Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The ABSOLUTE Sovereignty of God

"Now at [Christ's] already drawing near to the descent of the mount of Olives, the entire multitude of the disciples begins rejoicing, praising God with a loud voice concerning all the powerful deeds which they perceived, saying, 'Blessed be the King coming in the name of the Lord! In heaven peace, and glory among the highest!' And some of the Pharisees from the throng say to Him, 'Teacher, rebuke your disciples!' And answering, He said to them, 'I am saying to you that, if ever these will be silent, the stones will be crying.'"                        
- Luke 19:37-40

For me, this passage in Luke is one of the most moving in all of Scripture. Imagine Jesus walking amidst a quiet crowd and the inanimate stones on the ground suddenly coming to life, crying out in praise! Imagine being one of the Pharisees He addressed with such a humbling, powerful claim.

More than anything, this passage serves to prove the absolute sovereignty of God. It is important that we include "absolute" or a similarly all-encompassing term when we describe God's sovereignty because, unlike the sovereignty of earthly rulers, God's sovereignty is not limited in any way. He is in complete control over everything in His creation, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

Nearly all professing Christians uphold God's sovereignty on the surface; but dig beneath the surface and you will soon discover many underlying layers which prove that they really view God as anything but sovereign. The God of Christendom is one of great power but shocking inability. He has the desire and power to save all humanity, but man's authority overpowers His will. He intends for the world to be perfect, but man's continual failure forces Him to, instead, spend all of His time putting out fires. In short, the God of Christendom is not the RulER of men; He is the RulED of men.

The greatest assault on the sovereignty of God is the false doctrine of man's free will. In order for man's will to be "free," God must relinquish His authority. Many make the claim that God sovereignly chooses to give man free will. In this way, God appears to retain His control when He has actually given it up. Few claims defy logic as much as this one.

"Sovereign" is a title which is upheld by a set of specific qualities. When the qualities that define the title are absent, the title is no longer valid. Thus, for God to be called "sovereign," He must be sovereign! He cannot give up the characteristics that define His title and still retain the title. According to the doctrine of man's free will, it is man, not God, who is - by definition - sovereign.

Fortunately, Christendom's assault on God's sovereignty is, itself, under God's sovereign control. God has planned man's ignorance and every other wicked occurrence (Is. 45:7) in order to fulfill His purpose. He "locks up all together in stubbornness, that He should be merciful to all" (Rom. 11:32). Man's failure was not a surprise to God - it was planned by Him! Every moment of every life has been penned before it's begun by the Great Author Who has our every hair numbered (Ma. 10:30). No particle of dust, gust of wind, blade of grass or grain of sand moves along its course apart from the Almighty Creator's command. The sun, moon and stars radiate their light and heat at their Maker's direction. All things - great or small, vast or microscopic - are created, sustained and directed at every second by the hand of Almighty God.

It is impossible for us in our current mortal state to come even close to grasping the awesomeness of God. We can hardly do two things at once, let alone control every atom in existence! God spoke creation into existence. (Please read the prior sentence again.) Questioning God's power is entirely out of the question. 

Because of man's inability to fathom the level of God's control, many view Him as more of a general manager Who controls the "big" things but doesn't bother with the "small" things. I recently had lunch with a former coworker who is on the board for a seminary in Ohio, and we discussed the sovereignty of God during our time together. He was quite taken aback by my claim that God manages even the most seemingly insignificant details of creation, and in response he said, "Well, I believe God controls the big things but not every minor detail. For example, I believe that He orchestrated us both coming to work for the same company, but not that He orchestrated us having lunch together today."

This attitude toward God's sovereignty is, without a doubt, the norm. Yet, where do we draw the line? Is it any easier for God to manage the trillions of "big" things in life than the big and small? If any of the "small" things that are not under God's control happen to cause a problem, what is the result? Clearly, if God is sovereign over all creation, there is nothing left to chance and nothing He regards as unimportant.

Proverbs 16:33 says, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." The casting of lots was an ancient custom for randomly choosing the winner of a prize. We see the casting of lots several times in Scripture, including among the Roman soldiers at Christ's crucifixion and when the disciples chose Matthias to replace Judas. Small bits of stone, wood or other materials (the lots) were thrown (cast) into a garment (lap), and each lot was assigned to one person. The one whose lot fell out first won the prize. 

