Tag Archive for 'God’s Sovereignty'

God’s divine sovereignty and man’s moral freedom

I just came across this first quote regarding the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart as recorded in Exodus in the Handbook on the Pentateuch by Victor Hamilton, and thought I’d post it. Hamilton then mentions Romans 9:17-18 in that both the OT and the NT “holds in tension God’s divine sovereignty and man’s moral freedom.” Then I thought I’d repeat a quote by John MacArthur that I’ve posted in the past.

The remarkable thing, however, is that his never led to a flat determinism, depriving Man of the responsibility for his actions. At all times the capacity for self-determination is insistently retained. The whole ethical exhortation of the prophets is based on the conviction that decision is placed in the hands of men. But the Law too rests on this presupposition. The fundamental postulate of moral freedom is thus found in equal force alongside the religious conviction of God’s effective action in all things; and no attempt is made to create a harmonizing adjustment between them. It is testimony to the compelling power of the Old Testament experience of God that it was able to affirm both realities at once, and to endure the tension between them, without discounting anything of their unconditional validity.

–Walther Eichrodt, As quoted in Handbook on the Pentateuch, pg 172

How these two sides of God’s truth—His sovereignty in choosing us (Romans 9) and our responsibility to confess and believe (Romans 10)—reconcile is impossible for us to understand fully. But Scripture declares both perspectives of salvation to be true (John 1:12-13). It’s our duty to acknowledge both and joyfully accept them by faith.

–John MacArthur

What should we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! For He tells Moses: I will show mercy to whom I show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it does not depend on human will or effort, but on God who shows mercy. For the Scripture tells Pharaoh: For this reason I raised you up: so that I may display My power in you, and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth. So then, He shows mercy to whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills. You will say to me, therefore, “Why then does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?” But who are you–anyone who talks back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Or has the potter no right over His clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction? And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory–on us whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
Romans 9:14-24

Bonus – I also remembered this little insert box thingy in the NLT Study Bible in Ezekiel. I like that study Bible because those things are all over the place. It’s like a box of chocolates–you never know what you’re going to get.


How can God deceive a prophet and still hold him accountable for his actions? Ezekiel 14 raises this question in many people’s minds. How can we reconcile God’s sovereign control over all things with the personal choices and decisions for which we will be called to account?
The Bible traces all things back to God’s sovereignty. That the rain falls on the just and unjust alike is part of God’s sovereign plan (Matt 5:45). Even a false prophet could give a prophecy that led people astray only with the Lord’s permission or direction.

At the same time, God is in no way responsible for our sin; it is our responsibility because it comes from our own sinful desires. In giving deceitful messages to false prophets, God was simply giving them and their hearers exactly what they wanted (cp. 2 Thes 2:11). Unless God restrained them from their sin, they would naturally choose lies instead of the truth and worship creation in place of the Creator (Rom 1:18-25). God simply gave them permission to enact their hearts’ sinful desires.

The remarkable fact is not that God allows some sinners to persist in their chosen delusions, but that he saves sinners, changes our natures, and gives us the desire to do good for the glory of God (see 36:25-26; Rom 8:1-11; Eph 2:10).

God’s sovereignty over the crooked

I love Ecclesiastes, and this short book has been a really nice change of pace.

We often forget that things that are bad are often going to stay bad. There is no promise that they will get better (John 16:33). If things are bad, they are by God’s permission or even design (Lamentations 3:37). And all things are for part of God’s will for his glory, which is for our good (Romans 12:2, Romans 8:28-29).

Follow the insight of wisdom. Consider the work of God in all these things. A wise man will never kick against the goads. Who can straighten what He has made crooked? Will a man be able to bend the world in a different direction than the Almighty has? This central doctrine in the book must he allowed to sink deeply into our souls. Is it crooked? Then the Lord God made it so. But why? If He had wanted us to know that, then He would have told us. The closest we get to an explanation is found in Romans 9—

What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction? 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–even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? (Rom. 9:22-24) [NIV]

The ultimate explanation is that God does all things to glorify His name and exalt His majesty. But regardless of various reasons for the crookedness of the world, the fact remains that the Bible affirms God’s sovereignty over the crooked. He truly is the only Lord.

–Douglas Wilson, Joy at the End of the Tether The Inscrutable Wisdom of Ecclesiastes

God Causes and/or Sanctions

When posting individual verses, it’s always recommended to read the context. I don’t want to be someone who contributes to one-verse reading of the Bible. You can always click or touch a Scripture reference to see more.

