every member of His redeemed family.
Not only are the willful malevolent acts of other people under God’s sovereign control, so also are the mistakes and failures of other people. Did another driver go through a red light, strike your car, and send you to the hospital with multiple fractures? Did a physician fail to detect your cancer in its early stages, when it would have been treatable? Did you end up with an incompetent instructor in a very important course in college or an inept supervisor that blocked your career in business? All of these circumstances are under the controlling hand of our sovereign God, who is working them out in our lives for our good” [Trusting God, pp. 39-40].
Belief in the sovereignty of God should include the thought that even this particular trial I am going through right now had to pass through the nail-pierced hands of a sovereign and loving Christ who is in total control. He will bring forth all he chooses to bring forth through the trial. What a comfort this knowledge brings—especially when things around us keep falling apart! We are always safe in the arms of a loving God who controls all things. Let us remember that even amid dark circumstances.
4. It does not cancel out human responsibility.
The sovereignty of God does not contradict or cancel out the freedom or responsibility of human beings—even though our finite minds may not be able to comprehend this fact entirely. Human actions do not limit God, nor are his purposes thwarted by our actions. God’s sovereignty includes all of our actions—except that God is never responsible for our sins.
A good example is found in Acts 2:23, “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge [Divine Sovereignty]; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross [Human Responsibility].” God held to account the people responsible for the death of his Son. Yet, Jesus going to the cross was part of his sovereign plan. We cannot reconcile these truths with our finite minds.
The bottom line is this: Divine sovereignty does not cancel out human responsibility [often labeled as “free-will”], and neither does human responsibility cancel out divine sovereignty. Both of these doctrines are taught in the Scriptures. Our finite minds cannot reconcile these truths. Yet, they are perfectly reconciled in the eyes of an infinite and all-wise God whose ways are beyond our understanding.
So, 4 implications to think about as we marvel and submit to this attribute of God being sovereign over all things.
If you are a child of God, rejoice and rest in the fact that you are in the hands of a God who controls every single event of your life. No matter what happens, you will soon be with him for all eternity. Until then, submit to his lordship over you and live a life that focuses on glorifying him.
If you are not God’s child yet, please understand that you cannot fight against this sovereign God and win. He has commanded you to repent of your sins and put your trust in his Son, Jesus Christ, who paid the price for sins. Only then can you be forgiven of your sins, become his child, and escape from the coming judgment. So, please do it today. Experience the peace and joy that comes as a result of having your sins washed away by the blood of Jesus. Do not delay!