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Is God in control of the universe?

This is a complex theological question that has been debated for centuries. There are different perspectives on whether God actively controls everything that happens in the universe or allows events to unfold according to natural laws and human free will. In this article, we will examine the biblical evidence, philosophical arguments, and different theological viewpoints to try to answer the question of whether God is in control of the universe.

The Biblical Perspective

The Bible seems to present a complex picture of God’s sovereignty and human free will. Here are some key biblical passages that provide insight on this topic:

Passages on God’s Sovereignty

  • Isaiah 45:7 – “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
  • Ephesians 1:11 – “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”
  • Romans 11:36 – “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

These verses point to God’s supreme power and sovereignty over all creation and events. Nothing happens outside of His divine will and purpose.

Passages on Human Free Will

  • Deuteronomy 30:19 – “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.”
  • Joshua 24:15 – “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve.”
  • John 7:17 – “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”

These verses point to God giving humans the ability to make real choices and hold them morally accountable. This implies that God does not directly cause all human decisions and actions.

Passages on Both Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

  • Philippians 2:12-13 – “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
  • Acts 2:23 – “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

These verses indicate that God is fully in control of His plans and purposes, yet humans are still responsible for their moral choices. There is a complex interplay between God’s sovereignty and human volition that is not fully explained.

In summary, the Bible presents a nuanced perspective – God is absolutely sovereign, yet somehow human beings have genuine free will for which they are held accountable. Both realities are repeatedly affirmed in Scripture.

Philosophical Perspectives

Throughout history, philosophers have also weighed in on the issue of God’s sovereignty and human free will. Here are some of the main philosophical perspectives:

Theological Determinism

This view argues that God directly causes everything that happens. Human choices and actions are simply the outworking of God’s sovereign will. As the greatest conceivable being, God exercises supreme control over the universe and predetermines all events according to His purposes.

Key proponents of this view include St. Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Paul Helm. They emphasize God’s attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence as biblical justification for theological determinism.

Libertarian Free Will

This view argues that human beings have complete, unhindered free will to make choices independent of God’s control. God may know in advance what humans will decide, but He does not directly cause their choices. Humans have a genuine “two-way” capacity to choose between options, affirming real self-determination.

Key proponents include Charles Hodge, William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, and Richard Swinburne. They argue that God’s foreknowledge does not contradict free will or human responsibility. Libertarian freedom is required for moral accountability.


This view argues that divine determinism and human free will are in some sense “compatible.” Humans do make real choices, yet God meticulously directs all events. Jonathan Edwards, a famous compatibilist, distinguished between “natural ability” (the capacity to choose between options) and “moral ability” (the power to make morally virtuous choices) to reconcile free will with determinism.

Other versions argue that God’s control works through secondary causes or human desires, rather than primary causation. Compatibilism affirms both God’s sovereignty and meaningful human volition and responsibility.

Open Theism

This view argues that God chose to create a universe where the future is “open” and not entirely predetermined. God voluntarily limits His foreknowledge to allow for genuine human freedom and creatures capable of love. As time unfolds, God knows all possibilities and probabilities, but He does not have infallible foreknowledge of every future event and human decision.

Prominent open theists include Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, and John Sanders. They maintain that this better explains the dynamic, interactive God of Scripture without denying His omnipotence and sovereign will.

Theological Perspectives within Christianity

Throughout church history, theologians have taken different views on this question that align with the philosophical perspectives already outlined. Here is a brief survey of some of the main positions:

Reformed/Calvinist Theology

This view is most famously associated with John Calvin and emphasizes the absolute sovereignty of God over every detail of creation, history, and human lives. God unilaterally predestines all that will happen, including who will be saved (the elect) and damned (the reprobate). Nothing can thwart or defeat God’s purposes. Humans have no autonomous free will, but are morally responsible for their choices which God ordains.

Key figures include Calvin, Edwards, Charles Hodge, Loraine Boettner, R.C. Sproul, and John Piper.

Arminian/Wesleyan Theology

This view is associated with Jacobus Arminius and John Wesley which maintains God’s sovereignty while arguing for an expanded human free will. God’s foreknowledge of all events does not impinge on voluntary human decisions. Predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge of who would freely respond to the gospel in faith. Humans contribute through free response to God’s offer of salvation.

Key proponents include Arminius, Wesley, H. Orton Wiley, Thomas Oden, and Roger Olson.


This view, associated with Jesuit theologian Luis Molina, attempts to find middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism. It agrees with Arminians that God has middle knowledge (scientia media) of what humans would freely choose in all hypothetical situations, without God directly causing the choices. But it agrees with Calvinists that humans do not have complete libertarian freedom. God uses His knowledge to providentially order creation and circumstances without violating creaturely free will.

Prominent Molinists include William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, and Kenneth Keathley.

Open Theism

As mentioned earlier, open theism downplays the scope of God’s foreknowledge to argue for self-determined human freedom empowered to thwart God’s plans. God knows the future as possibilities and probabilities based on personal relationships, but not necessarily as settled facts. This exalts human free will while denying exhaustive divine foreknowledge.

Main advocates include Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, and William Hasker.

Key Points of Analysis and Discussion

Based on the biblical, philosophical, and theological survey above, here are some key points of analysis for further discussion:

God’s Omniscience and Human Freedom

One crux of the debate concerns what type of divine foreknowledge is compatible with creatures having a genuine “open” future? Theologians have proposed different categories of God’s knowledge to analyze this.

The Origin of Evil

If God ordains all events, does that make Him morally responsible for evil? Or can God have good purposes for allowing free creatures who commit evil acts? How one’s view interprets God’s level of control over free will impacts the problem of evil.

Divine Sovereignty and Scripture

Both sides quote Scriptural evidence for their view. How does one do justice to the texts indicating God’s meticulous sovereignty and other texts affirming human decisions that violate God’s will?

The Nature of God’s Relationships

Does God value genuine love relationships with creatures capable of reciprocal response? Or does He relate only to wholly dependent beings without libertarian freedom? How one defines the nature of God’s love impacts this discussion.

The Origins of Salvation

Is God’s choice to save people based solely on His own will (monergism), or does human faith initiate the saving response (synergism)? This issue likewise relates to God’s level of determinative control over free creatures.


In summary, there are thoughtful arguments on both sides of this issue that genuinely seek to be faithful to Scripture’s complex witness. As finite humans, we are unlikely to fully comprehend the interplay between God’s sovereignty and human freedom in this life. Sincere Christians can thoughtfully disagree on where they land regarding God’s level of determinative control over creaturely free will. Further humble study and dialogue focused on God’s revelation is needed to gain more clarity on this profound theological mystery.