(This paper was submitted to Dr. Bruce A. Ware for the class, "Models of Divine Providence")
How exactly does God work in the world? Answering this question can be and has been for all of history one of the most intimidating tasks known to man. First, one may ask if man is even capable of knowing how God works in the world. And if he is, how does he go about finding this out. The aim of this paper is to address these questions and many others that stem from the issue of God’s providence.
The issue of God’s providence in and of itself is very important. Regardless of one’s position on the issue, or how he or she thinks God interacts with the world, the issue itself is inherently an important one. For from this question we see people believing in extreme sides of the spectrum and everything in between. Some people believe in a fatalism where everything is determined and there is nothing they can do about it. Others hold to a deistic view where God is sitting back just waiting to see how everything unfolds. Then there are many positions between. And whether someone realizes it or not, the way he or she views God and His providence directly affects the way he or she lives, worships, and interacts with this world. This is precisely why we must carefully turn our focus to the Word of God for these answers above all other resources and philosophies.
One of the first Scriptures to consider when thinking about providence is Romans 11:33-36:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Before we can really have a thoughtful, faithful, and humble conversation about God’s providence, we must first acknowledge that it is foolish for man to try to get inside the mind of God. At the same time, God has revealed to us through his Word many things about His character, attributes, relation to man, and how He works in the lives of His people. Therefore, we must be cautious to not make any claims or statements that do not flow from the source of God’s inspired Word and align our doctrines and convictions with the whole counsel of Scripture.
What is God like?
I think it is funny how people are quick to thank God when something good happens, or to point out “divine appointments” when someone or something comes into our lives. Just by listening to many people talk about how God interacts in the world, one would think that He is just some old grandpa sitting in heaven who occasionally decides to do something to make our lives better. And of course, He would never bring about anything that might put us in danger or through testing or through a trial they say. In other words, we are quick to attribute the good things in life to God’s providential control, yet many people do not think He controls all things, good and evil. In fact, this brings about the question, who is regulating affairs in this world—God or the Devil? As A.W. Pink put it, “Many Christians think of God as having benevolent intentions, yet unable to carry them out; that He is desirous of blessing men, but that they will not let Him.” If this is the case, then as Pink says, “The Devil has gained the upper hand, and God should be pitied rather than worshiped.” These observations will be addressed later in this paper, but we must acknowledge them in order to see how people think of God. I do not know exactly why people view God this way in evangelical Christianity today, but I believe it is time we walk away from this view. We need to leave this unbiblical view of God and search the Scriptures to find out who God really is and how He works in this world and in our lives.
When considering the issue of divine providence, one of the first questions that must be raised is, what does all of this say about God himself? Who exactly is He? What is His character like? Why does He do the things He does? Scripture is full of evidence pertaining to the character and attributes of God concerning providence. As already noted, Romans 11:36 points out that all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him. This one verse already gives us three huge implications concerning God’s providence. First, that God brings about all things, or ordains them to happen. Second, He sustains all things and carries them out. Third, all things serve a purpose, ultimately being for His glory.
As we continue to look to the Scriptures, we see a God who is most concerned about His glory (Rom 9:22-23, Isa 42:8, Ps 19:1, Ezek 39:13, Acts 12:23, Rev 4:11). Scripture is clear that no matter what happens on this earth, God will get His glory that is due Him. Now, it is important to note here that God achieves His glory in a way that humans recognize because He is not only transcendent, but also immanent with His creation. God is self-existent outside of time and in fact transcends time. However, He chooses to act immanently with His creation. He protects and provides for His creation according to His will and purpose. He is merciful and His love endures forever (1 John 4:8, Ps 136:26, Exod 34:6, Deut 4:31). He is also holy, just, and wrathful (Isa 10, 5:16). We also learn that God is immutable in His character and essential attributes (Heb 13:8, Num 23:19, Mal 3:6), so we may know that He is faithful to do what He says He will do and to be who He says He will be. He rules over all kingdoms and nations (2 Chr 20:6, Ps 22:28). He knows when each sparrow falls and the number of hairs on our heads (Matt 10:29-30). He sustains all things (Col 1:17), and in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). What an amazing God! It is evident from the Scriptures that God is all-powerful, all knowing, and in control of all things. But we must not stop here in our endeavor to understand God’s providence, for many tough questions are yet to be addressed.