No doubt, most people view this type of activity as entirely random (one of the "small" things God doesn't bother managing); but this passage in Proverbs informs us that what's random to us isn't random at all to God. The decision of the lot - its direction - is ordained by God. 

The more we come into a realization of God's sovereignty, the more humble and at peace we become. When we see dust particles shimmering in a beam of light and realize that each of their courses is plotted by God, we are able to do nothing but fall to our knees in awe. When we recognize that every action and event is not only allowed by God but commanded by Him, we can rest assured, knowing that nothing is left to chance and that all will turn out just as it should. Most importantly, when we realize that it is God's will, not ours, that is free, we can experience the joy that comes from knowing that our Father sent His Son to save all without giving anyone the "freedom" to reject Him.

© 2013 by Stephen Hill


  1. "Free Will" is a straw man argument. .. it is a term never mentioned in scripture. However, that man has a will and things do happen 'by chance', is clearly demonstrated there. I don't have a problem seeing that 'all is working according to his plan'; that none can fall outside it. But does our having a will, a will to decide what to wear today or eat, actually take away from his sovereignty? And is 'sovereign/sovereignty' even a scriptural term? Or is it something that man/mankind has ascribed to him without him ever claiming it for himself - by that term? Just wondering what you may think.

  2. Thanks for the comment, clozoe. Most believers recognize the omniscience of God - the fact that He knows everything - past, present, and future. Most also recognize the fact that (as you stated) God has a plan which He will ensure comes to fruition. Given these facts there are two possibilities: 1) He knows what will happen and is a continual state of management to ensure His plan is successful, or 2) He planned every part of His plan, down to the tiniest detail - including man's actions - before He even created anything and is surprised by nothing. Either things happen by chance and force God to constantly alter and readjust, or God has directed every path, leaving nothing to chance.

    We should ask ourselves, is God's knowledge of the future merely knowledge, or is it something more significant? I would argue that the fact that God knows the future is proof that He planned every detail. That's HOW He knows.

    Here are a few Scriptures that describe the incredible supremacy of God:

    "Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?" Lamentations 3:37-38

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

    "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?" Romans 11:34

    "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:9

    "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?'" Daniel 4:35

    We see from these verses that it is clearly God's will and control that prevail, not man's. After writing the last sentence, I cracked my knuckles. One might ask: Is this something God really controls and worries about? Without a doubt, cracking my knuckles is not a significant issue that will have any bearing on God's plan. However, He still controls my anatomy and is intimately concerned with every fiber of my being (just as He is with everyone).

    As I stated in the article, most Christians believe that God manages the "big" things but doesn't worry about the "small" things. When we read of Him having every hair on our heads numbered and providing for sparrows, it seems evident that the small things are every bit as important to God.

  3. Thanks for your reply. I forgot to mention that I did enjoy your article, and thank you for letting me attempt to clear up some thinking about this topic. In the past I have been a strong believer in Absolute Sovereignty, as you talked about. Lately, I am torn about having a will... not because I think I know better, but because it relieves God of His responsibility concerning that child at the hands of that predator. It lays accountability at the feet of the perpetrator. If God has created said person to be what he/she is, but leaves the acts, what that person chooses to do, in the hands/thinking of said person, it kind of makes sense... that all will have to stand in judgement. Why would this person need judging if he was only doing what he was, in essence, MADE to do? Do you see what I am thinking? I appreciate your consideration of my thought process and if I am leaving something out I would appreciate what you see. I am using you as a sounding board for my thoughts. Sometimes it can make sense in my head but it's because I am leaving something out. I see it as a kind of iron sharpening iron. Thanks again for your time and input; it is much appreciated. BTW, I don't think this thinking negates God's Omniscience. He can still know what we are going to do without, again, in essence, MAKING us do it. He can still have all the hairs of my head counted and not make me get drunk or any other numerous detestable things. He provides for the sparrows by nature. I guess even we could eat from the land. If He has created me a certain way, even planned the moment of my demise, if it's all written there, let's say, in my DNA, then he doesn't have to micro-manage me. It's neither here nor there if I wear this or that. If I choose to do some detestable thing, He knows I am still within His parameters of reconciliation. He is still conciliated but I am working on being reconciled. The flesh is enmity so as long as I am in the flesh I have that struggle, as Christ did (He *learned* obedience by what He suffered H5.8). Yet, I can do nothing to jeopardize my salvation. Still, I will be brought into account for what I have done in the flesh, as it is stated in scripture. My path can be directed while I stop to smell the roses or whatever along the way. I will still get to where I am suppose to be. God can know the future without planning the minutest of details. Knowing the end from the beginning would still hold true. I planned an extensive vacation; knew when I would leave; details thereafter were by the seat of my pants... still got there and came back when I was supposed to. Do you see how I am thinking? Straighten me out, otherwise I will continue to pursue thought along these lines. Thanks again. I don't mean to be antagonistic. I am truly struggling for clarity.
    Blessings to you and yours.

