This is truly an important question to address. Recently, I read the following statement in a devotional: God is sovereign, meaning God is in complete control of everything. I think most believers in God would tend to agree with this statement, especially since we have heard preachers make similar declarations. However, I believe there is a big difference in God being “sovereign” and in God being “in control.”
There is actually a significant distinction between these two terms “sovereign” and “control” that needs clarification. When you consider the attributes of God “control” is not one of them, but “sovereignty” definitely is. Here is an example to help clarify: Canada is commonwealth nation and as such recognizes the Queen as sovereign, yet she is not really part of the government that rules (controls) the country. Interestingly, to call an election though, government leaders have to first meet the the representative of the Sovereign or the Lieutenant Governor. In essence, while the Queen is sovereign, she’s not in a position of controlling policy or the everyday affairs of governing.
Here is another example: Consider the command of a naval ship; the command is vested in the Commanding Officer (CO) for the direction and control of the ship. The CO retains this authority at all times. Control is the authority that is vested in the CO to give orders pertaining to the operations of the ship. Obviously, because of human limitations, the CO may delegate charge and control of some particular aspects of the ships operations to one or more officers (such as Executive Officer or Officer On Watch), but the CO always retains command. Now this is certainly a human example, but it can help bring an understanding to this issue of control. The CO is always in command (sovereign), but at times delegates control of the ship, which in no way reduces his authority. In the same manner God is always sovereign, but delegating control (to man) does not reduce his authority over the earth.
Think about creation when man was made in God’s image: man was given charge, dominion, authority to rule the earth. There is no doubt that God (the Commanding Officer), gave the earth to mankind (see Gen. 1:26 & Psalm 115:16b). Now let’s be clear, “the earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1) and He remains sovereign over the earth despite man having received dominion over the earth. Control is different than sovereignty.
In my last blog, I quoted 1 John 5:19 in reference to the story of Dunkirk because it can be most difficult to believe that God is in control while some people were rescued from the shores while others who were just as loved died on the beach. The verse says this: “we know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one.” This is a very important verse and one that many struggle to understand: the world we live in, is now actually controlled by the the evil one. Yet God is sovereign and in still in command.
Interestingly, whenever a CO delegates control, the CO also indicates: the aspects delegated, the duration for which control is delegated, and the limits which apply to the delegation. Now, consider the story of Job, when the ‘evil one’ comes to God about Job, God (CO) grants control but speaks to the aspects, the duration and applies limits. How many times have we held God responsible for things that happened, when in fact, it was an act of the evil one, or even consequences of our own actions? We know the end of Job’s story, God remained sovereign (in command), but delegated control for a limited time. In fact, the LORD gave him twice as much as before!
The whole issue of sovereignty vs. control can be beyond our human comprehending. Hopefully, this explanation is helps us understand that when we are faced with difficult circumstances, and things seem completely out of control, we can still trust God Who is sovereign.