The Sovereignty and Providence of God By Richard Veach
Many have written regarding the doctrine of sovereignty and as well as the doctrine of God’s providence. There has been a great deal of disagreement among Christians ever since the early history of the church. I believe much confusion and uncertainty exists throughout the body of Christ in regard to God’s sovereignty and providence and continues to be an unresolved issue to this present day. Let us begin with some definitions, first from Webster’s Dictionary, then from Strong’s Concordance. Webster defines sovereignty as, supreme excellence, supreme power esp. over a body politic: dominion, freedom from external control: autonomy, one that is sovereign, an autonomous state. The word sovereign is not found in Strong’s Concordance because it is not found in the King James Bible. It is found in the NIV, but the NIV is a paraphrased version and not a literal translation. The Hebrew word that is translated sovereign Lord in the NIV is literally Lord יהןה (YHVH), Yahweh. However, there is a footnote in the New King James Bible for the word potentate found in 1Timothy 6:15 stating that potentate could be translated sovereign. Strong’s definition of potentate is #1413 dunastes, a ruler or officer, of great authority, mighty, potentate. Strong’s definition of providence is #4307 pronoia, forethought, provident care or supply, providence, provision. It is found in Acts 24:2, referring to Felix, a Roman procurator of Judea and in Romans 13:14 translated provision. Acts 24:2-3
2 And when he was called forth, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence, 3 We accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness. (KJV) Webster defines providence as, divine guidance or care, God conceived as the power sustaining and guiding human destiny, the quality of state of being provident. Providence, then, is God’s loving care and provision where as sovereignty is His supreme power and authority over His creation. We need not worry about what to wear or what to eat or any other need that we might have, because the Lord is watching over us and knows what we have need of before we even ask.
Rom 13:14 “ But put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill it’s lusts.” (NKJV) Probably everyone who believes that God exists believes that He is eternal, all powerful, all knowing, the creator of everything that exists in the material and spiritual world in which we live and can do anything that He chooses. However, there are some things that God cannot do. According toTitus1:2, Nu.23:19, Heb.6:18, God cannot lie.
Let’s look at Heb. 6:18, “that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” (NKJV)
The two immutable things are His promise and His oath. He cannot do anything contrary to His word or His character. Since God has promised He must keep His word, otherwise, not kept, it would be a lie about the future. Therefore, His promises are trustworthy. The question is how much choice do we have in governing our own lives or how much, if any, control does God assume in our lives? Does God intervene in our life to limit our freedom of choice, to impose His will over ours to prevent us from making a wrong choice? Some believe that everything that happens to them or for them, both good and bad is God’s will. They think He is allowing some decease or tragedy in their life to continue in order to accomplish some ultimate good for them. God involves Himself and is more concerned with each person’s life than anyone can imagine because He loves us more than we are able to comprehend. God has ways to influence our decisions without violating our freedom of choice some of which I will address later on in this article. He gave choice to man in the beginning. The freedom to choose began with Adam and Eve and the same runs like a thread through the entire Bible. God gave Adam and Eve a choice. They made the wrong choice. They ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the only tree from which they were not to eat. In Deut 30:19 God shows another example of giving men choices, He says, “I call heaven 3
and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life that both you and your seed may live”. Many of the undesirable things that enter our lives are because we have made wrong choices and we are reaping what we sow according to Gal 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” Contrarily, there are those who believe God has allowed some terrible sickness or tragedy in their life in order to perfect some flaw in their character or for some other purpose. Yet these same individuals, who think it is God’s doing that allows them to suffer some disease, will go to the doctor seeking treatment or take medicine to try to get rid of it. It seems that if that is what one believes, he would be resisting what God is attempting to work in him. Rather than resist God they should let the disease run its full course so that they will reap the full benefit of God’s doing. We are to resist the devil, but never God. James 4:7 admonishes us to, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you”. 2Cor 4:34 states, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them”. The devil is the god of this world and he goes about seeking whom he may devour. 1Peter 5:8,“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.” The scripture assures us that all who live a godly life will suffer, but the only suffering promised is persecution. 4
“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”, 2 Tim 3:12. Disease and persecution come from the devil because of the curse. Jesus came to give life and life more abundantly as the scripture says in John 10:10, “The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly”. Eph 1:3 assures us that He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ”. Deuteronomy 28 is a list of blessings and curses. Sickness is never counted a blessing, it is a curse. A curse came upon Israel because of their disobedience and their unbelief. The entire generation that came out of Egypt, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, perished in the wilderness. God did use sickness to punish His people for disobedience under the Old Covenant. In Deut. 28 the Lord says that if the Israelites are not careful to observe all the word of this law that He will put on them all the plagues, sicknesses, and diseases that He put on the Egyptians. Deut.28:58, 59 says, “the Lord will bring upon you and your descendants extraordinary plagues….serious and prolonged sicknesses. Moreover He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt.” The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. Hebrews 10:4, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins”. Jesus became the perfect sacrifice and took sin upon Himself and offered His blood once for all. “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us”, Heb 9:12. “For by one offering he has perfected for ever them that are sanctified”, Heb 5
10:14. After Jesus offered His blood once for all the way in which God dealt with sin changed as is stated in 2Cor5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation”. We are no longer under a curse because of sin, our sins are not imputed to us and if we sin there is forgiveness readily available to us, “if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”, 1John 1:9. “For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him”, 2 Cor. 5:21. Jesus became a curse for us that the blessings of Abraham might come upon us. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith”, Gal 3:13-14, (KJV). Sickness, disease, and tragedy are never God’s will for our lives as is evidenced in the prayer that Jesus gave to us. The Lord’s Prayer begins with, “Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Jesus told us to pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. Is it God’s will that there be sickness and tragedy in heaven? No, everyone knows that there will not be sickness and tragedy in heaven. So if it is not God’s will to experience these things on earth, why does God allow it to happen to us? Well, men do not always do God’s will on this earth. It is not God’s will that any should perish, yet many have perished and will perish to eternal damnation.
