Phil Johnson on God’s Providence
A nice bit of wisdom from the Pyromaniac in the light of the Twin Cities Bridge Collapse:
Here’s something I thought about in the wake of the Twin Cities’ bridge collapse:
‘ve often said that the doctrine of divine providence is what makes the truth of Calvinism inescapable for me. God’s sovereign, providential control over the events of our lives is a truth that permeates Scripture (as we have been seeing recently in our ongoing series on Elijah.)
I love God’s sovereignty, and not for any of the reasons you might assume. It’s not because I enjoy arguing, and the doctrines of election and reprobation are always fodder for a good debate. (That’s just a side benefit.)
But here is the real reason I love the truth that God is sovereign: It’s the whole basis for my favorite promiseâ€”Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).
How could we possibly know that if we didn’t understand that God is working in all things, and He is ultimately sovereign over all things? How could God even make such a promise if He’s not really sovereign?
See: if Romans 8:28 means anything at all, it teaches that God’s sovereign, providential control extends to all thingsâ€”including bridge collapses and other tragedies. Even the tiniest minutiae of life.
I once made that remark in passing, and someone came up to me and said, “Look, Philâ€”I agree that God is essentially sovereign over the big things, but I just have trouble with this notion that He providentially governs every tiny detail of our lives. Granting that God is sovereign, I still think there are some matters that belong to the realm of human free will.” He said, “For example, There are three different routes I could take to get from my house to my office. I And I don’t believe it matters in the plan of God which route I takeâ€”as long as I get to my destination. I agree that God’s sovereignty governs whether I get to my office or not, but I cannot conceive that He would bother with the issue of how I get there. Is it really right to portray Him as sovereign over every detail of life? Aren’t there some things He doesn’t govern? Doesn’t it trivialize the doctrine of divine sovereignty to teach that God is concerned with the insignificant minutiae of our lives?”
I don’t think so, and if I held that view and got in a car accident that left me paralyzed on the way to work, I would always wonder if somehow I had derailed God’s design for me by taking the wrong route to work.
Remember: Jesus said the hairs of our heads are numbered, and that not even a sparrow can fall to the ground apart from God’s sovereign providence (Matthew 10:29-30). Everywhere the issue comes up in Scripture, we see evidence of God sovereignly at work in every minute detail of life (Matthew 17:27). He is Lord of the small things, too, and just as much in control of the details in my life and yours as He was in Elijah’s or Jonah’s or Job’s.
If you don’t see that, your understanding of Providence is seriously deficient (cf. James 4:13-17).
But here’s the good part: That means nothing can happen to you unless God gives His permissionâ€”and unless He has a good purpose in it.
You might be thinking, That’s not much comfort if He still could allow a bridge to collapse under me. Why Does God permit bad things to happen if He could stop them, and especially if all His purposes are good?
We aren’t given the answer to that question, but we are taught to trust in the ultimate goodness of God’s providence even when we don’t understand what good might possibly come from this or that disaster.
We are not promised an explanation for everything that happens to us. But (and here’s where faith comes in) promises are actually better and more useful than explanations.
We cannot always decipher the purposes or read the meaning of God’s providence. But we can always trust His promises. So we’re simply told that God’s purposes are ultimately always for our goodâ€”and it is the very essence of faith to hang onto that promise and trust God even whenâ€”especially whenâ€”it seems as if circumstances have spun completely out of control.
From our narrow human perspective, that is usually how major portions of our lives seem. Our lives begin with a cry and end with a moan. In between, we face a multitude of sorrows and trials. Everyone without exception experiences grief, and pain, and tragedy, and sickness, and affliction, and misery, and distress. All those things are part and parcel of life for fallen creatures. Some of us may think we’ve already had more than enough of life’s trials, but there is still more trouble yet to come in the future. (Sorry to seem so gloomy, but bear in mind that death, the last enemy, still awaits us all, barring the Lord’s soon return.) As Job said, “Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).
For believers, however, our trials are always occasions for God’s grace and blessings to be multiplied. As a matter of fact, the darkest providences that befall us often turn out to be the very occasions when God chooses to bestow on us His most abundant grace.
As we have already seen repeatedly in our series on Elijah, God usually gives us sufficient grace without giving us a surplus of grace. “His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is [His] faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). “He giveth more grace” (James 4:6)â€”but He dispenses His grace in accord with our present needsâ€”often in handfuls and small measures, and rarely in superabundant portions. But the grace He gives is always sufficient. It is enough.
But sometimes, when God does want to lavish grace upon us in superabundant measure, the prelude to that is a dark and difficult turn of providence. Suffering is the pathway to glory. And hardship is the container into which God pours His grace. The larger the vessel, the greater the measure of grace.
But if you don’t believe God is sovereign, how could you ever grasp that truth?
Gotta live it!!!Â Oh and Becky H-B – the peach is for you. Just you….