Before turning to the rest of the issues of providence, we must first look at God’s foreknowledge. In a way, everything else builds off of our understanding of this concept. I believe that Scripture teaches that God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge. It is clear in Isaiah 46:9-11 that God knows the future, but not only that, He purposes the future and guarantees that it will come to past. Notice starting in verse 9:
For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it (emphasis mine).
The open view of foreknowledge stands in direct contradiction with this passage. Open theists reject foreknowledge altogether because they refuse to let go of their libertarian freedom. They rightly assert that if God truly foreknows the entire future, then it is not possible for humans to have libertarian freedom. In other words, they say we must give up exhaustive definite foreknowledge because if we are truly free in the libertarian sense, God could not have known it. That much is true, but they do not seek out a biblical solution to this logical problem. Instead, they assert that God is learning from our actions as we commit them. God does not even know what He will do until things happen.
The Arminian view holds that God has both exhaustive definite foreknowledge (He knows exactly what humans will do), but also that humans have libertarian freedom (we may arbitrarily make any decision). As already noted above, this is not logically conceivable, as we will discuss in further detail in the next section of this paper. But for now, we must at least recognize that God’s foreknowledge is not like that of a fortune teller, in that He looks into a crystal ball to see what will happen. If God only saw what would happen and did not ordain it, He would only be able to predict the future and hope for the best. God would in fact be taking a risk by creating libertarian free creatures that could arbitrarily choose what they wanted to do. In order for God’s plans to come to past, He would have to get really lucky.
Now some would argue that God looked into the future, saw what man would do, and then made His plans accordingly. They would also say that He might intervene at any moment to make sure things go His way. Again, this argument is not sufficient to account for a true libertarian freedom. If God knows what will happen, then we can only do those actions that will bring about what He knows will happen. Human freedom can only be accounted for here within the context of the freedom of inclination, which we will discuss in more detail in the next section.
When discussing foreknowledge, the greatest concern should be that of the cross of Jesus Christ. Was Jesus’ death a reaction to what man did? Or did God foreordain in eternity past that God would send His Son to die? Acts 2:23 puts it very plainly, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” The mission of Jesus was determined in eternity past and guaranteed to happen.
Needless to say, I believe that when discussing foreknowledge we should consider the difference between God simply knowing something would take place and ordaining it or causing it to take place. To discuss this further, we must now focus on the compatibility of divine sovereignty with human freedom.
One of the greatest challenges when discussing God’s providence is determining how the exhaustive and meticulous divine sovereignty of God who foreknows everything and brings everything to past can be compatible with human freedom and responsibility. I do not claim to have all the answers to this challenge, but I believe Scripture is clear on many aspects of the issue. The Bible discusses the idea of human freedom, but we quickly see that our freedom must be limited in some sense. Some would argue that in order for the love of God to be genuine, that He would have to give us total freedom to make contra-causal or libertarian choices. How could an all-loving God not give His creatures total freedom to do as they please? As we have already seen from Scripture, God is most concerned with His glory and not the freedom of man. However, this is not to say that humans do not have any freedom at all. On the contrary, I argue that we do have a great freedom, but that freedom is in fact limited.
Before turning to the two different types of freedom, let us first consider several key passages on the issue. Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” Here we see that regardless of what man chooses to do, God’s purposes will not be thwarted. Consider what Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” We see here only but a hint of what we are to see in detail in the following discussion—namely, that our freedom is limited.
