In light of last week’s sermon on God’s providence (from Ecclesiastes 3:1-15), I’ve written a couple of blog posts this week unpacking this massive and important topic. In the first, I argued that the claim that God is providentially working, ordaining, bringing about “all things according to the counsel of his will,” is ultimately grounds for great comfort, hope and worship.
In the second, I considered God’s heart or disposition or motivation behind what he ordains, and specifically, that he does “not coldly and dispassionately mete out joys and sorrows, comforts and afflictions, with the same heart, disposition, purpose and delight through it all.” As Lamentations 3:33 says, “he does not afflict from his heart.” When he brings affliction, it is always towards a greater, more satisfying end.
Today, we will consider the role of human responsibility within God’s providence, or purposeful sovereignty. Perhaps it is most helpful to first consider what God, through Scripture, does not say, and what we should not say.
Scripture does not say: Your decisions and actions are not real decisions and actions, and are therefore meaningless.
Scripture does not say: It doesn’t matter what you do, because God has providentially arranged everything beforehand.
Scripture does not say: You are not responsible for your decisions and actions. In fact, you can blame God for them.
While you or I might take the biblical truth of God’s all-encompassing providence to mean any of these things, that would be faulty and unbiblical logic on our part. In fact, Scripture makes it quite clear that our decisions and actions are real, that they matter, and that we will be held responsible for them.
We see this in Acts 2:23, which we considered in the sermon: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
Despite Jesus’ death not being an accident of history but the “definite plan…of God,” the men who killed him weren’t let off the hook. They were “lawless” and responsible in this event. They made the real and meaningful decision to kill Jesus. And we see this same point being made all over Scripture (Gen. 50:20, Ex. 7:13, 2 Sam. 12:9-12).
Furthermore, to come to the conclusion that our decisions and actions aren’t real and meaningful and don’t ultimately matter would be to empty of any meaning the many calls and commands and invitations of Scripture: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31), “whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (Jn. 6:37), “Go…and sin no more” (Jn. 8:11).
No, rather than to go beyond Scripture and attempt to understand what God hasn’t revealed (and in the end, end up contradicting Scripture), we are left in a place of mystery and trust.
John Piper writes,
“What sustains us…is not our ability to explain God’s providence, but the unshakable fact of God’s providence. And that fact will sustain us to the degree that we believe that nothing—absolutely nothing—can happen to us but ‘by God’s fatherly hand.’ This is why stories of God’s providence abound in Scripture, but explanations of the mystery of how it works do not. Our faith needs the certainty of the fact, not the fathoming of the mystery.”
To sum up this and the other posts: While the biblical truth of God’s all-encompassing providence leaves us with questions, it also, when we accept it, leaves us with a comfort and peace and strength and hope found no where else.
And thus we must not, as is so easy to do, wait till all our questions are resolved before accepting it. This does not mean we can’t wrestle with it and seem more understanding. But it does mean we don’t put trust on hold until all tension and mystery is resolved.
For further reading on this topic, I suggest:
The Bible. No really, I don’t mean this sarcastically. If you read the Bible looking for evidence of God’s providence, and the comfort and strength it brings, you will find it everywhere.
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, by J.I. Packer. Short, very readable book, in my top-5 list of books.
Providence, by John Piper. His magnum opus. At 711 pages, this is something you read a bit at a time. But in true John Piper fashion, it is accessible and loaded with Scripture.