God's sovereignty

Hi - I have recently been wanting to read more on whether all the situations we find ourselves in in life, god-ordained? I would like to think so as it makes them feel more purposeful. I know that he works everything out for our good, but it’s hard to know whether that means that my specific situation in life is exactly where I’m meant to be vs whether god will eventually make good of them. (I know it’s probably more than that) I think it helps to remind myself that there is lots of spiritual significance in everything I do. It’s sort of around in having a lack of close relationships and whether that’s just an unfortunate consequence of withdrawing myself from people at times over years or whether this is where god wants me to be to experience relying on him and learning that this life isnt always easy. I’m sure there are lots of opinions on the topic. I know there are some podcasts out there on Calvinism and predestination etc but I was more interested in this particular topic, or if there are any recommended books or podcasts. Thank you- great to find this site.


Hi @sarah7,

What a great question, thank you for asking it! It’s prompted me to think about why this kind of question can be so confusing.

For me, I think we often mix the various layers of God’s sovereignty together, when we need to think about them more carefully.

For instance, God created everything.

But does that mean he is the author of sin?

By no means!

We see God ‘undoing’ creation to oppose sin: the flood (Noah) and the plagues on Egypt (Moses). However, in general, God upholds creation.

And one day, he will restore all things so that sin no longer interrupts or damages the basic goodness of his world.

God allows the rain to shine on the just and the unjust alike - his Creation is good for us all. But God’s good work of Creation (and sustaining Creation) is insufficient to explain our particular circumstances.

Theologians sometimes discuss the difference between God’s ‘permissive will’ and ‘decretive will’. Decretive is an unnecessarily fancy way of talking about God’s decree - what God wants to happen.

Permissive will is easier to understand - what God allows to happen, even though it is not what he has decreed to happen.

For instance, God allows evil - he permits it, for now - but he has never decreed that anyone choose to do what is evil.

So, how do we determine if a particular situation is something that God is permitting or something that God is decreeing?

I believe this is where we stop doing ‘theology’ and start pursuing wisdom.

Theology can be rather straightforward: God is good and opposes evil.

But then we need wisdom: is my situation good? And that’s complicated because it requires us to evaluate a particular situation in regard to the appropriate guidelines.

The specific situation: a lack of close relationships.

Does God want us to be lonely or loved? He wants us to be loved and to love others.

In that sense, I would say this situation is something God permits but doesn’t decree.

But what’s the significance of this situation?

One wisdom principle could be that withdrawing from others ultimately results in loneliness. As you experience the natural consequence of these choices, it teaches you (and me and everyone else who has done this!) to invest intentionally in friendships.

Another wisdom principle? When we feel lonely, we realize our need for God. That’s a good thing God can do in your heart even in the midst of a situation that God does not want for you.

So, what’s the wise course of action?

  • You can grieve the choices that led to being lonely.
  • You can grieve how modern societies make it harder to have friendships (travel, moving, technology, etc.).
  • You can thank God that he is maturing you in this situation, that his love is always there for you, and that you can depend on him as you make new choices.
  • You can trust that one day, you will have an abundance of perfect friendships with God and all his people, forever, in the new heavens and new earth.
  • You can ask God to give you perseverance as you repair old friendships or build new ones (while seeking to avoid trusting foolish or evil people).
  • You can intentionally learn how to build good friendships, and apply what you learn going forward
  • You can evaluate where you are most likely to make the best friendships, and then invest more time in those environments (hopefully, one option available to you is a healthy local church)
  • and so on

Again, I’m really glad you raised this question, because I think loneliness is extremely common, and it’s hard for people to talk about it. I look forward to learning from your reply and the wisdom of other participants in the community.


Thank you :slight_smile: I think that all makes sense but I still question this because my church did a talk on god’s sovereignty some time ago teaching that everything that happens is essentially gods will, good and bad, that god is exhaustively sovereign over all things and we always have too small a view of him , it referenced Ephesians 1v11, Isaiah 45v7, lamentations 3v37-38, Romans 8v28, 11v23-36, Ecclesiastes 7v14, i think they include saying that good and bad come from the most high and god made prosperity and adversity.

I would rather that god did mean for me to be in this situation because I don’t trust myself to remain in what you called god’s decretive will, I will always mess up and not follow god and I don’t want to waste my life as a result of mistakes…


Hi @sarah7,

Thanks for this great response. It seems you’re taking careful notes during church and then thinking deeply about them. That’s a great habit!

