Sovereignty Defined

A colorful coat given to a boy. An evening walk on a palace roof. A red cord hung from a prostitute’s window. These brief scenes from over three thousand years ago should have no bearing on our lives today. Yet these moments were used to bring about the most important event in human history: the cross of Calvary. You could write it off as coincidence, you could minimize the significance, or you can marvel at God’s sovereignty. 

But what is sovereignty? Sovereignty is God’s right to rule over His creation and to do as He pleases (Psalm 115:3). Everyone—from the greatest world ruler to the humble farmer—reports directly to God. No one answers to themselves or operates outside of His will. The Westminster Confession of Faith says it this way, “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” (WCF, 3) God’s sovereignty is the very core of everything that has happened or will ever happen, and we are called to submit to Him as the Author, the Potter, the Creator, the King.

Though God reigns over the arch of history, He is also so intimately involved in the daily details of our lives that even seemingly random acts such as the casting of lots are governed by Him (Prov. 16:33). There is nothing that catches God off guard, nothing that causes Him to course correct, nothing that He watches helplessly. There is nothing so big or so small—no panic attack or pandemic—that occurs without His permission. He guides our steps, numbers our hairs, and ordains our days (Ps. 37:23-24, Ps. 139, Matt. 10:30).

As Christians, such careful involvement ought to greatly comfort and astound us but it often leads to anxiety or apathy instead.

Part of it is our authority issues. We are obsessed with our rights and our own competence. We find it difficult to give up even the smallest amount of control in anything and are suspicious of anyone who has too much power. Giving up control can cause our hearts to grow anxious as we wonder if God truly knows what’s best for us. But we should not worry that God’s sovereignty is capricious, foolish, or cruel. It is always paired with His kindness towards us as He works for our good as a loving Father (Rom. 8:28–32).

Others are content to recognize the sovereignty of God, but use it as an excuse to abdicate any personal responsibility. We reason that if God has foreordained our days, then we can sit back and relax as the plan unfolds. While it is true that nothing can thwart God’s plan, God’s will for us is to obey His commands. So though it is natural to wonder how practices like prayer and evangelism operate in accordance with sovereignty, our questions do not negate our call to obey. When we recognize that all we have is governed by God, we should be spurred, not slowed, in our work of humbly stewarding what we’ve been given (Eph. 2:10).

There is yet another dangerous reaction we may have in response to God’s divine sovereignty: we think we are wiser than He, and rush to judgement about His intention or character in the face of the difficult issues of evil and suffering. We think that we could solve those problems if only we were sovereign. However, if even the suffering and death of Christ was according to the plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23), them we can be assured that evil and suffering are not purposeless, and that we have a God who not only understands our pain but who is able to bring victory from apparent defeat.

And so we must trust our Creator and understand that what we can often only learn in hindsight, God has planned before we were even born for the praise of His glory. Even when it is meant for evil, as with Joseph’s brothers; even in the midst of our sin, as with David; and even when it involves people we wouldn’t expect, such as Rahab; God is still sovereignly accomplishing His will for the redemption of His people for His glory.

As we begin to wade into the depths of the comforting and complex implications of sovereignty in the next few weeks, may we humbly submit to God’s authority and remember our place before Him, for as He says, “for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” (Isa. 46:9).

Megan K. Taylor earned her MA in Theological Studies from Westminster Theological Seminary. She and her husband, Joel, live in Sanford, Fl where she works for Ligonier Ministries.


Megan Taylor