What is going on? Are things out of control? Or, are they fully under control—by someone else? Are they going exactly to plan—but we simply don’t understand that plan? These questions relate to God’s character—specifically, his sovereignty, or his rule over all creation. God’s sovereignty is often questioned because we don’t understand what God is doing. Because God doesn’t act as we think he should, we conclude that he cannot act as we think he would. But God is never frustrated. Nebuchadnezzar (the most powerful ruler of the ancient world) said nobody—including he himself—can say to God, “What are you doing?!” (Daniel 4:35). God is sovereign—he absolutely rules all things (including people) (Psalm 135:6a). He doesn’t ask anybody’s permission—neither angels nor men. God even selects world leaders (Psalm 75:7 & Daniel 2:21). God always casts the decisive vote. So, what do we, the voters, have to do with elections? How does it all work?
Although God’s sovereignty is always at work, it almost never is visible. Governmental officials and legislative bodies and we voters do our work without any conscious intent to carry out the will of God. We act as we want to, doing exactly what we intend to do, yet in every instance, we end up doing what God has planned for us. He is sovereign. His purposes are achieved, yet without any visible intervention on his part. On the surface there is nothing to be seen except the human activity. Only rarely are we given the privilege of seeing the invisible hand of God in world affairs—and this occurs only when the Bible discloses it to us. Nebuchadnezzar serves as a “case study” of God’s sovereignty over “elections” (Daniel 4:4-37).
One way to wrap our minds around God’s sovereignty is to consider “God’s will”. But it too is mysterious (Deuteronomy 29:29). God’s will exists in two categories: “secret things” and “revealed things”. Although the Bible has lots of information in it, it contains only a minute fraction of God’s plans. The Bible contains what we need to know in order to respond properly to God. But it doesn’t contain God’s explanation of everything that he’s up to and why he causes various things to happen. Psalm 115:3 describes the “secret things” of God. God’s revealed will is all the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” in the Bible. God has revealed to us what he wills for us to do. But now things get fascinating: God wills that we be able to defy his revealed will. God said, “Thou shalt not murder,” yet murders occur. (Ditto for lying and lust.) God wants (“wills”) obedience to all those things yet he doesn’t compel it. So in what sense is God sovereign? Here’s how: even though he permits defiance of his revealed will, he does not permit us to escape the consequences of our defiance (Galatians 6:7-8).
God’s secret will uses even our disobedience to bring about the outcomes he has decreed to come to pass. Several biblical texts pull back the curtain a bit on this mystery (Acts 2:23). Who killed Jesus? The Romans who drove the nails? The Jews who insisted that Pilate put him to death? God who predetermined the plan of it all? The answer is “yes”. In theological terms, God was the ultimate cause, the Jews were the immediate cause, and the Romans were the effective cause. They all were involved. Many people, with a shallow, sentimental faith, insist that God isn’t involved in acts of wickedness. He only “allows” them to happen. But that’s not the clear teaching of Scripture. Think about the implications of that popular, sentimental view: all of the bad things of life are beyond God’s control! That’s a scary world to live in. Thankfully that’s not how the world really is. The way things actually are provides us with safety and comfort. Truth is, even the most wicked act in the history of the world—the murder of the Son of God—was totally within the predetermined plan of God! Wicked men are not greater than God; he uses their wicked desires to bring about his holy, good, loving plans.
Here’s another glimpse into the sovereign involvement of God in the affairs of men (2 Corinthians 8:16-17). Titus went to Corinth “on his own initiative”. But Paul appealed to him to do it. And God put concern for the Corinthians in Titus’ heart. Even though Titus’ concern originated with God, the text makes it clear that Titus himself was concerned. He wasn’t dragged to Corinth, kicking and screaming. He wanted to go. And yet Paul played a role in helping him want to. And God put concern in Titus’ heart.
God’s sovereignty over the affairs of men guarantees “good” for us believers (Romans 8:28). Notice that God is the subject; neither we, “destiny” nor “karma” is the ultimate explanation of events. God causes, he takes responsibility for working behind “all things”. “All things” is comprehensive. No detail of your life is too mundane for God’s involvement. Nothing’s too big. Not even human “free will” overrules God’s sovereignty (remember Titus—he did exactly what he wanted, which was exactly according to the earnestness God put into his heart). Not all things are good, but God works them together for good (including the evil actions of people—see Genesis 50:20). There’s only one limitation on this promise: only God’s born-again children receive this iron-clad promise that God himself will use all of his wisdom, power, and love on our behalf. Non-believers aren’t promised this fatherly care.
Believers have God’s promise that he’s always involved, in every incident, in the lives of all of his children, in order to glorify himself and do good to us. Our proper response to God’s sovereignty is worship and trust (Romans 11:33–36). These are complex issues which cannot be answered in a thirty-minute message. We don’t know what God will do with America and our political situation, but what we do know is far more important: We know that God is sovereignly in control, for his glory and our good.
- Trust God’s secret will and obey his revealed will.
- Rest in God’s character when you cannot figure things out. Worship God.
- Read (or listen to) Is God Really in Control? or Trusting God by Jerry Bridges.
Take One Step
Each week, write down one doable concrete step of obedience, small or large, that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)