God’s general sovereignty: God is in control of absolutely everything at all times
When we come to discuss God’s general sovereignty, we find much less agreement than when we discuss His sovereignty in salvation, and this is true even among reformed believers. The doctrine of God’s “general sovereignty” addresses the fact that God is in control not only of all matters of salvation but also of all aspects of reality – material and spiritual – at all times. As R. C. Sproul famously said (possibly quoting C. H. Spurgeon), “There is not one maverick molecule in the universe.”
Scriptures that speak of this total range and reach of God’s sovereign grasp are grouped below in five different categories:
Here are some pictures of God’s sovereignty over nature. God controls the minutest of details, as well as the grandest events, in nature:
The sparrow is upheld by God, and every hair is numbered by Him: Matt. 10:29-30 “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
In Jonah, God commands the fish (Jonah 2:10), appoints the plant to grow (4:7), and appoints the worm to attack the plant (4:8).
God’s sovereign rule over the stars is expressed in these terms: “Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing” (Isa. 40:26).
In Psalm 147:15, God controls the snow, frost, ice, cold, melting, wind, and waters. In Job 37, He controls all elements of a storm. In Mark 4:39 He controls the wind and the sea.
Finally, in Job 38-41, God proclaims His power over the whole range (the biggest and smallest elements) of creation.
2. Life and Death
Here are some pictures of God’s sovereignty over human life and death:
Deut. 32:39 “See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.”
2 Kings 5:7 “When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man is sending word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? But consider now, and see how he is seeking a quarrel against me.’”
Gen 30:2 “Then Jacob’s anger burned against Rachel, and he said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’”
1 Sam 2:6 “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to hell and raises up.”
Rev 1:18 “…and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”
3. Human events
Here are some pictures of God’s sovereignty over various situations in human life:
God is in control of man’s general abilities and impairments: Ex. 4:11 “The LORD said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?’”
God controls the furtherance and plans of man’s life: James 4:13-15 “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’”
God controls the suffering that comes to followers of Christ: 1 Peter 4:12 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as thought some strange thing were happening to you.” 1 Peter 3:17 “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”
4. Little tiny details
Here are some pictures of God’s sovereignty over the minutest details of human affairs:
Proverbs 16:1 “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.”
Proverbs 16:9 “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
Proverbs 20:24 “A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?”
Prov. 16:33 “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”
Prov. 29:26 “Many seek the ruler’s favor, But justice for man comes from the LORD.”
Dan. 2:21 “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.”
Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
Ps. 33:9-11 “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast. The LORD nullified the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation.” (Cf. Dan 4:33)
Finally, the doctrine of God’s general sovereignty may be enforced by the following Scriptures. In these instances, the word “all” is literal, and it does not pertain only to matters of salvation or “big things” in the lives of believers:
Rom 11:36 “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
Col 1:15-17 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him. / He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
Eph 4:6 “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Acts 17:28 “…for in Him we live and move and have our being…”
Matt 28:28 “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.’”
Rule then, Sovereign King, according to Your perfect Word.