[March 9]--What’s God Like, And What Does It Matter, Part Three

Prov 16:4, 9, 33; 21:1-2, 30

Over the last couple of days we’ve examined what the book of Proverbs says about who God is, and hopefully the study is helpful in making us practical theologians. As one of my pastors once told me, the Holy Spirit is incapable of “small talk.” When we’re conversing with someone, we might try to “shoot the breeze” about trivial matters and gently ease into deeper subjects. Not so the Spirit. If he tells us something about the Divine Nature, there’s a purpose behind it.

Today’s subject, unfortunately, has caused more heat than light among believers, and it doesn’t have to. The subject is God’s sovereignty, the fact that he’s in charge of everything. Now, when we use the term, virtually every Christian has not problem affirming that God is in charge of all inanimate objects and non-sentient creatures. He's in charge of the weather, he can move planets and stars as he wishes, he can direct animals to act a certain way, etc. There's little to no controversy among believers on things like that. 

But the controversial part comes when we get to the question of human decisions. If I choose to wear a red shirt over a blue shirt this morning, did I decide to do that, or did God make me decide to choose red over blue? Did God "force" me to choose to marry the person I did, or take the job I took? And here's the really controversial part: Did I choose to follow/trust/believe in Jesus and thus receive salvation, or did God make that decision for me? 

There are verses in the Bible which make it sound like he’s ultimately “behind” everything, such as some of the verses for the reading today. Then there are other verses which (repeatedly) make it clear the God holds human beings responsible for the decisions they make (here's a small sampling). If we're forced to act a certain way (whether in a righteous or unrighteous manner), then how can we be held responsible? 

In fact, the book of Proverbs, within two adjacent verses, presents the tension perfectly. Look at 21:1-2 carefully. In verse one, Solomon makes a clear declaration of God's sovereignty: The heart of the king is in his hand, and he (the Lord) directs it like a watercourse wherever he (the Lord) chooses. In verse 2, he affirms the other end of this tension: The same Lord who moves the hearts of kings (and anyone else he pleases) also weighs our hearts (since we're not competent to judge ourselves). He is sovereign, and he holds us accountable. The Bible teaches both, and we just have to accept both without understanding exactly how those truths in tension work out in every instance.  

It really saddens me when believers disagree about this sort of thing, especially when they do so disagreeably. I honestly think that both sides want God’s name to be honored, and both sides care about the lost and about faithful Biblical interpretation. But there’s another reason why it bothers me. When the Bible emphasizes God’s sovereignty (however that works in conjunction with human decisions), it’s always meant to be a source of comfort to believers, not a source of contention or about figuring out all the details.

What do I mean? How can this be a source of comfort to us? Well, look at the world around us and all the problems we’re facing. Bad leaders are in charge of a large portion of the earth, and human rights are routinely violated. Gut-wrenching poverty is the norm for a large percentage of humanity. As I write this, economic uncertainty is causing a lot of financial hardship for millions of people in America.

But God’s in charge of everything we see and everything we don’t. Even though we don’t always know what he’s doing in the world, even though leaders make bad decisions (or even evil ones), he’s using those bad choices to work out his plan. And he can--in some mysterious way which we don’t understand--even change the hearts of kings like a watercourse. No matter what anyone, even Satan, plots out, there’s absolutely, positively nothing which can overrule what the Almighty wants to do (the point of 21:30).

This is true in the “macro” level (like the plans of kings and nations), but it’s also true in the “micro” level as well (looking at 16:33). According to God’s word, there are no “chance” occurrences. “Lots” were the equivalent of dice that people threw, sometimes to determine how to choose something. To the human eye, it’s mere chance that they roll a certain way, but God is even in charge over that. There are no accidents.

Let me add onto that comfort if I can. The One who’s in charge of all--this is our Father we're talking about. The One who sent his Son to die a horrible death in order to redeem us, cleanse us, and adopt us as his own. It’s not “Karma” or “Fate” that’s in charge of our lives. It’s our loving Father who has our best interests at heart. So let’s trust him, shall we?

Father, you’re in charge, and I’m verrrrry glad of that. Like the hymn, “oh for faith, to trust [you] more.”

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