January 26, 2021

iMonk 101: God’s Sovereignty and God’s Providence

What I believe about God’s sovereignty and God’s providence.


  1. So out of curiosity, do you stand with John Piper’s understanding of the Minnesota bridge collapse that it was willed by the purposeful “pinky” of God in all infinite wisdom?

    Not trying to bait, just genuinely interested of your thoughts in light of this post on God’s sovereignty and providence, because I wasn’t particularly happy with his response and wrote about it (linked above).

    But then again, I am moving into more of an open theism posture so I guess that’s inevitable…

    Would love to hear your thoughts…

  2. Piper’s choice of pastoral words are his own. I’ve had many opportunities to deal with tragedy “on the spot” and I always share Scripture’s assurances of the sovereignty of God.

    I wouldn’t speak of who caused what, because secondary causation is important and multi-leveled. I’m not a Muslim and I don’t want to sound like one. I don’t want clarity at the price of cruel simplicity. I prefer Jesus’ words that the man’s blindness was an opportunity for God to work.

    Romans 8:28, Genesis 50 and other passages that speak of what God brings out of tragedy are more what you would hear from me.

    But it’s God’s universe. No matter what secondary causes he has willed or what freedom he has given them, ultimately God is sovereign in a way no creature is. And no event is outside of God’s sovereignty, though as Job learned, we are given God’s character and promises to lean on, not a box of explanations for divine causation.

  3. (BTW…I’m only coming to this site to put these questions out there because 1) this idea of God’s sovereignty and will in the world is something I’ve struggled with recently in light of despair and tragedy and I come looking for clarity and 2) I hugely respect and value you and your thoughts…so if I push it’s not because I’m trying to fight, but because I’ve hung out here for quite a while and feel this is great space to pose the questions)

    So let me ask this…as I mention in my post, 3 days ago a mother in San Francisco accidentally ran over her 5-year-old son as she moved her minivan to a different location outside her home, killing the boy. What do you say to her? That God works all things out for the good for those who love them? That he wanted the mother to back over her son to bring Him glory?

    I’m not trying to be cheeky or trite or direct this simply at you Michael, but I ask because I HAVE heard such answers given in the face of tragedy (which I don’t find helpful). And I ask this because I think this type of question, or the way the answer is framed, strikes to the heart of God’s character: are we saying that God wills/wants these types of things to happen? And I think it is worth exploring, because people in this world really do wonder just what type of God not only we serve, but also exists.

    Why can’t we tell people that “stuff happens”, not because God isn’t in control, but that, as LeRon Shults puts it, there is absolute evil in the world and the existence of this evil permits evil and tragic acts? I don’t discount God deliberately moving through the circumstances of history and the stories of individual people’s lives to bring about an unfolding of his OWN will and purposes (be them macro or micro/individual). But if that’s the case, can Evil also deliberately move through the circumstances of history and the stories of individual people’s lives to bring about an unfolding of IT’S will??

    Thanks for making space for this conversation, Michael. Maybe not what you intended with your original post, but too bad 🙂


  4. Jeremy: I am not a believer in all that is Openness theology, so I really can’t respond to some of what you might want to talk about.

    1) In the face of tragedy we ought to be silent, present and loving. We need to let the natural, painful reaction happen.

    2) We ought never to speculate about causation. Job’s counselors were not totally wrong, but they were totally wrong in what they said when, and God condemned them.

    3) In worship, I would cash all the checks God wrote on Rom 8:28, Genesis 50, Psalm 90-100, etc. But not “in the face” of a suffering person. They can come and hear that or ask to hear it when they want to hear it.

    4) Humility….not just theology, makes for good pastoral care. Jesus loved people as people not projects.

    5) Everything I would ever tell a suffering person would be based on God’s character revealed in Jesus, not on God’s decree.

    6) When I do pastoral care, I use this model: 1) Fact, 2) Feeling 3) Faith. And in that order.

  5. Jeremy,

    You raise interesting questions for which there are no easy answers. Let me throw out an analogy for discussion.

