We are told from the pulpit that God is sovereign and we buy into that (as we should) without much of a thought (as we should not). So think for a moment and answer to yourself what it means that God is sovereign.
Go ahead, think about it before going on.
I’ll wait. Think about it.
So, what is sovereignty. We are speaking of God’s sovereignty here. What it means is that God is in control and He can do whatever He pleases in this creation. We even see this in scripture:
Isaiah 46:9-10 (NET)
9 Remember what I accomplished in antiquity! Truly I am God, I have no peer; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 who announces the end from the beginning and reveals beforehand what has not yet occurred, who says, ‘My plan will be realized, I will accomplish what I desire,’
Psalm 115:3 (NET)
Our God is in heaven! He does whatever he pleases!
We see here that God has plans. He will make happen what He desires to have happen. He will do whatever He pleases. And while some don’t like the thought, He can do this with you and me as well — even though we have a free will; even in spite of our free will.
Daniel 4:35 (NET)
All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he wishes with the army of heaven and with those who inhabit the earth. No one slaps his hand and says to him, ‘What have you done?’
No, no one can slap His hand and ask why.
The problem with all this is that certain factions of men — certain factions of Christian men — have decided that what this means is that all the hurt you experience is God working His will in your life. When you get sick and when you are diseased, when you have a handicap and when you suffer loss, this must all somehow be because God will’s this in your life. It must be to teach you something.
There are those out there who will say that because God is sovereign that He has every right to allow our children to die; to bring sickness upon us in suffering, to do with us whatever He wants to. There are those who teach that God will inflict you with cancer to get your attention, or inflict your spouse with a deadly disease, even to death, to teach you something that you need to learn.
And all the while these “teachers” will espouse that God is good and gracious and loving.
If you think this then you have a viciously hostile view of who God is.
Let me give another example. Let’s say that you and a friend decide to get together to have lunch. It’s a good lunch with good food and pleasant conversation. But then at one point in the conversation something is said that causes division between you and your friend. Tempers flair a bit and you say something that you shouldn’t have said. Your friend gets angry and storms off.
Did God, while doing what He wishes with those who inhabit the earth, cause you to say such hurtful things to your friend? Some people teach that God did, so that He could more effectively show His mercy and teach you and your friend through this situation how to love one another better. That is the most asinine thing I think I’ve heard from Christian believers. Certainly God is in the situation. The Holy Spirit is whispering in your ear not to lose your temper. But you, in your free will, decided to chase the anger, the hurt, the angst. You decided not to listen to that small still voice and you went “off script” and spoke for yourself. And the results were damaging. God’s results are never damaging — and He does not lead us through “damaging” to get us to a point.
God could have created mankind perfect, without the ability to sin. We all agree that He is sovereign, right? So He could do anything He wanted. He could have created us perfect. But He didn’t? My guess as to why is that to have created us perfect, unable to sin, would have rendered us puppets. We would only be sounding boards that uttered the perfect response, the one that God wanted to hear. He relationship with us would have been, well, not a relationship but a pre-recorded bundle of perfect response. In other words, it wouldn’t have been us in a relationship, but it would have been God in a relationship with Himself.
God could have created a world where we could not get hurt, where there is no sickness nor disease. He could have made it a nice cushioned ball pit at the local hamburger joint where we couldn’t get hurt and always come up joyful and loving him. Sort of like a world where if our kids come to us and ask for something, we always give it to them. Here they know nothing but pleasure and fun. It entices them to love us. We keep them wrapped in a cocoon where they are warm and cozy and really don’t have to fend for themselves. Again, relationship is not fully experienced because we are leading them to the response that we want from them by buffering them from any hurt. We keep them from the reality around them.
Or God could give us a free will and dominion over the world around us. He could have given us the innate tools to deal with the curse that the world has to offer and the ability to know how to handle it. He could have given us a free will to choose if we wanted to walk on a blessed path or if we wanted to flirt with the cursed side of our path. He could have even given us enough free will to choose not to want to have a relationship with Him after all. We could then turn our backs on Him and walk the other way without ever entering a relationship with Him.. Our choice. Unhindered. Not forced.
This latter is the world that God created for us.
Genesis 1:26-28 (NET)
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” 27 God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.”
