“All the Father Has Given Me”: Election and Evangelism in the Gospel of John

anthony-garand-498443-unsplashJesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
— John 6:35–37 —

If the book of John is the most evangelistic Gospel—or at least, if it is the one most often lifted from the canon and given as an evangelistic tract—it is also the Gospel with the greatest emphasis on God’s sovereignty to open blind eyes to the person and work of Christ. For instance, the whole message of the man born blind (John 9) identifies the way God intended his blindness for his glory. That is, through his blindness, God would glorify his Son in the miracle of healing, such that the healing miracle revealed the blindness of the Pharisees and the promise sight for the blind.

In fact, throughout John’s Gospel we find instances of those in the dark coming into light, and the supposed enlightened ones (think Nicodemus) proving their darkness. These themes of light and darkness highlight the sovereignty of God who both creates light and darkness (see Isaiah 45:7). Still, the most evident examples of God’s sovereignty in John’s Gospel relate to the way he grants life  and salvation to one group of people, but not another. Indeed, for all the places John invites readers to believe in Christ, he equally insists that no one can come, believe, or receive the gift of salvation unless God sovereignly enables them. Continue reading

Why Divine Sovereignty Secures Human Responsibility: A Theological Reading of Exodus

clayIt is often argued that God’s absolute sovereignty disables or demotivates human responsibility. But I contend it is just the opposite: a biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty secures and strengthens human responsibility. In fact, the more we see how God’s sovereign actions work in human history, the more reason we have to trust God and move out in faith.

Much confusion exists between fatalism and biblical predestination. In the former, the world is mechanistic and impersonal, God will do what he is going to do, end of story; in the latter, God in his love is at work to bring all things together for his glory and his people’s good. To be sure, God is going to do what he wants (see Psalm 115:3; 135:6), but this is good news, not bad.

When understood according to God’s Word, God’s meticulous and exhaustive sovereignty is not a reason for despair or distrust. Rather, as we will see from Exodus, God’s predestined and pre-communicated control of events is the very foundation needed to walk in humble obedience to God and his commands.

Promise and Fulfillment in Exodus Evidences the Sovereignty of God

All of Scripture follows the pattern of promise and fulfillment. Since the Fall, God has made one promise after another. He has bound these promises in covenants. And he has bound himself to fulfilling his covenanted word (see Hebrews 6:13–20). We see this is large ways, as the protoevangelion in Genesis 3:15 directs all of redemptive history until all the subsequent promises of redemptive history are fulfilled in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). And we see this in smaller ways, like God’s promise to Sarai that this time next year she will have a son (see Genesis 18). From Luke’s perspective, all that was ever promised by God has been fulfilled in Christ (Acts 13:32–33). Hence, human faithfulness is undergirded by God’s faithfulness, which is to say human responsibility stands upon the sure, sovereign word of God.

In Exodus, a book that introduces the way God brings salvation to his people,  we can see how God’s promises are fulfilled, and how his sovereignty is more than helpful for human responsibility—it is necessary. More than five times, we find in Exodus Moses making the connection that what God said he would do, he has done. And thus, his people are meant to find confidence in Yahweh because of this, which in turn leads to greater trust and obedience. Let me mention each promise-fulfillment in Exodus, draw a couple points of application along the way, and show why God’s absolute sovereignty is good news for our faithful obedience to him. Continue reading

Eternal Security and Common Grace: Two Doctrinal Lessons from Acts 27

boatWhen Paul was taken to Rome, Luke describes the harrowing sea journey to Italy in Acts 27. Embarking on a ship from Adramyttium, a seaport in Asia Minor (v. 2), Paul crossed the Mediterranean. From Myra (v. 5), Paul and his guard found passage on a ship of 276 men, complete with many other soldiers (v. 31) and prisoners (v. 42). While Paul doubted the safety of the journey, based on the time of year (vv. 9–10), the centurion and the majority of the crew decided to head out (vv. 11–12).

This perilous journey sets up the dramatic events at sea, the near drowning of the passengers, and the eventual sinking of the ship. Verse 13 begins with gentle breezes as the ship sets sail, but all turns stormy in verses 14. Verses 14–20 recount the evasive actions taken by the crew (e.g., turning the ship out of the wind, lowering the gear, jettisoning cargo), and verses 21–26 introduces Paul’s “I told you so” coupled with gracious promise from the Lord.