As for each of these verses, my approach would be to slow down and consider each one in context. Would it be okay if we started discussions to understand each of them?

For instance, it’s true that Isaiah 45:7 says,

I form light and create darkness,
I make success and create disaster;
I am the LORD, who does all these things.

But as the Expositor’s Bible Commentary notes,

Westermann…roundly declares, “If the creator of evil and woe is God, there is no room left for a devil.” But this is to go far beyond what the verse says. It is an attack on polytheistic dualism, in which there is at least division of labor and often conflict among the deities.

The point is that God is in charge of all things. But then we need to think more carefully about when he makes success or causes disaster.

In light of Isaiah, when does God come to our aid? When his faithful remnant are persecuted, God promises to help them.

And when does God bring disaster? When the people who are called by his name worship idols.

God’s sovereignty is not the only characteristic of God. He is also always loving, good, wise, just, faithful, and kind.

It seems to me that we all make mistakes.

But for me, it would make me despair if God was causing me to make mistakes so that I wasted my life. I’d feel like there was no way out. It would be a curse on top of a curse. And it would be hard to see God as good and loving if he deliberately put me in bad situations.

Another thing to consider is to weigh all the Scriptures say together. For instance, what do you think of the passages where God asks people to make a choice? A few passages to consider would be Deuteronomy 30:1-20, Joshua 24:14-28, and Galatians 6:1-10.

One final thought for now - what do you make of Romans 15:14?

I myself am convinced about you that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.

If Paul could say this about his brothers and sisters in Christ, do you think that by God’s grace, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, that this evaluation could be true of us as well?


Thank you that is really helpful to think about…

I still think that I would have much more peace and have a bigger view of god and pray to him and trust him more with day to day situations if everything was much more god-ordained than I see it, even if we do have responsibility and take direction too…

I don’t think it would make me despair because I would know that this is the place that god wants me to be in and maybe what I see as mistakes weren’t mistakes in that case? If I felt that my situation in life was exactly where god wanted me to be (as many people seem to think) then I wouldn’t feel I had wasted my life because, it was where I was meant to be.

Also I don’ t think it is easy to tell what is sin leading to god permitting something to happen vs what is just a bad situation - e.g. being socially challenged and more lonely as a result of that, that is not your fault.

I think the downside of not believing that all situations are purposed by god are that you can see lots of your life as a waste of time, and regret certain decisions that might not have been wrong in any case, but more depends on you than on god and that might lead to more fear and anxiety. You also might feel you are living a lesser christian life, waiting for life and deep relationships to start, when actually sometimes you can’t create that yourself completely.

Not knowing how to see how much god is involved in / causes things also makes me confused when people say things like certain people being placed in my life, or god putting you in this situation (which a lot of people say). It’s hard to know how much meaning to put into situations without knowing how much god is purposeful about things, or if it is more random. If I did see situations as purposeful I feel I would probably pray more about them and see god in the little things in life a lot more.


Hi @sarah7, thanks for this honest and thought-provoking question and discussion. I have asked this question when going through similar situations in my own life, if they were God ordained or something God allowed. To a certain extent, I agree with you that if we know our circumstances are foreordained by a loving God for His purpose, we are better able to accept our situation. But we all go through situations in life that are either because of our sin or the sin of others that are clearly outside the moral will of God. Different theological traditions have tried to explain the concept of God’s sovereignty while also accounting for human responsibility and all of them believe in determinism to a degree.

As an introduction to the topic, I found a couple of articles, on different ways of looking at God foreordaining events, one from a compatibilist free will perspective and one from a libertarian free will perspective and a third article that can give you an idea on some of the issues to consider to arrive at a position on how God foreordains events.

