Have you ever heard anyone talk about the providence of God? Or about God’s sovereignty? It’s common for Christians to say things like, “God is in control,” or “God will work it out in the end.” These statements are true, but what do they really mean? And do we really believe them?...
Right now CNCF’s grad student/faculty reading group is reading through John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin is very helpful in teaching us about many aspects of God’s character, one of which is His sovereignty over all things. Calvin defines “providence” as “not that by which God idly observes from heaven what takes place on earth, but that by which, as keeper of the keys, he governs all events.”
Notice that Calvin starts with a negative definition of what providence is, i.e. “providence is not...” Why would he do that? Well, throughout the Institutes, Calvin is always helpful and pastoral. We expect him to be cold, removed, and academic with his approach to theology, but that is never what he does. Instead, we find him constantly speaking to his readers as human beings—not as brains—and therefore dealing with their sins. This passage is one example.
So when Calvin says, “providence means not that by which God idly observes from heaven,” we should realize that our tendency is to believe just the opposite—that God does idly observe from heaven the things that happen on earth. Sure, we’re willing to acknowledge God’s providence in favorable circumstances. Maybe some unexpected money comes in to help pay for rent or tuition. Or maybe God opens up a job opportunity. Or maybe God has protected you in the midst of sickness, disaster, or danger. We often acknowledge such blessings with a phrase like, “It’s just one of those God things.”
But what about when we suffer? What if we don’t recover from sickness? What if someone very close to us dies? How about if someone sins against you in an awful way? What about natural disasters? Are those things from God? Have you ever heard anyone say that any one of the above bad circumstances was a “God thing”? I sure haven’t.
A helpful song that we often sing at the Fold is “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman. Some of the lyrics come from Job 1:21, where Job says, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” This passage (and the song, too) is good for disciplining a one-sided view of God’s sovereignty. It helps us to realize that God’s sovereign hand is at work in all of our life situations—the good and the bad.
Sickness? Yes. Car accidents? Yes. Sports injuries? Yes. Hurricanes? Yes. Earthquakes? Yes. Tsunamis? Yes. The LORD gives, and He takes away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
But when it comes to these things, our tendency is to say something more like, “These things just happen.” Or, “It’ll work out in the end.” Even if we muster up the courage to say something like, “God is in control,” we usually just mean that He’ll find a way to clean up the mess that is the result of a disaster that somehow managed to slip past Him. In other words, when it comes to a particular disaster/hardship/suffering, we really talk and act as if God “idly observes from heaven,” because we either believe that He’s apathetic or impotent. But God is neither.
Well, ok, so maybe we’ll accept God’s sovereignty over things like natural disasters, or car accidents, or anything like that…but what if there’s sin involved? We wouldn’t accuse the wind of sinning against New Orleans, or the ocean of sinning against southeast Asia…but what about 9/11? Maybe God controls the wind and the waves, but are we willing to say that the wicked actions of men are in God’s control? What if someone sins against you? Maybe you’ve been lied to, stolen from, abused, or even raped? Where was God when those things happened to you? Was He sleeping? Forgetful? Negligent?
Richard Mourdock, Indiana Republican Senate candidate, attracted media attention on Tuesday night, after he responded to a question about abortion and rape by stating that he thinks “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Praise God for this faithful declaration of the sanctity of human life!
The evil of abortion is in no way excused by the circumstances of rape or incest. If we believe that life begins at conception, then we believe that abortion is murder. But if we make exceptions in the cases of rape and incest, then we are saying that these children are less valuable than “normal” children. But why should the child of rape or incest have less of a right to live than the child whose conception was intended? In fact, shouldn’t we actually seek to protect the child who is already the victim of awful life circumstances? Why punish an innocent child for the sins of his father? Is it lawful to say, “You don’t deserve to live because your father was a pervert”? There is no justice in that.
So what does this have to do with God’s sovereignty? Let’s learn from God’s Word…
Joseph was hated by his brothers. They took him and threw him into a pit, and then sold him as a slave to a caravan on its way to Egypt. They then lied to their father Jacob by saying that a wild animal had killed their brother. After all this, when Joseph is reunited with his brothers, we expect Joseph to take revenge on their evil. They expected the same thing. But what does Joseph say to them? “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Gen. 50:19-21).
Joseph had it in his power to punish his brothers in any way he pleased. He could have killed them, allowed them to starve, or even tortured their children…They were truly at his mercy. But instead of taking revenge, he showed incredible mercy by going beyond the simple act of forgiveness, to the point of promising to protect and provide for their children! Who does that?! Can we encourage the same kind of forgiveness and grace in people’s lives? Or must we continue to sell people into the slavery of guilt and bitterness for $500 per child?
We learn from Joseph that God uses the evil deeds of men to bring about good. Therefore we should marvel at the miracle that God can bring a human life into being through something as awful as rape. Rape is truly evil. Children are truly a blessing of the Lord. To kill the child conceived through rape is to allow evil to triumph over good. Instead of allowing something good to come out of a horrible situation, we have settled for rape + murder, and last time I checked, two wrongs don’t make a right. God is bigger and more powerful than that. He is not bound and restricted by the actions of men.
In fact God has used incest, adultery, and prostitution to save the whole world! Just look at the genealogy of Jesus Christ. What if Tamar had aborted her son Perez? What if Bathsheba had aborted Solomon? What if Mary had aborted Christ? Talk about inconvenient pregnancies! These women were victims of sexual exploitation, adultery, and teen motherhood, and yet God used their circumstances to bring to us a Savior!
So should we call the woman who has been raped to trust in God by faith to heal her body and her soul, and to give her rest and comfort? Or should we add to her emotional brokenness by encouraging her to murder her child, thereby enslaving her to guilt and hopelessness? It is monstrous and demeaning to women to suggest such a thing!
There is much comfort in knowing about God's providence, which is, as Calvin says, "that by which, as keeper of the keys, he governs all events.” There is much comfort in knowing that nothing is out of His control...in knowing that God does not sit by, idle or helpless, when evil deeds are being committed...in knowing that rapists and murderers will be judged for their sin if they do not repent...and in knowing that God can use even the worst sins for good.
Finally, let us rejoice in God's willingness to cover over our sins with the blood of Jesus Christ!