We are discussing the nature of God’s involvement in our world. To help us understand that involvement, we will examine what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty.
There is no question the Bible teaches that God is sovereign and that he controls certain events in nature and in our lives. In Genesis 45:4-8 Joseph expresses the belief that God was involved in sending him to Egypt. The prayer of Hannah, the mother of Samuel, states that God send poverty and wealth; God humbles and exalts (I Samuel 2:6-7). After Job’s trials, the Bible tells us that God “made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before (Job 42:10). Lamentations 3:37 states that nothing can happen unless God decrees it. In Matthew 10, Jesus is talking about the persecution that will befall his disciples. He notes that a sparrow does not fall to the ground without it being God’s will and that even the hairs on our head are numbered. In Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus instructs us not to worry about clothes or what we will eat because God knows we have need of those things. Romans 9:17-21 states that none of us has the right to complain what God does with our lives because He made us. Paul tells us God gives us specific talents and abilities (Romans 12:3-8). Philippians 4:19 tells us God will meet all our needs.
However, the Bible also teaches we have free will. While the Bible does not explicitly state that humans have free will, it is difficult to come to any other conclusion if we consider what the entire Bible has to say about the subject. The first chapter of Genesis tells us that God made humans the ruler of all creation. Humans must have free will if they have control or dominion over the rest of creation. If we are preprogrammed by God to act a certain way, then we have no control over creation and God is lying to us when he tells us we do.
When the Bible talks about God interacting with humans, God acts and talks like we were equals. When God came to earth to investigate the evil of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham bargained with God in an ultimately futile attempt to spare these cities but God did not criticize him for doing so but bargained with Abraham as an equal (Genesis 18). Was God just toying with Abraham by bargaining with him and had no intention following Abraham’s suggestion?
After Israel built and worshipped the golden calf while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law from God, God wanted to destroy the entire nation of Israel and raise up a great nation through Moses. But Moses intervened and changed God’s mind (Exodus 32:9-14). Now if most Christians had been Moses, they would not have dared to question God; they would have told God that if God would excuse him, he and his wife would get working on raising up a great nation right away. Unlike most Christians, Moses challenged God and changed God’s mind. Why did God put this incident in the Bible—a situation where he actually acquiesced to a human?
Another example from Moses is the advice his father-in-law, Jethro, gave him. Jethro saw the toll it was taking on Moses to act as judge for all the people of Israel and recommended that Moses appoint leaders to assist him (Exodus 18). Now God was talking to Moses all the time since Israel left Egypt so why did not God make this suggestion to Moses when he saw the load under which Moses was operating? Some might say that God operated through Jethro but that would mean that God leaves some thing up to us instead of taking care of them himself.
Why could not Jesus, who Christians believe was God in human form, convince the people of his day of his validity? Why could not the creator of the universe, the most powerful person in the universe convince people of his identity? Either Jesus is not all-powerful and therefore not God, or God is controlling us like puppets and has decided for some perverse reason that some of us will not believe in him and will, therefore, spend eternity in hell, or we do have a free will that we can exercise even to the extent of opposing God’s will.
Romans 1:20 through 32 tells us God gives people over to the sinful desires of their heart when they persist in doing evil. If God has predetermined that certain people would follow the sinful desires of their heart, there would be no reason for God to cease to work with them to change them. The only way these verses make sense is if people do have the free will to do good or evil.
Paul tells is in Philippians 2:12 to work out our “salvation with fear and trembling”. How can we do anything about our salvation if we do not have free will? Why would God command us to do something we cannot do? All of the above examples demonstrate the Bible teaches that humans exert some control over what occurs here on earth. God is not just acting unilaterally.
The Bible teaches that God is sovereign but it also teaches we have free will. Any belief about God’s involvement in our lives and our world must accommodate both.