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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Does God Control Everything?- by Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

Rosary Prayer ChainCRUCIAL QUESTIONS
No. | 14

DOES GOD Control EVERYTHING?

by R. C. Sproul

Published by Reformation Trust Publishing
a division of Ligonier Ministries
421 Ligonier Court, Sanford, FL 32771
Ligonier.org ReformationTrust.com

Corporate Graphics
November 2012
First edition

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust Publishing. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Cover design: Gearbox Studios

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
Does God control everything? / R.C. Sproul.
p. cm. — (The crucial questions series; no. 14)
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-1-56769-297-6
1. Providence and government of God–Christianity. I. Title.
BT135.S744 2012
231′.5–dc23
2012028858

The Crucial Questions Series

Contents

One—WHAT IS PROVİDENCE?

Two—GOD MAKES IT ALL HAPPEN

Three—GOD OR CHANCE?

Four—IS GOD RESPONSİBLE FOR HUMAN WİCKEDNESS?

Five—WHAT ABOUT HUMAN FREEDOM?

Chapter One

WHAT IS PROVİDENCE?

One day, while I was watching a news program, an advertisement appeared for a series of books about problems of life in the past. One of the images in the commercial depicted a Confederate soldier from the Civil War lying on a stretcher and receiving care from a nurse and a battle-line physician. The narrator then informed me that reading this book would help me understand what it was like to be sick in the mid-nineteenth century. That caught my attention, because many people of the twenty-first century are so strongly bound to this time that they rarely think about how people lived their daily lives in previous ages and generations.
This is one area where I find myself out of step with my contemporaries. I think about the lives of previous generations quite frequently, because I have a habit of reading books that were written by people who lived, in many cases, long before the twenty-first century. I particularly like to read the authors of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.
In the writings of these authors I consistently notice an acute sense of the presence of God. These men had a sense of an overarching providence. We see an indication of that sense that all of life is under the direction and the governance of almighty God in the fact that one of the first cities in what is now the United States of America was Providence, Rhode Island (founded in 1636). Likewise, the personal correspondence from men of earlier centuries, such as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, is laced with the word providence. People talked about a “benevolent Providence” or an “angry Providence,” but often there was a sense that God was directly involved in the daily lives of people.
The situation is vastly different in our own day. My late friend James Montgomery Boice used to tell a humorous story that aptly illustrated the current mindset with regard to God and His involvement in the world. There was a mountain climber who slipped on a ledge and was about to plummet thousands of feet to his death, but as he started to fall, he grabbed a branch of a tiny, scraggly tree that was growing out of a crack in the face of the cliff. As he clung to the branch, the roots of the scraggly tree began to pull loose, and the climber was facing certain death. At that moment, he cried out to the heavens, “Is there anyone up there who can help me?” In reply, he heard a rich, baritone voice from the sky, saying: “Yes. I am here and I will help you. Let go of the branch and trust Me.” The man looked up to heaven and then looked back down into the abyss. Finally, he raised his voice again and said, “Is there anyone else up there who can help me?”
I like that story because I think it typifies the cultural mentality of the present day. First, the climber asks, “Is there anyone up there?” Most eighteenth-century people assumed there was Someone up there. There was little doubt in their minds that an almighty Creator governed the affairs of the universe. But we live in a period of unprecedented skepticism about the very existence of God. Yes, polls regularly tell us that between ninety-five and ninety-eight percent of people in the United States believe in some kind of god or a higher power. I suppose that can be explained partly from the impact of tradition; ideas that have been precious to people for generations are hard to give up, and in our culture a certain social stigma is still attached to unbridled atheism. Also, I think we cannot escape the logic of assuming that there has to be some kind of foundational, ultimate cause for this world as we experience it. But usually, when we pin people down and begin to talk to them about their idea of a “higher power” or a “supreme being,” it turns out to be a concept that is more of an “it” than a “He”—a kind of energy or an undefined force. That’s why the climber asked, “Is there anyone up there?” In that moment of crisis, he recognized his need for a personal being who was in charge of the universe.
There is another aspect of that anecdote that I think is significant. When he was about to fall to his death, the climber did not simply ask, “Is there anyone up there?” He specified, “Is there anyone up there who can help me?” That is the question of modern man. He wants to know whether there is anyone outside the sphere of daily life who is able to be of assistance to him. But I think the climber was asking an even more fundamental question. He wanted to know not only whether there was someone who could help, but whether there was someone who was willing to help. This is the question that is foremost in the minds of modern men and women. In other words, they want to know not only whether there is providence, but whether it is cold and unfeeling or kind and compassionate.
So, the question of providence that I want to consider in this booklet is not merely whether there is anyone there, but whether that someone is able and willing to do anything in this world in which we live.

