Systematic Theology the Character of God
Lecture Notes Chapter 16: Providence (Part 2)
26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all,
27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God
If God controls all things, how can our actions have real meaning? What are the decrees of God?
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
Ephesians 1:11 (ESV)
God keeps all created things existing and maintaining the properties with which He created them.
Hebrews 1:3 (ESV)
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
God cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do.
Ephesians 1:11 (ESV)
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, Problem of Evil
Genesis 45:5 (ESV)
5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.
We MUST conclude that God allows evil; uses evil; for His Glory, He NEVER Does evil, never takes pleasure in evil, and we must never blame Him for it.
C. Government God has a purpose in all that he does in the world and he providentially governs or directs all things in order that they accomplish his purposes.
1. Scriptural Evidence.
Psalm 103:19 (ESV)
19 The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
Daniel 4:35 (ESV)
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
Romans 8:28-29 (ESV)
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
What does the GOOD refer to in these verses?
2. Distinctions Concerning the Will of God. Though in God his will is unified, and not divided or contradictory, we cannot begin to understand the depths of God’s will, and only in a small part is it revealed to us. For this reason, as we saw in chapter 13, two aspects of God’s will appear to us. On the one hand, there is God’s moral will (sometimes called his “revealed” will).
This includes the moral standards of Scripture, such as the Ten Commandments and the moral commands of the New Testament. God’s moral commands are given as descriptions of how we should conduct ourselves if we would act rightly before him. On the other hand, another aspect of God’s will is his
providential government of all things (sometimes called his “secret will”).
This includes all the events of history that God has ordained to come about, for example, the fact that Christ would be crucified by “lawless men” (Acts 2:23). It also includes all the other evil acts that were mentioned in the preceding section.
D. The Decrees of God
The decrees of God are the eternal plans of God whereby, before the creation of the world, he determined to bring about everything that happens. This doctrine is similar to the doctrine of providence, but here we are thinking about God’s decisions before the world was created rather than his providential actions in time. His providential actions are the outworking of the eternal decrees that he made long ago. (See chapter 2, p. 47, for “decree” used in a somewhat different sense.)
David confesses, “in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:16; cf. Job 14:5: the days, months, and bounds of man are determined by God). There was also a “definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23) by which Jesus was put to death, and the actions of those who condemned and crucified him were “predestined” (Acts 4:28) by God. Our salvation was determined long ago because God “chose us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). Our good works as believers are those “which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10; cf. Jude 4).
These examples take in many diverse aspects of human activity. It seems appropriate to conclude from these examples that all that God does he has planned before the creation of the world—in fact, these things have been an eternal plan with him. The benefit of an emphasis on God’s decrees is that it helps us to realize that God does not make up plans suddenly as he goes along. He knows the end from the beginning, and he will accomplish all his good purposes. This should greatly increase our trust in him, especially in difficult circumstances.
E. The Importance of Our Human Actions
We may sometimes forget that God works through human actions in his providential management of the world. If we do, then we begin to think that our actions and our choices do not make much difference or do not have much effect on the course of events.
1. We Are Still Responsible for Our Actions. God has made us responsible for our actions, which have real and eternally significant results. In all his providential acts God will preserve these characteristics of responsibility and significance.
The fact that we are responsible for our actions means that we should never begin to think, “God made me do evil, and therefore I am not responsible for it.” Significantly, Adam began to make excuses for the very first sin in terms that sounded suspiciously like this: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). Unlike Adam, Scripture never blames God for sin. If we ever begin to think that God is to blame for sin, we have thought wrongly about God’s providence, for it is always the creature, not God who is to be blamed. Now we may object that it is not right for God to hold us responsible if he has in fact ordained all things that happen, but Paul corrects us: “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, a man, to answer back to God?” (Rom. 9:19–20).
2. Prayer Is One Specific Kind of Action That Has Definite Results and That Does Change the Course of Events. God has also ordained that prayer is a very significant means of bringing about results in the world. When we earnestly intercede for a specific person or situation, we will often find that God had ordained that our prayer would be a means he would use to bring about the changes in the world. Scripture reminds us of this when it tells us, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Jesus says, “Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24).
F. Further Practical Application
Although we have already begun to speak of the practical application of this doctrine, three additional points should be made.
1. Do Not Be Afraid, but Trust in God. Jesus emphasizes the fact that our sovereign Lord watches over us and cares for us as his children. He says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear?” ’ (Matt. 6:26, 31). If God feeds the birds and clothes the grass of the field, he will take care of us. Similarly, Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will … Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29–31).
2. Be Thankful for All Good Things That Happen. If we genuinely believe that all good things are caused by God, then our hearts will indeed be full when we say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2). We will thank him for our daily food (cf. Matt. 6:11; 1 Tim. 4:4–5); indeed, we will “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18).
3. There Is No Such Thing as “Luck” or “Chance.” All things come to pass by God’s wise providence. This means that we should adopt a much more “personal” understanding of the universe and the events in it. The universe is not governed by impersonal fate or luck, but by a personal God. Nothing “just happens—we should see God’s hand in events throughout the day, causing all things to work together for good for those who love him.
I had the opportunity to ask Sally Michael a few questions about this book that I want to share with you today:
1. What is the most important thing parent’s can do in teaching their children about God’s Providence? “The most important thing parents can do in teaching their children about God’s providence is to rest in God’s providence. By that I mean, to be an example of truly trusting that all that happens to us is according to God’s plan which is good and for our good.”
2. Do you find that this is a difficult concept for children to understand? “I don’t think God’s providence is difficult for children to understand provided that it is explained in an age-appropriate manner.” Is there a certain age that you think children are able to understand? “I think God’s providence can be explained to the youngest of children using simple vocabulary such as “God is the boss of everything” or “God is in charge of everything.” Their understanding is limited but they can understand the basic concept.”
3. How important is it to a child’s faith to understand God’s providence over all things? “I think understanding that God is sovereign over all things gives children the confidence that they can trust God in all circumstances. There are no situations that arise that are out of God’s control or contrary to His promise that all things work for good for His children. Understanding this builds a foundation of trust and confidence in God that grows as a child experiences life circumstances that in time prove God’s good sovereign hand in them.”
4. How should we handle difficult questions children might ask as they think about and process what they are learning? “I don’t think we should shy away from difficult truths. We should explain God’s sovereignty over evil and suffering in clear and age-appropriate ways. Children are able to handle difficult truths as they don’t yet have the emotional baggage that adults carry. God is able to take care of His reputation and to prove Himself good.” Should we be prepared to have an answer to every question or is it okay to sometimes say, “I don’t know”? “We should be prepared to answer children’s questions adequately and correctly. When we don’t know the answer, we should tell them so and do further study. Those things which are a mystery known only to God we should state as such and note the vast difference between God and man. God is incomprehensible and His knowledge beyond our understanding.”
5. Is there anything else you’d like to say to parents who will use this book? “Read the book more than once and begin to practice these truths in real life. Point out God’s sovereign hand daily and His providence over all things. As you demonstrate that you trust God’s hand of providence, your child will begin to understand true faith. Encourage your child to trust God regardless of how the circumstances appear and remind them that the “good” of Romans 8:28 is that we be conformed to the image of Jesus.”
 Based on and various Quotes from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Zondervan
 All Scripture from ESV Bible, Crossway