We're Pagans I tell you! by Pastor John Samson
Jesus said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father." Matthew 10:29.
Whenever a sparrow falls to the ground, God the Father was involved in some way. That's a powerful statement, if ever I heard one. Why? Because the falling of a sparrow is an everyday occurrence. Each day, sparrows are born; and each day, sparrows die. Perhaps when a sparrow falls, someone might actually notice it; but then again, perhaps not. Perhaps the fall is caught on camera, or then again, perhaps not. Perhaps the sparrow falls amongst forest trees in the middle of the night with no camera or person around to record the incident. But the point Jesus makes here is that whatever the circumstance of a sparrow's fall - any sparrow's fall - it could not have done so unless God the Father had in some sense determined that it would.
In making this statement, Jesus was pointing to a great deal more than the plight of a sparrow. We can clearly understand that major events like the fall and the rise of nations are under God's providential rule and authority. But Jesus here made it quite clear that even when it comes to seemingly insignificant or trivial events (like a sparrow falling); they only occur because of the Father's will.
Even as Christians, I really don't think we get this. We have been so saturated and indoctrinated by the secular society around us that the world has affected our thinking far more than the Bible has. We live in a technological age unlike any other in human history. This is the generation of space travel, television, radio, the cell phone, high speed internet, the garage door opener, instant text messaging, microwave ovens and satellites. We're now very accustomed to seeing satellite pictures from space showing us up to the minute weather conditions around the world. There's nothing wrong with that, except that modern technology often gives us a very false impression. Because we can monitor the movement of a cloud formation or a hurricane from our living rooms, we tend to think that somehow what we are seeing in front of our eyes takes place outside of God's control. Because we can plot the movement of a hurricane, and even get a good idea about where and when it might hit land, we fail to see God's hand in it all.
But that's not just true about hurricanes, its true about weather of all kinds. I've yet to hear a weather report that says, "God in His providence may well be sending us sunshine tomorrow" or "God in His mercy may well be sending us rain. Let us kneel and give reverential thanks to Him for answered prayer." Even on Christian television stations that bring us news and weather programs, we don't usually hear talk like that. Former generations would certainly have spoken in this way, but not ours. You see, we think we're more sophisticated now than our forefathers, and a foolish and prideful independence has set in to our hearts. We may have more technological advantages, but we have a far more pagan view of nature and its laws than those who looked at the world through the lens of the Bible.
What's true about weather is also true about life. We tend to think that the laws of nature operate outside of the Providential control of God. Yet there's no biblical precedent for that. Quite the opposite in fact. The Bible teaches that we cannot even move a muscle - we can't raise a hand and put it down again, unless God in some sense allows us to. Acts 17:28 says, "In Him we live and move and have our being." But sadly, the church is filled with folk who have not understood this, and instead have a pagan view of man, the will, and of life itself. That's one of the main reasons why people object to the doctrines and implications of God's Sovereignty. We're still pagan in our thinking.
To remedy this, the third chapter of the historic 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 based on Eph. 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." Psalm 115:3 states it this way, "Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him." Psalm 135:6 says, "The LORD does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths." God is sovereign. He is in control.
The Church at large has tried to put man at the center of the Universe for so long in its sermons, books and articles that today, when we do hear a preacher talk about the Sovereignty of God, it actually seems very strange to many people's ears. The thought is "what new doctrine is this?" But the truth is that this is not a new concept at all, but in fact the classic, orthodox, Christian view of the God of the Bible.
Psalm 33:8-11 says, "Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the peoples of the world revere Him. For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm. The LORD foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever; the purposes of His heart through all generations."
Again we see this in Daniel 4:34, 35 - "At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No man can hold back His hand or say to Him: "what have you done?""
Regarding the Sovereignty of God, Dr. R. C. Sproul has long made the point that if there were 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. If God is not in Sovereign control, perhaps that one "maverick molecule" could have got into the lungs of Jesus as a young baby and God's eternal plan of salvation could well have been derailed with Jesus dying in infancy. As the old saying goes, "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."
In contrast to this picture, our God is All-Powerful (Omnipotent), 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.
A key biblical principle that helps illuminate God's Sovereignty is called concurrence. God's eternal purpose and humanity's purposes concur - that is, they take place at the same time. People have their 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. It should be a great comfort for us to know that God is in charge of history - that there's a purpose to history - it is His story.
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.
In Genesis 45:5 and 50:20, the Bible tells us that God planned the attempted murder and enslavement of Joseph so that He could eventually rescue millions of people from famine. Joseph tells his brothers that their plan was wicked - "You intended it for evil." But God's plan trumped their plan, Joseph explains, "But God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."
As my friend, Dr. James White has commented, "The action of selling Joseph into slavery was, without question, an evil one. No one would argue this. Yet, Joseph says that God intended the action for good. God was working in the very same situation to bring about His intended purpose. The motivation of Joseph's brothers was evil: the purpose of God in the very same action was good and pure."
Another example of this can be found in the Book of Acts. Here God is portrayed as actually planning the murder of Jesus, the worst sin of mankind in all history. Peter, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit declared that Christ was "delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up..." (Acts 2:23, 24).
Later on, when Peter and John were arrested for their preaching, the Church prayed a prayer which included this idea that God had planned and orchestrated the events surrounding the crucifixion. In Acts 4:27, 28 the gathered saints prayed, "... both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done."
Regarding this incident, Dr. White writes, "The Church did not mis-speak this prayer. They acknowledged that what Herod and Pilate and the Jews had done to Jesus Christ in the crucifixion was exactly what God's power and will had decided beforehand should happen! But was not Pilate guilty in condemning Jesus? Of course! Was Herod free of condemnation? No! Were the Jewish leaders acting with pure motivations, or were their hearts filled with hatred toward the Christ? The answer is obvious. Yet, in this obviously evil action of condemning and murdering the sinless, pure, Lamb of God, we see God's hand! It did not merely take place with His permission, but at His bidding! The motivations of those involved were evil. There's no doubt about it. Yet, can we think of any greater example where God's motivations were any higher, any purer? Can we think of any single event that will bring about more good, and result in more glory to God, than the death of Christ as the perfect substitute for sinners? Surely not!"
Christ's murderers were working out God's eternal plan, although they will be judged for their actions. That's part of 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.
May we as Christians seek a biblical worldview, especially in regard to God's Sovereignty and His Providential rule in the affairs of men. This is a vital and necessary safeguard against the militant secularism and paganism that is all too pervasive around us.