(image courtesy clker.com)
By Spencer D Gear
When we see the wickedness in our world, we could be tempted to say that God, the Almighty One, is not in absolute, sovereign control of our world. I’m thinking of:
- The ebola outbreak in Western Africa. See, ‘Every Second Counts: New Ebola Report Predicts Huge Spike Without Action’ (NBC News, October 9, 2014).
- ‘Confrontation with the diabolical’ (Emperor Nero, first century).
- Residents forced to flee from Syria into Turkey because of IS insurgents. See, ‘Syria crisis: 66,000 flee Islamic State into Turkey’ (BBC News, 20 September 2014).
- ‘Anabaptists who suffered for truth’s sake’ (The Baptist Pillar 1992).
- A Brisbane murder suicide involving the dismembering of a body and boiling in chemicals. See, ‘Chef behind grisly Brisbane murder-suicide: police’ (Brisbane Times, October 6, 2014).
- ‘The Holocaust: Adolph Hitler’ (Holocaust denial on trial).
- ‘Christians flee Mosul [Iraq] amid threats to convert or die’ (USA Today, July 29, 2014).
- ‘Diabolical despots: Idi Amin Dada’ (Vince Lewis).
- Atheist Communists slaughtered more than 100 Million people in the last century (Free Republic, 17 May 2012).
How do we deal with God’s sovereignty and these kinds of atrocities? One way to process these abhorrent events is to state that….
A. God is not absolutely sovereign
I met a fellow on a Christian forum who stated, ‘God is NOT absolutely sovereign’.
His comments were made in a theological context in which his context was that
all of the five points of Calvinism were deduced from the concept that God became absolutely sovereign when Adam sinned in the garden and man lost his free will.
God is NOT absolutely sovereign.
All five points of Calvinism are based on a false premise.
Joshua 24:15 states, ‘And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ (ESV).
In my view, there is a better alternative:
B. God’s sovereignty and free will
I disagree with this fellow’s perspective. I consider that the biblical teaching is that God is absolutely sovereign and that sovereignty includes the free will decisions of human beings. This is a brief overview of God’s sovereign attributes:
God is before all things (Ps 90:2; Col 1:17);
All things were created by God (Jn 1:3);
God sustains all things (Heb 1:3);
God is above and over all things ( Eph 4:6);
God is all knowing (Ps 139:4-6; Heb 4:13);
God is all-powerful (Gen 18:4);
God’s sovereignty implies that He does what He wills (Isa 14:24, 27).
This sovereignty means that
God is the ruler over all things (1 Chron 29:11-12);
God does whatever He pleases (i.e. is in control of everything) (Ps 115:3);
Earthly kings are controlled by God (Prov 21:1);
God’s control extends to human events (Isa 55:11);
Good and evil angels are under God’s control (Col 1:15-16; Eph 1:21; 1 Ki 22:19-22);
God controls Satan (Job 1:6; 2:1; Rev 20:10).
C. The most difficult concept to grasp
This is the one we find most difficult to understand:
God’s sovereignty does not make free choice and human responsibility to be fakes. God is not a sovereign Puppet Master who pulls the strings of life for all people and nations. One of the great mysteries of God’s sovereignty is that He is absolutely sovereign but human responsibility is genuine in the midst of this mystery.
The apostle Paul affirms the depth of the riches in God’s wisdom and knowledge in Romans 11:33. Long before Paul, Moses stated it profoundly,
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of the law (Deut 29:29 ESV).
Therefore the person who stated that he does not believe in God’s absolute sovereignty sounds like a promoter of open theism. Open theism is defined by one of its promoters, Clark Pinnock, as,
a relational view of God. [pause] Because the thing is that, in the past, with a high doctrine of predestination and timelessness and changeability, it’s hard to see how God was relational….
So our view is not that God knows everything that can be known and is therefore omniscient without qualification, but that some aspects of the future are settled and other aspects are not settled. The world is such that certain things are still being settled by the agents in the world, by us and by God, so God knows things as possible as well as certain.
Traditionally, God knows everything that will ever happen certainly, so it must happen exactly that way. Whereas we’re saying that God appears in the Bible to know some things for certain because he planned them or because they’re going to happen definitely, but aspects of the future may surprise him.
I think that’s a point that’s gotten people scared, the idea that God takes risks and is vulnerable. The same thing with the impassibility of God….
We’re saying that omniscience doesn’t mean that the future is exhaustively foreknown because God’s made a world the future of which would be decided by himself and human agents. So it’s really the reality of the human agents as to whether they make any difference for the future. If they do, then it means that certain things are not yet settled, because they haven’t made their choices, or done their thing (from Clark Pinnock’s interview with Homiletics online, ‘Does Prayer Change Things? Yes, if you’re an Open Theist’).
I can conclude that some people can and do refuse to do God’s will. However, that is to be understood as included in a biblical understanding of the sovereignty of God.
Therefore, I cannot accept this person’s statement that ‘God is NOT absolutely sovereign’. God is absolutely sovereign and in that sovereignty human beings take responsibility for various issues in their lives.
Suggested for further reading
- D A Carson, ‘A Sovereign and Personal God’;
- John MacArthur, ‘God’s absolute sovereignty’.
- I do not support the open theism view which Clark Pinnock explains HERE.
- For a critique of open theism, see Richard Mayhue’s, ‘The impossibility of God of the possible’ (The Master’s Seminary Journal, Fall 2001).
 PrincetonGuy#12, 8 October 2014. Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Question arising from the Calvinism/predestined threads’. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7843483-2/#post66437993 (Accessed 8 October 2014).
 Ibid., OzSpen#13.
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 03 May 2020.