21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”

In these words, we find two doctrinal lessons—the first, an illustration of eternal security as Paul later tells the passengers they must remain on the boat to receive “salvation.” In Acts 27, salvation (defined as the preservation of life) is secured by means. Thus, it serves as handy illustration of how God provides eternal security through God-provided means. Or as Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday explain in their book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance, “Acts 27 illustrates well the fact that exhortations and warnings are a signficant means by which God moves humans to act so that his promises to them will be fulfilled” (212). This is the first illustration, well covered Schreiner and Caneday (pp. 209–212).

The second doctrinal lesson pertains to God’s common grace and the variety of ways grace is conveyed to unbelievers through the lives of Christians. I will consider this below. Continue reading

Is God the Author of Sin?

stormIs God the author of sin?

This question has been asked often in the history of Christian doctrine. Some theologians, ostensibly embarrassed by God’s absolute sovereignty and what that means for sin deny his total control of the universe.  For instance, open theist Gregory Boyd writes,

Jesus nor his disciples seemed to understand God’s absolute power as absolute control. They prayed for God’s will to be done on earth, but this assumes that they understand that God’s will was not yet being done on earth (Mt. 6:10). Hence neither Jesus nor his disciples assumed that there had to be a divine purpose behind all events in history. Rather, they understood the cosmos to be populated by a myriad of free agents, some human, some angelic, and many of them evil. The manner in which events unfold in history was understood to be as much a factor of what these agents individually and collectively will as it was a matter of what God himself willed. (God at War:The Bible and Spiritual Conflict53)

By contrast, others like Augustine of Hippo (5th C.), John Calvin of Geneva (16th C.), and Jonathan Edwards of New England (18th C.) have affirmed that God who never does evil still permits, decrees, and even employs evil so that his larger purposes of grace and glory might be accomplished.  On this Edwards says in his treatise on The Freedom of the Will,

If by Author of Sin, be meant the Sinner, the Agent, or the Actor of Sin, or the Doer of a wicked thing; so it would be a reproach, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin. . . . But if, by Author of Sin, is meant the permitter, or not a hinder to Sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow: I say, if this be all that is ment, by being the Author of Sin, I do not deny that God is the Author Sin, (though I dislike and reject the phrase, as that which by use and custom is apt to carry another sense) it is not reproach for the Most High to be thus the Author of Sin.” (p. 246).

Rightly, God is not evil and thus in his creative agency cannot do evil. Yet, in his divine sovereignty over time and space, he can “permit,” “ordain,” and even “author” sin in a way analogous to the way Shakespeare blamelessly authored the death of Macbeth. An author is not morally culpable for writing into their script the acts of evil men—whether fictitious (as in the case of Shakespeare) or real (as in the case of our Triune God). Therefore, since God did declare the end from the beginning (Isa 46:9–10), he wrote into the Script—what theologians call “his will of decree”—a world created inestimably good, ruined by sin, restored by his Son. Continue reading

Our Sovereign God

sovereign

Compatibilism is the term of choice for how God’s absolute sovereignty rules in the universe without stripping man’s responsibility to choose and make decisions that have real, live consequences. Like ‘Trinity,’ ‘inerrancy,’ and ‘homoousia,’ compatibilism is not a ‘Bible word,’ but it summarizes what the Bible teaches about God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

Today, I want to look at a sampling of Scriptures to help explain how the Bible talks about God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. To begin with, it might be helpful to state exactly what compatibilism is. Here is D. A. Carson’s definition from his book on suffering: How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil.

(1) God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in such a way that human responsibility is curtailed, minimized, or [negated].

(2) Human beings are morally responsible creatures—[we] significantly choose, rebel, obey, believe, defy, make decisions… but this characteristic never functions so as to make God absolutely contingent.­[1]

With this definition in place, lets consider from Scripture how the Bible describes the relationship between God’s exhaustive, meticulous sovereignty and man’s freedom to choose.  Continue reading

Between Darkness and Light: The Lord Who Ordained the Darkness

On Monday, we observed seven ways in which the setting for Christ’s birth was full of darkness.  Today, we will continue to look at the birth of Christ, but now from the angle that it was the Lord who creates light and darkness (Isa 45:7) that brought about the darkness so that the light of Christ might be ever more brilliant. Notice how in each of these instances, God is the sovereign author behind the darkness.