The LORD asked him [Moses], “Who gave humans their mouths? Who makes humans unable to talk or hear? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? It is I, the LORD!”
Exodus 4:11 GW

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who had been born blind. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, why was this man born blind? Did he or his parents sin?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. Instead, he was born blind so that God could show what he can do for him.
John 9:1-3

He takes something away, but who can stop him? Who is going to ask him, ‘What are you doing?’
Job 9:12

Although Job is a narrative, there is confirmation:

Everyone who lives on earth is nothing compared to him. He does whatever he wishes with the army of heaven and with those who live on earth. There is no one who can oppose him or ask him, “What are you doing?”
Daniel 4:35

The LORD does whatever he wants
in heaven or on earth,
on the seas or in all the depths of the oceans.
Psalm 135:6

Who was it who spoke and it came into being? It was the Lord who gave the order. 38 Both good and bad come from the mouth of the Most High God.
Lamentations 3:37-38

Your eyes saw me when I was only a fetus.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book
before one of them had taken place.
Psalm 139:16

Paul and Silas went through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit kept them from speaking the word in the province of Asia.
Acts 16:6

Scripture says to Pharaoh, “I put you here for this reason: to demonstrate my power through you and to spread my name throughout the earth.” 18 Therefore, if God wants to be kind to anyone, he will be. If he wants to make someone stubborn, he will. 19 You may ask me, “Why does God still find fault with anyone? Who can resist whatever God wants to do?” 20 Who do you think you are to talk back to God like that? Can an object that was made say to its maker, “Why did you make me like this?” 21 A potter has the right to do whatever he wants with his clay. He can make something for a special occasion or something for everyday use from the same lump of clay. 22 If God wants to demonstrate his anger and reveal his power, he can do it. But can’t he be extremely patient with people who are objects of his anger because they are headed for destruction? 23 Can’t God also reveal the riches of his glory to people who are objects of his mercy and who he had already prepared for glory?
Romans 9:17-23

And the oft quoted:

God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep
that it is impossible to explain his decisions
or to understand his ways.
34 “Who knows how the Lord thinks?
Who can become his adviser?”
35 Who gave the Lord something
which the Lord must pay back?
36 Everything is from him and by him and for him.
Glory belongs to him forever! Amen!
Romans 11:33-36

Power belongs to him forever. Amen.
1 Peter 5:11

I’m glad God was watching out for me!

If you base your faith on lack of affliction, your faith lives on the brink of extinction and will fall apart because of a frightening diagnosis or a shattering phone call. Token faith will not survive suffering, nor should it.

–Randy Alcorn, If God  is Good, pg. 12

I’ve heard people say things like, “Boy I’m glad God was watching out for us, otherwise something really bad may have happened.” So if something bad happened then how do you see God? What about the young Christian listening to you who was in a similar situation and it turned out differently?

This one may require a second read, as it did for me:

God is both our greatest problem and solution. His presence is the worst news or the best news, the most fearful threat or the most cheerful comfort. From Genesis to Revelation, there is this struggle, this awkwardness, ranging from indescribable joy to utter terror, when we talk about God’s presence or face.

This is far indeed from the modern triviality with which we treat this subject. We assume that God is near, and that this is necessarily good news, without needing to hear anything more said. Or when we are tormented by life’s circumstances, we assume that God is far away, when in fact, as the cross itself demonstrates and Paul attests in his own suffering, it is precisely there and then when God is closest. That’s the paradox. Our experience is simply wrong. Things are not as they seem. God is most intimately involved in our lives often when we least experience him. Such contradictions of our ordinary experience are abundant even in the natural sciences. It was perfectly understandable that people once upon a time thought that the earth was flat, the sun and the moon were roughly the same size, and the earth was the center of the universe: after all, this matches the most universal experience of ordinary people. However, we know better now, because more thorough and sophisticated analysis has challenged such commonly held notions. How much more likely it is, then, that our ordinary experience of God and his ways can be challenged by his own revelation!

–Michael Horton, A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering

Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s permission.
Matthew 10:29 GW

Senseless Tragedy

The idea of a “senseless tragedy” represents a worldview that is completely incompatible with Christian thought, because it assumes that something happens without a purpose or a meaning. But if God is God and if God is a God of providence and if God is sovereign, then nothing ever happens that is senseless in the final analysis. Things may appear to be without purpose or meaning. Their ultimate purpose might elude us for the present. Yet if we fail to see purpose in what happens, we must remember that our view of things is limited by our earthly perspective.

–R.C. Sproul, , When Worlds Collide, Pt. 1

Genesis 50:20
Even though you planned evil against me, God planned good to come out of it. This was to keep many people alive, as he is doing now.

Lamentations 3:37-38
Who was it who spoke and it came into being? It was the Lord who gave the order. Both good and bad come from the mouth of the Most High God.
(God’s Word®)

Illustration by © Steve Hesselman, 2005 – see more

God’s Sovereignty in Genesis 50:20

John Piper points out that what Joseph’s brothers meant for evil, God meant for good. As opposed to—Joseph’s brothers meant it for evil but God used it for good. Maybe it’s semantics or splitting hairs or whatever but I think it’s interesting.

Genesis 50:20a ESV
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,

In addition, it looks like the NLT “corrected” this in the later revision:

NLT1 (1996): As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil.

NLTse: You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.

HCSB: You planned evil against me; God planned it for good

God’s Sovereignty and Human Freedom

I have noticed that when people oppose the view of God’s sovereignty that Calvinists hold, the majority of the time they misrepresent the Calvinists’ views on it. Here are some quotes by Calvinists.

I’m not looking for a debate which is why I don’t try to characterize those who disagree, just posting some quotes.

