One of the crazy things about life in Christ in a fallen world is that we don’t always live like we believe. Take deism. We often act as functional deists, thinking of God as a kind of cosmic clockmaker who creates the world, sets it in motion, then walks away to let it run itself, intervening only occasionally when necessary to stop us from completely mucking things up. We live our lives, going about our day with a vague awareness of God, but not an acute awareness of His involvement in the minutiae of our daily activity.
Deism has been around at least since the Enlightenment, and as moderns we operate by default as though we’re on a merry-go-round where Dad has given us a big push and walked away. This default perspective isn’t a biblical one. If we truly understood the sovereignty of God, and truly lived out God’s Providence, it would change how we view life forever.
In Acts 17, Paul is talking to the Athenians on Mars Hill. As he does so often, he is presenting a defense for the God of the Bible, noting that He is the “unknown god” to whom they’ve built an altar. Rather than being a god far away, Paul explains this God has drawn very near to them for “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Paul tells the church at Colossae that “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
Far from being a deistic God, the God we serve is remarkably sovereign, Providential, present, and active in the hearts and lives of His people, of all people, and in all creation. All things holding together in Him means that the atoms and molecules in our bodies, and the stars in the galaxies, are tightly bound minute-by-minute by His constant will and word. Our hearts are beating because God is actively commanding them to beat, again and again, second-by-second, throughout the course of our lives. When He stops commanding it, we stop living.
In defining God’s Providence, the exercise of His sovereignty, John Piper says that “God upholds, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures, actions, and things.” But, He doesn’t just act in the fullness of His power- that’s sovereignty- He does so motivated by His goodness- sovereignty “governed by wisdom and holiness to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.” That’s Providence.
If all this sounds fantastic, beyond belief, consider God’s words to Job. Job, having suffered as much as any man alive, demands an accounting from God for the abject tragedy that has befallen him. Rather than explanations, God gives questions, a glimpse of His glory, manifested in Providence. “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you?” “Who provides for the raven its prey?” “Do you know where the mountain goats give birth?” “Do you observe the calving of the does?” “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” God speaks to Job poetically, but not metaphorically. He is literally in control of everything, at every moment, in the power of His goodness and grace, and Job can only respond in awe.
We tend not to think of God this way. We may see God’s hand and design in the “big, significant” moments in our lives- our wedding day, the birth of our children, perhaps God leading us to a new job or a new ministry. Yet, most of our lives, in the day-to-day, our default is to not think of God as very involved- he is sitting on the sidelines watching, like a really good bench player, waiting to come in the game when we need him. The failing in that perspective lies not with God’s nature and character, but in our limited viewpoint. And, that limited viewpoint hampers the fullness of life in Him.
When talking about something as mundane as the sunrise, G.K. Chesterton observed that God is actively at work every day:
God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be an automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
God is neither troubled by monotony, nor is He the absent landlord. He is always acting in the fullness of His Providence. For us, this is the most spectacular news ever, for in His Providence we find:
- We can pray specifically, knowing God cares about the details of our lives. God is in the details of our lives- who we meet at work today, what we do while there, how we spend our free time, what we listen to and watch, where we go, and how long we stay. The details of our lives matter to the Lord, because He is actively at work in them all. He calls us to “pray without ceasing” because He is always acting in and around us, and calls us into ongoing fellowship and conversation as we walk out our days.
- We can be comforted and encouraged in our hardship and suffering, knowing everything passes through God’s hands. God doesn’t stand by, hands-on His head, looking on with bewilderment and helplessness as we face challenges and pain. None of what we face happens without God’s knowledge, and without Him allowing it to happen. And, while at times that brings confusion and pain, God always gives us exactly what we need, though not necessarily what we want. At the same time, He’s always present in our pain, suffering alongside us, empathy made possible by His own suffering on the cross.
- The world and all its creation, everything and everyone, is valuable and matters to the Lord. What’s important to someone is what they spend time on. God spends time actively in the lives of people. They are dear to Him. How we treat His creation, but most importantly, how we treat those beings He created, reflects what and how we think of Him. In this day and age, where dissension and frustration fan the flames of division, God’s people, His hands and feet, have to care about His creation, the earth around us, and those who populate it. We can’t claim to be His and curse and criticize others, or treat the world carelessly- we are commanded to care. We are His caretakers and peacemakers. It’s in our blood, if we are His.
When we tell each other “God is in control,” it’s not just a platitude, a simple saying meant to make us feel better. It is the revealed truth of Scripture. He is completely in control, of everything, all the time. And, He is good. God and His Providence bring ultimate peace, if we understand it and live in the light of it.