How Sovereign Is Our God?
by Joseph Franks
God cannot be comprehended or understood. Quite often, he is baffling. His ways are not like ours; they are often hidden and mysterious. He cannot be predicted. He cannot be figured out. He cannot be put in a box, and rarely does he grant us the specific reasons for that which he decides and does. Yes, it is generally true, we cannot understand that which God does.
In addition, God is not often appreciated for that which he does. Because his decisions are often strange, uncomfortable, or even disastrous, we have a persistent tendency to second-guess his immanence, character, wisdom, or power.
However, despite our lack of understanding and appreciation for God’s actions, sacred scripture is consistently clear regarding his sovereignty. God’s inspired autobiography teaches that all happenings are his happenings. Whether they be monumental world events or more individual or private, all happenings are purposed, planned, and performed by the infinite God.
Regarding the character and attributes of God, we can only know that which he reveals to us. General revelation tells us much of his presence, knowledge, power, and creativity. Special revelation tells us even more. Therefore, from nature and scripture we learn that God is infinite; he is absolutely limitless in time, space, knowledge, and power.
Regarding time, God is eternal. His personal name is Yahweh which means “I Am.” He is the perpetually present being who always has been and always will be. He is without beginning or end. He is before time. He is above time. He is outside of time. He is the creator of time.
Regarding space, God is omnipresent. There is no real-estate where God is not perpetually located. Simultaneously, he is both in heaven and on earth. He is found on mountain tops and in the midst of all the great seas. He is very far off, and yet he is very close. There is no place for men to run and hide. All his creatures, all the time, think their thoughts, say their words, and do their deeds before a very present God.
Regarding knowledge, God is omniscient. Not only does he witness all the thoughts, words, and deeds of all his creatures, but he sees them coming before they transpire. Absolutely, God does knows all possible contingencies; he knows all the potential outcomes of all possible decisions. However, more than this, he also knows all actualities; he knows the actual decisions all creatures will make. With God, there are no odds, percentages, or probabilities. From the largest event to the smallest, he foreknows or foresees all. (Prov. 16:33; Matt. 10:29) He cannot gamble; he takes no chances wondering how things will unfold with his free-will creatures. No, the God of scripture understands the end from the beginning; his knowledge is exhaustive. He cannot learn. He cannot forget, and it is impossible for him to mature and concoct a better plan. There is no limit to God’s knowledge and wisdom; he is omniscient.
Finally, regarding power, God is omnipotent. Not only is he without limit in his present-day power, but he is also without limit in his power over the future. Today, God makes happen that which he desires so that tomorrow he will realize that which he has always desired. Sometimes God uses his power in a more active sense. The Bible is full of God supernaturally intervening in his created world. At other times, God seems to govern his creations more passively, utilizing secondary causes (Ie. nature, human will, wicked neighbors, the devil). However, regardless of God’s chosen means, when all is said and done, he is the one who makes everything happen. Contrary to the teaching of some who sake to save God’s reputation from perceived harm, it is impossible for the sovereign God to set aside his sovereignty. Doing so would make him less than he presents himself in sacred scripture. Doing so would make him the formerly sovereign God who is no longer immutable, limitless, omniscient, and omnipotent. No, according to God’s self-revelation, he is the supreme governor of his universe, and all that occurs happens in his presence, before his face, in full disclosure, being caused or allowed by him. This includes the delightful and the disastrous. This includes the heavenly and the hellish.
The question is, “Why does God cause or allow that which he does?” In God’s autobiography, he clearly states his one, persistent, over-arching purpose. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit eternally exist to enjoy and glorify one another. They have no higher vision or motivation, for there can be none. This has been their joint passion before they created the heavens, the earth, and all that is. And because these three Persons are supremely wise and immutable, their desires never change. Forever, they remain committed to enjoying and glorifying one another.
Therefore, with this God-glorifying goal first and foremost in their collective mind, the three Persons of the Godhead drew up an wise, exhaustive, and unchangeable plan. This is presented to us in scripture. God determined to glorify himself through manifesting both his justice and his grace. By the end of his story, God would be known as the holy, holy, holy God who rightly gives some men exactly that which they have earned and deserved. He would also be known as the compassionate Savior who gives all men common mercy and grace, and some men extraordinary, eternal, mercy and grace. (Romans 9:14-23) Yes, God planned, pre-determined, or predestined fallen angels, wicked rebels, and the damaged cosmos to experience his common mercy and grace in addition to his holy condemnation and curse. In contrast, faithful angels, regenerated men, and ultimately a renewed creation experience his undeserved agape-love.