Two types of freedom
There are two types of freedom that we may choose from to believe. The first is libertarian freedom. This view of freedom is held by every model of providence except for the Reformed, or Calvinist model, including open theism, process theism, and Arminianism. Libertarian freedom states that, all things being equal and what they are in any given context, humans may choose A or non-A with no influence whatsoever. In other words, our choice to buy the brown sweater instead of the black sweater may be simply arbitrary. In this view of freedom, there does not have to be any influential desires to purchase black or brown. We can make decisions “on a whim” so to speak. Now we may recognize that this is a mundane example, but the logic follows with the most important of decisions. If humans are truly and totally free to make any decision, then how is God guaranteed that His plans and purposes will be accomplished? If this is our freedom, then God can only try to intervene at certain times and hope that we choose to do what He wants us to do. If we choose otherwise, then God is out of luck.
The alternative to libertarian freedom is compatibilist freedom, or the freedom of inclination. This view states that people make their choices based on their highest inclination or desire at that moment. In other words, people choose what they most want. This might seem simple, but let us examine the logical necessity of this view. To just say that we choose what we most want is not even close to explaining how this brings together divine sovereignty with human freedom. How is it that humans can choose what they most want, yet God still brings about His will and purposes? How could God bring about these “divine appointments” we often recognize? The answer is that God puts us in situations in which He knows what we will choose. By doing so, humans freely make choices based on their strongest desires and are held responsible even though God put them in a context to make their choice. On the outset, it is easy to stop and say, “Well, this isn’t true freedom! God is making me do these things by putting me in this context!” Let us consider the following example: A police unit has their eye on a drug dealer they are trying to catch. They stage a situation in which an undercover cop acts as a buyer. The drug dealer sells the drugs to the undercover cop and gets caught. Later, when being questioned at the jail, the drug dealer realizes it was staged. He exclaims, “This is not my fault! How can you charge me with this? I am innocent, for I did not know I was in this context!” Now first let me say that I realize this analogy is not completely parallel to God and us, and God is not like a police team trying to “catch” us doing something. However, the logic behind the situation still stands firm. The drug dealer is guilty. He freely chose to sell the drugs based on his desire to acquire more money. His desire for money was stronger than his desire to not get caught or break the law. Regardless of how his context came into existence, he sinned and is solely responsible.
A hypothetical example is not enough. What does Scripture have to say? Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” Here we see the truth that it is our heart that plans our way. It is the strongest desires of our own heart that prompt us to make our choices, yet it is God that establishes these steps. In other words, He establishes our steps by putting us in contexts that He knows we will choose based on our strongest desires of our heart. This is how God is working out His purposes and will! It is happening all around us, all the time, everywhere, in every human’s life. What comfort we may have in knowing that our God is sovereign and ruler of all things! That no man will thwart His plans!
However, we cannot stop here. Let us look further into Scripture for more clarification. In Acts 2:23, Peter is preaching at Pentecost. He says to his listeners, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” This is a great depiction of God’s sovereignty over world events and human responsibility for evil. We see here that God foreknew and foreordained the death of Jesus. However, Peter points out that “you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,” showing that man is held responsible.
Another aspect to consider of the freedom of inclination is how it pertains to believers and non-believers. I believe that before salvation, a person’s strongest desires of the heart are always and only sinful. Even if a non-believer helps a little old lady cross the street, or gives money to charity, his or her strongest desire is not to give God glory, but perhaps to glorify his or her self. Whatever the motive, it is not for the glory of the Gospel and Kingdom of God. Consider John 8:44, which accurately tells us of whom we serve and are like before regeneration, being Satan himself:
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
With this in mind, notice what Paul says in Romans 8:7-8, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” So we see here that before salvation, we cannot please God. Our strongest desires are always to disobey.
However, when we are saved, the Holy Spirit comes to reside within us and begins to sanctify us by cultivating godly desires (Rom 12:2). We then experience a struggle or battle between our flesh and Spirit. So here on earth as believers, we still act on our strongest desires of the heart. And whether these are godly desires or not depends on if we are walking by the flesh or in the Spirit (Gal 5:16). I believe this is exactly what Paul was talking about in Romans 7. His struggle only makes sense in the view of freedom of inclination. Even Jesus himself made choices based on His strongest desires. In the temptation story of Matthew 4, Jesus is tempted by the devil. Jesus did not give in to temptation because the strongest desires of His heart were to please the Father. I believe that even in heaven we will have the freedom of inclination. However, then the only thing holding us back from having godly desires will have been removed, that is, our flesh. So we still have free choice in heaven, it is just that we are no longer trapped in our flesh where evil and wicked desires originate. All of our desires will be godly, and we will freely choose to act on them.
