Can God Be Sovereign Over Man’s Free Will?

The sovereignty of God must never be used as an excuse for sin, or to keep us from fulfilling our responsibilities

By David Lazarus | | Topics: Bible
God gave us free will. Does that lessen His sovereignty?
Photo: Yossi Zamiir/Flash 90

When my boss at work treats another worker with more favor than me, is that the Lord? Is it my fault, or do I just have a lousy boss? Is God sovereign over the way people respond to me?

When you go for a job interview, is it man who decides, or the Lord? I was once wrongly accused of stealing a pair of shoes and lost my job. Was that God’s will for my life?

These are some of the questions our readers have been pondering in response to Israel Today author Gershon Nerel’s two-part article: Predestination or Free Will: the Choice is Yours

Is God sovereign over man’s free will? More specifically, does God act in a way that will cause people to favor us, attack us, or restrain them from causing us damage?

The Bible says, “The king’s heart is a waterway in the hand of the LORD; He directs it where He pleases” (Prov. 21:1). In other words, the king may be an absolute sovereign and act exactly as he pleases, but as easy as it is for a farmer to dig a ditch and redirect water to his garden, so the Lord can change the heart of a king.


It’s super-unnatural

This is exactly what happened when the children of Israel left Egypt. After all the trouble Israel had caused, and the plagues that had fallen, the Lord completely overturned the hearts of the Egyptians. As they were leaving Egypt, the Lord says, “I will grant this people (Israel) such favor in the sight of the Egyptians that when you leave, you will not go away empty-handed.” Remarkable, and yet God moves the Egyptians even further in ways contrary to human nature. “Every (Israeli) woman shall ask her neighbor and any woman staying in her house for silver and gold jewelry and clothing, and you will put them on your sons and daughters” (Ex. 3:21-22).

I mean, forget about King Cyrus or Nebuchadnezzar, whose hearts were turned towards Israel to help them establish their own Israelite kingdom, women are giving their dresses and jewelry to Jewish slaves? Hard to believe, but a great example of just how easy it is for God to change the hearts of men, and women.

Here’s one more even greater example. When the children of Israel left their homes to the Temple in Jerusalem for the Jewish holidays, the Lord promises regarding the surrounding Gentile enemy nations that “no one will covet your land when you go up three times a year to appear before the LORD your God” (Ex. 34:23-24).


Does God always restrain evil acts against His people?

Of course not. We all know that from experience. Remember the young Joseph and how his own brothers left him in a pit only to be sold into slavery? Or Potiphar’s wife, who falsely accused Joseph of attacking her sending him to prison? Remember Job? It’s life.

Another fact of life is that more often than not we do not know whether we will be protected, successful or even capable of facing many situations most of the time. That’s why when the people ask whether or not this trouble or that success was the will of God, the only answer they got is, ”These are the secret things of God. It is our job to walk in obedience to the things that are revealed” (Deut. 29:24, 28).

For some, this is too easy, an unsatisfactory answer that sounds too much like fatalistic, stoic determinism. A “don’t worry, be happy, you can’t do anything about it anyway” mindset.


Our response

But the exact opposite is true. Seeing God’s hand in every situation, for our career, future or just the everyday ups and downs of life, gives us the confidence we need to face the world with a positive, fearless attitude.

When Queen Esther had to choose whether or not to risk her life and go before the King, she asked her uncle Mordechai and the Jews to fast and pray for the “heart of the King.” She didn’t know what would happen, but because she put the situation and its outcome into God’s hands, Esther had the confidence and inspiration (with a women’s touch) to step up and try something new, something dangerous that she had never done before. “If I perish, I perish,” she said (mostly to herself), meaning that no matter what happens, I am going to do this.

That’s the attitude we should have when we know that God is somehow sovereign over the decisions that the people around us make. Knowing this helps us from becoming angry or bitter when we are wronged. That’s important because bad attitudes blind us from the potential for good that even bad situations often present. We can only be responsible for our own choices, and we are.

Back to Joseph, because he didn’t hold grudges, nor was he overcome with fear about what would happen to him in light of the accusations, he just kept making the right choices and ends up in the king’s court.

If we can keep focus on obeying God’s commandments and living in a good and righteous manner no matter what life deals us, then we are not left to the fickle and unfaithful whims of man, but can press on with confidence in the loving hands of the God we can trust. The God of Israel that can cause all things to work together for good.

Trusting God in this way means that we will not be disappointed by actions of man, for our expectations are in Him. The sovereignty of God must never be used as an excuse for sin, or to keep us from fulfilling our responsibilities. Rather, it is the best way to live our lives to the fullest in every situation, and that is clearly God’s will.

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