What is God’s Sovereignty?
Updated: Oct 16, 2018
“I believe in the Sovereignty of God!”
This is a common phrase often declared from Protestant pulpits, specifically those identifying as Reformed or Calvinist – but what does it mean?
Definition of Sovereign
exercising power of rule, a monarch
enjoying autonomy, independence
having supreme rank
synonyms: ruler, leader, head of state adjective
Origin: 1250-1300; Middle English soverain (alteration by influence of reign) < Old French soverain < Vulgar (common) Latin
God’s Sovereignty in Scripture
While the term sovereign is not found anywhere in the Bible, as it relates to a supreme ruler the concept does comport well with Scripture - where God is described as Lord and King. If defined as such there is no conflict between the term “sovereign” and Scripture which attests to God’s supremacy.
“For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.” Psalm 47:2
“I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King.” Isaiah 43:15
“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:17
The Biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty recognizes that He is King of Kings, Lord of lords, the Highest Authority to which we may appeal, Giver of the law, Judge and Grantor of mercy. In this sense, truly God is indeed sovereign!
Control ≠ Causation
However in the mind of many, they have come to wrongly believe God cannot be the Highest Authority if He is not the prime source of all evil, decreeing and instigating it. For them, they see evil as a created substance and cannot separate causation from control. For God to retain all of His divine attributes then, they argue, He must be the source of all things and nothing can occur without Him commanding it. Thus God must have created and caused evil.
Such a presuppositional philosophy inevitably sacrifices the Holiness of God on a man made construct, accusing Him of being the devil behind Satan and the cause for every human failing.
God does not make people evil; He does not command people to be evil and act out in wickedness. This point cannot be understated, for He is Holy and in Him there is no darkness.
Moral Evil vs Natural Evil
Moral Evil is that which is caused by people, such as murder, theft, rape, etc. Whereas natural evil is that which can cause pain and suffering but is not attributed to human activity, such as disease, earthquakes, drought, tornadoes, etc.
When we say God doesn't create evil, we are referring to the category of moral evil. For example, God does not force people to murder and rape. However, in the category of natural evil, God does often use such calamities in an act of judgment against moral evil.
If this is a bit confusing, or you'd like to learn more... Idol Killer as published an article specifically addressing the topic of Theodicy, the Problem of Evil.
Masking Blasphemy & Fatalism
Sadly, the term “Sovereign” is most often used to obfuscate and hide a blasphemous view of God. Instead of using it in its Biblical sense, King of kings and Lord of lords, this descriptive frequently serves as code speak suggesting that God decreed, that is to say instigated and commanded everything that comes to pass - by which they mean everything, including every manner of evil and wickedness.
So instead of saying God is ruling over all, that He is in control and will be the Judge of humanity, or that He will work all things together for the good of those who love Him, being called according to His purpose, this adjective is utilized to accuse God of evil.
Think of the vilest and most horrendous evil acts ever committed and realize under this definition of sovereignty, they believe God created the people with such an evil desire and then forced them to act on it. In this sense, when one says “God is Sovereign”, they are declaring their belief that God decreed, commanded and forced every rape, murder and sin ever perpetrated.
“God works all things according to the council of His will. Even keeping those kings who want to commit adultery from committing so and when He wants to He orders those to commit adultery when He wants to!” Theodore Zachariades
As we see in the above quote, such a view of God’s sovereignty blasphemes God accusing Him of authoring and instigating the sin of adultery. Yet this view of God authoring and instigating evil is hardly an isolated anomaly.
"From this it is easy to conclude how foolish and frail is the support of divine justice afforded by the suggestion that evils come to be not by [God’s] will, but merely by his permission… it is a quite frivolous refuge to say that God permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing but the author of them.” John Calvin, The Eternal Predestination of God
"...not only had God a perfect foreknowledge of the outcome of Adam’s trial, not only did His omniscient eye see Adam eating of the forbidden fruit, but He decreed beforehand that he should do so." A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God
Clearly under such a fatalistic redefining of “sovereign” every sin is in fact the result of God forcing it to occur. The adulterer didn’t commit adultery because he went astray into lust, but rather he was a helpless pawn in the hands of God who forced him to commit adultery.
An Attempted Defense
Use of Evil
Supporters of this wrong view of God’s Sovereignty will often point to examples in Scripture where God used an evil person or nation to bring judgment against themselves or others. They will claim that God’s use of an existent evil to judge another existent evil somehow serves as proof that He caused the person(s) or nation(s) to be evil to begin with. Yet, no such statements can be found within Scripture.
Such a claim is therefore on par with the evolutionists who overlook their missing link, taking the matter on faith that their beliefs are correct regardless of a lack of actual evidence.
Appealing to the Cross
An interesting defense of the claim God causes all evil is in an appeal to the crucifixion of Jesus. Often, the one believing this error will misquote Revelation 13:8.
"And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain FROM the foundation of the world." Revelation 13:8
The passage says Jesus was slain FROM - ἀπὸ - the founding of this world system - a reference to the Protoevangelium found in Genesis 3:15. However, here they will mistranslate ἀπὸ as BEFORE and claim that before God ever created the world He desired to have men commit evil so He could murder Jesus.
From there they argue that God planned and plotted the greatest murder of all time, and conclude that God does not simply create and cause moral evil but that He desires they come to pass.
Equating Moral & Natural Evil
Another common defense is to quote a specific translation of the Hebrew word רָעָה֙ meaning calamity, or natural disaster as in natural evil, but represent it as though it supports God creating and causing moral evil.
Common passages cited under such a defense are Isaiah 45:7 & Amos 3:6… both of which speak of God instigating a natural disaster and bringing forth judgment against an evil nation or city, not causing people to be evil.
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” Isaiah 45:7 KJV
While the King James Version translates the passage correctly as it is addressing natural evil, the intent can be missed. However careful consideration of the context makes it clear this is not moral evil as we see opposites being contrasted… light versus darkness and peace is not the opposite of evil, but rather calamity.
“I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” Isaiah 45:7 ESV
God is King of kings and Lord of lords, the highest authority to which we may appeal, Giver of the law, Judge and Grantor of Mercy. He is our Redeemer.
"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." 1 John 1:5
"Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one." James 1:13
If a systematic theology or doctrine claims that He is the source of evil then that theology and doctrine are not based on God and His Scripture but on the anti-Christ opinions of men. As such they should be rebuked and abandoned.
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." James 1:17