1. God is the only free person in the universe.  Our free will is limited and confined by innumerable factors; location, money, knowledge, and most importantly spiritual life effect our freedom. Not so God, nothing inhibits him.  He is in heaven and he does as he pleases (Ps 115:3).  Since Malachi, he chose to be silent.  No one muffled his voice. Conversely, God is never forced to speak, and so the spiritual darkness of the Intertestamental Period is a result of God’s free choice.

There is a lesson in this. God does not create darkness, so much as he pulls back the light.  In this case, the spiritual darkness is not something God speaks into existence; it is his intentional lack of speech.  This is often how God controls calamity and evil.  He never does evil, but he will permit evil men or evil spirits freedom to act according to their natures.  This is different from every aspect of goodness in the world—in that God is the active speaker.

2. God put Israel under Roman rule.  Israel’s captivity was in God’s full control.  As the one who raises exalts and humbles nations (cf. Ps 33:10-11; Isa 40:15, 17, 22-23), God placed Israel in the darkest period of their history.  This was in part due to his judgment upon their idolatry; this was in part to prepare the way for Jesus; and this was in part preparing the way for the gospel to travel along the Roman roads. Israel could not see it at the time.  Neither could the Roman Emperors.  But one major reason why Rome flourished as it did was because God himself was building the infrastructure necessary for the message of the gospel to travel.

I wonder if we think like that?  Do we think that giftedness of men like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates was only for their Silicon Valley companies? No, even though men like them may deny the Lord, God gifts them so that their innovations and productivity can be used for the advancement of the gospel.  This is how God works in history.  One way that advances in technology are being picked up and used for the gospel ministry is found in the ministry of Mark Overstreet and T4 Global ministries.

3. Even in the case of the false religions in Israel, it was God who permitted it.  His spiritual absence, created a vacuum where all kinds of Jewish religions rose up.  Many in Israel, instead of simply trusting God’s word—like Mary, Joseph, Anna, Simeon—came up with all kinds of contrived ways to gain God’s favor—Pharisees, Saducees, Essenes, Zealots were all human solutions to the spiritual and political problems of the day.

4. It was God’s eternal intention to bring Jesus into the world through a virgin.  In order for God to take on flesh, a natural union could not take place.  The virgin birth is necessary, because without it Jesus could in no way be divine and human.  So from Isaiah 7:14 on (maybe even before if you read Genesis 3:15 as promising a virgin birth), God’s word predicted that a virgin would give birth to a child.  Isaiah 9 explains the kind of child this would be—one born in darkness who would bring light, one that would bring peace, the kind that would never be taken away.  Thus, the near divorce of Mary, the isolation from her family, the insults from strangers, and the lifelong accusations that Jesus mother incurred was God’s doing!  God blessed Mary by afflicting Mary with this child.  He does the same in our lives, too (2 Cor 1:3-7).

5. In order to fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies, God moved Mary and Joseph by way of Caesar’s census.  There is great irony in God’s redemptive story.  In this case, it is a king who takes count of his kingdom, all the while the king of kings comes with no accounting from the world (John 1:9-11).  In Caesar’s census, this mighty king thought that he was proving his power to the world.  But really, he was taking a census because God wanted to move two people from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  The prophecy in Micah 5:2 needed to be fulfilled, and God used the mightiest man and the world as a pawn, in order to bring his scepter-wielding Son into the world in the right place.

There are so many lessons in this.  For one thing, what we think is important in our lives, may be the most meaningless thing that we do.  Likewise, what the world deems as important may not be.  The way God works in history should free us from the approval of men, and should recalibrate our lives to live for his purposes. After all history is His Story, and the only lasting part we have is what comes from him.

6. Mary and Joseph’s poverty was ordained by God, so that it would accentuate the gift of the wise men. Matthew 2:10-11 records the exceeding joy of the wise men, and how when they found the babe, they offered gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  But these are not just gifts like we give on Christmas morning, they are sacrifices of praise. Matthew records that these travelers came from a far to worship the king of kings.