A CLOSED, MECHANISTIC UNIVERSE

Among the ideas that have shaped Western culture, one of the most significant is the idea of a closed, mechanistic universe. This view of the world has persisted for a couple of hundred years and has had tremendous influence in shaping how people understand the way life is lived out. I would argue that in the secular world, the dominant idea is that we live in a universe that is closed to any kind of intrusion from outside, a universe that runs purely by mechanical forces and causes. In a word, the issue for modern man is causality.
There seems to be a growing outcry about the negative influence of religion in American culture. Religion is held to be the force that keeps people trapped in the dark ages of superstition, their minds closed to any understanding of the realities of the world that science has unveiled. More and more, religion seems to be regarded as the polar opposite of science and reason. It is as if science is something for the mind, for research, and for intelligence, while religion is something for the emotions and for feelings.
Yet, there is still a tolerance for religion. The idea is often expressed in the news media that everyone has a right to believe what he or she chooses to believe; the main thing is to believe something. It does not matter whether you are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Christian.
When I hear comments like that, I want to exclaim, “Does truth matter at all?” The main thing, in my humble opinion, is to believe the truth. I am not satisfied to believe just anything simply for the sake of believing. If what I believe is not true—if it is superstitious or fallacious—I want to be liberated from it. But the mentality of our day seems to be that in matters of religion, truth is insignificant. We learn truth from science. We get good feelings from religion.
Sometimes the highly simplistic idea is set forth that religious superstition reigned supreme in the past, so God was seen as the cause of everything. If someone became sick, the illness was attributed to God. Now, of course, we are told that illnesses are due to microorganisms that invade our bodies, and those tiny organisms operate according to their nature, doing what they have evolved to do. Likewise, whereas in former days people believed an earthquake or a thunderstorm was caused by the hand of God, today we are assured that there are natural reasons for these events. They happen because of forces that are part of the natural order of things.
In the eighteenth century, a book was written that has become the classic of Western economic theory—The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith. In that book, Smith tried to apply the scientific method to the field of economics in an effort to discover what causes certain economic responses and counter-responses in the marketplace. Smith wanted to cut through speculation and identify basic causes that produced predictable effects. But even while he was applying this scientific inquiry to the complicated network of economic actions and reactions, he spoke of the “invisible hand.” In other words, Smith was saying: “Yes, there are causes and effects going on in this world, but we have to recognize that above all there has to be an ultimate causal power or there would be no lower causal powers. Thus, the whole universe is orchestrated by the invisible hand of God.” In our day, however, we have focused so intently on the immediate activity of cause and effect that for the most part we have ignored or denied the overarching causal power behind all of life. Modern man basically has no concept of providence.

THE GOD WHO SEES

The doctrine of providence is one of the most fascinating, important, and difficult doctrines in the Christian faith. It deals with difficult questions, such as: “How does God’s causal power and authority interact with ours?” “How does God’s sovereign rule relate to our free choices?” “How is God’s government related to the evil and suffering in this world?” and “Does prayer have any influence over God’s providential decisions?” In other words, how are we to live our lives in light of God’s invisible hand?
Let us begin with a simple definition. The word providence has a prefix, pro-, which means “before” or “in front of.” The root comes from the Latin verb videre, which means “to see”; it is from this word that we get our English word video. So, the word providence literally means “to see beforehand.” The providence of God refers to His seeing something beforehand with respect to time.
Providence is not the same thing as God’s foreknowledge or prescience. Foreknowledge is His ability to look down the corridors of time and know the outcome of an activity before it even begins. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to use the word providence with reference to God’s active governance of the universe, because He is indeed a God who sees. He sees everything that takes place in the universe. It is in full view of His eyes.
This can be one of the most terrifying thoughts a human being can have—that there is someone who is, as Jean-Paul Sartre lamented, an ultimate cosmic voyeur who looks through the celestial keyhole and observes every action of every human being. If there is anything about the character of God that repels people from Him more than His holiness, it is His omniscience. Every one of us has a keen desire for a sense of privacy that no one can invade so as to pry into the secret things of our lives.
At the time of the first transgression, when sin entered the world, Adam and Eve immediately experienced a sense of nakedness and shame (Gen. 3:7). They reacted by attempting to hide from God (v. 8). They experienced the gaze of the God of providence. Like the mountain climber in my earlier anecdote, we want God to look at us when we need help. Most of the time, however, we want Him to overlook us, because we want privacy.
On one memorable occasion during the ministry of our Lord, the scribes and Pharisees dragged a woman they had caught in adultery into Jesus’ presence. They reminded Him that the law of God required that she be stoned, but they wanted to know what He would do. But as they spoke, He bent down and wrote something on the ground. This is the only recorded instance of Jesus writing, and we do not know what He wrote. But we are told that He stood up and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Then He began to write on the ground again. At that, the scribes and Pharisees began to go away, one by one.
I am speculating here, but I wonder whether Jesus wrote out some of the secret sins those men were zealous to keep locked away. Perhaps He wrote “adultery,” and one of the men who was unfaithful to his wife read it and crept away. Perhaps he wrote “tax evasion,” and one of the Pharisees who had failed to render unto Caesar decided to head for home. Jesus, in His divine nature, had the ability to see in a penetrating way behind the masks people wore, into the hiding

Sproul, R. C. (2012). Does God Control Everything? (First edition, Bd. 14, S. iii–11). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

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