The Bible doesn’t reveal the god of Deism, who is mostly unconcerned and uninvolved with his creation. Scripture presents us with the one true God, who is close at hand (Jer. 23:23–24) not just in the sense that He is everywhere present with His creation but that He is present in and through the events of creation and the decisions of His creatures. He remains distinct from these things, but make no mistake, His hand is upholding these things and directing them as He works out all things—not only some things—according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1: 11).
Have you ever heard a non-Christian say, “Everything happens for a reason”? I have, and probably more times than I can count. I’m not sure what to think when I hear it. On the one hand, I’m glad when a non-Christian expresses doubts that purposeless things happen. After all, one can quickly move from belief that some things have no purpose, to belief that life has no purpose, to sheer nihilism that bears fruit in suicide or sociopathic behavior. On the other hand, I know that when most non-Christians confess that everything happens for a reason, they do not have the right reason in mind. Usually they are just admitting belief that blind, impersonal fate controls everything. But of course, how can blind, impersonal fate have a reason for everything? Purpose comes only from personal agents who make a plan and follow it. If everything happens for a reason, something—or rather, Someone—must decide the reason for it.
As Christians, we know that everything happens for a reason because the personal triune God has created all things and has a plan for everything that happens. He is sovereign over all such that even a sparrow cannot fall to the ground apart from His will (Matt. 10:29). He works out all things, not just some things, according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). This, essentially, is what theologians mean by providence—God has a plan and a purpose for the world and governs history such that everything from the least to the greatest contributes to the achievement of that plan and purpose. He isn’t merely a passive observer of history; rather, He has designed history to achieve a particular end and He directs history so that it will surely reach that end.
No Such Thing as Chance
All Christians have some doctrine of God’s providence because the Bible teaches clearly that God rules over all things. I do not know any professing believer who denies that the Lord is in control over the big things such as presidential elections, hurricanes, or world wars. However, in the biblical doctrine of providence, we’re not limiting God’s control to only the major things of history. We’re talking about even the smallest things, even the roll of the dice. Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” A roll of the dice, which would be the rough modern equivalent of the ancient practice of casting the lot, seems to have a totally random result. But this is not so. The results of the roll are exactly what the Lord ordained.
But of course, for God to get the results of the dice roll He ordained, lots of things have to happen. It has to be thrown with just the right amount of force. Too much and the dice will tumble past the ordained number. Too little and it might not tumble at all. So, God has to regulate the dice thrower’s arm to get the result He wants. What if there is a slight breeze or the dice are being thrown under an air conditioning vent? Well, in either case, the force of the air is going to play a part, however slight, in the outcome of the dice roll. That is something else for the Lord to direct in order to get His chosen outcome. But the movement of the air is related to the temperature of the room, which is related to the movement of the air molecules, which is determined by the atoms in the molecules and ultimately by subatomic particles. They have to move in just the right way to create just the right temperature to create the conditions necessary for the dice to give the number the Lord has chosen. And that is a vast oversimplification—once you get down to the subatomic level, things get really complicated.
All that is to say, as Dr. R.C. Sproul so frequently reminded us, that there is not one “maverick molecule” in all creation operating outside the sovereign control and direction of the Lord. There can’t be, for if the tiniest thing were to go astray, the cascading effects could change everything. Ultimately, as Dr. Sproul also reminded us, there is no such thing as chance.
Understanding that there is no such thing as chance should dramatically reframe our view of everyday life. Let’s face it—most of us are not very important people in the eyes of the world. We’ll have a lasting influence on maybe a handful of individuals, and we’ll be quickly forgotten after we die. Because of that, it is too easy to think that our actions do not matter or that God is not all that involved. We might think He is involved in the affairs of world leaders, but certainly He doesn’t pay much attention to the rest of us as we change diapers, try to keep our teenagers out of trouble, work long hours to pay the mortgage, chat with neighbors, struggle to make it to church each week, put our feet up in the evenings, play the same game with our toddler for the umpteenth time, cram for the next exam, and so forth.
The truth of God’s providence tells us otherwise. For one thing, providence means not only that He is governing and directing all things but also that He is sustaining all things. Hebrews 1:3, for instance, reveals that God, through His Son, “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” God not only created all things but He preserves all things (Neh. 9:6). As I have been telling my children recently, if the Lord were to stop sustaining the existence of the world, everything—including us—would immediately vanish into nothingness. At every moment, we are completely dependent on God’s continuing to sustain His creation. The universe does not continue on in its own power.
From the truth of God’s sustaining providence, we may rightly infer that the Lord thinks there is something awfully important about everything in creation, even the things we consider the most mundane. Our Maker is not one to waste His time and energy, as it were, on trivial things. The very fact that He sustains everything, including our ordinary lives and decisions, means there is value to these things. This value, of course, does not come finally from us; rather, the value is found in how God works all things together for our good and His glory, in how He weaves everything together in His sovereign plan (Isa. 43:6–7; Rom. 8:28). As Romans 11:36 expresses it: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
So, God’s governance and sustenance work themselves out in the comparatively little things of life. Our choice to have chicken and not fish for dinner, our selection of flowers to plant in our front yards, our preference for football over baseball, our decision to take the scenic route and not the more direct highway, our request to have the stylist cut half an inch instead of a whole inch off our hair, our opting for our daughters to take ballet lessons instead of soccer—everything is ultimately governed and directed by the Lord and thus has value in His plan. This truth is not meant to paralyze us. We are not going to cause God’s kingdom to go off the rails if we choose chicken over fish. In fact, a decision such as that one, all things being equal, is indifferent. It is neither inherently sinful nor inherently righteous to eat chicken or fish. Nevertheless, the choice we make in even such an apparently insignificant matter has ramifications for the kingdom that we cannot fathom.
To put it another way, God’s providence is very much an everyday reality. The Bible doesn’t reveal the god of Deism, who is mostly unconcerned and uninvolved with his creation. Scripture presents us with the one true God, who is close at hand (Jer. 23:23–24) not just in the sense that He is everywhere present with His creation but that He is present in and through the events of creation and the decisions of His creatures. He remains distinct from these things, but make no mistake, His hand is upholding these things and directing them as He works out all things—not only some things—according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1: 11).
Our apparently insignificant choices are not going to throw God’s plan off course, but what about bigger and more consequential decisions and actions? These aren’t going to ruin the Lord’s plan either because His providence operates not only in everyday things but also in what we might call extraordinary things—those actions that more clearly affect the course of world history and the expansion of God’s kingdom. In fact, we may say that because the Lord’s providence governs the everyday things, it must also govern the extraordinary things.
Daniel 2:21 says that God “removes kings and sets up kings.” Few things are more directly relevant to the outcome of history than the world’s rulers. The rising and falling of kings constitutes one of the extraordinary things that must happen precisely according to God’s intent in order for His plan for history and for His people to be achieved. We will consider the ascension of King Cyrus the Great to the Persian throne in 538 BC to help illustrate this.