And the gifts they give are significant.  For one, it is likely that the gifts would finance the travels that Jesus’ family would make to Egypt in the coming months.  But even more significant, they fulfill prophecy.  In Isaiah 60, the great prophet gives an oracle describing the nations coming to worship at God’s dwelling place, and it just so happens that Isaiah develops the them of light coming into the darkness–darkness ordained by God, so the light of the world would be perceived by all nations.  Listen to what Isaiah says in verses 1-6

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, young camels of Midian & Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold & frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD.

The picture of light dawning on God’s Holy Dwelling Place includes men (and women) coming from the nations, bowing down before the Lord, and offering gifts.

7. Finally, even the killing of the infants was part of God’s plan.  Oh, don’t misunderstand.  God is not the cause of such evil.  He is never tempted to do evil, nor does he ever do evil.  However, that is to say that in his blameless holiness, he has not ordained evil to be done.  Just think of the murder of Jesus on the cross, Acts 2:23 and 4:27-28 records that this was God’s plan and purpose.  So, according to God’s inspired word, do we find that God blamelessly ordains the slaughter of infants, such that all that Herod does is according to the  Script that was given to him.

To say it another way: Herod is not acting outside of God’s jurisdiction.  Oh yes, he is breaking God’s commandment—thou shall not kill.  But in another way, he is fulfilling the will of God. Like Satan in the book of Job, Herod only does what God permits him to do. He is on God’s leash, and cannot extend his hand any further than God allows. Like the lying spirit in 1 Kings 22, the one that God sent out to deceive Ahab, king of Israel—God does not lie, but apparently he does send out lying spirits.  In the same way, Herod does what is in his nature to do—to deceive, manipulate, and kill.

Still unsure?  Consider the fact that Matthew shows us that Herod’s fanatical attack on the children in Bethlehem actually fulfills Scripture, and thus at the same time that Herod is breaking God’s will, he is in another sense fulfilling God’s unfailing Word. Matthew 2:16-18 records,

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

In the end, the fulfillment of this prophecy shows how dark the period was.  Israel’s sin brought God’s judgment, and thus they lived in gloomy darkness.  Yet, in his covenant love, he had not abandoned his elect people.  Rather, he was quietly working behind the scenes to bring his Son into the world.  The birth narrative of Jesus shows us this, and as we will see in our next installment how God’s light shines brightest when it is contrasted with the darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

God is a Wise Lover: A Helpful Illustration from R. L. Dabney on the Wisdom and Benevolence of God

In his Systematic Theology, 19th C. theologian, R.L. Dabney, provides two helpful illustrations explaining how our infinitely good God can at times, for reasons left unknown to us, constrain the excellencies of his love for purposes of greater good. In the first illustration, he writes,

“For instance a philanthropic man meets a distressed and destitute person. The good man is distinctly conscious in himself of a movement of sympathy tending towards a volition to give the sufferer money. But he remembers that he has expressly promised all the money now in his possession, to be paid this very day to a just creditor. The good man bethinks himself, that he “ought to be just before he is generous,” and conscience and wisdom counterpoise the impulse of sympathy; so that it does not form the deliberate volition to give alms. But the sympathy exists, and it is not inconsistent to give other expression to it. We must not ascribe to that God whose omniscience is, from eternity, one infinite, all embracing intuition, and whose volition is as eternal as His being, any expenditure of time in any process of deliberation, nor any temporary hesitancy or uncertainty, nor any agitating struggle of feeling against feeling. But there must be a residuum of meaning in the Scripture representations of His affections, after we have guarded ourselves duly against the anthropopathic forms of their expression.

Hence, we ought to believe, that in some ineffable way, God’s volition, seeing they are supremely wise, and profound, and right, do have that relation to all His subjective motives, digested by wisdom and holiness into the consistent combination, the finite counterpart of which constitutes the rightness and wisdom of human volition. I claim, while exercising the diffidence proper to so sacred a matter, that this conclusion bears us out at least so far. That, as in a wise man, so much more in a wise God, His volition, or express purpose, is the result of a digest, not of one, but of all the principles and considerations bearing on the case. Hence it follows, that there may be in God an active principle felt by Him and yet not expressed in His executive volition in a given case, because counterpoised by other elements of motive, which His holy omniscience judges ought to be prevalent.”[1]

In this way, Dabney offers a plausible explanation of the way God’s manifold perfections may check his omnipotent love.  Some may revolt at such a display of God, but I think it preserves God’s unfathomable wisdom, his holy nature, and his absolute deity, that is over and above our own understanding.
God is God and we worship him truly only when we marvel at the depth of riches, wisdom, and knowledge.  As Paul exclaimed,
“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” (Rom 11:34-36).
Soli Deo Gloria, dss

[1] R.L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (1878; reprint: Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985), 530.