Summary of freedom of inclination
We have now seen that it is possible for human freedom to be compatible with divine sovereignty through the freedom of inclination. God is working out His purposes by putting us in contexts in which He knows what we will choose based on our strongest desires, yet we freely choose in those contexts to act and are held responsible. This is very helpful in our understanding of how God works in the world, but it leaves the door open for perhaps the most difficult question of all: what about the problem of evil? How does evil play into these contexts and our choosing? Does God cause us to do evil?
Problem of Evil
Earlier in this discussion, I proposed the question, who is regulating affairs in this world—God or the Devil? This question is easy to answer when we are only concerned with good things in this world. However, when we consider evil things and why they exist, the question becomes much more difficult. We know for certain that Scripture teaches two key points that should serve as the basis of understanding evil: 1. God is good and holy and hates evil (Ps 11:5, 34:8, Jas 1:17). 2. Evil exists and is evident in our lives (John 8:44). So with the understanding that evil is real and God is only good, we now consider several passages of Scripture to try to sort this out.
First we must consider what many call “spectrum texts.” Bruce Ware defines spectrum texts as, “passages that indicate in sweeping language that God controls both sides of the spectrum of life’s occurrences, both those actions and events considered pleasant and good and those considered harmful and evil.” Some of these texts include but are not limited to, Deuteronomy 32:39, where God says He kills and makes alive. He wounds and He heals. We should also recognize 1 Samuel 2:6-7, Ecclesiastes 7:13-14, and Lamentations 3:37-38, where it is said that it is from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come. For a more detailed investigation, we may focus in on Isaiah 45:5-7 (emphasis mine):
I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.
Here we see that somehow God is in control and brings about good and evil. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this text is that the actual Hebrew word that calamity is used for is ra’, which means evil in the Hebrew language. So the Hebrew text literally reads, I create evil. At this point, we must come to a screeching halt in order to discern the meaning of this text, for this is indeed an astonishing statement. Our main objective is to be faithful to the Word of God, which means we cannot overlook certain passages just because we may feel uncomfortable with them. On the outset, one may say this text is contradictory to the fact that God is all good. Some would say this makes God the author of evil. I strongly disagree, and we now turn to discuss how God is in fact not the author of evil.
As made evident by these spectrum texts, we may at least conclude up to this point that God is in control of both good and evil. The question from this point forward is how so? Here we must acknowledge that God’s relation to good and evil is different. His relation to good and evil is asymmetrical. God relates to good in the sense that He directly causes good to happen. By controlling good, God is controlling that which comes from His very own nature. God breathes goodness. All good things come from Him and He only produces good (Jas 1:17, Ps 34:8-10).
God relates to evil in a totally different way. Evil cannot flow from his nature or out of His character. God hates evil, as we have already examined. He does not directly cause evil to occur. However, God does indirectly permit evil to happen. Bruce Ware puts it best:
In God’s control of evil through indirect-permissive agency, God’s own character and nature are separated from the evil that is done. This stands in stark contrast to the union of his character and nature to all good that is done by the control he exerts over good through his direct-causative agency. So, while God controls both good and evil, and his control of both is equal in force and measure, his control of evil is also strikingly different in quality and manner.
With this understanding of God’s relation to good and evil, we may make sense of several aspects of evil in the world. For instance, why did God create a world knowing that sin and evil would exist? With our understanding of God’s asymmetrical relation to good and evil, we may now see that the Fall of Man was necessary for grace and mercy to have any meaning. If evil and sin did not enter the world, then what place does grace and mercy belong? Without the context of sin, there is no need for grace, and without grace, there is no cross, and Jesus has no purpose.
