If God is in absolute control of the entire universe, then why should we need to worry about missions and reaching the lost? Is it any use even to pray?
God indeed is sovereign and this sovereign ruler of the universe calls us to evangelize and to pray. There is no contradiction in God, just truth in tension and many things that are hard for the human mind to understand. Let us embrace ambiguity in faith.
God is in absolute control of His universe, even though He has created rational beings with the capability to choose for or against Him. Natural and spiritual powers, the highest kings to lowly ants, stars and angels to the birds of the air – all are subject to the government of God and fulfill His eternal purposes. By His almighty power He will work in all things for His glory.
Think about how God is the King of the universe as you consider His amazing creation. Do you see a bird flying somewhere? Does it have a “to-do” list for the day? Why does it go where it goes? How does a bird know where to migrate? Why do majestic mountains tremble and why do tiny ants gather crumbs? In the human world, why do evil men rise to power and oppress the weak and poor?
Consider the migration of birds as an example of the greatness of God in creation. The Arctic Tern migrates a distance of 22,000 kilometers within a year. Birds often return to the very same nesting area where they hatched from eggs. In the days of the Flood, God brought the birds from around the world to be saved on the ark of Noah (Gen. 6:19-20). God rules over all things!
God’s sovereignty – His absolute dominion – is described under various terms throughout the Scriptures. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. God is in control of the entire universe, and at the time of His choosing He can send a mere angel to bind Satan with a chain. God directs all things, from the rise of nations to the fall of a lowly bird (Matt. 10:29-31).
Because God is sovereign we can have confidence in the glorious outcome which He has planned. Let us yearn for the working out of that plan in the establishment of His kingdom. Rather than asking God to bless our own plans and ideas, let us search out His purpose and participate in His unfolding plan.
Essential Truth of the Sovereignty of God
God’s sovereignty refers to how the One who is above all in His divine excellence relates to created things: to time and space as well as to willful created beings. By His absolute authority, Almighty God will resolutely accomplish His eternal plan. God is all-knowing, all powerful, and everywhere present – these three “omni-attributes,” along with His unchangeableness are the basis of divine sovereignty.
God’s authority is supreme over the entire universe – in all realms both seen and unseen. By His will and power He alone created all things, sustains all things, and directs all things to His established purpose that cannot be thwarted. Sovereignty refers to the resolute independence of God’s rule and dominion (Mic. 5:2 with Matt. 2:6; Ps. 22:28; Dan. 4:32-37; 6:26; 7:13-14).
Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility
The sovereignty of God does not mean that everything that happens in the created world conforms perfectly to His desire. Sin is contrary to the will of God. His creation defies Him and acts contrary to His will. God is genuinely grieved when people choose against His good plan (Matt. 23:37; Eph. 4:30); nevertheless, He will ultimately bring about all that He has purposed.
God’s plan includes giving humans genuine choices and making them responsible for those choices. Man is ultimately held responsible for his moral choices even as God maintains His complete sovereignty (Ezek. 18:20; John 19:11; Rom. 3:23).
- Human choice does not invalidate divine sovereignty. God’s purpose remains unchanging even in the face of evil choices of fallen beings (Mal. 3:5-6; Acts 2:23, 36). Interestingly, these Scripture passages speak of men’s evil choices in the immediate context of God’s sovereign control.
- Divine sovereignty does not render prayer unnecessary. It is a mistake to adopt an attitude of fatalism, thinking God in His sovereignty is unmoved by our prayers. God gives good things to those who ask Him (Matt. 7:11; 1 John 5:14-15). The sovereign God has declared that He will answer our prayers. Jesus teaches us to pray (Luke 11:1-13; 18:1-8). Faith in our sovereign God is expressed by persistent prayer.
- As certainly as sinners will be judged according to their works (Rev. 20:12-13), those who diligently seek God will find Him (Matt. 16:27; Heb. 11:6). God reveals Himself to those who seek Him. Scripture urges the people of God to diligently pursue God and to seek His presence.
- Jesus, knowing that He was in sovereign control of the universe, commanded His disciples to proclaim the gospel in every nation (Matt. 28:18-20). Divine sovereignty does not diminish the urgency to evangelize (1 Cor. 1:17-18). Rather, it empowers evangelism. God’s sovereign plan assures us that people will be saved when we obey His command to reach out to the lost. He prepares people to receive the Gospel, but it must be preached by human vessels in order for sinners to respond (Matt. 9:36-38; Rom. 10:13-15). Men are responsible to make a choice for or against God and our words are ordained to bring about that choice.
Embracing the Truth in Tension
While we affirm the truth of divine sovereignty, we must not fall into a fatalistic mindset. We are not passive pieces in a celestial game, being moved entirely by the hand of God against our own wills. We are to strive against sin and run with patience the race that is set before us. We fight the good fight and press in for more of God’s personal presence in our lives, engaging our own will to actively participate in God’s plan as true worshippers.
It is a common error and a trap we often fall into – to think that it is of no use to pray or preach – wrongly assuming that God will do what He will do. Some have piously thought, “Since God is sovereign, then prayer to change circumstances or remove evil is rejection of God’s sovereign plan.” In this misconception of God’s sovereignty, prayer is vain and pointless.
However, if prayer is an affront to God’s sovereignty then how could anyone call upon the Lord for salvation (Rom. 10:1-13)?
Twisting God’s absolute control to the discouragement of prayer is contrary to the plain teaching of the Lord Jesus. He commands us to pray (Luke 18:1-8; 21:36; Matt. 26:41), and teaches His disciples to pray (Mark 11:24-25; Luke 11:1-4), and left us an example in His own frequent recourse to prayer (Matt. 14:23; 26:36; Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12; 22:39-46).
God’s plan includes our prayers, and those who are godly will not relent from calling upon their sovereign Lord (Ps. 116). When we pray according to His will then He will grant our petitions (1 John 5:14-15; 2 Chron. 7:14). God’s will is to satisfy the desire of those who fear Him (Ps. 145:18-21). Because He has absolute control, we are invited and urged to call upon Him (Ps. 50:1-15; 86:1-10).
- From eternity God is exalted and has need of nothing; yet in His sovereignty He has chosen to create a world that needs Him, over which He rules as a gracious and loving King.
- The creation is separate and distinct from God, who has given moral beings the power to choose for or against devotion to God. God is sovereign and man is responsible.
God in His sovereignty will perfectly accomplish His eternal plan for all of creation. We can choose to enter into the grand fulfillment and culmination of that plan – the establishment of His eternal kingdom.