Responsibly Submitting to God’s Sovereignty

I was not convinced of God’s “exhaustive, meticulous sovereignty” (to borrow Bruce Ware’s phrase) until September 11, 2001.  I had been wrestling with the matter all summer.  Conversations piled up.  Readings on God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility proliferated.  I had entered the summer as an ignorant open theist, had been confronted by a number of friends who argued from the whole counsel of Scripture for God’s unerring and unswerving sovereignty, and by the fall I was theoretically convinced of God’s perfect control of the world (cf Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Job 42:2; Isaiah 46:9-11; Daniel 4:34-35; Ephesians 1:10; Revelations 4:11).

But to turn theory into embrace took something more.  It took two terrorist planes slamming into New York’s Twin Towers to convince my heart of the matter that “God Reigns,” and that I am not in control of my life, any more than I can control the events in NYC.

Thinking back on that infamous day, I will never forget walking up the stairs into my dorm.  I had spent the morning glued to the television watching the horror unfold in New York.  Ascending the steps, I remember telling a friend, “Unless God is totally sovereign, I do not know how to make sense of that act of terror.”

I don’t know why in that moment, the Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart the conviction of God’s sovereignty, but I can mark it to that day, that God, in his sovereign grace, invaded my heart with a love for his divine control. I submitted to his sovereignty.

Such a reaction to the claims of God’s sovereignty are not uncommon.  Many Christians I have spoken to have articulated a similar journey–from arguing against God’s sovereignty to embracing it as one of their greatest comforts.

Marking his own journey towards sovereign submission, Jonathan Edwards writes:

From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty…. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God….

But never could I give an account, how, or by what means, I was thus convinced, not in the least imagining at the time, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit in it; but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections.

And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, in respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense…. I have often since had not only a conviction but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so (Jonathan Edwards, “Personal Narrative,” in Jonathan Edwards: Representative Selections, ed. C. H. Faust and T. H. Johnson [New York: Hill & Wang, 1962], 58–9; quoted in John Piper, Desiring God [Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003], 38).

I suspect that anyone who arrives at delighting in God’s sovereignty, did not do so naturally.  It was aided by the Spirit of God and prompted his Word, a revelation that is filled with inescapable claims of God’s complete control.

Consider just a few: The Bible speaks of all creation existing under his and being sustained by his powerful word (Job 38-39; Psalm 135:5-7; Acts 17:27-28; Heb 1:1-2), kings and individuals are directed by God’s invisible but omnipotent hand (Prov 16:9; 21:1; Dan 4:34-35), nations, good and evil alike, accomplish his intended,though often unintelligible, purposes (Psalm 33:10-11; Isaiah 10:5ff; Habbakuk 2:1ff), and that every roll of the dice at the river boat bounces as God intends (Prov 16:33).  All things happen according to his will (Eph 1:11).  Even the world’s greatest evil–like September 11–is mysteriously governed by God (Isa 45:7; Lam 3:37-38), in a way preserves God’s absolute innocence and purity (James 1:13) and yet maintains that even the gravest tragedy will be turned for good (Rom 8:28; cf. consider the unlawful murder of Jesus, ordained by God before the foundation of the world, Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; 1 Peter 1:19-20).

Even with the testimony of Scripture mounting, embracing God’s sovereignty grates against our fallen condition.  Ingesting the fruit in the garden put within every human being a penchant from liberty apart from God.  Our innocent freedom was traded for bondage to sin (cf Romans 5, 8).  Consequently, our human nature revolts against the idea that we are not sovereign in our own lives.  We long to be God and to suppress the truth (Gen 3:1-6; Romans 1:18ff).

The irony about embracing God’s absolute sovereignty is that it does not make us robots, it makes us more human.  Men raging for their own sovereignty are less than human because they are denying the position God gave them as ‘created beings’ under his rule (cf Gen 1:26-28).  Why is this so hard to accept?  Because the effects of the fall still poisons our hearts and blinds our eyes.  The Bible renews our minds, mends our hearts, and opens our eyes to see the world not from our fallen human condition, but from God’s omniscient position.