As we can plainly see by referencing 2 Pet 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”. Jesus said in Matthew 7: 13 and 14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it”. There will be few who find the way that leads to life, but most will not. It is not God’s will for men to miss the way that leads to eternal life, He is not willing that any should perish. The way to eternal life is not hidden, only narrow and it is your choice whether or not to seek it. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) So we conclude, it is not God’s will that any should perish, yet many have perished and will perish, eternally damned. If we really do have the freedom of choice, then God will allow whatever we allow even allowing one to choose to reject Christ and to suffer eternal damnation. With the exception of suffering persecution for righteousness sake, it is never God’s will that we should suffer sickness and tragedy. The devil is the god of this world and ultimately he is the cause of these things. The scripture states in Acts 10:38 that those that Jesus healed were oppressed by the devil, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him”. Healing was promised under the Old Covenant, “Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your 7
diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction”, Ps. 103:3. Isaiah 53:4, 5 was fulfilled in the life of Jesus and is quoted in the gospel of Matthew, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed”. We are now under a new and better covenant and healing is part of Jesus’ atonement that has been paid for by His shed blood. “When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses, Matthew 8:16, 17. To further address the question posed earlier the scripture reveals that the Lord has given us freedom to choose life or death, right or wrong, and He will never take that freedom away from us. God is a spirit and communicates with us by His Spirit through our own spirit. He reveals His will for our lives through His word. His word is spirit and life, He communicates with us by that still small voice that is known by an impression in our spirit rather than by an audible voice. Although, there are times when we can hear His voice, most often we are led by an absolute knowing, a check, or lack of peace or uneasiness in our spirit that we know is from God. How does God intervene in our lives to deter us from making a wrong choice or to guide us in a way that is not specifically addressed in His word? One possible way 8
is for God to speak a word, suggest a thought, or an idea in a way that will help us respond appropriately without taking away our freedom to choose. I can cite a recent example in my own life; after moving to another state I lost contact with a former Pastor and his wife with whom my wife and I had been friends. I had not communicated with them in over 30yrs., but recently while going about my daily routine the name of my former Pastor kept running through my mind. This continued for about two months or more before it finally occurred to me that perhaps God was trying to suggest to me that I should attempt to locate them. I searched the Internet and found that they, too, had moved to the state where I now live and were just a few miles up the road from me. I was able to contact them and we have renewed our friendship. I could have chosen to ignore God's promptings, but why would I, if I desire to walk with God? God is able to influence our will without interfering with our choice of action. Examples in scripture illustrate how God influenced a man’s decision in accordance with His purpose. For example look at God's influence with Cyrus, King of Persia. “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth has the LORD God of heaven given me; 9
and he has charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The LORD his God be with him, and let him go up”, 2 Chr. 36:22-23. This is a fulfillment of a prophecy found in Isaiah. “Thus says the Lord of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, you shall be built; and to the temple, your foundation shall be laid,” Isa 44:28. “The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord. Like the rivers of water He turns it wherever He wishes”, Pr.21:1.
After reading this proverb we might think King
Cyrus did not have a choice in the matter, of allowing the building of the Lord's house in Jerusalem, but God is able to make the choice that He desires one to make appear to be most appealing and logical. Cyrus the King of Persia was a pagan king who worshiped many gods and extended religious tolerance throughout his kingdom. The idea being that if he pleased all of the gods including the God of Israel the gods would look down on him favorably and he would have peace throughout his kingdom because people would have no cause for rebellion. “Cyrus II, the Great, founder of the Persian empire. Ruled from559 to 530 B.C. And his empire flourished until its conquest by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C.” “He proclaimed himself to be, Cyrus, king of world, legitimate king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four rims (of the earth)... whose rule Bel and Nebo [the Babylonian deities] love, whom they want as king to please their hearts”. Quoted from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol.1, pp. 845 and 847.