When did eternal God envision this plan? The logical answer is before the creation of time.” The biblical answer is “before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8) Their plan is ancient. It predates Mary’s Son, Jeremiah, David, Moses, Abraham, Noah, and Adam. Yes, it was conceived even before Lucifer’s creation, Lucifer’s expulsion, and the Edenic fall. Before the foundation of the world, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit drafted their eternal and wise plan.
How exhaustive is this plan? The simple answer is entirely. Absolutely nothing is left out, for “the Lord works out everything for his own ends.” (Prov. 16:4) As stated before, in God’s thinking their are no contingencies; there are no Plan-B’s; nothing is left to chance.
How permanent is this plan? God is immutable and so to is his plan. In his book, he states it himself, “For the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart throughout all generations.” (Ps. 33:11) Yes, the perfect God, has a perfect purpose, and he has made detailed plans to see his perfect purpose fulfilled.
The question is asked, “What has happened since the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit developed their blueprint and covenanted to carry it out to completion?” Well, what do you think? All has gone according to plan. The timeless, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, immutably sovereign God providentially performed all which he purposed and planned.
It began with God custom-creating the heavens and the earth. God made everything good; it declared the glory of God. (Genesis 1; Psalm 19) He then created his masterpiece — men and women created in his own image and likeness. The earth was good; mankind was very good. They were especially created with the ability to enjoy and glorify their Maker. Men and women were given spiritual souls, a divine consciousness and hunger, a desire for brotherly communion, an understanding of his divine ethic, an earthly calling, and the free agency to either honor or dishonor God.
In addition, somewhere near the beginning, God created his angels. Like man, but less than man, they were created to enjoy, glorify, and serve their Master.
However, tragically, but according to the foundational purpose and plan, Lucifer and other angelic beings rebelled and were excommunicated from heaven. They could have been sent immediately to the Lake of Fire. However, this did not happen for this was not God’s plan. Instead they were allowed access to God’s special planet, to God’s spectacular garden, to God’s sacred sons, and there it happened. Using his free-will, Satan tempted the first couple. And using their free-will, Adam and Eve chose to sin. And all of this happened according to the most-free-will of God who foreordained all that came to pass. The God who is not evil, and hates evil, and is not the author of evil, and lords over evil, through secondary means used evil to perfectly perform that which he sovereignly purposed and planned.
Now, at this point, some are surely asking, “Does God really govern the performance of absolutely all things and all creatures?” Friends, there is much mystery in how God lords over evil, but there is no mystery that he lords over evil. Scripture is clear that God providentially controls absolutely everything:
God govern’s Satan’s evil thinking and doing:
- Job 42:2 I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. (Job was referring to the harm of Satan and the Satanic.)
- Matthew 4:1 Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.
God governs the thinking and doing of wicked men:
- Genesis 45:7; 50:20 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance … You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Joseph understood the sin of his brothers to have been intended by God.)
- Exodus 4:21 And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.”
- Joshua 11:19-20 Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
- Judges 14:2-4 When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” His father and mother replied, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.” His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.
- Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (This would include righteous and unrighteous plans.)
- Lamentations 3:37 Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?
- Luke 22:22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him. (Here one sees human responsibility alongside divine decree.)
- Acts 2:23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
- Acts 4:27-28 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
- Romans 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
- 1 Peter 2:8 “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message– which is also what they were destined for.
God governs all sickness and calamity:
- Job 1:21 … The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.
- Job 2:10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
- Job 13:15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.
- Job 23:13-14 But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases. He carries out his decree against me, and many such plans he still has in store.
- Ruth 1:21 … I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
- Ecclesiastes 7:13 Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what He has made crooked?
- Lamentations 3:38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?
- Isaiah 45:6b-7 … I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things …
- Isaiah 46:9-11 … I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. 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. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.
But how about some good news? Could you use some Gospel?
God governs regeneration. This is glorious, for if he does not use his power and impact our wills, not one of us will bow the knee, kiss the Son, and be reconciled to him. God, who knows us best, tells us we are blind, dull, deaf, and dead. We are totally depraved. The leopard cannot change his spots, and neither can we who are unholy make a holy decision. (Jeremiah 13:23) Except for his sovereign power, all of us will remain allied to Satan and at enmity with God. Except for the irresistible grace and effectual calling of God, all of us will willingly remain in our fallen, devilish condition. All will pass on the opportunity to be saved. The Lord may call; yes he may knock on the door, but according to God’s Word, we will never answer. (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Job 14:4; John 6:65; Rom. 3:10-12; 7:18-19; 8:7; Eph. 2:1-3; 1 Cor. 2:14) But thanks be to God who omnipotently regenerates many:
- Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (This would include righteous and unrighteous plans.)