    I teach. There is a certain content I must cover within a given class. I can ensure that I accomplish that goal essentially by scripting the entire class so that I never get off-track. The students come in, I lecture, they take notes and everything is controlled and orderly. I am the sovereign teacher in that classroom.

    Of course there is another option. What if my goal for the class includes real participation by the students, real engagement in the learning process? Then I must let them ask questions, make and test conjectures, try and fail. The class looks (and is) messy. Students will ask questions that take us off on a tangent. One student might make a snide comment about another student’s “stupid” question or answer. There are endless possibilites both for productive and unproductive experiences. And yet, I am confident enough of my abilities as a teacher that I can work in and through this mess to accomplish all the goals I have in mind. I am the sovereign teacher in that classroom, also. It’s just that sovereignty looks a lot different now. In fact, it looks a lot more like our lives look. I would suggest that God is sovereign in this way — not by scripting the universe and the “fate” of all its inhabitants, but by creating a real world where real people make real choices in the face of real good and evil — real messy. But God, being truly Sovereign, can and will accomplish his purpose in and through these real events.

    Thanks to Michael for the always thought-provoking blog.

    Peace of Christ,


  6. I think that Pinnock and Boyd have a lot to offer in their understanding of God’s openness, especially in the area of evil and God’s response to evil. i think Boyd’s distinction between all powerful and all controling is a good distinction. If i am reading Boyd correctly, he is saying that God is all powerful, but he is not all controling. Someone can have all the power, but not have all the control. i do not see a contradiction in that logic, but i am not a philosopher. if free will is “real” then does that not mean that God sometimes does not get his way. i mean if God always gets his way then are we truly free? Daneil 12 is a good example of God not getting his way. Daniel is praying and it takes the angel 3 days to get there. the angel basically says that he would had been there sooner but he was in a battle with the prince of persia. now if that battle is not real then the angel is lying. if the battle is real then we must take spiritual warfare as being real and something that we need ot be aware of. God is at war with the forces of evil in this world. Paul says this over and over. we need to take this seriously. i do not think that there is a denom under every church pew (well maybe… :-))but we for too long assumed that evil is an ancient ignorant idea. God does not see it that way.

    if we are truly free then it stands to reason that God in some cases does not always get what he wants, because he has created a world in which he values the free loving response of his creation to himself more than our comfort or happiness. ultimately, as far as salvation history is concerned, God’s will is going to be done. there is nothing that evil can say, because God will will the last word. that is our hope!



  7. I would like to know why the word “sovereignty” is defined as controlling all things? The scriptural use of “sovereign” or “sovereignty” is used for king and kingship. In the OT, the prophets call Yahweh King in contrast in to the false gods of the pagan nations that also claim “sovereignty.” I, along with the prophets, know and proclaim that the true and living God alone is king of the universe.

    I don’t know some see Kingship and absolute control as synonomous. What king controls every aspect of his subjects’ lives? That seems more like a puppetmaster or literary author than king. And how does the biblical maxim “you reap what you sow fit into the picture?” If I let my kid play in the road, do I say it is God’s will when he gets run over?

  8. Jeremy, the idea that God is a sovereign despot who controls and directs all things, good and evil, is a myth that takes spiritual maturity and reality clean out of the Word. The Word amply demonstrates that there are two spiritual kingdoms operating in the earth and one of them is hell-bent on destroying mankind. I’d be surprised if any minister who advocates a God-is-sovereign-in-all-things-gospel has ever sat across from a man whose soul is so demon-possessed that he’s a scene right out of the Exorcist. If there is such a minister, he’d be the last man I’d want to hear.

    I’ve personally borne my share of tragedy and I never have attributed any of it to God who went so far as to send Jesus to die to save me from it.

  9. Bob Sacamento says

    In worship, I would cash all the checks God wrote on Rom 8:28, Genesis 50, Psalm 90-100, etc. But not “in the face” of a suffering person. They can come and hear that or ask to hear it when they want to hear it.

    This is a very important distinction that doesn’t get made nearly enough. If we could remeber it, it would settle 90% of the disagreements over topics like ths one, and sane alot of wounded people alot of grief. Just my 2 cents.

