What is man’s responsibility in light of God’s supreme authority and power over everything? Does God’s predetermined plan and purpose negate man’s responsibility to move forward with his own personal plans? Where does God’s sovereignty end and man’s responsibility begin?
These are questions that have been debated for centuries among many great theologians and dedicated scholars. Today we will begin to explore how to better operate (cooperate) within the sovereign rule of God.
Defining man’s Responsibility
How we define our responsibility in light of God‘s sovereignty is often shaped by one of two common views. One view holds the belief that man has no role and therefore, no responsibility. This belief contends that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable regardless of what man does.
This is seen as a somewhat fatalistic view with a submissive outlook. Man is seen as a mere “puppet” in accomplishing God’s sovereign plan and purpose. If this were true, why then would God created us with free will? (Next week’s discussion)
Another view of responsibility
Another view is the belief that although God is sovereign, man does retain responsibility for his life. Through use of our gifts and talents, by our response to trials and tribulation, through the choices we make, we are continually (perhaps unknowingly) participating with the Creator as He executes His plan and purpose.
This partnership can be illustrated by how icebergs move.
In the frigid waters around Greenland are countless icebergs, some little and some gigantic. If you’d observe them carefully, you’d notice that sometimes the small ice floes move in one direction while their massive counterparts flow in another. The explanation is simple. Surface winds drive the little ones, whereas the huge masses of ice are carried along by deep ocean currents. When we face trials and tragedies, it’s helpful to see our lives as being subject to two forces—surface winds and ocean currents. The winds represent everything changeable, unpredictable, and distressing. But operating simultaneously with these gusts and gales is another force that’s even more powerful. It is the sure movement of God’s wise and sovereign purposes and the deep flow of His unchanging love.
Sovereignty and Pray
While we may feel incapable of fully understanding God’s plan, He has revealed what we need to know to move forward in our lives. While the secret things belong to God, the revealed things belong to us—to guide our behaviors and actions (Deut. 29:29). One of the areas God has revealed to us is our responsibility to pray.
Believers are biblically instructed to pray (Rom. 12:12). We are even directed for whom we are to pray—our leaders, our enemies, and the unsaved. We often close our prayer recognizing the sovereignty of God with the pronouncement, “Thy will be done” (Matt. 6:10).
Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God. If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that He is able to answer our prayers. It is in our prayers that we proclaim the power and ability of God to accomplish that which we are praying (1 John 5:14-15). Prayer is the expression of our trust in God’s sovereignty. It is our responsibility to pray.
Sovereignty and Prudence
We as believers are also responsible to act with prudence. I never fully appreciated this word until I understood its use in the context of God’s sovereignty. Though not frequently highlighted in the biblical text, its application is noteworthy in both the Old and New Testament record.
In the framework of God’s sovereignty, prudence is the “use of all legitimate, biblical means at our disposal to avoid harm to ourselves and others AND to bring about what we believe to be the right course of events.”
In the King James translation, prudence is used on three occasions. Prudence—good sense and insight—is attributed to Solomon for his ability to accomplish the building of the temple in Jerusalem. (2 Chron. 2:12). In Proverbs 8:12, wisdom is said to dwell together with prudence—both important for knowledge and discretion. The Apostle Paul includes prudence—knowledge and holy love of the will of God—as one of the spiritual blessings received by believers as a result of being in Christ (Eph. 1:8). It is our responsibility to practice prudence.
Do Our Part
Although we recognize the reality that we operate within God’s sovereign purpose and plan, it does not negate our responsibility to “do our part”. It is with the knowledge of God’s sovereignty that we are to take action with the specific means provided to us to address the situations in our life. This includes both prayer and prudence.
- Peter and John though directed by Jesus to “preach to all nations” when threatened by the Jewish Sanhedrin prayed that God would “enable then to speak with boldness” (Acts 4:24, 28-29).
- Nehemiah saw God sovereignly position Israel to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem, yet he posted guards day and night (Neh. 4:7-9) and insured his workers were armed as they worked (Neh. 4:16-20).
As believers, we cannot use the sovereignty of God as an excuse not to actively engage in the challenges and opportunities God presents in our lives. God’s sovereignty by no means negates our responsibility to use every means at our disposal to promote the right outcomes. Those outcomes should be based on what God reveals to us through His Spirt and His Word. These are proven principles by which we can align with and serve the purpose of God.
Lastly, when we feel as though we are drifting without purpose and direction, remember the “icebergs”. They operate simultaneously with gusts and gales AND with another force that’s even more powerful. We too operate simultaneously—by God’s sovereign purpose AND by our moral responsibility as He works in the ordinary circumstances of our lives (Rom. 8:28).
 Contributor unknown
 Jerry Bridges, Is God Really in Control: Trusting God in a World of Hurt