When something bad happens, Christians often respond by saying, "All is well. God is still on the throne."

It is true that God reigns. The scriptures confirm it, but we need to think a little bit more about what that means.

Was God reigning when Pol Pot was killing millions of people in Cambodia. Clearly, God did not control what Pol Pot was doing. God was not reigning directly over him. So when we say that God reigns, it does not mean that he is controlling evil men.

When someone they love is having surgery, Christians will often pray that God will guide the surgeon's hands. That makes sense if the surgeon is a Christian, but what if the surgeon is not a Christian. Can God guide his hands? God cannot make me do things against my will, so I presume that he cannot control a surgeon either. What the Holy Spirit can do is put thoughts in the mind of the surgeon that might help him do his work. If the surgeon receives these ideas and acts on them, he might do better surgery. However, he is free to ignore the Holy Spirit's prompting, if he chooses.

So God was not reigning over Pol Pot and he does not totally reign over the surgeon either. The nature of God's reign needs to be clarifyed further.


The Bible often describes God as a King reigning over the earth.

God is the King of all the earth; God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne (Ps 47:7-8).
These passages are a description of the way things were, and the way they should be, not the way they are now. God created the entire creation, so he owns it all and is entitled to sovereignty over it. However, he gave authority over the earth to humans and many people now refuse to acknowledge his sovereignty. The scriptures also look forward to the time when his sovereignty will be restored, so they declare it prophetically as if it is already real.

Christians often speak about God's sovereignty as if he directs events on earth by remote control. That is a mistake, because it would be a breach of his gift of authority to humans and would turn us into puppets. God has the power to control people, but he limits himself to influencing people into freely choosing to do his will. He uses a variety of means to get people who do not want to obey him to do what he wants.

God never controls people. He accomplishes his purposes by superior wisdom, and the ability of the Holy Spirit to influence people, despite their hostility, and often without their knowledge.

Sovereign Capability

If God directly controlled every living being in creation, like a puppet master manipulates his puppets that would be an amazing capability. Keeping track of each person and making them act according to a coordinated plan would be an amazing achievement.

However, God does something even more amazing. He sets the puppets free to their own thing. He limits himself to influencing them by making suggestions. A few are committed to doing his will, but most are openly hostile. Worse still, many angels who have rebelled, have the ability to control some of those who are hostile. This looks like an impossible situation, but God is able to accomplish his purposes on earth, without needing to control people.

This is an amazing capability. God is so great, he can accomplish his purposes with one hand tied behind his back. It just takes a little time. What an amazing capability.


Making a god of sovereignty results in weak theology. God is sovereign, but it is only one aspect of his character. Sovereignty is not a concept representing philosophical perfection. It must mean something in terms of the character and activities of God.

God is constrained by his character. He is constrained by his choices about how he will operate that flow out of his character. If God is sovereign, he can choose to constrain his activity. That does not limit his freedom or omnipotence. Once God created a finite world and finite people to live within it, and committed himself to working with them, he constrained himself to working within time. He is beyond time, so he can still move across time, but if he intervened on earth outside the order of time, his interventions would not make sense to those living within time. God has a strategy for restoring the earth. This involves a sequence of interventions on earth that makes sense in terms of finite time.

When God created people and spirits and gave them real freedom, he constrained himself. He could have kept them under his control, but he decided against that, because the wanted them to be free to do things that are contrary to his will. Having made that choice, it was almost inevitable that spirits or people would do things that are contrary to his will. This allows them to constrain his ability to accomplish in purpose in various ways. Every time I resist his will, I hold back his plans.

I wonder how many people the Holy Spirit spoke to before Abraham heeded the call to move to the land he was called. I presume he had spoken to many people, but was ignored. I presume some heard, but chose to disobey. Abraham was the first to hear and obey, so he received the promise of blessing.

Some will say that God knew in advance, the people who refused the call would refuse. That is playing games. Does it mean that he was not calling those people seriously, but just speaking to prove that they were rebellious? That would be insincere. If God's will is limited to what actually happens, it becomes a bit meaningless.

Christian fatalism

A view known as "meticulous sovereignty" is common among many Christians. On this view, believers say that whatever happens to them – good, bad, or indifferent – is part of God’s plan. They believe that God has a perfect plan for their life, and that everything that happens is his will. I call this heresy “Christian fatalism”.

Meticulous sovereignty is actually closer to Islam than to Christianity. Islam teaches that everything happens is the will of God. This belief leads to passivity in the face of evil.

Fatalism makes people feel better when things go wrong, but it makes people passive when they have a bad experience. They must grin and bear it, because it is God’s will.

Christian fatalism is not the message of the scriptures. The people living on earth are caught up in a struggle between good and evil. God has many victories. But sometime they spiritual powers of evil have their way. Our role is not to passively submit to whatever happens, but to join with God in resisting evil.