An example of God’s correction that would lead to repentance can be found in 2Samuel chapter 12. “And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, there were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. And there came a traveler unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.” “And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” “And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.” 11
“Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun. And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die”, 2Sam12:1-13 (KJV). Scripture abounds with many additional examples that I could cite, but I would like to move on to another question which is sure to arise. How and why does a holy God allow sin and evil to persist in the world? From the beginning there has always been the choice to obey or rebel, to choose good or evil, life or death, why? God could have created us to be perfect and without a sin nature as He did Adam and Eve. Had God not given them the ability to obey or disobey, and if none of their offspring had the ability to disobey they would have lived forever. We too, would be living in a perfect world with no tendency to disobey, having no knowledge of sin. However, we live in a fallen world and there is sin and temptation in the world, but the Lord has given us the power to resist temptation. “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it”, 1Cor.10:13b.
God’s word is spirit and life and gives us power over the fallen world when we walk in the spirit and the knowledge of His word. “His word is a lamp unto my feet 12
and a light to my path”, Ps.119:105. Pr.3:5, 6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths”. I know that the Lord desires that we learn to live by faith “for without faith it is impossible to please God,” Hebrews 11:16. The scripture says that the just “shall live by faith.” It also says, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith”, Rom 1:17. God desires to raise up a people that will choose to love and obey Him of their own free will and that is why we are given a choice. Learning to live a life of faith and faithfulness and to love and trust God is a lifelong walk in which God will continue to perfect us until the day of His coming. “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”, Phil.1:6 (NKJV). With faith there is nothing that is impossible to us. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him why they could not cast out a demon He answered, “because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, move from here to there and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you”, Matthew 17:20. Even Jesus could not do many mighty works in His own home town because of their unbelief. “Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief”, Matthew 13:58. Faith, hope, and love are eternal attributes in which we will continue to learn and grow and be perfected. “And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love”, 1Cor.13:13. We grow in faith through knowing and trusting in the Lord and we accomplish that through studying His word with 13
purpose of knowing God more than just to gain knowledge about the scriptures in order to prepare a teaching or a sermon. Having right motives is an important key to growing in faith and knowing God. “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another and not seek the honor that comes from the only God”? John 5:44. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you”, Matt. 6:33.
No one on this earth has perfect faith all of the time. It is something that we must learn as we walk together with Him, study His word, and have fellowship with likeminded believers. Faith works by love (“For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love”, Gal 5:6). We must learn to love God, but we cannot truly love Him until we learn to love each other. 1John 4:20 says, “If someone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen”? This is why I think it is so important to meet in groups small enough to develop lasting relationships around the study of God’s word. We can be confident that the Lord is able to communicate His will to us, to lead us, and guide us into all truth. God loves us and always has our best interest in mind. It is His desire that we are always ready for every good work, be in good health, and that we prosper in everything that we put our hand to. “Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers”, 3 Jn.1:2. He rewards those who diligently seek Him as it says in Hebrews 11:6, “But without 14
faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” God is all powerful, all knowing, omnipresent, and is ultimately sovereign over all. However, He relates to mankind within the framework of His covenants and in accordance with His written word. God’s promises are trustworthy; He keeps His word and cannot lie; God keeps covenant and is faithful even when we are not faithful. God’s providence is His care and provision for us; He is our provider, has supplied our every need, has seated us in heavenly places, and granted us every spiritual blessing. He gave man the freedom to choose from the beginning and will never violate that freedom. Sickness, disease, and tragedy, are part of the curse that resulted from the fall of man and ultimately come from the devil who is the god of this world. Because of God’s great love and compassion He sent Jesus who took the curse and became sin for us suffering the wrath of God in our place. God is able to influence our will without interfering with our freedom of choice; we always have the freedom to refuse to obey God or to obey. If we choose not to obey God and to sin there are consequences and we will reap what we have sown. God gives us power over the fallen world and victory over all the devices of the devil. “For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly”, Romans 16:19-20. “….He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us”, Eph 3:20. 15
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning”, James 1:17. The Lord God abides by the covenants that He has made with mankind and will never go back on His word. “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place”, 2Cr 2:14. Scripture references are quoted from: The New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee. The King James Version, World Bible Publishers, Inc. The New International Version, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mi. Other reference sources: Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Company Publishers, Springfield, Massachusetts. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Copyright © 2009 Richard P. Veach 16