R.C. Sproul:

The Sabeans and Chaldeans were free to choose [to steal Job’s animals and kill his servants – Job 1:13-15], but for them, as for us, freedom always means freedom within limits. We must not, however, confuse human freedom and human autonomy. There will always be a conflict between divine sovereignty and human autonomy. There is never a conflict between divine sovereignty and human freedom. The Bible says that man is free, but he is not an autonomous law unto himself.

Suppose the Sabeans and Chaldeans had prayed, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ I’m absolutely certain that Job’s animals would still have been stolen. But I’m equally certain that the Sabeans and Chaldeans would not have been responsible because their prayer would have altered the entire situation. There is freedom within limits, and within those limits, our prayers can change things. The Scriptures tell us that Elijah, through prayer, was given power to command the rain. He was not dissuaded from praying by his understanding of divine sovereignty.

No human being has ever had a more profound understanding of divine sovereignty than Jesus. No man ever prayed more fiercely or more effectively. Even in Gethsemane he requested an option, a different way. When the request was denied, he bowed to the Father’s will. The very reason we pray is because of God’s sovereignty, because we believe that God has it within his power to order things according to his purpose. That is what sovereignty is all about—ordering things according to God’s purpose. So then, does prayer change God’s mind? No! Does prayer change things? Yes, of course!

A.W. Pink, Gleanings In Joshua:

…theologians have so often gone wrong, by attributing either too much or too little unto the creature. Only by cleaving very closely to Holy Writ as a whole — and not by singling out detached fragments — are we preserved from serious error.

On the one hand, we must see to it that we return right answers to the questions, ‘For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?’ (1 Corinthians 4:7); on the other, we must give due place to such exhortations as ‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate’ (Luke 13:24) and ‘Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest’ (Hebrews 4:11); and not ignore such statements as ‘knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance’ (Colossians 3:24).

Only thus will the balance of truth be preserved.

It is indeed true that the child of God has nothing good or spiritual but what the Lord has freely bestowed upon him. But does that mean he is as passive a ‘receiver’ as the earth is when fructified by heaven’s refreshing showers and genial sunshine?

Great care needs to be taken in answering that question lest we contradict the Word of Truth.

Certainly he is no cooperator with Christ in the work of his redemption. There is not the least warrant for us to say, ‘God will do His part if we do ours.’ There is no dividing of the honors: the glory is God’s alone, and we have no ground for boasting. Most assuredly the elect have nothing to do with their election, for God chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world, and there is not a line in His Word to show that His choice was determined by anything praiseworthy which He foresaw in them. Those ordained to be vessels of honor were ‘clay of the same lump’ as the vessels appointed to dishonor. Nor had they a thing to do with their redemption, for all that was required to make atonement for their sins and reconcile them to God was accomplished by Christ centuries before they existed. Nor had they anything whatever to do with their regeneration, for they were dead in trespasses and sins when the Spirit quickened them into newness of life.

But it is quite wrong to infer from the above that the regenerated soul remains a passive agent. Equally wrong is it to suppose that he is how possessed of any self-sufficiency, that his new nature empowers him to perform his duty. Though he has become a living branch of the Vine, yet he is entirely dependent upon the Vine’s nourishing and fructifying. But we must not confine ourselves to that particular figure and relationship. The Christian is a moral agent, and grace has been given him to improve.

Eternal life is a Divine gift (Romans 6:23), but we are to ‘lay hold on’ it (1 Timothy 6:12). The celestial inheritance is ‘the purchased possession’ of Christ for His people (Ephesians 1:14), yet it is also ‘the reward’ of service unto the Lord (Colossians 3:24). Grace is freely given, but we are to use it, and must improve the same if we would receive more (Luke 8:18; Matthew 25:16). ‘Seek the Lord, and His strength: seek His face evermore’ (Psalm 105:4) — there is the meeting-place of the two sides! We have no sufficiency of our own, but if grace be duly sought (Hebrews 4:16) then ‘our sufficiency is of God’ (2 Corinthians 3:5).

John MacArthur:

How these two sides of God’s truth—His sovereignty in choosing us (Romans 9) and our responsibility to confess and believe (Romans 10)—reconcile is impossible for us to understand fully. But Scripture declares both perspectives of salvation to be true (John 1:12-13). It’s our duty to acknowledge both and joyfully accept them by faith.

God’s Sovereignty/God’s Glory/Our Good

Sovereignty Triangle

This illustration is inspired by what I read in the book Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. It’s a wonderful, life-changing book that I read during a very stressful time in my life. Here is a quote related to the illustration:

[God’s] sovereignty is exercised primarily for His glory. But because you and I are in Christ Jesus, His glory and our good are linked together. Because we are united with Christ, whatever is for His glory is also for our good. And whatever is for our good is for His glory.

God’s Sovereignty (TNIV for all these):

Isaiah 45:7
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.

Psalm 135:6
The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.

Exodus 4:11
The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?

God’s Glory:

John 9:2-3
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Isaiah 40:3-5
A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Revelation 4:11
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

Our Good:

Romans 8:28-30
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. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

I hope those who are color inclined can appreciate the text’s secondary colors that correspond to the triangle’s primary colors.