God Is Still Sovereign

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Thus far this week (see: http://classicalarminianism.blogspot.com/2008/06/turretinfan-on-gods-nature.html — Editor’s update note: broken link]) we have been dealing with the Calvinistic view of an absolutistic God, and contrasting that with an Arminian understanding of a God who is, as we believe the Bible reveals, personal. We believe that this personal view better represents the character and nature of God as revealed in Scripture.

We are not saying that God could not rule His creation in absolutistic ways. He could, but, we believe, He has chosen not to do so. We have also being vying for love being one of God’s attributes, part of His very nature (such as omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, holiness, justice, etc.). We do not believe that God’s love springs forth from any of the other attributes, but is part of His very nature (1 John 4.8).

We have also concluded that since it is impossible for God to tempt anyone to do evil (James 1.13), it would be contrary to Scripture (and reason) to admit that God causes sin, in a deterministic fashion. Jack Cottrell writes, “The key word . . . is control. Calvinists often use this word in reference to sovereignty; but in consistent Calvinism controlled means ’caused’ or ‘determined.’ This is an unnecessary extreme, however, since God’s control of his world does not depend on detailed determination.

“Of course many things are directly determined by God, but most occur according to his permissive will or through his nondeterminative influence. Nevertheless God remains completely in control of everything. We must not think that God’s control varies according to the degree that he causes things or the degree of freedom bestowed on his creatures.”1

Let us take the biblical example of the life of Job. Job certainly did not deserve punishment for any wrong he had done, for God said of him that there was “no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1.8 TNIV, and henceforth). There were no consequences for him to bear due to any sin he had committed. And yet he suffered terribly.

He suffered, however, not at the hands of an absolutistic God, bent on displaying His sovereignty. God permitted Satan to bring destruction down upon Job. In one day, Satan had destroyed Job’s means of working (1.14), his employees (1.15), his livestock (1.16), his transportation (1.17), and his children (1.18-19).

It is interesting to note Job’s response to his plight. He did not blame himself. He did not blame Satan. Moreover, he did not blame God, but rather praised the Lord. And, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (1.22). If God had, in a deterministic fashion, caused all of these things to happen, then Job could have charged God with wrongdoing. But God did not actually cause any of those horrible acts.

When push comes to shove, Satan alone is responsible for the dastardly deeds which he caused. God had said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger” (1.12). Satan had to have permission to sift Job, to tempt him to turn his back on God, and it was granted to him. But permitting a free will action is quite different from causing a person to do something, for one cannot be caused to perform a free will act.

Now, I ask: Was God still sovereign, even while permitting Satan to do as he pleased? The obvious answer is, Yes. God cannot be anything other than sovereign. Yet that sovereignty did not and does not obligate Him to control all events deterministically (as a despot).

Once again, Cottrell writes, “Unless God is in total control, he is not sovereign. The issue is whether such total control requires a predetermination or causation of all things. I contend that it does not; God’s sovereignty is greater than that!”2

1 Jack W. Cottrell, “The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty,” The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989), 111.

2 Ibid.