Providence: God’s Active, Almighty, Present, Power (1)

earthrise-apollo-8From the moment Adam sought to grasp equality with God (Phil 2), from the moment he mysteriously rebelled against God’s sovereignty and hiddenness (“You shall be as God”), from the moment he ceased to love and adore the triune God, since that moment submission to the sovereign providence of God has been problematic. On its face the situation is quite plain. In the beginning God; full stop. Consider that. In the beginning God. The triune God was, self-existent (aseity), simple, spiritual, holy, righteous, good, eternal, immutable, impassible. At that point, as it were, we were not. God was an we were not. God was and nothing else was. There was no co-eternal matter or anything. There was just the triune God in eternal, splendorous, communion with himself.

We only came into being when that sovereign, triune God spoke. All creatures are the product of his powerful, sovereign, creative Word. Until that point—we cannot even say “moment” since there was no time until God spoke it into existence—God was the only entity. There was when we and all creatures were not but there never was when God was not. Given that there was when we weren’t and that we exist solely at the will and good pleasure of the sovereign, self-existent God, how can there be any real discussion about whether God is utterly sovereign over all things?

Sin. Because we are now, in Adam, all of us fallen and corrupted in intellect, will, and affections we continue to challenge God’s sovereign rule over all things. We raise our fist at his judgements. We question whether he really is sovereign over all things or whether, perhaps, he is naturally limited somehow by the fact of our existence—as if he crippled himself when he made us, as if by virtue of making dust and then by breathing life into dust he seriously maimed himself, as it were. Sometimes people suppose that God, after breathing life into dust God voluntarily limited himself. This view is more plausible just as false. Where in Scripture does God reveal himself clearly, unequivocally to have so limited himself? Was it when he said, “for this very reason I raised you up?” or when he said, “Shall the clay say to the Potter….?” No, the God of Holy Scripture not only speaks al things into existence but continues to sustain and sovereignly govern them that he relinquishes none of his power or rights over his creature.

We are creatures and God is Creator and sustainer and that is how things have always been and all they shall ever be. This is why the Reformed Churches confess in Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 27:

27. What do you understand by the providence of God?

The almighty, everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come not by chance, but by His Fatherly hand.

The Latin text of the Catechism says “omnipotens. It means “almighty.” You recognize it as the root of omnipotent, all-powerful. God cannot be both omnipotent and not omnipotent. There is no self-imposed or natural limit to omnipotent power. This, omnipotence, is the language of the catholic (universal), ecumenical faith: “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” With all believers in all times and places we confess that God is all powerful.

That the Christian view of God is controversial among professing Christians tells us much about the sad state of Christianity today. One primary reason it is controversial is because Christians have been deeply influenced by non-Christian ideas and they aren’t aware or don’t care. As a young Christian, my mind still full of sub-Christian and non-Christian nonsense, I brought those pagan ideas with me into my evangelical experience and, sad to say, they were not challenged. As a modern person I knew a priori, that humans must have the ability to will the contrary to God. The pastor of the first congregation I attended re-inforced that notion as each Sunday (morning and evening) he pleaded with us to accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, to open the door as Jesus knocked helplessly. I’m glad that he was anxious, even desperate to see sinners come to faith and I’m glad that each week he pointed us to Christ as the only way to the Father and the only way of salvation from the wrath to come. Amen! He did us no favors, however, when he refused to challenge our essentially pagan notion of autonomy relative to God.

He is not helpless. His will is not bound relative to ours. No, it is we, who, through sin, have a will bound by sin, death, and corruption. What we choose, we choose freely, i.e., without coercion but even our free choices are comprehended within God’s sovereign decree and providence. As we approach a stoplight, we may not know ourselves whether we will wait or turn right on red but God has known and ordained our free, uncoerced, choice from eternity.

Adam foolishly, fatally asserted human autonomy before God and death was the consequence. God is sovereign and freely and he freely, graciously promised to send a second Adam (Rom 5:12–21), the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45) who would do, who did perform the obedience that the first Adam could have performed but did not. Jesus, the Last Adam, who being in very nature omnipotent God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but rather he poured himself out in utter obedience to his heavenly Father and, in so doing, merited for all his people, whom the Father gave to him before eternity (Phil 2; John 17), righteousness and life.

Next time: That same omnipotent God is still active and present in the world.

Here are all the posts on the Heidelberg Catechism.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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