Where do you stand on God’s sovereignty?

1. Meticulous sovereignty: God is the instrumental cause behind every action and reaction there has ever been. For this view, in order for God to be truly sovereign, he must be the ultimate and instrumental cause for everything, including sin.

2. Providential sovereignty: God is bringing about his will in everything (Eph 1:11). However,  his will is not the instrumental cause of all that happens. God’s will plays a providential role in “causing” all things, using secondary causes as instruments. What God wills is not always what he would want in a perfect world, but all he has is sin to work with. Therefore, in this sense, even evil is the will of God.

3. Providential oversight: Here God’s sovereignty is expressed in active oversight. He has a general plan, but is not married to the details. God can and often does intervene in the affairs of humanity to bring about his purpose. In this case he never “wills” evil; he only uses it.

4. Influential oversight: Here God limits his own sovereignty. God could control things, but to preserve human freedom, he will not intervene in the affairs of men to the degree that human freedom is effected. He is hopeful that his influence will be persuasive to change a person’s heart or to guide them to his will. Here God never wills evil, but only allows it.

Where do you stand?


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    36 replies to "Where Do You Stand on God’s Sovereignty?"

    • Daniel

      I’d say I’m bouncing between #2 and #3. If I understand them correctly, one of the main differences between them is whether or not God is concerned with the precise details, as stated in #3.

      Perhaps some further thinking on this would be worth while. Very thought provoking.

    • Dr Michael

      To answer this question, we have ask a bigger question, which is, “Where does the Bible stand on God’s Sovereignty?”

      I think most of the evidence in the Scriptures point to #2 (Providential sovereignty), although I think the word “meticulous” could be used to describe this view as well.

    • Sam

      A spectrum from 2 to 4.

      I also find that sovereignty is much bigger than the 4 options above. In fact God is so sovereign that he does like us putting him in a box!

    • John From Down Under

      I note that the Meticulous Sovereignty option shows zero count at the moment. I’m assuming Hodge hasn’t voted yet? 😉

    • Craig Bennett

      I bounce between 3 & 4.

      I think the general understanding of Eph 1:11 has some serious flaws.

      Paul is not talking so much about every Christian being predestined…rather he is leading up to verse 11 saying…

      1.) God chose the Jews before the creation of the world to bear Christ. 1:4-5

      2.) 1:11 He also chose us from the Jews to be his Apostles

      3.) He says you too were included in Christ… Gentile Christians…

      The conformity of Gods will that Paul is talking about here is that the Gentiles are included in Christ and that the evil God works good out of is the evil of crucifying Christ.

    • Paul

      This is far too simplistic, Michael. Understand the value of having a heuristic here but Scripture is more complex, I suggest.

    • James Reid

      Great question… I am not sure any one of the above can define God’s Sovereignty. God is all in all, Omni-everything. Scripture says God hardens and softens the hearts of men to do his will. It would be hard for me to believe that there is ANYTHING I could do that was not expected by Him already… therefore there is nothing anybody could do to change His plans. Scripture says God causes all things to occur for His glory… therefore sin (evil) is the absence of good, or the hardened heart. …Love the question… I often tell people they must believe the first sentance of the Bible to understand God’s postion in their life.

    • Saskia

      I think the comments about this issue being far more complex than we can put into words are right.

      Having said that I guess I fall most strongly into camp number two… although I prefer the short explanation of number three “God uses evil for the greater good” not “God wills evil for the greater good”. So I guess I’m in the middle.
      But I wouldn’t like to say that any of the options explain the sovereignty of God and the freedom of humanity adequately.

      On an interesting related topic (sorry if this is against the rules) I once had a conversation with an atheist who argued that no one had a choice about anything they did because everything is predetermined on a subatomic level. It was kind of like the atheist equivalent of meticulous sovereignty.

    • Paul

      @Saskia
      Given a consistent atheistic worldview, there can only be material causes for all human behavior, since no immaterial, naturalistic explanations exist. The atheist was at least consistent.

    • mbaker

      Here’s what I wonder and cannot in all good conscience vote on polls like these:

      Where DID sin come from, if God is indeed sovereign?