From a practical point of view, no matter how we understand God foreordaining events in history, I don’t think we have to overthink our role in situations that have no direct connection with our actions as it can rob us of much joy, as you seem to have also mentioned. We can all still depend on God’s grace, confess all our sins, intentional and unintentional, and trust that God completely removes our guilt (Ps 103:7-12). The conviction of the Holy Spirit is always very gentle and not unpleasant like some of the other voices we listen to. Though God doesn’t punish us for our sin, we can still experience consequences for our sin, and we may experience our faith being tested in trials (James 1:2-4). But in all these things, we are never truly alone. Once we accept Christ as you know, our bodies become the temple of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17, 2 Cor 1:3-5), and He is with us, a truth I have to remind myself often. I feel much of life has been about learning and living this truth! As we continue in faith steadfast and go through our trial, we gain confidence that God carried us through. We might look back at our lives and think of our actions as a waste of time and regret our misjudgment, but we can also gain comfort that we understand more about being with God. I think it is very important that our view on this issue does not conflict with other revealed truths about God as @Carson mentioned, for He is loving, righteous, wise, faithful, etc. I say this because I have been in situations where I have been tempted to blame God for my circumstance, have delayed going to Him and it only hindered my spiritual growth.

My current understanding after going through some scriptures in the Bible is that God sovereignly controls the universe toward His desired outcome, He can orchestrate situations as He knows exactly what we will do in a given circumstance and what we would possibly do in other circumstances, He influences us humans to join Him toward His outcome by influencing our desires, He responds to our moral choices and shapes our character while preserving our ability as humans to resist His will but I believe no human can thwart the predetermined course for the universe set by God. Since God has foreknowledge, He can plan for and transform situations toward good, though sometimes from our limited perspective, it may look evil.

Below are some bible verses that I have considered:
• God loves all. (John 3:16). This serves as a foundational principle throughout the story of the Bible.
• God knew Adam and Eve would sin and yet He thought it’s worth creating them and planned to enter that world and bear the pain of the cross. (Eph 1:4, Rev 13:8). It establishes God’s foreknowledge and purpose in creating humanity despite knowing the consequences.
• God created man with the possibility of evil (Gen 2:9, Gen 2:16-17). This introduces the concept of free will and moral agency given to humans by God.
• God knows what we are going to do (Luke 22:61, Matt 26:23). This highlights God’s omniscience regarding human actions.
• God knows what we would do given a circumstance even if it doesn’t actually happen (1 Sam 23:1-5). This is what theologians refer to as middle knowledge.
• God can ordain situations and bring people in our lives (Cornelius conversion in Acts 10). This shows God’s sovereignty in orchestrating events and circumstances, perhaps not always and this depends on our perspective on free-will.
• God responds to our moral choices (Ps 18:25-28, Psalm 37:23-24). God is actively involved in shaping human character and actions.
• God influences our will and grants desires in alignment with His will (Ps 37:4, Phil 2:13, Prov 16:9). This again seems to involve God orchestrating events.
• God determines the purposes of people (Is 44:28, Jer 29:11, Romans 9:21-23). This verse asserts God’s sovereignty in determining the ultimate purposes and destinies of individuals though there are verses that suggest humans can resist His will (1 Cor 10:13).
• God loves justice and judges evil one day. So He cannot be responsible for any human evil (Psalm 37:28).
• God’s good can sometimes be perceived as evil by us humans (Is 57:1-2)
• God prophesies as He has foreknowledge of the final outcome (Is 44:7, Is 46:9-10).
• Humans can’t thwart God’s will (Job 42:1-2). This indicates how God can work towards His predetermined plans for the world He created (Rev 22:3-5).

This is such a complex issue. I wanted to share resources that we can understand even without a philosophy background and appreciate the complexity of the issue and different angles of looking at it. Thanks again for your question. I feel I have gained more clarity by thinking through your question.


@Lakshmi, thank you for this carefully researched and thoughtful post.

I studied philosophy in college, and have a philosophical bent to looking at many theological questions.

At the same time, I increasingly find myself drawn to asking these questions in terms of gaining wisdom for living like Christ.

For instance:

Do you feel overwhelmed by your circumstances? Remember that God is in charge of all things, and he can overcome whatever problems you face.

Do you feel apathetic and unimportant? Remember that God invites you to actively participate in his mission, and the Holy Spirit is empowering you to love God and love your neighbors.

That is, I don’t know if I’m smart enough to reconcile all the theological systems and philosophical questions about God’s sovereignty and humanity’s responsibility. I think the Scriptures teach both of these truths in various ways. I want to honor both of these emphases in a way that strengthens my resolve to glorify God.


That’s exactly how I feel. If I am able to practice consistently what I do understand being motivated by God’s love, I would be content. Appreciate this wisdom you have shared.