  4. Apparently there's a character limit, so I'll have to post my response in two posts...

    I completely understand your thinking. In truth, it's much more logical than mine. However, the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God (1 Cor. 3:19) and what seems to make perfect sense to us is often the exact opposite of what's true. Please know I am not implying that you are foolish, though!

    We don't want to assign God any responsibility for bad things that happen. It's difficult, to say the least, to believe or accept that God would be responsible for the many terrible tragedies of this world when we need to recognize that He is perfect and loving. How could a perfect and loving God be responsible for a little girl being raped or a baby being burned alive?

    The problem with this thought process is that it forces us to assign some things as God's responsibility and others as not. Most people view it as a tragedy when a child (through no fault of his own) is born with a disease or deformity. Yet, no believer would deny that God created the child that way.

    Furthermore, the seemingly "small" things often tend to produce a chain reaction of occurrences that eventually lead to much bigger things. In an earlier response, I mentioned cracking my knuckles as an example of a "small" thing that would likely have no bearing on God's plan. But what if I accidentally broke a bone while trying to crack a stubborn knuckle? This, of course, isn't likely, but it is possible. What if upon visiting the hospital I met someone and shared my faith with him, helping him to come into a realization of his salvation? Few would deny that my small knuckle leading to an opportunity to witness would have occurred by mere chance. I am highly allergic to dust mites. What if, while cleaning, I came across a large dust bunny and accidentally inhaled a bunch of dust? A small thing suddenly becomes a very BIG thing, and the consequences would not be out of God's hands.

    When we consult Scripture to see whether God is responsible for the bad things that happen, we discover some shocking examples that prove He is. Job and Christ are two of the best examples. In Job's case, God brought misery upon Job, taking everything from him, including his children and livelihood, and caused him immense pain and suffering. Satan carried out the act but it had to first be approved by God. Who is responsible, then? Without God's approval, Satan could not have acted. It is certainly God who takes on the onus for Job's suffering (which Job acknowledged himself), just as Barack Obama is ultimately responsible for drone strikes even though he doesn't personally push the button.

  5. Likewise, Christ was slain before the foundation of the world (2 Ti. 1:9, Rev. 13:8). This, of course, required the worse sin to ever take place, and all of it was foreordained by the Father in order to fulfill His plan.

    In Acts 2, we read Peter's words to his fellow Jews, in which he informs them that Christ was crucified at their hands in accord with "the definite plan and foreknowledge of God." In other words, they were held accountable for the action, but they were powerless to stop it because it was planned by God and necessary for the fulfillment of His purpose to save the world. The same can be said of the Pharisees, Judas, and many others. In Romans 9, Paul points out that God hardened Pharaoh's heart for the purpose of showing His power and that this demonstrates the fact that God hardens whom He will and shows mercy to whom He will (Ro. 9:17-18).

    It is clear, then, that God is definitely responsible for the good as well as the bad. He, in fact, created evil according to Isaiah 45:7. The key question is: how can we reconcile and begin to understand God's loving nature in light of the fact that He causes/allows so much tragedy?

    The divine pattern begins with suffering and ends with unspeakable joy. In fact, the more we suffer, the more we are glorified. In Job's case, the suffering did not end in misery. God restored Job to his former state but with even more than he previously had. Christ endured agony, even to the point of sweating blood in Gethsemane, but He did so for the prize and joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2).

