You probably have watched the news this week and seen the aeroplane crashes, the storms, the violent invasions, the violence, the sorrow and all the pain – and thought to yourself – the world is officially out of control. The Bible, however, tells us that the world is, for the record, not out of control; but continually being governed and directed by a sovereign God.
Lord of all
When we speak of God’s “sovereignty”, theologians also use the word “providence”. “Sovereign” means absolute ruler or someone possessing supreme or ultimate power. This is of course true of God – that’s why we call him “God”. By the term “providence”, we mean that because God is absolute ruler, he preserves and governs everything in the universe as well – including your life and circumstances.
Westminster Confession of Faith
I like the definition of providence in the Westminster Confession. Paragraph one reads:
“God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible (without fault) foreknowledge and the free and immutable (unchanging) counsel of his own will…”
Paragraph seven goes on to say:
“As the providence of God does, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it takes care of his church (Christian people), and disposes all things to the good thereof.”
This is how the Bible puts it:
Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. (Psalm 115:6)
He (Jesus) upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good. (Romans 8:28)
God is sovereign over all he created. God works all things together (including sinful things, evil things and wicked things) for the good of his people. Conversely, if you are not a Christian, i.e. you have not put your confidence in Christ to save you, God is not working for your good.
The truth of the sovereignty and providence of God goes against very popular worldviews:
Deism says God or a “Higher Being” created the world then abandoned it. “God” has nothing to do with the ongoing governing of the universe.
Pantheism says the universe is part of God and we are all god.
Evolutionary theory says we are masters of our own destiny in the struggle for survival and life is ruled mostly by random chance
Impersonal fate says the universe has determined my fate already and there’s nothing I can do to change it.
In contrast to all the above worldviews, the Bible teaches that God is distinct from his creation, has not abandoned it, and is providentially, carefully and consciously ruling over all things – while we are still responsible for our actions.
Joseph’s amazing technicolour dreamcoat
From the account in Genesis of Jacob’s son, Joseph, we see the practical out working of God’s providential care of his people. Joseph was born into a highly dysfunctional family, wickedly sold into slavery by his brothers, wrongfully accused of rape by his master’s wife and then thrown into an Egyptian prison. All through these account we read that the “Lord was with Joseph”. In prison he interprets dreams for Pharaoh’s imprisoned butler and baker and, as a result, ends up interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams. Pharaoh’s dreams indicate that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of drought and famine. Pharaoh is impressed and makes Joseph prime minister. Joseph in turn begins storing food and when the famine finally arrives, who should arrive in Egypt looking for food but Joseph’s brothers who had sinfully sold him into slavery many years before. Joseph’s words to his brothers show us how God’s providence works:
So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. (Genesis 45:4-5)
No such thing as coincidence
Joseph’s up and downs were not fate, luck, or chance, but God’s governing, directing and overruling of all things to achieve his good purposes. V5 says “you sold me here”, but at the same time, Joseph says, “God sent me before you” (v5). The same sinful event of selling a brother into slavery is seen in the larger scheme of things as God sending Joseph to Egypt. God “sent” Joseph to Egypt in order to be bought by Potiphar, in order to be falsely accused by his wife, in order to be thrown into prison, in order to interpret the dreams of his fellow inmates, in order to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, in order to become prime minister and collect food, in order to save the Israelite nation – from which Jesus would be born.
The truth about life
God ordains events, circumstances, illnesses, joys, promotions, retrenchments, trouble and all things to achieve his good purposes in the world. Joseph goes on to say:
And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 45:7-8)
God overrules human deeds, whether good or evil, to achieve his saving and good purposes. God is sovereignly orchestrating every event in all human history. No-one and nothing escapes God’s sovereignty; not sin, not slavery, not dreams, not pharaohs, not wars, not plane crashes, not disasters, not ISIS invasions, not retrenchments, and not cancer. For the Christian it is great comfort to know that God is working all these things for the good of his people.
God is not the author of sin
It is important to remember that God is never the author of sin or evil. All people will stand accountable to God and responsible before God for their sinful deeds and evil practises. On the great Day of Judgment nobody can say, “God (or the devil) forced me to do it.” But God can and does use even sinful deeds and evil practises to achieve his good purposes.
The killing of Jesus
The classic example of God using evil for good is the killing of Jesus. The killing of Jesus was a sinful, wicked, evil deed; yet God used that deed for ultimate good – the forgiveness of sin and the assurance of life for all God’s people.
My car “accident”
Friday 5 October 1985 changed many lives. In 1985 I was 10 years old and went ice-skating with our church’s youth group. We were driving home in convoy after a fun-filled evening and my uncle was driving the bakkie (a small pick-up) I was in. On the front seat with him were three children. I was in the back of the bakkie with four other children all between the ages of 10 – 13. It was about 10:30pm and we were driving on the national road just outside Paarl. A drunken driver in front of us did a U-turn on the dual carriage highway and collided with us head-on. Everyone on the front seat died instantly. The bakkie’s canopy was thrown aside and all of us in the back were thrown onto the national road in front of oncoming, speeding cars. Yet, in the providence of God, the first car to arrive on the scene (the car travelling right behind us), was an off-duty traffic officer. He was able to secure the scene and call for medical help. I was unconscious for two days, but after excellent medical care, God’s goodness and my parent’s perseverance, I was able to make a full recovery. God called my uncle and three children to glory that night. Another boy was paralysed from the waist down. Yet, even in that “accident” (as we often refer to it) God was providentially overruling, directing and caring. I certainly do not know if I would even be a Christian today if that so-called “accident” had not happened.
Our crazy world?
The world is not out of control. God is orchestrating all things according to his good purposes. Atrocities and great evils are being committed – possibly in your own personal history too. Please know that no-one will escape God’s judgement and all will stand accountable before God for their sins. However, the account of Joseph and the death of Jesus, show us that God can and will use even great evil for even greater good.
The world is officially in control.