What about human suffering? Does God ordain this as well? Notice what Jesus says in John 9:3 of the blind man, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The story of Job is another great example here. God ordained all of Job’s suffering in an indirect permissive fashion to ultimately bring about His glory and purposes. And needless to say, we see what happens when we question God’s reasoning and hidden purposes. God had a lengthy dialogue with Job, asking “Where were you when I created the world” (Job 38:4)? We are to see here that God’s purposes for suffering and evil in this world may not always be seen and understood. However, we do not question His ways. We simply trust in the all-sovereign and all loving God that He knows what is best.
The same may be said of the story of Joseph (Gen 50). Joseph’s brothers deliberately sinned and sold him into slavery. Years later, when Joseph confronted his brothers, he told them, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20). This is another prime example of how our loving God brings about His purposes. We may rest in the comfort of Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” So it is important to see here that God does ordain evil and allows it to happen in an indirect permissive way. However, He is only good and only good flows from Him. Despite the problem of evil, we may take comfort in our sovereign God who loves us (Ps 118:6-7, 27:3, 23:4).
Another important topic to consider when discussing God’s providence is prayer. Probably the most raised objection is that if God knows exactly what will happen and brings everything to past, then what is the point of prayer? Why pray if God has foreordained everything?
First we must see that we are simply commanded to pray (1 Thess 5:17, Matt 6:5-13). We could stop here and just acknowledge that we should obey Scripture and pray simply because of this reason. While this may be the case, I believe there are several other reasons why we should pray and that prayer is in fact compatible with divine sovereignty.
We must acknowledge that prayer honors God and is an act of worship. As we pray, we should acknowledge our dependency on God, and by doing so we are drawn into a more intimate relationship with Him. Prayer is also a way we exercise our faith. God may use prayer to sanctify us as we humble ourselves before Him. Prayer is also a way that God uses us as participants in His divine plans. Not only does God decree the ends, but He also decrees the means to those ends, and prayer is a means by which God accomplishes His purposes. So we become ministers of grace by praying.
A.W. Pink makes a good point by stating that prayer is not designed to inform God of what we need, rather it is designed as a “confession to Him of our sense of the need.” Therefore, we realize that prayer is not intended to change the purposes of God, but to acknowledge that we agree with God and are submitting to His purposes, even if they are unseen. We may take comfort in the fact that God has promised us many things, and therefore, we may ask with certain faith and assurance that He will do as He has promised.
What about John 16:23? This verse tells us that whatever we ask of the Father in Christ’s name, He will give it to us. We must be careful to not overlook what this verse is really telling us. We must read it in light of James 4:3 and 1 John 5:14. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” We see here that all prayers are not pleasing to God. 1 John 5:14 says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.” Thus, the important phrase to realize in John 16:23 is “in Christ’s name.” To pray in Christ’s name means to ask what Christ would ask the Father, which is “not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). As we have now seen, prayer is indeed efficacious and a very important part of every believer’s life. May our hearts be humbled, and may we always pray with a sense of submission to the will of God. “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
Lastly, we come now to one of the most debated aspects under the topic of God’s providence: salvation. I must first say that to give a detailed account of salvation in light of God’s providence is beyond the scope of this paper. Therefore, I will state and discuss only the general implications of salvation in relation to God’s providence.
The reason that salvation and God’s sovereignty is seen so often to be a problem of debate is probably because people do not look at salvation in light of the areas of providence we have already discussed. Specifically, the aspects of God’s character, foreknowledge, and human freedom are ignored. However, I would argue that it is salvation by Jesus Christ on the cross that is the very center of understanding God’s providence. Christ on the cross brings all of this together.
I noted earlier in this discussion that Romans 11:36 informs us that all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him, for His glory. This would also include salvation, right? Of course! Ephesians 2:8 tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Immediately here we see that this verse indeed tells us something about the salvation situation, but it also tells us something about God. He is a giving God. What is he giving? He is giving us faith, grace, and salvation. In order for us to understand the magnitude and graciousness of this gift, we must first realize how undeserving of it we are. Romans 5:12 tells us that sin entered the world through one man, Adam, and we have all inherited this sin problem. Psalm 14:3 tells us that we have all become corrupt and that no one does good, no one at all. Romans 3:23 informs us that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So we see from these texts that humans are in a really bad predicament from our very beginning. We are prone to sin, and we have all not given God glory. This implies that we are all deserving of punishment, does it not? Therefore, when we realize our depraved condition, we see even more the magnitude of the fact that God would so graciously save us from this condition by sending His Son to die in our place.