    This awesome truth is the stronghold that comforts us when we see so many terrible things happening and acknowledge that God is responsible for them. Every tragedy will eventually result in a much grander happiness. The more we suffer now, the more we will rejoice later.

    One good question is: why does God hold us accountable if He is really responsible for our every action? To answer this question, we must first realize that we don't often think about the fact that our actions are controlled by God. We feel as though we are in complete control of our lives - especially since we don't see God. In spite of the fact that God is in control of everything choice we make, He still holds us accountable in order to bring us into an increasingly greater realization of Him. He lovingly corrects us as He leads us into greater maturity. As a father, I have a great deal of control when it comes to dictating my children's choices (although not to the extent of God). I may lead them to make decisions that I know will help them grow and learn, but I have to hold them accountable in the process for them to learn anything. God as the perfect Father does this, but without making any mistakes.

  6. You said: He still holds us accountable in order to bring us into an increasingly greater realization of Him.

    I love nature. Just last night I was watching this program on the Discovery Channel called, “Africa”. While I was watching I couldn't help but comment about God, about the awesomeness of creation; the perfect harmony that shows His handiwork. It is this that "brings me into an increasingly greater realization of Him." God is good. All His works are good. Yes, He creates evil, it is a tool, just as Satan is a tool. God is directly responsible for all creation. I don't dispute that. Ultimately (the) ALL *is* of God. However, I don't think my thought process forces me to assign some things as God's responsibility and others as not. God is responsible for His creation. He is the Master Planner. Everything is SO precise, like a well oiled machine. Did God tell Satan what to do to Job? Or did He just set a limit as to what could be done? He knew how Job would react; it was programmed in his DNA. Job, I'm sure, “learned obedience by what he suffered”. This is our training ground and our flesh helps us learn. Those who are called now, in this dispensation of grace have that earnest of the Spirit to help overcome the flesh. But flesh is flesh and so if we are not staying close to the Source, because we have certain things programmed into our DNA, we can be overcome by it; the flesh. I think Paul warns of this and it was obvious that many were struggling; including Paul.

    The Lamb was slain before the disruption. This fits perfectly in the overall plan that is being worked out. Men did what they were supposed to do because they were designed to do so. I don't see any conflict of interest with these examples; Job and Jesus. I can (foolishly) reason my way to understand choices involved in these scenarios. I don't see how I am doing damage to God's Sovereignty with my "worldly wisdom". (I’m not being facetious here; I am using that thought process to see how it fits.) It may have been God's, "definite plan and foreknowledge", He may have purposed it, but He designed mankind in a way that His purpose would be fulfilled without Him actually making someone in particular do what needed to be done. There were plenty of willing customers due to their nature.

    (continue below)

    1. As to Pharaoh’s heart, didn’t he harden his own heart, but yes, there came a point where it mentions that God did, as well. Couldn’t this have been programmed into his DNA? That Pharaoh’s heart was triggered, so to speak, at a certain point?

      As you are forcing me to think this through, I am remembering something. Just who is the God of the OT? Perhaps it is another of the Creator’s tools? Isn't it the “I AM”? Isn't it the Word, before he became flesh? Could this be an answer? Did the Lamb have a role as the Creator’s tool? Of course the Pharisees knew what Jesus was referring to when he referred to himself as the, “I AM”. They were furious. And come to think of it, Jesus did say that they had never heard the Father’s voice or seen His shape (Jn5.37). So who was the OT Voice, the YHVH of the OT, that was heard? This kind of solves the problems, in my thinking. I think it can make sense of all those scriptures where God/Father is blamed for seemingly making people do certain things.

      As a father, I assume you do have control, to a certain extent. But the day will come when your children will make their own choices. Hopefully they will remember the lessons you have taught them, the patient guidance by which you have lead them. But when push comes to shove, I assume they will do as my children have done and decide for themselves what they do or not do. Now they teach their own children.

      I have enjoyed having to exercise my understanding and thought processes. If I have strayed too far from the path, I pray there is something that will come to you, inspire you to share, and that will serve to bring me back. Otherwise, I will continue to study to attempt make sense of all this. Absolute Sovereignty is heart-sickening, enough to drive some from the faith. Maybe even keep some from it, as well.
      Blessings in the journey.