A few years ago, a Christian company in Florida began marketing “Jesus the Doll,” a doll the makers claim will “help children discover Jesus.” For $29.95, the doll promises to “provide solace for the elderly and the infirm, for those in recovery programs, and those in emotional duress.” The real Lord is just too ethereal. “It’s hard to hug air,” the company notes. They planned to follow this doll with the release of “God the Doll,” a two-foot rag-doll with white hair and a long beard, completely machine washable, of course. Is this the God in whom we trust?
I fear that many or even most American Christians have forgotten the sovereign power of God. Our God is abounding in love and mercy, but not in hugs. He is too big to hug. And those who have seen him—men like Isaiah in Isaiah 6—wanted to run from God rather than to hug him. In terror they cry, “Woe is me, I am ruined!” Even the sinless angels who minister before God’s throne dare not look God in the face, but cover their eyes and feet and cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” Our God is a consuming fire, not a rag-doll. And God is sovereign—he is in control.
God has ordained everything in History
The third chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith opens with these words: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (adding the qualification that God is not the author of sin and that people aren’t puppets). This statement was taken straight from Paul’s statement in Ephesians 1:11:
“In him we were predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”
DEFINE: 1) plan 2) everything 3) purpose 4) will
God as architect, 13th century
As R.C. Sproul points out, were there one maverick molecule out there somewhere apart from the plan of God, we would have no reason to hope in God. That one maverick molecule could be the one detail that defeats God’s eternal purpose. “For lack of the nail, the shoe was lost. For lack of the shoe, the horse was lost. For lack of the horse, the rider was lost. For lack of the rider, the battle was lost. For lack of the battle, the war was lost.”
God is all-powerful, and all of history is merely the outworking of his eternal plan. God not merely created the world, but his eternal power sustains it and continues its existence by the sheer exertion of his will—were God to blink, all would come to an end. God is the First Cause that lies behind all secondary causes. Out of all the billions of ways that God could have planned history, this is the plan God chose. God’s invisible hand is secretly at work controlling all things.
A key biblical principle that helps illuminate God’s sovereignty is called concurrence. People have plans, which may be good or may be evil, and people are responsible for the plans they make. God also has a plan, a plan which overrules all other plans. God’s eternal purpose and humanity’s purposes concur—they take place at the same time. As J.I. Packer explains, “God’s control is absolute in the sense that men do only that which He has ordained that they should do; yet they are truly free agents in the sense that their decisions are their own, and they are morally responsible for them.” While our motives may be impure, even our attempts to thwart God’s eternal plan in fact only serve to further it. We see this principle of concurrence active in several biblical passages.
In light of the biblical principle of concurrence, we understand how God even ordains evil and the suffering that follows from living in a sin-sickened world. This may seem ironic, since God hates sin and forbids people from sinning. God hates death too—Jesus even wept at the sight of death. But God also ordains death—it’s his curse on all of us for the sins of our first parents (Genesis 3). God ordains sin and suffering, even though he despises them. That’s the mystery of concurrence. This does not make human beings simply “puppets”—puppets do not have desires or wills; puppets do not make choices. People do—but God is the invisible hand at work in, behind and through the plans of mice and men, always accomplishing his eternal and unchanging purpose.
This has practical implications. Don’t tell someone who is suffering that God had nothing to do with his or her suffering. The last thing I want to be told when I’m suffering is that my pain has no significance! God ordains every disappointment, loss and sorrow just as surely as he ordains every joy. This was Job’s faith: “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. May the name of the LORD be praised.” God has a purpose—even when we can’t always understand it. Our sufferings and even our sin have significance greater than themselves. They are the black stitches that God includes in the beautiful tapestry of his plan.
The greatest idol in American culture today is the idol of personal self-determination. Personal choice is cherished above God. Perhaps the reason it is so hard to teach the doctrine of predestination is because to preach this doctrine is to pierce the very heart of man's rebellion. "In Him we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will" (Ephesians 1:11). Who decides? God does, and He doesn't care how you feel about it. God is holy. God is sovereign. God is God. Bow the knee and fear the Lord. Fall before him and worship.