  10. >Peter is a 1987 Rhema Bible School graduate.

    This may be a first at my blog 🙂

  11. Dang! Rhema! Really!

    Is that word of faith stuff still around. All that pretty much died out in my neck of the woods.

  12. Jeremy posed a significant question about the statements of a national minister who has pointed his finger towards the Minnesota bridge and told us that God did it, that God had some undefinable purpose of actually murdering five people or more. His question confronts the question(s) of what exactly God’s nature is toward us, whether He is a heavenly benevolent despot who treats us in the same manner that little boys treat anthills or whether the Word presents us quite another picture of Him. His question is fundamental and cuts to the heart of how God has revealed Himself to us in His Word. Why my Rhema education figures into that equation, aside from an ad hominem dismissal, is beyond me.

  13. Nothing ad hominem. Just,as i said, a likely first on this blog. The Word-faith community has never shown up in any comments that I am aware of.

  14. Gene Baker says

    I just finished reading the portions of the 1689 London Baptist confession that you linked to concerning God’s sovereignty and providence.

    I have never read the 1689 LBC before and found it was interesting reading. It seemed very Calvinistic to me. I find the Calvinistic view of God abhorrent, but then I am an avowed Christian universalist so that shouldn’t be surprising.

  15. bookdragon says

    “In worship, I would cash all the checks God wrote on Rom 8:28, Genesis 50, Psalm 90-100, etc. But not “in the face” of a suffering person. They can come and hear that or ask to hear it when they want to hear it.”

    Could you clarify what you mean by ‘in worship’? Because if mean in the sermon, then I have to ask how you know you’re not doing it in the face of suffering people? One of the worst church experiences I ever had was getting bad news while I was out of town, going to a church there, and after hearing the sermon, walking out wondering if God was really a monster.

  16. When someone comes into the public worship of Christians, they are going to hear affirmations of confidence in God’s sovereignty. They won’t be personalized statements of detailed cause and effect, but in the worship of the church, the songs, scripture and preaching proclaim the God of the Bible.

    When you come into worship, you should not expect to hear your personal crisis be the focus of what is said. The church is always filled with suffering people on Easter, and they hear that God reigns and Christ is risen to reign.

    If someone left church offended that the church proclaimed the God of Romans 8:28, I’d hardly feel particularly bad. I’d think they were expecting the church to compromise its proclamation for their feelings and that shouldn’t happen.

    There is a place to celebrate and exult in the sovereignty of God and the worship of the church is it.

  17. I’m not sure where my original reply went…maybe it’s still in moderation limbo 🙂

    Just wanted to e say thanks to everyone for providing some clarity and helping me to think through this more.

    Michael, you response was wise, as always.

    John Roop, I really liked your analogy and that’s sorta where I am at.

    mason and Peter…your thoughts on treating Evil as an entity rather than an idea is very good and I wonder what that does to more deterministic notions of God and reality and time.

    Anyway, thanks again for the conversation!

  18. Nicholas Anton says

    I may not have struggled with the Sovereignty of God and the free will of humankind as many others, but, in that it is very difficult both to define, to understand, and to reconcile to a human centered society, I have in the past few years attempted to define and verbalize the concept as to explain how I understand it.

    Here is my attempt;

    “The Sovereignty (not will) of God and the free will of humankind as exercised in their beliefs, actions and choices are always in total agreement.”

    By this statement, I reject the open Theist view that the free choices of humankind are outside of God’s infinite knowledge and control.
    By this view I also reject the hyper Calvinist view that human choices are outside of humankinds free will (In other words, I reject the exclusivity of the determinist view).

    I believe that it is possible for a Sovereign God to create free beings, that, though free, never transgress God’s Infinite Sovereign knowledge and will.

    Insofar as the question of sin always seems to enter this equation, it also demands definition. I will however refrain from doing so at this time.

  19. I think it’s interesting that many people in the church today feel more secure with blind randomness meeting them everyday at their doorstep than a Sovereign God.

    At least John Piper’s view makes something good out of the bridge (a wake up call for repentance).

