Wednesday, February 17, 2016

7B God's Sovereign Providence

                          I think we may call this, “Where the Rubber Meets the Road” today.  Calvin’s application is noted in three ways:  God’s providence in the future and the past, sometimes it involves an intermediary (some may prefer messenger, “Ah Ha” moments, or billboards), and finally that God may reveal his concerns for the whole human race with special attention to the church.  Providence did not stop at creation, it continues on.  He also states that life is more than a game of chance.  Life is a result of God’s secret plan.  Moses wrote this idea as secret things.  Calvin explains that mankind is not excused or relieved in the manner of evil things.  Taking a road that is known to be dangerous or not listening to the doctor are not the ways for man to glorify God.  Man cannot explain theft, murder, or adultery or fail to allow for justice without God.  Calvin uses Scripture to apply this practical application of God’s knowledge, "the hairs on our head and more valuable than sparrows" (Matthew 10:30-31). 

            Prosperity is also spelled out with examples and applications.  Sometimes God uses understanding to confuse thoughts.  In this way, the outcome can still be God’s will.  Calvin uses Job to explain the thoughts of the human mind.  Job understood that he was under the control of God’s hand; therefore whatever comes out of him would be good. Numerous contemporary examples could be used today (there is no shortage of evil, suffering, and pain).  However, we do receive good things too.  When goods or gifts are presented, we need to be thankful to source of the delivery and to God.  
            The number of evils may be easier to identify today than during Calvin's time.  He lists a ship, riding a horse, tiles on a roof, and weapons in your hand as possible things that can cause harm to you (or death, a roof tile to the head could inflict as much danger as a horse landing on you).  He also warns about building a wall.  If there were a large walled property, it may keep danger out and a serpent in (today we think of a fire truck waiting for a driveway gate to open to put the fire out).  Although there are many dangers, trusting in God should give us relief (from anxiety as Calvin put it in section 11).  One of my favorite areas of this week was, the devil and his crew can only do what God allows (Lane, p. 62 and Calvin, p. 224). 
            I was a little intimidated about writing about On God’s “repentance”.  Calvin explains it in a way that calms any fears of writing.  God can correct human action (or lack of action) in a way that God knows what is best.  God is not angered in the same way we see humankind angry.  It is explained in a way that catches the attention and corrects the behavior.  This is means that God is not changed, but it is the human mind or action that is changed. 
            The last part of this section concludes with how God uses the actions of evil.  We see that Satan attempts to destroy Job and Pilate attempts to destroy Jesus.  In all things, God prevails and good overcomes evil according to God’s purpose.

The biggest problem I think I had this week was reconciling all things that happen as a result of evil.  Then I remember that God has a purpose to makes things good.  My question this week is:  How many times do we see evil and try to decide if we are the intermediaries that Calvin describes?  Or do we leave things as they are as Calvin describes God’s will without an intermediary? 

Lane’s Question:  What are the practical benefits of the doctrine of providence?  I think the benefits are clear.  They definitely help with the struggles of daily life.  If we accept pain and trials as a gift (learning or changing behavior), we may seek God’s will in changing or learning something.



  1. I appreciate your post, however I am not sure I understand the question you pose.
    How Many times do we see evil and try to decide if we are the intermediaries that Calvin describes? What I know to be true is that there are multiple opportunities missed each day. I pray the Lord would highlight these opportunities for me so I would not miss them, I also pray when I feel the dread come over me, it is as though I have just forgotten something, just as I walk along thinking of the next errand as I make my way from the grocery store to the car, and no I still have my car keys...! What did I miss!!

    I pray that the Lord would let me know ahead of time, so that I would not miss an opportunity to be Calvin's Intermediary. So far this is not the Lord's Will for me :) (I guess)

    But the truth is, some opportunities are missed. My latest way I deal with this situation (besides turning right around and correcting myself immediately, which is the primary way I handle this), the times when I happen to be overly wrapped up in my own stuff, and end up missing the opportunity and do not even notice until I am looking back as I drive away... Disappointed to have to share this deep dark secret, this huge regret! And this doesn't happen all that often, but when it does, and I have this deep regret that 'I should have ______' I pray someone will come along and pick up my slack for me :)

    SO, maybe my answer is that as I go about my day, I do my best to take heed, to listen to those around me, I watch so that I might be the one to come along and pick up after someone else, for whatever reason has dropped the ball. And I pray that for those moments I miss or opportunities I drop, one of my brothers or sisters in Christ will pick of the slack.

  2. That is exactly what I was asking Claire. I read what Calvin said about intermediaries and wondered how opportunities I missed. I also think that we are called to be silent at times too. It should make for an interesting discussion.

  3. No doubt we should thank the Lord for prosperity, for every day, and for all those intermediaries, whomever and whatever they are.

    I seldom think of myself as an intermediary in the sense that I am doing God's secret will. I generally view it as trying to do good to help some other person of my own volition. This is a confession in a sense in that it reveals how self-centered I can be, yet at the same time humble because I often feel inadequate, if not unworthy to be an instrument of God's will. Yet on an intellectual level I know that it is true. I think Calvin hints (1.17.9) that even as God uses us as an intermediary, whether our act is good or evil, we still make the choice voluntarily. And even as we may be an intermediary for someone, that someone is at the same time an intermediary for us.

  4. Thank you, Jerry, for covering so much ground clearly and concisely. I agree with you, Claire, that it hurts to leave things "undone" or to walk away knowing we did not handle things in the best possible manner. Lately, I find "time" to be the biggest enemy in the first instance. It is especially hard to choose where to expend energy for good when there is limited time. I'm sure Calvin would remind me that "lack of time" is not an excuse for doing nothing! (1.17.3-4)

    Pastorally, I have a problem with applying Calvin's theology too quickly in a tragic situation. I have seen disastrous results when victims are told that "this is all in accordance with God's will" or, "everything will be better in the end," too quickly. Might we be better off spending some time in psalms of lament with the victim? I wonder if moving to God's role in tragedy with undue haste might bring some people to blame God rather than trust God?

    1. Thanks, Sharon, for making this point. In my EMS work, I’ve been with many families as they start to grapple with loss of life and health. While there may well be lessons in their suffering, I’m certain explaining that in those moments is not helpful.

      I continue to understand Calvin as a faith academic – a theologian who did his best to make the entirety of the universe fit his understanding of God (tough task!). As such, his language is helpful for study and reflection – but less helpful as we deal with trauma and loss.

    2. I agree with Sharon and Matt here. There is time for understanding but there is time for lament.

    3. Among the penetrating insights from my friend Kate Bowler, who was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer not long after finishing her book on the prosperity gospel: "I certainly have many more opinions about how beautiful, loving children of God should shut their pie holes when it comes to marching into people’s hospital rooms."

  5. God definitely works out the best for those who believe. The best doesn't always mean the easiest. Often times I find it's through the struggles we go through that when we look back and see how good God is with directing our paths. Bad things happen to everyone, it's through faith that helps change our mindsets to handle situations that happen in our lives differently. A great example in my life is my decision to get my MDiv degree. I have been wrestling with attending school for at least 5 years and it seemed that life always threw things in my direction that forced me to push it off. But God continued to work through me and it seemed like life opened up for me to attend now. I look back and realize how fortunate I am to have the relationships that I do with my cohort and friends, and if I hadn't gone through those things I wouldn't be where I am today. God continues to show me to be patient and wait on his plan. It's hard because often I want things in my own timing and way.

  6. Thanks, Jerry. Was also thinking about 1.17.8 where Calvin reminds us that "...whatever our enemy has wickedly committed against us was permitted and sent by God's just dispensation." (pg 221) I keep praying for the ability to respond as Joseph did "...forgetting the injustice, he inclined to gentleness and kindness...". What a lesson for me!

  7. Jerry, thank you for this great summary and discussion. You said, "Taking a road that is known to be dangerous or not listening to the doctor are not the ways for man to glorify God." Well put! I've heard it said that if we believe that Jesus died for our sins, we can just go on about with our humanity and seek forgiveness later. As you note in your example of medicine, this just doesn't work very well. To answer your question, I'm reflecting on our study of Psalm 19 in January. In verse 12 the Psalmist writes, "clear me from hidden faults." If we are our own mediators, we shouldn't need to pray for the sins that we don't even realize that we commit. For my understanding, I must keep God's Will separate from human will.