    • Hodge

      John,

      LOL. You’re right, I didn’t vote; but if you read through my comments, you’ll see that I fit more closely to 2 than 1. I don’t believe God is the instrument in all things, just the ultimate cause.

    • mbaker

      Re: #11:So then God is the ultimate cause of sin?

    • Rick

      I think in order to be able to answer this question you must first answer the question, What is evil? It is contrasted with “good” in its first usage in the scripture. So in order to understand evil we must first understand what is “good”. “Good” is first used as the nature of GOD’s creative work.

      It is in exploring a complete understanding of the word “good” and in contrast, “evil”. When that work is done then we can answer the question of His relationship to “evil”.

    • John From Down Under

      My bad Hodge!

      Now that I reflect on your comment patterns you’re right! You fit No 2 like a glove (and I always read your comments with keen interest!)

    • Paige-Patric Samuels

      I subscribe to the view of providential sovereignty. This suggest then God is operating all in accord with the council of His will Rom 11:36. Evil serves as a necessary backdrop, in the divine schema of things. As it assist us in understanding the experience of evil resulting in the eventual good of all. this idea does not suggest that God is narcissistic,but is a demonstration of His divine prerogative as He is God and has absolute control of all things. He Sovereign. Soil Deo Gloria

    • I do think J. I. Packer is right in concluding there a mystery in how to fit together God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. I would hold to number 2, but how God could control all things without being the direct instrumental cause is I think something beyond human understanding.

    • Kevin Jackson

      There should perhaps be a fifth view – God cannot prevent evil. Open/Relational Theologians sometimes take this view. They would say that God lacks the coercive nature to exert unilateral control.

    • A.M. Mallett

      I have to mix providential and influential. The other two come too close to making God the author of sin itself for any comfort on my part.

    • bethyada

      I am struggling to see the difference between 3 and 4, though I think this is because I do not view sovereignty the way it is described. God is absolutely sovereign in that he can and does do what he wills. Yet I deny he is able to control a person’s will absolutely without removing the will. Thus he can cause men to do everything he wishes, but he does not. He may prevent aspects of will (eg. prevent thoughts), but cannot do this exhaustively if he wishes men to be free.

      Both 3 and 4 are true.

      God never causes (moral) evil.

    • drwayman

      I have to mix providential and influential.

    • jc_freak

      I would have to say that I go with the explanation of #3 and the name of #2

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    • casey

      I think I’m between two and three, though there may be other ways of undrstanding God’s sovereingty and evil.

      I think this part of your definition of #2 is flawed, though: “What God wills is not always what he would want in a perfect world, but all he has is sin to work with”.

      This appears to try to get God off the hook for willing evil because it is “all he has to work with”…but I reject that because God must have willed that that is all he has to work with. One could make that argument post-Fall, but only because God willed Adam to sin in the first place. God wanted Adam to sin so that was “all he had to work with” going forward.

      Where does Molinism or “middle knowledge” fit into this categorization?

    • clinton

      Three

      I think evil is a possibility brought on by God’s gift of the choice to obey or not that was given to man. He willed this, the ability to choose, not the choice of evil that man made and continues to make.

    • James Reid

      Great discussion… a few comments. Does God exists outside of time (Gen. 1:1), therefore He sees all things at once and for eternity, in this, He HAS caused all things to occur for His delight, good and evil? For the existence of evil is defined by Man’s standards using the Moral compass of God’s law written within their heart and His providential sovereignty to allow evil to show His pure righteousness; as evil is normally scaled based on the absence of God’s loving way being the standard for an action. Evil therefore, to me, is based on man’s desire to find God… which glorifies Him when they seek Him. It seems somewhat arrogant to me to think that there is anything I could do to change what God has already done. I believe that is how religions are born.

    • Godismyjudge

      None of the above would win by a landslide. I am between 2 & 3.

      God be with you,
      Dan

    • […] Where do you stand on God’s sovereignty? […]

    • Ryan

      #2 Is supported by Scripture.

      #1,#3, and #4 are not, and here is why-

      #1 would make God evil.

