Ambassador of Reconciliation
6/28/12 at 01:59 AM 12 Comments

Does God's Will Trump Man's Free Will?

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In a comment on my last post, someone accused me of believing that “God’s will trumps man’s free will.” I happily plead guilty as charged. God is sovereign almost by definition, and I have never questioned the fact that God created and rules the universe. But the discussion got me thinking about what the Bible actually says about God’s sovereignty and what exactly it means. I started looking for passages that speak to this question, and the evidence is overwhelming that God’s will does indeed trump man’s free will.

From Genesis to Revelation, the sovereignty of God is affirmed. Nave’s Topical Bible helped me find passages about God’s sovereignty in every section of the Bible. (All quotes are from the English Standard Version, ESV.) In the Pentateuch, starting with the opening verse of Genesis, the Lord is declared to be the Creator and Ruler of the universe:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1).

God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth (Gen. 14:19, 22).

The Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth (Gen. 24:3).

The earth is the Lord’s (Ex. 9:29).

The Lord will reign forever and ever (Ex 15:18).

The Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other (Deut. 4:39).

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God (Deut. 10:17).

See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand (Deut. 32:39).

The historical books show God fulfilling His own purposes on earth despite the rebellion of men. Even Ruth, the book that does not mention the name of God, shows how He works sovereignly in the affairs of men to accomplish His will.

The Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath (Josh. 2:11).

The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,
and on them he has set the world (1 Sam. 2:6-8).

You are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth (2 Ki. 19:15).

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all (1 Chr. 29:11-12).

O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you (2 Chr. 20:6).

You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you (Neh. 9:6).

The foundation of the wisdom literature is that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. The writers knew full well that God is the source, sustainer, and ruler of all. The Psalms are especially rich with declarations of God’s sovereignty.

In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all mankind (Job 12:10).

But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does (Job 23:13).

Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine (Job 41:11).

I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted (Job 42:2).

For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations (Ps. 22:28)

The Lord sits enthroned as king forever (Ps. 29:10).

For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm….
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations (Ps. 33:9-11).

God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne (Ps. 47:8).

You alone, whose name is the Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth (Ps. 83:18).

The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours;
the world and all that is in it, you have founded them (Ps. 89:11).

For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods (Ps. 97:9).

The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all (Ps. 103:19).

The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments;
From the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours (Ps. 110:1-3).

The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens! (Ps 113:4).

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Ps. 115:3).

For I know that the Lord is great,
and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps (Ps. 135:5-6).

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations (Ps. 145:13).

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
he turns it wherever he will (Pr. 21:1).

No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel
can avail against the Lord (Prov. 21:30).

But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God (Eccl. 9:1).

The prophets exalt the name of God and affirm that His purposes will stand.

The Lord of hosts has sworn:
“As I have planned,
so shall it be,
and as I have purposed,
so shall it stand….
This is the purpose that is purposed
concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
over all the nations.
For the Lord of hosts has purposed,
and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
and who will turn it back?" (Is. 14:24-27).

O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth (Is. 37:16).

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers (Is. 40:22).

Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it (Isa. 42:5).

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god" (Isa. 44:6).

By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance” (Is. 45:23).

I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, "My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,"…
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it. (Is. 46:9-11).

But the Lord is the true God;
he is the living God and the everlasting King (Jer. 10:10).

Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you (Jer. 32:17).

Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me? (Jer 32:27).

But you, O Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures to all generations (Lam 5:19).

I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it (Ez. 17:24).

Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him (Dan 2:21-22).

His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and his dominion endures from generation to generation (Dan 4:3).

The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will (Dan. 4:25).

All his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble (Dan. 4:37).

All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, "What have you done?” (Dan. 4:35)

The New Testament reinforces everything the Old Testament says about the power of God. In the gospels, Jesus teaches about the sovereignty of God and how He and His Father work together to bring about the Father’s will.

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven (Mt. 6:10).

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Lk. 10:21-22).

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand (Jn. 10:29).

The Apostle Paul and the writers of the other epistles recognize God as the sovereign and omnipotent Lord who works everything according to the counsel of His own will.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place (Acts 17:24-26).

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Rom 11:33).

As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God (Rom. 14:11).

For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Cor. 8:6).

He works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11).

There is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:6).

By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him (Col. 1:16).

[He is] the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15).

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3).

And finally, Revelation declares that God is the beginning and the end, the Almighty who reigns forever.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).

Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created (Rev. 4:11).

Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns (Rev. 19:6).

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 21:6).

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13).

After doing this search, I came away more convinced than ever that God is truly sovereign. As I mentioned in response to my critic, believing that God’s will trumps man’s free will does not mean that we are robots with absolutely no freedom of choice; we make real choices with real consequences. And often God allows us to act in a way that violates His perfect will. But in the final analysis, no man can thwart God’s purposes forever.

Don’t take my word for it; I encourage you to go straight to God’s Word and see for yourself what He says about Himself. Prayerfully reread these passages and search for others. I invite readers to add to this list and also to offer verses that you think contradict the premise that God reigns supreme and no one can thwart His will.

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