You’ve watched the news from around the world these past few weeks and possibly thought to yourself – the world is officially out of control! No-one knows what’s going to happen! Everything is crazy! Help!
For the record, the Bible tells us that the world is definitely not out of control; but continually being governed and directed by a good, 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 why we call God “God”.
By the term “providence”, we mean that because God is absolute ruler, he preserves and governs everything in the universe – including our world, our lives and our circumstances.
Westminster Confession of Faith
I like the definition of Providence in the Westminster Confession. Paragraph:
“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…”
It 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.
The truth of the sovereignty and providence of God contradicts very popular, but false, 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 by random chance and our genetics.
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 – even while we are still responsible for our actions.
Joseph’s amazing technicolour dream-coat
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 begins storing food and when the famine finally arrived, who should arrive in Egypt looking for food but Joseph’s slave-trading brothers!
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 a good God’s governing, directing and over-ruling 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, plagues, pandemics 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 over-rules human deeds, whether good or evil, to achieve his saving and good purposes. God is sovereignly orchestrating 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, not retrenchments, not cancer, and not COVID-19.
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 practices.
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 practices to achieve his good purposes.
The killing of Jesus
The supreme 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 forever for all God’s people.
Our crazy world?
The world is not out of control. God is orchestrating all things according to his good purposes. Atrocities and great evils have been committed down the ages – and possibly in your own personal history too.
Please know that no evil-doer will escape God’s judgement and all will stand accountable before God for their actions.
However, the accounts of Joseph and the death of Jesus, show us that God can and will use even great evil for even greater good.
God can and will use even a pandemic.
The world is officially in control.