Some people find the concept of God’s ultimate and complete sovereignty a little unsettling. Let’s face it, we like our autonomy; we find comfort in calling our own shots.
Some people find the concept of God’s ultimate and complete sovereignty a little unsettling. Let’s face it, we like our autonomy; we find comfort in calling our own shots. Even so, the wise men of Israel, writing under the direction of the
Holy Spirit, affirmed God’s ultimate authority to administer the world as He sees fit and regardless of human will:
The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD;
He turns it wherever He wishes. (21:1)
This is a comparative couplet: something is compared to something else. Most comparative couplets end with the comparison and leave it at that, but this proverb concludes with a declarative statement that offers the reader a timeless principle. Observe
the comparison: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD.” The Hebrew sentence doesn’t begin with “the king’s heart” but rather with “like channels.” The
Hebrew term translated “channels” referred to small irrigation ditches running from a main source—a reservoir—out into dry, thirsty flatlands needing refreshment. In other words: “Like irrigation canals carrying water
is the heart of the king in the LORD’s hand.”
What’s the point? The king’s heart—his inner being, the internal part of him that makes decisions—breathes out and communicates attitudes and policies, edicts, and laws. As a result, he may appear to be in charge, but the entire
matter from start to finish silently and sovereignly rests in the Lord’s sovereign hand.
This doctrine of divine sovereignty remains a great theological controversy and has polarized many scholars. On the one hand, the doctrine prompts some theologians to nervously reject the idea of divine sovereignty as “fatalism,” a view that
all creatures slavishly follow a preordained script, moving like automatons through life with only the illusion of choice. Other scholars, however, embrace and affirm fatalism, calling it “sovereignty.” They take the doctrine of divine
sovereignty to unsettling extremes by discounting the viability of human freedom, suggesting that any amount of human autonomy compromises God’s sovereign rule.
In truth, the Bible affirms both the ultimate sovereignty of God and the responsibility of individuals to make wise choices. C. H. Spurgeon was once asked if he could reconcile these two truths. “I wouldn’t try,” he replied.
“I never reconcile friends.”1 God certainly can alter the motivations of an individual who wants to rebel, and He unquestionably has directed the hearts of kings through the ages—Pharaoh
(Exodus 10:1–2), Tiglath-Pileser (Isaiah 10:5–7), Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1–6), and Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:21; Nehemiah 2:1–8). Nevertheless, He usually doesn’t usurp human will. All activities and events remain under God’s
ultimate and absolute control, but He grants us varying degrees of freedom to choose our path. The Bible affirms the sovereignty of God over all minutiae of life, yet the Scriptures—especially in the book of Proverbs—continually appeal
to our will, urging us to make wise choices.
In the end, regardless of your view of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, you can count on this: each of us will stand before God to account for our decisions, and we must accept the consequences of our choices. On this aspect of God’s
sovereignty, there is no doubt or debate.