Photo Credit: Smithsonian American
Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. (Ezekiel 1: 15-19; ESV)
I have had some mixed feedback from Christians on this series of God’s Providence; some positive, some negative. The problem some people seem to have with Providence is that they mistake it for fate. Spurgeon himself seems to have had hearers who thought the same way, for he addresses this issue here in the final section of his sermon. While perhaps similar at first glance, when we look a little deeper at it we discover that there is an important difference between fate and providence. Spurgeon says,
What is fate? Fate is this, Whatever is, must be. But there is a difference between that and Providence. Providence says, Whatever God ordains, must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains any thing without a purpose. Every thing in this world is working for some one great end. Fate does not say that. Fate simply says that the thing must be; Providence says, God moves the wheels along, and there they are. If anything would go wrong, God puts it right; if there is anything that would move awry, he puts his hand and alters it. It comes to the same thing; but there is a difference as to the object. There is all the difference between fate and Providence that there is between a man with good eyes and a blind man. Fate is the blind thing; it is the avalanche crushing the village down below and destroying thousands. Providence is not an avalanche; it is a rolling river, rippling at the first like a rill down the sides of the mountain, followed by minor streams, till it rolls in the broad ocean of everlasting love, working for the good of the human race. The doctrine of Providence is not, that what is, must be; but that, what is works together for the good of our race, and especially for the good of the chosen people of God. The wheels are full of eyes; not blind wheels.
I find that so comforting; “the rims were full of eyes.” God sees everything, and because He does see everything, He also is able to have His hand in everything. As we said in earlier parts of this series, we may not understand why and how God does as He does, but the fact remains that He is somehow in control of everything. Just as Creation is God’s original work in the universe, Providence speaks of His continued on going relationship to His Creation. As Millard J. Erickson has said in his 1300 page magnum opus, “Christian Theology,”
Providence in certain ways is central to the conduct of the Christian life. It means that we are able to live in the assurance that God is present and active in our lives. We are in his care and can therefore face the future confidently, knowing that things are not happening merely by chance. We can pray, knowing that God hears and acts upon our prayers. We can face danger, knowing that he is not unaware and uninvolved.
The secular worldview, on the other hand, has no such assurance. It is, as Spurgeon suggested, more in line with the belief in fate. Since the atheist does not believe in a God, and since the agnostic isn’t sure, one way or another, if there is or isn’t a God, they are both more likely to believe in fate. If there is no God, then everything that happens can have no divine purpose and can ultimately only be fate. Everything just sort of happens by chance without any rhyme or reason. Ultimately, it is all little more than complete hopelessness. As someone has said, “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” This is especially so when events happen that seem to be inconsistent with what the world, perhaps ironically, perceives they should be if they were to come from the hand of a loving God.
In his excellent book, “The Lies We Believe,” author Chris Thurman addresses the lie that some Christians believe that “Because I’m A Christian, God Will Protect Me from Pain and Suffering.” I know a number of people who have gone through lengthy periods of unemployment. I remember one friend who even managed to laugh about his predicament when he shared that he even received a rejection letter in the mail from an employer to whom he didn’t even apply! In the same way, people who undergo some form of illness sometimes fall for the lie that God is getting back at them for some “sin” in their lives. Sometimes we just cannot understand “why bad things happen to good people.” If bad things happen, does that then mean that God is somehow all of a sudden no longer loving? If bad things happen, does that then throw a wrench into the doctrine of God’s Providence? No, a thousand times, No! Thurman says,
Being a Christian means joy, peace, and contentment, we are told. We happily misconstrue that to mean that a Christian never has problems or pain … For many people their faith, becomes a source of bitterness and anger the moment life turns sour. God often becomes the scapegoat for all the hurt we feel when he doesn’t come charging to the rescue like a heavenly cavalry, or more to the point, like the loving “Father Knows Best” father who always manages to make things right. “Isn’t that love?” we ask childishly.
So how do we reconcile those painful things in life with the love of God’s Providence? I think that we would do well to remember that God has also given us “Free Will” to pretty much do as we please. The choice is ours. To borrow a line from that classic movie “The Matrix,” there is a red pill and a blue pill before us. There is choice “A” and choice “B.” We can choose God’s way, or we can choose the world’s way. While God desires that we choose wisely, He will not twist our arms behind our backs in submission. While the choice is ours, let’s not forget that choices often have consequences attached to them. For example, if I choose by my own free will to smoke, knowing that it is harmful for me to do so, then whose fault is it if I get lung cancer? Is that God’s fault? Is He now suddenly less loving? Of course not! God may choose to heal me, and He may also choose not to, but that’s not the point. (Lest we digress too far, we’ll save the question of healings for another topic at a later date). The point is, with choices come consequences.
Not only did God give us “Free Will” and the freedom to choose, He also did the same for every other person on this planet. How will they choose? What choices have they made? How have their choices affected us? How will their choices affect us in the future? If God were to intervene on every choice that mankind makes, could we say that we then had “Free Will?” If everything that we choose to do were to get overturned by God every time it didn’t line up with His will, then we never really had a “Free Will” in the first place. In truth, we are then little more than robots.
There are plenty of lies that we believe, not just in the world, but also in the church. There are many false prophets who, while not necessarily out to deceive, have done exactly that. This was just as true in the Old Testament days as it is in the New Testament days. For example, Jeremiah 5:31 says, “the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction, my people love to have it so” (ESV). Likewise Paul said in 2 Timothy 4: 3-4, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (ESV). This is nothing new. It happened in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and I’m sure it will continue happening right up to the end of the age when the Lord Jesus returns for us. It is the nature of man brought on by sin. We want our own way, not God’s way, and in order to make sure that we get it, we’ll gather ourselves to those who will give us what we want. We’re all guilty; we’ve all done it at one time or another. And though there are plenty of consequences for our wandering, and despite our stubborn natures, still God loves us.
That is the nature of the Providence of God; it is Full of Wisdom. God created this world and is still very much involved in it. He blesses both the believer’s field and the non-believer’s field with rain. God did not just simply create the world, wind it up like some sort of child’s top, and let it spin itself out of control. No, He is still actively and providentially in control. Regardless of belief or lack of belief, we all equally benefit from some measure of the Providence of God. God in His wisdom, chose not to create for himself a world full of robots, who mindlessly simply do His bidding. In God’s wisdom, He chose rather to give us a measure of “Free Will,” knowing that with it will come painful choices and consequences. Yes, such is the nature of the Providence of God, and such is His wisdom in it.
I have enjoyed looking into Spurgeon’s sermon, “God’s Providence.” My prayer is that these ten parts that we have divided the sermon into have been a blessing and an encouragement. Thank you for tuning in, and God bless.