Watch the news.
That was discouraging, wasn’t it? You’re welcome. The world can be an amazingly horrific place. I’ve not watched the news in a while myself, but last time it was filled with reports of murders, robberies, rapes, political scandals, wars, rumors of wars, and the rest of it. All of this is happening everyday throughout the world whether you’re paying attention or not.
Alright, now close your eyes and imagine yourself at the beach. It’s a secluded beach and it’s not crowded. It’s about 80 degrees out with a cool breeze. You’re not in New Jersey, so it smells nice. Listen to the waves and the birds. Or if you don’t like the beach, imagine kittens playing with yarn. They’re so dang cute.
Surely, God is in control of the beautiful beach scenery and the kittens, but man is in control of all the stuff you see on the news, right? God is too good to have anything to do with a murder or a racially motivated war, right? He makes things good, but man just messes everything up. God can’t be in charge of these things, can He?
Emotions surrounding this question often run high. Many people have seen horrible things happen to loved ones or have been tremendously hurt themselves. This is a very serious question. However, we cannot allow our hearts to guide us; they are deceitful above all things. We also must not rely on our reason as if we were smart enough to figure these things out on our own. We must be guided and governed by Scripture.
The Arminian Answer Presented and Refuted
To the Arminian, horrible things happen because of man’s free will. God is all powerful, but he lays aside His power so that man can have free will. This is in order that man might freely choose to love Him, so that man’s love for God can be a genuine and robot-metaphor free love. All the horrible things that happen, then, are because of men abusing the free will God has given them.
One reason people hold this position is because of a noble desire to understand the world in such a way as to keep God free of any accusation of evil. If a man were to accuse God of being in control of evil and therefore responsible for it, God could say that He, like Pilate, washed His hands of the whole matter and turned it over to the people. It’s not God’s fault; it’s man’s fault.
This system, however, is purely philosophical. These ideas about God laying aside His power to give man free will, love needing to be freely given in order to not be robotic, and the rest of it are not concepts that I’ve ever seen proven from Scripture. The burden of proof falls on the Arminian who asserts all of these things. Where does the Bible say or imply that love must come from a free will as an wholly independent choice in order to be real love? Where does the Bible say or imply that God gave up His control of the universe to leave things up to man?
Besides the deficiency of Biblical support, as a philosophical system, the position I’ve described above falls rather flat on its face. If God has given His control of the world to sinful human beings that He knows are evil (Genesis 6:5; John 2:25), then this is like a man who has an ox that is known for goring people allowing said ox to run free in a kindergarten class (see Exodus 21:29). He’s still responsible. But of course, in the Arminian system, this is done in order that a small number of people would choose to love Him freely. I’m honestly not sure how this is any better than what many Arminians say Calvinists believe.
This system is poorly thought out from a philosophical perspective. But more importantly, it is not something that Scripture even begins to teach.
God’s Sovereignty Established and Defended
Scripture teaches us that God is all-powerful or almighty. This is a fairly easy thing to define from Scripture. It essentially means that God is capable of doing anything and everything that He wants to do. The Scriptures proving this point are more than abundant. Nothing is impossible for God (Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37), nothing is too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:17,27), no one is capable of thwarting His plans (Job 42:2), and He takes for Himself the name “Almighty.” We can define almighty, then, by saying that God is capable of anything He wants to do. This is something most (if not all) Christians would affirm.
However, contrary to the Arminian position, God does not give up this almighty power in order that man might have free will. Rather, He does whatsoever He pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Isaiah 46:10). This means that if He wants to do something, His will is not subordinate to anyone else’s will; none can stay His hand (Job 42:2; Daniel 4:35). More than that, Scripture teaches that God works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). What is meant here by “all things”? At first face it seems to include everything that happens, without exception. It’s the same Greek word used in John 1:2 to say that “all things” were made by Jesus—and there it does mean all things without exception.
But does it always mean that? Well, sometimes we use the word all and don’t quite mean all by it. Sometimes when we say all or everything we just mean everything in general, not every individual thing. An example of this is when we say “Everybody knows…” but know full well that really only most people know whatever it is we’re about to say. So how does Paul mean it? We need to look to the rest of Scripture. However, the Bible doesn’t ever seem to talk about anything as being outside of God’s control. Actually, the list of things that it does say God controls is pretty overwhelming.
Jesus is actively holding all things together by His Word (Hebrews 1:3). God controls nature in general (Psalm 148:8; Job 37:7–13; Psalm 104:14; Matthew 5:45), the timing of death, (Matthew 10:29), the decisions of kings and politicians (Proverbs 21:1), all nations as an whole (Job 12:23; Acts 17:26), and specifically when human beings are born and when they die (Job 14:5; Psalm 139:6). God controls seemingly random things, like how dice fall (Proverbs 16:33) and the landing place of arrows shot at random (see 1 Kings 22:28–34). Indeed, nothing anyone says ever comes to pass unless God has commanded it (Lamentations 3:36).
God controls the hearts of kings (Proverbs 21:1), He hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Exodus 14:17). Actually, He hardens whomever He wills (Romans 9:18). He controlled the sinful actions of those who crucified Jesus (Acts 4:27). It is not man who ultimately directs a man’s steps, but God (Proverbs 16:9; Jeremiah 10:23). Regardless of what a man devises to do, God’s counsel stands (Proverbs 19:21).
What about evil? We already mentioned that the hardening of evil men is done by God (Romans 9:18) as well as the fact that God was in full control of Jesus’ crucifixion (Acts 4:27). Scripture also says that evil does not come upon a city unless the Lord has done it (Amos 3:5). In fact, God even means that the evil actions of men should happen; although He means them for good (Genesis 50:20; Exodus 14:17; Acts 4:27).
Even though no one can resist His will, yet He still finds fault with sinners (Romans 9:19). That is, even though, no one can avoid doing what God predestined him to do, He still punishes them for the sin they commit. God does not force people to sin against their will (James 1:13). Men sin because they want to (Matthew 12:25; Romans 3:11; James 1:14–15). However, God is in control of both our wills and our actions. He works all things out according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11) for His glory.
Answering the question I asked back at the beginning, God really and genuinely is in control of all things, even the horrible things like what we see on the news. He uses these things for His glory to tell a story that will—in the end—make sense out of the evil things. All of the evil things that Joseph experienced must have seemed intolerable in the midst of them, but God meant them for good. The crucifixion of Jesus was agonizing for Him and devastating to His followers, but through it God was saving the world. Our momentary afflictions work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
The way that God works these things out is sometimes more immediate: like when the death of a loved one is used by God to bring family members to salvation, or in the case of Joseph being able to provide food for his family and the whole world. But even if we can’t see the good God is working now, we know from Scripture that God works even evil things for good. His sovereignty is good news to us because nothing truly random happens. Hard things may come, but they are sent by a good King who has a plan for them. If He can bring good out of the death of His Son, then we can trust that He can bring good out of anything.