The greatness of God’s providence is seen in this and yet another aspect of Ephesians 2:8. This verse tells us that God is a gracious and giving God, but it also tells us something about humans. This salvation is not of your own doing. It is impossible for us to attain salvation on our own. Without God intervening, left on our own, we will continue down the road to death and eternal punishment, which is exactly what we deserve.
With this understanding, we may now see how Jesus Christ on the cross is the centerpiece of history and all of God’s providential workings. All of the attributes of God that we discussed earlier are seen in their most magnificent state in Jesus on the cross. Recall that we learned that God is most concerned with His glory. Jesus on the cross was the greatest display of God’s glory ever. However, in order for Christ’s death to be significant, and in order for God’s grace to have any meaning, it must be set on the backdrop of evil and sin. If evil did not exist, then Jesus no longer has a reason to die, and grace has no meaning or value. Therefore, as we have already seen, just as God foreordained Jesus’ death, He also foreordained evil to exist.
With this in mind, a brief word may be said about human freedom and salvation as well. If Christ’s death was foreordained, with our given understanding of human freedom of inclination that is compatible with God’s sovereignty, we may accurately conclude from Scripture that God had to choose us for salvation and change our desires. For unless God intervenes, we will continue acting on our strongest desires, which before salvation, are only to disobey and rebel against God (Ps 53:3, Rom 3:23, John 8:44). Then when God brings us to salvation, our hearts are changed, and the Holy Spirit starts to cultivate godly desires in us.
What a beautiful God. May we forever be thankful to our Father for sending His Son to die so that we do not have to face the punishment of sin that we so rightly deserve.
With all of the philosophical aspects and theological terminology of God’s providence, it may seem overwhelming to try to gain any practical application from this discussion. However, I believe there is much practical application for our daily lives that may be understood from the providence and sovereignty of God.
In order to gain practical understanding of all of this, we must look from “God’s view looking down,” so to speak, rather than “man’s view looking up.” A.W. Pink says of this,
Begin with the world as it is today and try to work back to God, and everything will seem to show that God has no connection with the world at all. But begin with God and work down to the world, and light, much light, is cast on the problem.
Of course this has been the goal of this paper from the very beginning—to begin with God and work our way down. We must first realize that this is essential for us as believers to do in order to understand the practicality of these issues.
First, a true recognition of God’s providence as discussed in this paper should bring us to a humble submission before an all powerful God, causing us to deny our own selfish will, and accept the divine will of God. It puts us in our proper place as creatures before the Creator. We come to realize that we are merely human, incapable of anything good apart from Christ. So when we recognize these truths about God, we live with a humble Spirit before our Creator, affirming that He knows what is best for us.
Second, this view of providence should cultivate a godly fear in us. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Our sovereign God is one to be feared. We are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). This is a healthy fear that recognizes the majesty and holiness of God, an all powerful Being that is just in His judgment of sinners. With this kind of reverent fear, we will be compelled to live a more obedient life, striving to please Him, realizing our sinfulness in light of His holiness.
Third, building on the humble attitude and godly fear that will be cultivated in us, our lives should be characterized by adoring worship of God. The importance and priority of the things of God should become the center of our lives. Jesus Christ is seen as the centerpiece of redemptive history, and everything else in the world begins to make more sense in light of this. This should compel us to live every day with a worshipful, conscious recognition of our loving Father who so graciously takes care of His children (Rom 8:28). He is deserving of our worship and glory is due Him.
