Question:

I want to ask you about some verses a Baptist friend asked me.  I hope you can help me understand these verses. Do these verses teach that God's sovereignty is absolute and that He predestined all things which happen, either good or bad? Isaiah 45:6-7; Exodus 4:11; Deuteronomy 32:39; I Samuel 2:6-7; Ecclesiastes 7:13-14; and Lamentations 3:37-38.

You're web site has done a lot to help me in my preaching here.  Every time I go to the Internet, I always first open the La Vista Church of Christ web site. I will close for now. Your response will greatly benefit me, I'm sure.  May God bless you always.


Answer:

When faced with something larger than a person can comprehend, people have a tendency to try to describe it in terms of something simpler, something they do understand. However, we tend to go too far and think that the simple explanation is the whole. There is a lesson about this called "Oversimplifying God," which would be useful for you to study.

Now, the question is whether God's sovereignty is absolute; that is, whether God has predetermined everything, both good and bad, leaving men with no choice but follow the course which God has already laid out. With this in mind, let's look at each passage cited and determine if it answers this question.

"I am the LORD, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting That there is none besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things" (Isaiah 45:5-7).

In this passage, God is declaring His power; a power that is unlike the supposed powers of the idol gods of the heathen. God declares He does as He desires, including bringing times of peace and times of calamity as He decides. But notice that this particular passage does not state that these times are predetermined. They could be, but this passage doesn't prove the contention. There are verses which tell us that God brings about good or bad times in response to the behavior of men. "I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 17:10). Thus, at least in some things, good or bad times come in response to man and not according to a complete and immovable determination of God.

"Then Moses said to the LORD, "O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." So the LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say"" (Exodus 4:10-12).

This passage tells us that each person is given or not given certain things as the Lord determines. Moses wanted to say that he wasn't worth sending to Pharaoh because he wasn't a gifted orator. What he overlooked is that it was God who selected Moses to go to Pharaoh. If He wanted a gifted orator, He could have selected one. Moses suited God's purpose as he was made by God.

Sometimes man, being limited, does not see why God decided to have some people handicapped. Jesus made this point, "Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him"" (John 9:1-3). See "Does God Make the Handicapped?" for more details.

It is interesting that this passage was selected because if everything was predetermined by God, then why do we have a record of a man, who supposedly had no choice, arguing with God over God's choice? No, this passage does not prove that God exerts absolute sovereignty over every person. God does as He wants, but there is still room for man to respond as he desires.

"Now see that I, even I, am He, and there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; nor is there any who can deliver from My hand" (Deuteronomy 32:39).

This passage emphasizes that men cannot overthrow the decisions of God, but where does it say that God makes every decision? Nor does it state that every decision had already been made. If you keep reading, God is stating He will make determinations in response to people's decisions -- judgments which once made cannot be prevented by men. "If I whet My glittering sword, and My hand takes hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to My enemies, and repay those who hate Me" (Deuteronomy 32:41).

"The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, and He has set the world upon them. He will guard the feet of His saints, but the wicked shall be silent in darkness. For by strength no man shall prevail. The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken in pieces; from heaven He will thunder against them. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed" (I Samuel 2:6-10).

Once again, the emphasis is on the fact that God does as He pleases and man cannot prevent His decisions, but again what is missing is any statement that every decision of God has already been made. Instead, the decisions mentioned here are in response to the decisions of men. Some men are saints, whom God chooses to protect, and others are wicked, whom God chooses to silence and destroy. Again, we see that people are making an assumption about when and how much God decides; assumptions that are not supported in the Scriptures.

"Consider the work of God; for who can make straight what He has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, so that man can find out nothing that will come after him" (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14).

The same point can be made as in the prior passages. Man has very limited control in the world. He cannot change the way God has ordered things. Yet nothing here says that God has ordered everything leaving men with absolutely no choice. What I can't control is when good times or bad times will come upon me. But I do have choices in how I respond to those good and bad times. That people have some choices is emphasize later in Ecclesiastes when the writer encourages young people to serve God while they are still young. "Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes; but know that for all these God will bring you into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from your heart, and put away evil from your flesh, for childhood and youth are vanity. Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, "I have no pleasure in them"" (Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:1).

"Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed? Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the LORD; let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven. We have transgressed and rebelled; You have not pardoned. You have covered Yourself with anger and pursued us; You have slain and not pitied" (Lamentations 3:37-43).

While woe and well-being come from God, this passage does not state that these come arbitrarily or because they were determined long before the earth was made. Instead Jeremiah is stating that the woe they were face was a result of their choice to rebel against God. Jeremiah emphasizes that people cannot control how the Lord chooses to respond to man's choices. Man has no right to complain when God punishes him for his sins.

In all these passages we see that God's decisions are sovereign; that is, man cannot change what God determines will be done. However, none of these passages state that God determines everything, leaving men with no choices. Instead we see repeatedly that God's judgments come in response to the choices God allows men to make.