God created man, in His likeness and image, and we were given dominion (rule) over this world. We were told to go out and take control of it. He told mankind not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But man did and his eyes were opened to the good and the evil in the world. Man was now able to make a choice between the two.
Deuteronomy 30:19 (NET)
Today I invoke heaven and earth as a witness against you that I have set life and death, blessing and curse, before you. Therefore choose life so that you and your descendants may live!
We are to choose: blessing or curse, life or death. We are even given a clue, but not made to make a certain choice. We are told to choose Life. It’s better. But it is up to you which you choose, not God. Although He is sovereign He removed Himself from this decision, except for the small, still voice of the Holy Spirit guiding us with hope. He won’t force His pleasure upon you here. It would please Him to no end if everyone on earth chose Him and chose salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. But instead of forcing His pleasure, He allows us to choose.
Take a look at how the 91st Psalm begins:
Psalm 91:1-7 (NET)
1 As for you, the one who lives in the shelter of the sovereign One, and resides in the protective shadow of the mighty king – 2 I say this about the Lord, my shelter and my stronghold, my God in whom I trust – 3 he will certainly rescue you from the snare of the hunter and from the destructive plague. 4 He will shelter you with his wings; you will find safety under his wings. His faithfulness is like a shield or a protective wall. 5 You need not fear the terrors of the night, the arrow that flies by day, 6 the plague that comes in the darkness, or the disease that comes at noon. 7 Though a thousand may fall beside you, and a multitude on your right side, it will not reach you.
Does this sound like a God who will bring the plague upon you? Is this a God who will put a disease on you to teach you something? Look at verse 5: You need not fear the terrors (arrows that hurt, plagues that devour, diseases that eat away). No, verse 4 says that He will shelter us with His wings if we choose to find safety under those wings. If we reside in His protection then He will be faithful to protect us.
Sickness and disease come from the curse; they do not come from God. In His sovereignty — a sovereignty that means that He can do whatever He pleases whenever He pleases to do it — He has chosen only to love us and to protect us and to heal us. Read the entirety of Psalm 91 and you will see that God protects us. We remain standing if we hide under His wing.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NET)
For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.
God wants to prosper us; He wants to not harm us; He wants to give us hope.
This is not a God who puts sickness on us, disease on us, makes us so that we cannot walk or talk or see or hear. Yes, I’m aware of the verse in Exodus when Moses was complaining about his stuttering. God is telling him that it is He, God, that makes all people — people that may even have handicaps because of the curse (not from God’s hand) — and He certainly knows how to deal with them, how to heal them, and how to restore them. But Moses continues to complain instead of rely upon God’s healing touch and so he remains a stuttering man and Aaron is called in to be the mouthpiece. God was willing to correct Moses’ stutter, but Moses got in the way.
So where does all the disease and corruption and handicap come from? From Satan? Sorry, but he’s not a creative being. It comes from the curse. We live in a cracked world and the curse touches us if we allow it to. It will touch our children if we do not stand up and protect them. We have been given dominion. We are the heads of our households. We can live under the protective wing of God and we should not be afraid that He is the one who is out to get us. He isn’t.
But sometimes we simply don’t rest in the Lord the way we should. What people really are upset about is that this loving God does not just step in and “poof,” magically make the hurt go away. It was our duty to have dominion. It is our place to hide under God’s wing. We are to choose the blessing over the curse. You can think of this corporately for the moment and not so much an individual thing. Mankind messed this up by walking in the curse and ignoring God’s blessing and the path that He spelled out that we should follow.
So returning to God’s sovereignty–
‘My plan will be realized, I will accomplish what I desire,’
God has a plan. It will come to pass. God will accomplish — He’s not just hoping, but He is purposefully accomplishing His plan — what He desires. He has set in motion the works of this world and He will guide them the way He wants them to go.
This sovereignty concept is where some Christians get the idea that God is behind your sickness, your disease, your issues. This isn’t the case, though. Scripture tells us that there is the curse in the world and it affects us. The curse brings the bad stuff. God’s sovereignty is not the source of all the bad stuff. Remember —
Jeremiah 29:11 (NET)
For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.
Once again we see God’s plan. He has plans for us. They do not include making us sick, diseased, handicapped, etc. His plan includes prosperity and not harm. It includes a future of hope. And He will accomplish what He desires.
