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Divine Sovereignty And Human Responsibility

God is the sovereign ruler over the universe and all human affairs, and human beings are responsible before God for the moral choices and actions they make.

What does the Bible teach about God's sovereign rulership?

Daniel 4:35
All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?"

Consider Daniel 4:35 where we are instructed that God "does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth, and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'what have You done?'"

1) God's rulership is the exercise of "His will." That is, he decides in advance what he wants to happen so that "His will" precedes and directs all that occurs.

2) His will is exercised universally-over those in heaven and all the inhabitants of earth. There simply is no place where his will does not pertain or is not exercised.

3) No creature of God can thwart the fulfillment of God's will or charge God with wrongdoing.

In short, God's rulership by his will is absolute, universal, and effectual.

The Bible contains a number of "spectrum texts" which display God's ultimate control of both good and evil, light and darkness, life and death. In Isaiah 45:6b-7, God announces "I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these" (Exod 4:11; Deut 32:39; 1 Sam 2:6-7; Eccles 7:13-14; and Lam 3:37-38).

Isaiah 45:6-7
6 so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.
7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.

Exodus 4:11
The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?

Deuteronomy 32:39
"See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.

1 Samuel 2:6-7
6 "The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.
7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.

Ecclesiastes 7:13-14
13 Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?
14 When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future.

Lamentations 3:37-38
37 Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?

And, while we gladly affirm that God is good (only!) and that God neither approves evil in itself, nor does any evil reside in him (Ps 5:4), yet we must affirm with the large and sweeping testimony of Scripture that he reigns over all of life, both its good and evil, and that in all that occurs "the counsel of his will" (Eph 1:11) is fulfilled.

Psalm 5:4
You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell.

Ephesians 1:11
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,

What does Scripture teach about human moral responsibility?

From page 1 of the Bible, we are put on notice that God holds us accountable for the moral choices and actions we make. The law of God, whether the simple law not to eat of one tree in the garden (Gen 2:16-17), or the Law given on Sinai (Exod 20), or the Law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2) - each establishes for its time the moral framework within which our lives are lived.

Genesis 2:16-17
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;
17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."

1 Corinthians 9:21
To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law.

Galatians 6:2
Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

God will "render to each person according to his deeds" (Rom 2:6), and this judgment will be based on whether we "persevere in doing good" (Rom 2:7) or whether we "do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness" (Rom 2:8). There simply is no denying the fact that God considers his human creation as responsible for the choices and actions they make, and the final judgment day will bear testimony to how we have chosen to live our lives.

Romans 2:7-8
7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.
8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

So, God is the sovereign ruler over all, and human beings are responsible before him, but just how can both be true?

We simply cannot understand fully how both are true together, but that they must work together is demanded by Scripture's clear teaching.

Consider one illustration from Scripture where both are seen, namely, a lesson from Joseph's story (Gen 37-45).
* Joseph's brothers were deeply jealous of him and grew to despise him.
* When the opportunity presented itself, they sold him into Egypt (37:25-36) where Joseph was misunderstood and mistreated.
* Despite this, God's hand was on Joseph and he was elevated to second in command in Egypt (Gen 41).
* During a famine, his brothers traveled to Egypt to purchase grain, and there Joseph made himself known to his brothers.
* What Joseph tells them is as incredible as it is instructive: "Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God" (Gen 45:8).

Surely they did send Joseph to Egypt! And so they did, and so Joseph previously acknowledges (45:4). But, to get at the full reason that they were sent to Egypt requires looking not just to the brothers but also, more importantly, to God!

So it is clear: both God and the brothers are responsible for sending Joseph to Egypt. Both God's sovereign rulership and the brother's moral actions are active. As Joseph puts it later, "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen 50:20). The brothers acted for evil, and God acted in the same events for good.

Not every question is here answered, but we see that we must affirm both the sovereign rulership of God and the genuineness of our moral responsibility.