Total Control - God's Sovereignty Misdefined

Summary Version


Calvinist R.C. Sproul talk in Austin: Mar 9, 1991 said, "If there is one maverick molecule running loose in this universe outside the scope of God's Sovereign authority, power, and control, no Christian has any reason whatsoever to put my faith or any trust in any future promise that God has made to His people. For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost, for want of a horse the rider was lost, for want of a rider the battle was lost, for want of a battle the war was lost. ... One maverick molecule could destroy, the best laid plans, not of mice, or of men, but of God, if God is not Sovereign.

If God in some sense... does not ordain every thing that comes to pass, then God is not really Sovereign ... If God is not Sovereign, then God is not God."


Do evil sins occur only because God specifically ordained and decreed them, or do evil sins exist because of "mavericks", but they could only do what God ordained and decreed permission for?


Here is what another Calvinist, A.W. Pink, said:

"...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. This is evident not only from the general fact that nothing happens save that which the Creator and governor of the universe has eternally purposed, but also from the express declaration of Scripture that Christ as a Lamb 'verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world' (1 Pet 1:20)."

The Sovereignty of God p.249. italics in original)


Since God is all-powerful and knows everything, are we nothing more than marionettes in a cosmic puppet play? Is the universe entirely determined, not by an impersonal, purposeless fatalism, but by a personal, theistic fatalism? Are humans and angels, fallen and unfallen, simply robots?


So either robots or the universe out of control; are those the only two choices? No! But to see the correct answer about how God chooses to exercise his Almightiness, let's see what scripture says.


Bible Teaching on God's Sovereignty


God's Knowledge

God knows and sees all. 1 Jn 3:20; Ps 139; Pr 5:21; 15:3; Heb 4:13; Isa 46:10


God's Control

God does as He pleases.-Mt 20:15; Ps 115:3; 135:6; Rom 9:20; Dan 4:35

Nothing is too hard for God. Gen 18:14; Job 42:2; Jer 32:17; Mt 19:26

There are only four "things" God cannot do: swear by anyone greater than Himself (Heb 6:13), lie (Heb 6:18), be tempted by evil (Jms 1:13), disown Himself (2 Tim 2:13)

Everything God decrees happens. In other words, the Lord directly controls every event He desires. Isa 14:24,27; 43:13; 55:11; Jn 10:29; Heb 6:17; Mt 28:18; Examples: Dan 9:26; 11:27,35,36;12:1

Every decision of the lot is from the Lord. Pr 16:33


Outside of God's Sovereignty

God rules over all. Ps 103:19 [not directly controls]

Nothing happens beyond what God allows. Job 1:12; 2:6; Jms 4:15

None can successfully thwart God's decrees. Isa 43:13; Rom 11:29


God's Permission

God has not chosen to directly and expressly control some events. Jer 5:29; 8:19: 12:8; 19:5; 32:35; Ezek 8:6

Some break God's heart. Lk 19:41-44; Mt 23:37-39; Jer 4:19-22; 9:1

Many succeed in resisting God's commanded/desired will. Acts 7:39,51; 4:11; 13:46; 14:2; 2 Cor 6:1

Some things are on our own initiative. 2 Cor 8:17

Some things did not enter God's mind. Jer 19:5; 32:35



Every event, even those permitted and not control-led, is woven into His ultimate purpose. See Eph 1:11; Prov 16:4,33; Rom 8:28; 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Rev 4:11


"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Mt 23:37)


God Even Created Chance (Prov 16:33)


In of the stronger arguments Calvinists use to prove fatalistic control is Pr 16:33, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD." There are two points, based on the two clauses of the verse. First, chance on earth does really exist. The science of probability and statistics are genuine, useful, and worthwhile. As Ecclesiastes 9:11 says "...but time and chance happen to them all." Now the context of Ecclesiastes is "under the sun", but under the sun, chance does really exist.


Now nothing happens totally randomly, with no cause whatsoever. Rather, chaos does exist, in weather, nature, and people. For the mathematically inclined, our "will" may be described as a broad collection of dynamic, self-tuning feedback loops exhibiting self-emergent behavior.


The second point is that even chance under the sun is from God. Like other events, what we call chance events are such that whatever result God decrees happens, and no results occur except what God allows. God is control not only of what He actively decrees, but of what He permits. Nothing happens except what He permits, and He can override any outcome at any time.





Explaining God is not the cause of sin, and that we are not robots, are some of the more difficult challenges to Calvinism. Some good answers are from what are perhaps surprising sources: well-known Calvinists!


Permissive Decrees: Charles Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary, said, "God never decrees to do, or to cause others to do what He forbids. He may, as we see He does, decree to permit what He forbids. He permits men to sin, although sin is forbidden." (Curt Daniel's Dissertation p.230). In Chosen by God p.97 R.C. Sproul writes "[God] ordained the Fall in the sense that he chose to allow it, but not in the sense that he chose to coerce it."


Concurrence: Louis Berkhof says, "Concurrence may be defined as the cooperation of the divine power with all subordinate powers, according to the pre-established laws of operation, causing them to act and to act precisely as they do." Curt Daniel (p.201) adds "He acts in, with and under the things of Nature."


Dependent Decrees: God did not expressly decree everything independently. As W. D. Smith and Charles Hodge mention, while the working of good can produce evil reactions by evil men, the evil reactions are not chargeable to God, though God accounts for those too, in His plan.


We can grieve God: As Francis Schaeffer said in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century: "We can glorify God, and both the Old and New Testament say that we can even make God sad. That is tremendous." (Hymns for the People of God no.364.)


Putting These Together: God is Interactive


We cannot hope to know everything about God's work, but we can learn what is revealed in the balance of the general thrusts of scripture without denying the details of any verses. God had a decreed will, permissive will, and a commanded will. God's will in many matters is interactive with our will to the extent that God desires. Perhaps the most marvelous of God's decrees is a measure of freedom, with its corresponding accountability. While God does not desire, decree, or will evil directly, He permits evil (like dependent decrees) as an "existential parasite," a part of his plan to accomplish His purposes, which include people who freely choose to love Him.



God knows all, and is Almighty. God can do what He wants, and He can choose within His limits, and for a time, to give us freedom to disobey Him.

For more info please contact Christian Debater™ P.O. Box 144441 Austin, TX 78714

by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.