In this we have to understand that within God’s sovereignty, He can do anything He wants. If He wanted to make you sick, He could. He simply does not desire this. If He wanted to make you diseased, He could. He simply does not desire this. Those things come from us touching the curse and not walking full in the blessing, not hiding completely under God’s wing. We are carnal flesh and we will find pleasure in carnal things. These things will draw us into the curse. Paul, in Romans 7, tells us that it is inevitable.
Romans 7:17-20 (NET)
But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me.
God is sovereign. He controls all, but He gave us a free will. He set us down and gave us ability to choose apart from His forcing. He gave us the ability to make our own decisions. Mankind, through Adam and Eve, chose to sin. Sin brought the curse and death. We make choices and sometimes those choices are not great. In fact Paul tells us above that sin leads our old, carnal man and we do things that we don’t want to do (as saved Christians).
Understand the roles. God is sovereign and can do anything He wants. His want is to limit His own actions so that we can have a free will. It is within these limits that God will not simply appear before us and “zap” our sicknesses away. We have a free will to go out and engage the curse, thus opening the door for sickness to come into us. We have the free will to exercise our faith and get the healing that we need.
Also understand that when God limits His own actions, this does not mean that God can’t do the actions that He limited any longer. He can do whatever He desires. So if you hear anyone teach that God “can’t do something” then that person doesn’t understand God’s sovereignty.
One popular scripture that is used to support this is Mark 6:5.
Mark 6:3-6 (NET)
Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?” And so they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, and among his relatives, and in his own house.” 5 He was not able to do a miracle there, except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed because of their unbelief. Then he went around among the villages and taught.
“Was not able.” The New King James Version says “Now He could do no mighty work there.” And all versions go on in verse 6 to say that it is because of the people and their unbelief.
I want you to know that this is not a hit on God’s sovereignty. Jesus is walking the earth as a man. He had put aside some of His divine abilities to become a man:
Philippians 2:6-7 (NET)
who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.
Jesus “emptied Himself” and became a man. Was Jesus omnipresent? God is everywhere at once; was Jesus? God is omnipotent (he is all powerful and can do anything). Was Jesus omnipotent? This verse would say no. There is another man who was blind and it took Jesus two tries to heal him (Mark 8:22-26). God is also omniscient. He knows everything. But what are we to do with Jesus’ comment in Luke 8:
Luke 8:45-46 (NET)
Then Jesus asked, “Who was it who touched me?” When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are surrounding you and pressing against you!” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I know that power has gone out from me.”
He simply gave up some attributes of Divinity. He was still God. Never gave up Who He is. But He laid aside some of the divine attributes that He had.
Because of this we simply cannot use verses like Mark 6:5 as any sort of teaching reference for sovereignty. It isn’t because Jesus gave up part of His attributes. His inability to heal because of the people’s unbelief does not make unbelief trump sovereignty. No, God could have healed them despite their unbelief, but He wants people to build their faith and trust Him. In fact, there are other stories in the Bible where God does indeed heal people despite their unbelief. Once such reference is the father with the boy who has a dumb spirit.
Mark 9:23-24 (KJV)
Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. 24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
The man trusts Jesus to heal the boy, but admits that he has unbelief in this. And that is ok, because God can heal in any situation, regardless the level of faith present. Or how about Peter and Paul in Acts. A beggar asks for money and they lift the man to his feet and give him the ability to walk. They didn’t ask about his faith. They didn’t even explain to him that Jesus died for this. They simply stood him up and God did the rest. And if you want to rely on Peter and Paul’s faith in this situation, then let us return back to Mark 6:5 — did Jesus not have sufficient faith? Of course not.
To ever say that God “can’t do something” because of man’s lack of faith turns the focus around and takes it away from God and places it on man. This becomes a man-centric doctrine. It relies upon man and removes the ability of God.
I pray that I’ve made the point clear. God is sovereign and is powerful enough to do anything He desires. He has shown that He will “step back” from some things so that man, in his free will, can have dominion in this world. Further Jesus gave us authority so that we could walk in power and authority. This power comes from God. This authority comes from God. He is in charge. He is capable. He will make His desires come to pass.
Don’t ever say that God can’t do something: He is sovereign.