      #3 would make God mutable, thus fluctuating between less than perfect, more perfect, still more perfect, more perfect than the last, less perfect, etc.

      #4 would include all of #3, and add a reactionary nature. God’s interaction would be in reply to true autonomous freedom, thereby a reaction to the cause of the original choices made by individuals. God would be playing a constant catchup game. If your God of the Bible is sovereign under premise 4, all humanity is doomed, and God is not in control.

    • george57

      on God’s sovereignty?, no1, god will not us created people to have that power, and does use a voice box , when he was speaking to moses, he our lord his ways are above us, and good and evil? For the existence of evil is is only what god lets happen.

    • jim

      #1 in my opinion leads to fatalism

      Score me between 2 and 3, more toward the 3.

      I known God is sovereign….I am just not sure about the degree in which he operates or controls both human will and sin.

      JOhn, I would have agree to put Hodge in #1 as well and I note that as of this date the #1’s have moved to 20%……….23 christians believe God cares and controls what type of socks a man puts on…. very interesting!!!

    • Rong

      Sam on 12/28 “In fact God is so sovereign that he does ‘not’ like us putting him in a box!”

      ROFLOL – I almost thought we were getting a Chuck Norris quote on this one.

      Oh and my reponse, “I haven’t a clue, but I guess I’ll go with Sam in that there is a bit of truth (in my feeble understanding) in 2 thru 4.”

    • Alex Guggenheim

      A decent article that helps people understand that approaching the biblical definition of divine sovereignty is partly determined by its function. I do agree that the categories are general and there are transcendent principles in each that might be applicable so isolating one’s self to a specific theological point in the list would be difficult for most. What is important, though, is identifying what it is not, which is the fatalism of “meticulism”. This is normally caused by a dependency on rationalism (a common element in Augustinian/Reformed/Calvinistic theology) to the neglect of biblical revelation that isn’t always such a convenient friend to our self-aggrandizing rationalistic theological paradigms.

    • JAMES FLETCHER

      I BELIEVE IN METICULOUS SOVEREIGNTY. I AM A FUTURIST BECAUSE OF MY UNDER STANDING OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION. ALL HISTORY IS PREWRITTEN. JUST LOOK AT THE TIME CONTEXTS IN REVELATION BOTH FUTURE AND OUT SIDE OF THE LINE OF TIME.GODS TOTAL CONTROL HAS NO LIMITS OR EXCEPTIONS AND EXISTS ON ANY LEVEL YOU CHOOSE TO MENTION. THE EARTH IS THE LORDS AND THE FULLNESS THERE OF AND ALL THEY WHO DWELL UPON THE EARTH THEY ARE THE LORDS. THOU ART GOD AND BESIDES THE THERE ARE NO OTHER GODS. WHO HAS BEEN HIS COUNCELLOR AND WHO CAN SAY TO HIM WHAT DOEST THOU. I HAVE HEARD OTHER CHRISTIANS TRY TO PUT LIMITS ON HIS TOTAL CONTROL OF ALL THINGS AND THAT IS SCARY. I WOULD BE SCARED SENSELESS WERE I EVER TRY TO DIMINISH ANY ATTRIBUTE OF GOD. WE MUST HAVE FAITH THAT HE KNOWS WHAT HE IS DOING. OUR JOB IS TO TAKE ORDERS AND NOT TO QUESTION. YES I HAVE BEEN THRU MANY DEVISTATIONS THAT COULD EASILY SHAKE ONES FAITH. THAT IS WHEN I TURN TO JESUS AND POUR MY HEART OUT BUT DO SO WITHOUT CHARGING GOD FOOLISHLY.

    • […] human choices, especially when people do stupid, evil acts? I think C. Michael Patton has provided a helpful summary of various Christian perspectives regarding God’s sovereignty by providing four […]

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    • John Cornett

      What about Redemptive Sovereignty as is spelled out in Romans 8? Man has free will, the earth is a groaning mess, yet he works good out of the mess to the blessing of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. God doesn’t will the mess nor want the mess, still, He uses it to accomplish His purposes because, well, He’s God.

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