- Ezekiel 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
- Luke 10:21-22 In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
- John 1:12-13 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
- John 3:3-8 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
- John 6:37-39 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me ….
- John 10:16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice ….
- John 15:16 You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.
- Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
- Acts 16:14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
- Acts 18:27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed.
- Romans 8:29-30 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. (There is no distinction between the called and the justified. This must refer to an eternal call and not the general external call.)
- 1 Corinthians 3:6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.
- 2 Corinthians 2:7-14 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this … Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God … The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
- Ephesians 1:3-6, 11, 16-18 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves … 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 … I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
- Ephesians 2:1-5 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
- Philippians 2:13 For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
- Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,
- 2 Timothy 1:9 [God] … who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done [including placing faith and trust in Jesus Christ] – but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.
- 2 Timothy 2:24-25 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,
- 2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
We might as well continue with the good news. God governs perseverance and preservation:
- Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?
- 1 Samuel 15:29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.
- Isaiah 14:24 The LORD Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.
- Hebrews 6:16-17 Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.
- Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
God is the Alpha and Omega of our salvation; he is the beginning and the end. He who knows what he wants, and pursues what he wants, gets what he wants. This being said, the perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutable love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for one another and for the elect, and their sovereign guidance over all happenings.
Man’s Wrong Response
Friends, I am well aware of the questions. They are nothing new. All serious theologians have had to wrestle with them:
- Why did God create Lucifer knowing the havoc he would cause?
- Why did God allow Lucifer to interface with his image-bearers?
- Why did God not create a “better” free-willing couple who would have turned away from Lucifer as did the holy angels?
- Why did God not choose to show mercy and grace to all?
- How exactly does divine sovereignty and human responsibility coincide?
However, despite our unresolved questions, will we discount and diminish God’s clear revelation of his divine sovereignty because we cannot understand how everything fits together? I trust this is not the case. Why dismiss the knowable because of the unknowable?
Or will we discount and diminish God’s clear revelation of his divine sovereignty because we do not like his divinely revealed plan? Would we really look at him and say, “That’s just not fair.” I must then ask, “Unfair according to who’s standard?” We cannot mandate that God live according to our preferred system of values. God defines what is fair. God defines what is just. And trust me, we do not want that which is fair and just. Therefore, would we really be creatures who judge the Creator and tell him he has no right to do that which he says he is doing?
Oh Christian, let us not arrogantly defy the Scripture and dismiss God’s clear teaching because we either understand not or prefer not God’s inspired revelation. The wisdom and knowledge of God is rich; his judgments are unsearchable; his paths beyond tracing out. (Rom. 11:33) “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom.” (Proverbs 1:7)
Man’s Right Response
Let us receive and not judge revelation. God’s Word states that which is truth, regardless of our comprehension or approval. Let God be true and every man a liar. It is the scripture that judges us and not we the scripture.
Let us respond with humility. There is no room for arrogance in our self-assessment, our doctrinal discussions, or our manner of walking before our neighbors. We are unworthy guest invited to Jesus’ banquet. An arrogant Calvinist is most pitiful. Any truth we have received is only due to the sovereign grace of the Holy Spirit. Let us who hold most dearly the doctrines of grace be the most humble.
Let us be diligent in our obedience. He who performed for us, enjoys watching us perform out of love for him. Let us enjoy God and glorify him by thinking, speaking, and living in accordance with his revealed will. Christlikeness is the end for which we have been foreordained.
Let us be zealous for souls. God has stocked his pond, and we are fishing for those who are his chosen sons and daughters. We need to see ourselves as the secondary means used by the omnipotent God. Think about it, we cannot help but be successful in securing and shepherding his elect. He has never lost one of his own yet. He will not do so under our watch.
Finally, let us enjoy assurance and respond with glorifying glee. Why do we believe? This is unnatural, for the natural man has not eyes to see or ears to hear. The natural man is dead in his transgressions and sins; he has not an internal desire for righteousness. Therefore, as we look within and notice faith, repentance, and a hunger for holiness and divine communion, let us be thrilled. Let us praise him with heart, soul, mind, and strength. We have been loved with everlasting love. Therefore, tell it to our hearts. Tell it to our faces. Tell it to our family and friends. Sing aloud about the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our redeemed family. We are the chosen people. We are the beloved of God. We are the bride of Christ. We are the adopted sons and daughters of the Sovereign King.