Jonathan Edwards was exactly right: Embracing God’s sovereignty is not natural.  It is an act of submission, a denial of self, a willingness to give God back his crown.  Yet, in so doing, mankind is made most like its creator, submitting to his sovereign plan and purpose, one that is unstoppable in turning independent men and women into slaves of righteousness who find their greatest freedom in servile obedience to the King of Glory, the Lord of grace and truth.

May we humble ourselves and embrace God’s sovereignty.  Why?  Because that’s our human responsibility.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Providence & Peace(making)

Providence and peace go together.  Providence makes peace possible; and peace is the fruit of a genuine trust in God’s providence.  In truth, I would venture to say that an insufficient and/or underestimated view of God’s providence will in time undermine your peace.  Or to say it another way, your peace in the midst of conflict and adversity is proportionate to your view of God’s providence.  Peace that passes all understanding must take root in the bedrock of God’s exhaustive and meticulous providence–to borrow Bruce Ware’s terminology (God’s Greater Glory).

In his book on the subject, Ken Sande spends an entire chapter connecting the dots between God’s providence and our peace.  He shows from Scripture and from personal testimony, how Christians who have found peace in the greatest trials are the ones with the most unflappable assurance in God’s goodness and sovereignty.  This is what Sande writes,

God’s sovereignty is so complete that he exercises ultimate control even over painful and unjust events (Exod 4:10-12; Job 1:6-12; 42:11; Ps 71:20-22; Isa 45:5-7; Lam 3:37-38; Amos 3:6; 1 Peter 3:17). This is difficult for us to understand and accept, because we tend to judge God’s actions accoridng to our notions of what is right.  Whether consciously or subconsciously, we say to ouselves, “If I were God and could control everything in the world, I wouldn’t allow some one to suffer this way.”  Such thoughts show how little we understand and respect God…. Even when sinful and painful things are happening, God is somehow exercising ultimate control and working things out for his good purposes–[like in the case of Joseph, see Ps 105:16-25].  Moreover, at the right time God administers justice and rights all wrongs…Knowing that [God] has personally tailored the events of our lives and is looking out for us at every moment should dramatically affect the way we respond to conflict (Ken Sande, The Peacemaker, 61-62).

Understanding what the Bible teaches about God’s providence does not make us automatic peacemakers, but it is the first step.  We cannot make peace with others until we have made peace with God, or to put it more appropriately, more ‘Godwardly,’ until we have received his peace (cf. Eph 2:11-22).  Without this cornerstone of confidence–that is a settled belief that no sparrow falls to the ground apart from God’s supervision (Matt 10:29), that no step is taken apart from God’s oversight (Prov 16:4, 9), and that no sin is committed apart from God’s mysterious permission (Job 1-2; Isa 45:7; Lam 3:37-38)–lasting peace will always suffer from this nagging doubt: “it could have been different.”  However, as soon as Scripture weighs in on the matter and persuades you of God’s complete and faultless providence, the peace which passes understanding is shortly to follow.

For amazingly, providence and peace-making have been on the mind of God from before the foundation of the earth.  Consider Peter’s words in Acts 3:23-24, “this Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” God’s peacemaking strategy  hinged on his definite and preordained plan to allow lawless men to arrest, try, and crucify his son, but for the divine purpose of atoning for the sins of the world and reconciling himself to his people (cf Acts 4:26-27).  In the cross, we must take heart and learn that the greatest affliction and horrors in this world can be redeemed by a God who loves his children and controls all things (Rom. 8:28).  He promises his children that our lives can and will be marked by suffering but also with comfort (2 Cor 1).  Thus we can have confidence that everything we experience in life has passed the inscrutable (and unsearchable) hands of God, and thus we can have peace in the God who upholds us and loves us.  Thus in a word: His providence secures our peace, which leads to the ability to make peace with others, even those who are the source of our pain.

As our church studies the principles of peacemaking, I was reminded that the bedrock of that process of reconciliation is the God who upholds all things and who gave his son into the hands of wicked men in order to save people from all nations.  May such an amazing vision of God’s sovereignty and sacrifice press us to be peacemakers.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss