‘The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps’ – Proverbs 16:9
The Bible is pretty clear on the sovereignty of God. Would that there was no need to defend it given the clarity on the issue scripture affords. Yet the likes of Molinism, Arminianism and Open Theism – to a lesser or greater degree – undermine the doctrine of which Spurgeon said:
There is no attribute of God more comforting to his children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty hath ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all.
But one doesn’t want to defend God’s sovereignty here, there really is no need (just read the Bible). I am more interested in the related concept of God’s providence.
Providence is the natural outworking of sovereignty. If sovereignty is to do with the range of God’s rule, providence is the outworking of that rule. Sovereignty relates to the divine control of God; providence is how God works out his divine control in practice. If God is in control of all events (sovereignty) then the circumstances we find ourselves in must have been divinely ordained (providence).
There is a common strain of Christian thought that wants to know ‘God’s will for my life’. The logic is thus: (1) God has a plan for my life; (2) To honour God I must act in accord with his will; (3) Therefore, I must discern and act within the will of God.
There is a rightness of this type of thinking. Where God has expressed his will, it is certainly not honouring to him to actively disregard it. There is nothing glorifying about flagrantly disregarding God’s expressed will which we have in his word. Where the logic errs is in failing to recognise that there are two sides to God’s will: expressed and providential. His expressed will is that which he commands in his Word; his providential will is all that he brings to pass in the world. To ‘know God’s will for my life’ is to look in his word and seek to act in accord with it whilst recognising, in the ordinary course of things, God’s ultimate will cannot be thwarted.
This leads on to my point: everything is providence. If God is in control of all things, and he ordains all events, is it possible to act outside of his will? Surely the answer must be ‘no’. Certainly we can act against his expressed will (e.g. Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery or the unjust crucifixion of Jesus) but we cannot act outside his providential will (e.g. Joseph becoming supreme governor and Jesus purchasing salvation and rising from the dead). It means all things are providential and we cannot act outside of God’s ultimate will.
So how do I know what God would have me do in any given circumstance? There are three things to consider:
- Read his word. Does God give any expressed guidance as to his will? If yes, make sure you act in accordance with it.
- Use your mind. If God is control of all things, he is also in control of our volition. If God guides primarily through his word, he surely also guides through our will and volition. If he knows how we will act in any given circumstances, it follows that – once we have considered his expressed will – we can weigh up what seems right to us.
- Consider your circumstances. If God ordains all events, does it not seem likely that he will place us in particular circumstances – knowing our own volition – that will cause us to act in accordance with his will? He will close certain doors we might otherwise think viable and open those that seem credible in the circumstances. Using both our minds and circumstances, the Lord knows what we would choose in any given circumstances and places us where we will act in accordance with his ultimate will.
The basic point is this: to act within God’s will, just do something. If everything is within God’s control, then everything is providential. If everything is providential, then it is impossible for us to act outside of God’s ultimate will. If God’s ultimate will cannot be thwarted, and he guides us through circumstances and volition, then simply acting in accordance to whatever seems appropriate in the circumstances means we are surely following God’s plan for our life.
Whatever God’s will for your life may be, simply acting as seems right in your circumstances means you will be acting in line with God’s will for you. Although we may act against God’s expressed will, everything is essentially providence.