Sovereignty of God

Why is the study of God’s sovereignty important?

Accepting someone’s sovereignty is never easy. God says that He is sovereign and as a result He does things that is all right for a sovereign God to do. But we humans object. We tell God that even if He is sovereign, He should not be doing such things.

This lesson is about God’s sovereignty; what it means and what privileges a sovereign God has and whether it is right for humans to question God’s actions.

The sovereignty of God has often been misunderstood resulting in God being branded as unfair. If such misconceptions are not corrected, they may one day cause us to lose faith in or respect for God. If we understand God’s sovereignty, we will also not sin by questioning God when we are not supposed to.

What do we mean when we say that God is sovereign?
God has the highest authority in the universe. (Similar in concept to the omnipotence of God). Since He is the highest authority, nothing can happen except that which is allowed by Him.

Life Application

Since God is sovereign and nothing happens except by His permission, we can be assured that nothing happen to us unless God allows. And God, who loves us, will never allow anything to happen to us unless it is for our good.

Romans 8:28 (NIV) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Matthew 7:9­11 (NIV) "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Even the punishment he lets us experience is for our own good.

Hebrews 12:5­8 (NIV) And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

Problem

If God hates evil and is also the highest authority in the universe such that nothing can happen except that which is allowed by Him, why is there evil in this world?

The Bible tells us that God did not create this world in the state which it is in now, but evil came as a result of the sin of man. God is a God who hates evil, but He is also a God who loves us and wants to create us with the freedom and choice to love Him back. This overriding factor makes God decide to still create man with free will even though He knows that it will lead to sin.

God is still in control even though things do not appear to be so

There is no need to feel frustration when the world seems to be unfair.

(Psa 73:3-12 NIV)  For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. {4} They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. {5} They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. {6} Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. {7} From their callous hearts comes iniquity ; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. {8} They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. {9} Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. {10} Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. {11} They say, "How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?" {12} This is what the wicked are like-- always carefree, they increase in wealth.

The Psalmist was filled with frustration because he thought that God does not appear to be in control when the wicked seem to prosper while the righteous suffer. It is only when he learnt to acknowledge that God is still in control and will bring everything to justice in His own timing that he is released from frustration. God is always at work in this world, even when we can’t see what he is doing.

(Psa 73:17-22 NIV)  till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. {18} Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. {19} How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! {20} As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. {21} When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, {22} I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

God has the right to bestow His blessings and gifts on whomever He chooses.

Group discussion

Supposing you go to a poor country and meet a beggar. You decide to give him some small change. Then another beggar came, and you give him some more change. Before you know it, a multitude came. You ran out of change and decide to walk away not giving anymore to anyone. Then the beggars became angry and started to scold you for being unfair in giving the first two but not giving to them. Do you think you are in the wrong?

Christians have to understand that whatever God gives to us, He gives out of grace. No one deserves anything in the first place. We all deserved death but instead we receive eternal life when we die and all sorts of goodies while we live. Yet we are unhappy when God blesses some people more than us. Should we feel this way? Are we not like the beggars who questions the giver? Does the giver not have the right to decide who he wants to give to? Does God owe us anything?

The Bible teaches that God has the right to extend His gifts to whomever He chooses.

Matthew 20:13­15 (NIV) "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'

Spiritual gifts are also apportioned this way.

1 Cor 12:11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them (spiritual gifts) to each one, just as he determines.

Problem passage

Romans 9:10­16 (NIV) Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad­­in order that God's purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls­­she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." 14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.

God says that He chose to extend more blessings to Jacob than Esau, not because of anything they have done, but simply because of His choice. But we have to understand that God did not hate Esau, as we understand it in our modern language. The word "hate" is used in the Bible to show that God love Esau less in the sense of showering him with less blessings than Jacob. (See Luke 14:26) Why is God not unfair by giving more blessings to Jacob than Esau? Well, because neither man deserved anything in the first place; therefore God has the right to give to anyone He pleases. Isn't that what the parable in Matt 20 teaches?

To defend against the accusation that God is unfair, Paul quotes what God said to Moses in Exod 33:19. If we read the old testament passage, this is the incident after Moses had thrown away the ten commandments that God had given the Israelites because Moses caught the people worshipping a golden calf. Even though the first tablets of ten commandments were destroyed, God called Moses to the mountain and gave him another set. Then He said to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." In other words, these people don't deserve what I am giving to them, but I will do it anyway. And don't question me on whether I should or should not extend mercy because I will give it to whoever I choose.

Therefore, even if God shows special favour to some and not to others, it cannot be argued that God is unjust. It must be remembered that those who receive the special favour receive them through grace, while God simply withholds His grace to others, something He was under no obligation to bestow in the first place.

Life Application

The secret to being content is not to look at what God blesses others with. Just be thankful to God for anything He gives us.

God has complete authority to decide what will happen and no one has the right to question Him.

Time and again, the Bible teaches us the inappropriateness of man questioning God. Job was one such person who questioned God.

Job 3:11 (NIV) "Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?

Job 3:20­21 (NIV) "Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, 21 to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure,

When Job questioned God on the cause of his suffering, God did not bother to answer him at all but instead asked Job a series of questions that reminded Job of his sovereignty.

Job 38:1­6 (NIV) Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: 2 "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 4 "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone­­

Job repented of his sin of questioning God.

Job 42:1­6 (NIV) Then Job replied to the LORD: 2 "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. 3 You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 "You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

Life Application

Does that mean that we should never question God? No. God allows His children to suffer for three main reasons. To teach us. Maybe we have sinned in a certain area and the suffering is like a father caning his son to tell him that what he has done is harmful and should never be repeated. To train us. God may allow us to suffer so that we can build our patience and longsuffering. To test us. The classic example is Job whom God allowed to suffer to test his allegiance. So when we suffer, it could be due to many reasons. If we don’t know, we should question God. God, what do you have me to learn from this incident? However, we should never question God’s right to do something.

Problem

If God has complete authority to decide what will come to pass and no one has the right to question Him, does that mean that God has the right to even predestine people to hell out of His free will?

God has the right to do anything He pleases but He certainly will not do something that displeases Himself. The Bible is plain that God wishes all men to come to a saving knowledge of Him.

2 Pet 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Ezekiel 18:23 (NIV) Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

What about the problem passages?

Romans 9:18­23 (NIV) 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. 19 One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? 22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath­­prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory­­

Explanation to the problem passage

Verse 18 seem to indicate that it was God who hardens man’s heart. Actually, God does not harden the hearts of men. If He does so, it would make God the author of sin. It would also be ridiculous to think that Jesus, who came to preach to sinners, actually caused some to reject His teachings. The Bible says that God hardens the sinners heart as a way of saying that He allowed the sinners to continue to harden their hearts. (Remember the Hebrew way of saying that God caused something if He so much as permits it to happen.)

Verses 21 to 23 seem to indicate that God predestines people to hell entirely out of His own will. This is not correct. Rather, he predestines those for destruction whom He already knew would not believe Him.

Romans 8:29­30 (NIV) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Therefore, the order is not...

Step 1 God predestines the person to hell.

Step 2 The person cannot believe.

Step 3 The person goes to hell.

Rather it is...

Step 1 God knows the person will not believe (because He is omniscient)

Step 2 God predestines him to hell.

Step 3 The person goes to hell.

Verse 20 and 21 seem to indicate that Paul is scolding the people because he thinks there is nothing wrong with God predestining people to hell out of His will. This is not true. Paul is telling the people that it is inappropriate to question God under any circumstances because we are mere creatures of God and have no right to question our Creator.