Fourth, as believers we should truly begin to understand what James 1:2-4 means. These verses tell us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Life is difficult. It is filled with pain, suffering, evils of all kind, and our faith is tested every day. However, as children of the Most High God, we may know what true peace and joy really is. As we learn more about God and earnestly seek Him, He will give us wisdom to see this life in its truest reality. He will establish our steps (Prov 16:9) and test our faith, all along cultivating in us a godly submission, reverent heart, and a steadfast perseverance to become complete, lacking nothing (Jas 1:4). We are not promised that our lives will be easy. We must affirm that God is more concerned with our character than our comfort, and He is always shaping us into who He wants us to be. If we acknowledge and believe the biblical view of the providence and sovereignty of God, we will truly learn that all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him, for His glory (Rom 11:36). Being conscious of this, may we count it all joy, knowing that He is in control.
As Scripture has so evidently revealed, our God is a great God, and is worthy to be praised. His ways will not be thwarted, and His glory He will not give to another (Isa 48:11). May we join with the psalmist in proclaiming His guidance, care, and protection: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps 23:4a). With our knowledge of these aspects of God’s providence, and with the guidance of His Word and Spirit, may we continue to live lives that are humble, worshipful, fearful, and obedient to our Father God and His Son Jesus Christ, for the glory of His name in whom we live and breathe and have our being.
Baugh, S. M. Still Sovereign. Edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware. Grand Rapids:
Calvin, John. The Institutes of Christian Religion. Edited by Tony Lane. Grand Rapids: Baker,
Cottrell, Jack. What the Bible Says About God the Ruler. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1984.
Helm, Paul. The Providence of God: Contours of Christian Theology. Downers Grove, IL:
Pink, Arthur W. The Sovereignty of God. Rev. ed. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1961.
Pinnock, Clark H. Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness. Grand Rapids: Baker,
Pittenger, Norman. God’s Way With Men. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1969
Sproul, R. C. Chosen By God. Wheaton: Tyndale, 1986
Steele, David. N., and Thomas, Curtis C. The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended,
Documented. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1963.
Tiessen, Terrance. Providence and Prayer. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
Ware, Bruce A. God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith.
Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.
White, James. The Sovereign Grace of God. Lindenhurst, NY: Reformation Press, 2003.
For more on fatalism, see Terrance Tiessen, Providence and Prayer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 271-85.
This is, of course, from my own experiences and conversations with people concerning God. Many people have referred to Him as “the old man upstairs” when discussing God with me.
Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 36.
For an in depth look at the meaning of foreknowledge, see James White, The Sovereign Grace of God (Lindenhurst, NY: Reformation Press, 2003), 141-48; S.M. Baugh, Still Sovereign, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 183-202.
Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 32.
Jack Cottrell, What the Bible Says About God the Ruler (Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock, 1984), 161-228.
Paul Helm, The Providence of God: Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 39-44.
We have not examined this claim yet, but we will see the argument for it in the following pages.
This is the question raised by most every model including the open, process, and Arminian models of providence. For more on this view, see Cottrell, What the Bible Says About God the Ruler; Pinnock, Most Moved Mover; Norman Pittenger, God’s Way With Men (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1969).
It is important to note here that I believe God is in fact the only being with total unlimited freedom.
For more on the open model view of freedom, see Pinnock, Most Moved Mover, 65-152; For more on the process model view of freedom, see Pittenger, God’s Way With Men, 71-100; For more on the Arminian model view of freedom, see Cottrell, What the Bible Says About God the Ruler, 161-228.
I first heard this illustration in class as part of a lecture by Bruce Ware.
For a better explanation of the Hebrew usage in this text, see Ware, God’s Greater Glory, 71-72.
See John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion, ed. Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 76.
Pink, The Sovereignty of God, 113-21.
The point of this section is to show the divine sovereignty in salvation, rather than listing steps or meticulous points concerning the process of salvation, such as the five points of Calvinism, to which I affirm. For more on God’s sovereignty in the salvation process, see R.C. Sproul, Chosen By God (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1986); David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1963); Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion, especially sections concerning salvation and human depravity; James White, The Sovereign Grace of God, 65-84.
For more on this topic, see Sproul, Chosen By God.
Helm, The Providence of God, 215. It should also be noted that much insight was gained as to Jesus’ role when considering the foreordaining of evil and sin from the lectures of Bruce Ware.
Pink, The Sovereignty of God, 123-36.
Ware, God’s Greater Glory, 173.