Is God Sovereign?
Is God the reason for all the bad stuff that happens to you?
A friend of mine lost several million dollars in a bad investment. He is well into his seventies and this was his retirement money, so this was a big blow.
What happened? He took some bad financial advice and put his money where he shouldn’t have.
But my friend doesn’t see it like that.
He told me, “God is in control. I guess he didn’t want me to have all that money.”
In other words, God is to blame for his loss.
When I heard this I was too stunned to speak, but my friend was just getting warmed up.
“I’m like Job who suffered at God’s hand. At least I can say, ‘God gives and God takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.’”
Well, isn’t that just swell?
As I have said elsewhere, Job was wrong. God does not give them take away (Rom 11:29).
Today I want to address three more lies or half-truths that may need to be rooted out of your belief-set.
Lie 1: God is in control of everything
There is perhaps no more damaging lie than the belief that God is in control of everything and the cause of everything happens to you. You hear stuff like this all time:
“I got cancer but God is sovereign. He permitted this to happen to teach me something.”
“God took my baby. I guess he needed another angel in heaven.”
“I lost my job. Perhaps God took it because I was enjoying it too much.”
Statements like these are ignorant. How many people did Jesus give cancer to? How many people did he rob or kill? Jesus did none of these things yet some think his Father does them on a regular basis.
Jesus went around healing the sick, raising the dead, and preaching good news to the poor. If God were making people poor, sick, or dead, then the Father and the Son are a house divided. But he isn’t and they’re not.
If God was in control of everything, then he would be responsible for all the evil in our world – all the wars, killings, disease and destruction.
Contrary to what some misguided souls in the Old Testament might claim, God is not the author of evil. In him there is no shadow at all.
The Bible never says God is in control. Instead, it says things like this:
We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (1 John 5:19)
Much of the world is under the influence of evil. It remains captive to what the New Testament writers called “the power of darkness.”
Yes, Satan was defeated and disarmed at the cross, but his influence persists wherever the light of the gospel does not shine.
The problem with thinking “God is in control” is it makes us passive spectators in the ride of life. We’ll just sit there and take whatever life hands us saying, “C’est la vie. God is in control. It’ll work out.”
Can you imagine how short the New Testament would be if Jesus and the apostles believed that?
God redeems and heals but it’s a mistake to think he is the source of every bad thing that happens. The idea that Satan is his sheepdog or that the devil has to get God’s permission to harm us is totally unscriptural.
God is not responsible for everything that happens to you.
The good news is that his sphere of influence increases when we shine in a dark world. He has given us his authority to resist the devil and his evil influence. We have been empowered to heal the sick, raise the dead, drive out demons and otherwise reveal the gospel of his kingdom in dark places.
Lie 2: God is sovereign
My bankrupt friend wrote off his loss saying, “God is sovereign.” In other words, it was God’s divine and mysterious will for him to lose his money. He was not saying “God is king” – no argument there. He was saying, “Everything that happens is God’s will.” Again, this is simply not true.
Consider the following:
– It was not God’s will for Adam to eat from the forbidden tree (Gen 2:17), but Adam ate
– God is not willing that any perish (2 Pet 3:9), yet people perish
– God commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), yet many don’t
You don’t have to read more than three chapters into the Bible to realize that Almighty God, the Supreme Ruler of all, does not always get what he wants. How is this possible? This verse explains it:
The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to man. (Psalms 115:16)
God is Lord of the universe but we are little lords of our own little worlds. This is God’s gift to us – the freedom to choose how we live. The problem is, we often make choices contrary to God’s will.
Why do you think Jesus taught us to pray “Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?
The “God is sovereign” mantra is trotted out nearly every time something bad happens but it’s just not true. The word “sovereign” is not even in the Bible!
Is God sovereign? Not in the sense that he always gets what he wants. His will is not always done. But the good news is that he will write the final chapter of human history and for those who trust him all things will work out for good.
And the really good news is that we can walk in the will of God here and now with the aid of the Holy Spirit.
Lie 3: God could’ve stopped this from happening but he didn’t
A boy takes a loaded gun to school and God doesn’t stop him. An earthquake flattens a city and God apparently does nothing.
What kind of God is this?!
The “God could’ve stopped this but didn’t” chestnut is another way of saying, “This bad thing is God’s fault. He allowed it to happen.”
Like all the lies on this page, there’s a measure of truth behind this.
Everything that happens happens because God gave us the freedom to do what we like, even the freedom to hate him, kill our brothers, and then blame him for what we did.
Of course, we look like fools when we do this. We act like Adam who blamed his wife and blamed God and took no responsibility for his sin.
We are masters at playing the blame game. When something bad happens we blame our genes, our parents, our spouses, or our kids. We blame the government, the system, immigrants, Communists, so we might as well go the whole hog and blame God.
“I got sick. God allowed this to happen. God is at fault.”
Jesus, on the other hand, never blamed anyone. He just took people’s messes and fixed them.
Believe the lie that God is behind everything that happens and you’ll end up in the ash heap of life licking your wounds and examining your navel like a perplexed Job. You’ll bend over whenever the devil wants to kick you.
Who wants to live like that?
The truth is God doesn’t always stop bad things from happening; the good news is that sometimes you can.