  20. Glenn Lucke has a note for this thread that won’t publish. (Using secondary editors can cause a code problem in WP.)

    I published it at BHT and you can read it there and comment here:


  21. jmanning: it isn’t about embracing a “shit happens” attitude, but rather renegotiating the character of God as revealed through His holy Communication, His participation in time and reality, and His relationship to the lives of humans. Many of us also find the traditional answers to some of these questions are at best illogical and at worst downright wretched and miserable (and more worse unbiblical, though I wouldn’t go there with Piper’s particular comment). Peter Smythe captured that a little ways up in a comment and I tried to capture that in my own post responding to Piper’s comments.

    And it is precisely the “what” that Piper makes out of the bridge collapse that many of us find both illogical and wretched…


  22. bookdragon says

    I don’t have problem with a sermon on the assurances in the bible that God can take whatever happens and turn it to good for those who love Him.

    I do however have problem with sermons that *interpret* those biblical promises to mean that God being sovereign means He causes/plans things like deadly auto accidents.

  23. jmanning,
    I’m not sure I understand what you were getting at. Here’s how I think about what you said, in my own life: It’s not so much that I feel more secure with blind randomness than I do with a Sovereign God.
    I totally believe God is sovereign. Walking through suffering has only increased my conviction of that. What has decreased is my certainty at any given time about what exactly God is doing. Most of the time I stand in mystery as to the “what” and “why”, even while remaining confident that God is completely sovereign.
    I have a hard time with people confidently stating that X or Y is the purpose that God had for such and such an event (whether good or bad). At times, in hindsight, we can see some of the purposes. But probably never all. And our interpretation of those purposes is highly affected by our own presuppositions. This doesn’t limit God’s sovereignty. For me, it just meants that His purposes are bigger than what I can explain or understand (not surprising, as He is God, and I am not).

  24. C.W. Treadwell says

    God directly and purposefully planning tragedies involving His children, like the Minnesota bridge collapse, is an idea some of you exclaim to be insulting to both God’s character and those who are facing catastrophe. To these I would like to share my heart on this regard:

    I know it seems easier to say that God did not give your friend’s mother cancer or have anything to do with her “untimely” death. Such a statement seems like it would minister, but I wonder where such a line of thought ends up in people’s heads? If not God, then who or what? Bad luck? Satan? I am not sure which is worse—God’s inability or His unwillingness. Some say that to think God unwilling to heal is worse, because this makes Him cruel. Others say inability, because this makes Him weak.

    All I know is what I have lived. I remember when I was told that God only does what I think is good and convenient and has nothing to do with those events which are not. From this I inferred that God wanted to protect my friends (who were killed in a plane crash) but was unable to. It made me feel as though this world is hopeless and out of control. Thinking this way made me throw Christianity away altogether. If God is unable to help even the very best of people, then what is the point? That was the last thought I had about God before leaving Him—or trying to leave Him at any rate.

    I think I would rather be told that God sits as King over this world and all that happens in it, and that He has a master plan. I would rather hate His plan and have an emotional blowout with Him, beating my fists against His chest but ultimately, at the end of the day, coming to do the only thing I can…cry on His shoulder and trust. This is better than beliefs that lead to thinking does not care enough to be involved or that He is not powerful enough. I don’t know about you, but I found it impossible to find motivation for serving a God like that in the face of calamity.

    To those who have an emotional problem with this idea concerning God doing or allowing tragedy for some greater purpose, I pose this question: How do you, then, reconcile your beliefs with the death of Jesus? For even God’s only begotten Son had to take a backseat to God’s genius plan. In other words, The Almighty had a higher priority than causing Jesus to live a long and comfortable life on this earth. Yes, the crucifixion was a tragedy that was directly provided for and controlled by God the Father. Maybe the cross has never struck you this way since you’re the one benefiting from the tragedy?

    So my question is what would such a God want of me? What Kingdom priorities are bigger than my personal convenience? I am used to be afraid of that answer and sometimes I still am, but when I loose myself in the magnificence of God…

    Suddenly my problem with pain is not so much of a problem anymore.


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