Is God in Control? Many of us are convinced from Scripture that God is absolutely sovereign. He can do whatever he wants to, and he can do it whenever he wants to. He has that kind of power.
Romans 8: 28-39 tells us:
28 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.
More Than Conquerors
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
More than Conquerors
But does that mean God controls all things all the time?
That’s the question I will try to answer today. One other question has always nagged me when sharing the truth of God’s sovereignty to others. I know from multiple examples in the Bible that God can control man and the weather and everything. But how do we know that God always controls everything?”
How do we know that God always controls everything? My answer is that we know this because the Bible teaches it. It teaches it by direct statements and by clear and sufficient implications. I’ll give you five clusters of texts or kinds of texts.
First, God works all things according to His will. Here’s Ephesians 1:11: “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.” Let me say it again. He works all things according to the counsel of His will. I think that means he always controls everything. There’s my answer.
I could just stop writing now. Enough said. Question answered. There’s no reason to assume any exceptions here (I don’t believe). Sometimes people say, “Well, no, no, no. He’s talking about the predestination of Christians.” Now when somebody says that, you need to pause and think about the words “he’s just talking about.” They are so vague. They can’t support the point the person is trying to make without more careful attention.
When you give more careful attention, what you realise is that Paul is using a general statement about God’s working everything according to the counsel of his will as a support for a specific statement about predestination. We all know that a specific application of a general statement doesn’t nullify or limit the truth of the general statement.
For example, if I say my friend (who knows how to drive every kind of car) drove an electric car without instruction the first time he got into it, you wouldn’t think he knows how to only drive electric cars. The fact that we’re talking about an electric car is simply pointing out that it’s an illustration of his ability to drive every kind of car. That illustration doesn’t nullify the fact that he can drive every kind of car. My point was to say he can drive every kind of car, and here’s an illustration of it.
When Paul says, “God, who works all things according to the counsel of his will, specifically predestined us,” it doesn’t mean “He really doesn’t work all things according to the counsel of his will; he only predestined us.” That’s exactly the opposite of the way Paul is arguing. When people make vague statements, we need to think carefully, trying to limit a context when the context is clearly expansive.
Secondly, God governs all human plans and acts.
- Proverbs 16:9 says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Just a general statement.
- Proverbs 20:24 reads, “A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?” A general statement about all his steps.
- Proverbs 16:33: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Human beings decide all kinds of ways to make a decision. They try rolling dice, and they draw lots, and they put out pieces of cloth on the ground — whatever. The point here is whatever means they use, it’s going to be God’s will in the end. Every decision is from the Lord.
- Proverbs 19:21: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Whatever humans anywhere in the world are planning and doing, what stands is God’s will.
- Jeremiah 10:23: “Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.”
All of those passages sweepingly say that everything that human beings do is, in the end, the will of God.
Third, behind human acts, the biblical writers assume God. This is amazing. Here’s Amos 3:6: “When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?”
Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? The answer is no. Well, what’s the implication? The implication is the biblical writer assumes every kind of event that comes to a city is ultimately from the Lord. He raises it with a rhetorical question that can’t be explained any other way. That’s his mindset.
This same thing happens in Lamentations 3:37: “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?” In other words, the only explanation the biblical writer sees behind anything being commanded is that the Lord ultimately brought it to pass.
You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
Fourth, this one is sweeping like the first one. God’s sovereign will governs all daily events. Here is James 4:13–15: “13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
What’s the point of that? That means “this or that” — anything you do — you should go into it saying, “I’m not in control here.” It’s arrogant, he says, to think you’re in control. God is in control.
Lastly, God’s permission for Satan or man to act is nevertheless part of God’s ultimate design and final control. I’m trying to respond here to someone who says, “Well, God doesn’t control everything, but he permits lots of things.” I’m saying that’s right. He certainly does permit lots of things. How should we understand an all-knowing God with perfect foreknowledge permitting something in his infinite wisdom?
Here’s what Jesus says in Luke 22:31-32: 31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers”. Notice he does not say, “If you have turned again,” but “when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
“Every kind of event that comes to a city is ultimately from the Lord.”
In other words, “Yes, I’m going to permit Satan to sift you like wheat, and I know it’s going to involve three denials. I know you’re going to turn, and I know that the purpose of bringing you back according to my prayer is that you might strengthen your brothers.”
Even in situations where God is permitting, he is permitting by design. When you permit something and you know what it’s going to do and you know all of its outcomes and you go ahead and permit it, you permit it wisely if you’re God — and then it wisely fits into the overall pattern of what you are planning and doing.
Let me end with a statement and a question. The statement is that human beings are responsible, accountable, praiseworthy, or blameworthy for what they do. God’s sovereignty does not diminish human accountability.
Which world would you rather live in? One where humans or Satan or chance govern what happens to you? Or one where an infinitely good, infinitely wise, infinitely powerful God works everything together for the good of those who trust him and for his glory?
Piper, J. 2017. “Does God Control All Things All the Time?. Online article. Accessed from https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/does-god-control-all-things-all-the-time on 2021-07-13.
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