You can bring the weight of his purposes to bear on your circumstances by trusting in him. You can walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear knowing that he is with you.
Life doesn’t have the last word when you’re walking in the spirit.
A simple test
To see how well you are getting this, ask yourself this question: Which of the following Jesuses is found the Bible?
- Jesus #1 sat around powerless, making excuses and doing nothing to help those who had been made sick by God
- Jesus #2 went around in the power of the Spirit doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil
Hopefully you know the second Jesus is true (see Acts 10:38). Yet many of us look more like the first Jesus. We’re not walking in the power of the spirit, but we’re making excuses. Chief among them is this one, “God is in control. It’s his fault, not ours.”
I don’t write this to condemn you but to make you angry at Satan’s lies.
James said “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” It really is that simple. We resist, he flees.
But he won’t flee and we won’t resist if we think God is doing the devil’s work and making us sick, killing our kids, and robbing us blind.
God is not making you sick and poor! He is not the reason you lost your money, your job, your marriage, or your kids. These are the tragedies of a fallen world. But the good news is that one greater than Adam has come and he has given you authority to proclaim the good news of his kingship to all creation.
- Are you sick? Talk to your sickness about Jesus by whose stripes you are healed (1 Pet 2:24).
- Are you poor? Talk to your bank account about your King who became poor so that through his poverty you might become rich (2 Cor 8:9).
- Have you been robbed, discouraged, and beaten by life? Then be like David and strengthen yourself in the Lord your mighty God (1 Sam 30:6).
Jesus did not come to explain why God never lifts a finger to help. Jesus came to reveal God our Father and Helper. He came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).
In his name go and do likewise.
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No such things as talking to your bank account ,nothing substitute hard work
If God is not in complete control then He is not really God. If these things weren’t ordained then how did they come to pass? I think the difficulty behind the verses that you’ve mentioned above is that they state what God desires. But from what I can see from the rest of scripture is that God’s desires wont conflict with the rest of His character or will. Meaning He may desire for all to repent and to never have sinned, but He chose to give us free will out of His character of love, even while knowing that his own creation would reject Him out of that free will. He wanted a creation that could freely love Him hence why we’re made in His image, and were not robots or puppets. And all these things give Him more glory because it reflects who He is.
So He may desire one thing but that desire won’t contradict His will or the rest of His nature and vice versa. Like His Loving character won’t contradict His Just Character. They all go together.
And complete control doesn’t mean God directly causes everything. He does have a permissive will where He allows things to happen. He doesn’t like sin or evil but He allows it to happen. Not because He can’t stop it or can’t prevent it, but because it’s part of His will to allow it to occur. And that doesn’t contradict His nature because it was out of His loving nature that He gave His creation the freedom of choice.
So I don’t think anything is ultimately outside of His will including the people He doesn’t save by Grace. Otherwise He wouldn’t be in complete control. He wouldn’t be God.
Excellent post Saint Paul. I see this one really stirred the religious crowd (religionists?), maybe more so than your post on Job.
South Carolina, USA
This debate over sovereignty is largely doctrinal. If you start with the premise that God is Almighty, who can argue? None. But herein lies the issue. Doctrine is often a mixture. A mixture of ‘truth’ and something that’s ‘right’. Very very subtle – a simple Example …
‘God is Almighty’ [truth] *therefore* He can do anything [sounds right].
BUT then you need to be able to explain and answer ‘Q’s such as ‘Why is there suffering’?
Let’s look at the Bible. The bible actually says that Gods WORD is sovereign. ‘In the beginning was the Word’. This puts a whole different perspective on sovereignty. One example – God gave man dominion over the earth. His word clearly says he did. This already explains a lot.
The bible clearly tells us why we have issues with disease, crises, earthquakes etc … And why God can’t [yet] intervene! …. But he will. No doubt. And in the mean time, believers do have options – How do we know? Because God’s Word says! And, because he really is sovereign!
Good day Dr. Paul Ellis and thank you for your helps of enlightening me biblically. I have been battling with this issue about the sovereignty of God for a long time. Having gone through this post I’m now getting rest. From my understanding I believe God cannot give presidents and leaders to the countries of this world. And He has no hand in their governance. Now what is making me scratch my head is this words of apostle Paul to the Romans, chapter 13:1-6. Sir, I’ll be glad to hear your take on this passage.
Thanks for your help.
“No! Jesus came to he came to reveal God our Father and Helper.” Is this a typo?
Oops. Thanks Jacob. We fixed it.
Hi! Doesn’t Ephesians 1:11 where it says God works all things according to the counsel of His will suggest that God is sovereign? Jesus also said that all authority in heaven and on earth was given to Him (Matt 28:18) Romans 10:9,10 says that we are saved by confessing the lordship of Jesus. I’m not sure what hope there could be for mankind if man himself or the devil is in control.
And yet John said something like this in 1 John 5:19: “The whole world is under the control of the evil one” (NIV). We have to take care with words. While it is true that God is the Sovereign, it’s not true that he is sovereign in the sense that word is usually used (as I have explained above). God is not the cause of everything that happens. God is not willing that we sin and perish, yet it happens every day. That’s on us, not him. God gave us freedom and we opened the door to sin and death.
I unpack Eph. 1:11 on the Grace Commentary.