Now that I have your attention with the title, I must say I have felt compelled to write about this subject for a while. In our contemporary setting, the church faces attacks on several fronts which would seek to overthrow historical orthodoxy, the regula fide, and the historical understanding of the person of Christ. Another area that the church faces controversy is over the sovereign nature of God. What I mean by my title is that the biggest heresy facing the church right now is a diminished view of God. In order to make God fit into our framework of understanding, we have reduced the power of God and His omnipotent nature to a view that is commonly called Open Theism. This view, in essence, is the view that God is not sovereign over all things in the sense that not all things are under His authority and control, that there are things that happen that God must react to, and that God knows all possible outcomes (similar to the “Choose your own ending” books many of us read as children) but that the course of action rests with us.
Now to address my title, which I am sure you have been wondering about. Dictionary.com would define coincidence as “a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance,” with other words like luck, fate, chance, accident, serendipity, etc. being used synonymously to describe the concept of coincidence. While this may seem like a silly argument to make, I believe it is of utmost importance if we are to understand the nature of God as He has revealed Himself to be. I have often asked myself the question, “Can’t things just happen?” Every time I have asked that question, I have had to consider my theology and from that draw a conclusion one way or another. When I have asked if things can just happen, I am making an assumption that God is either not fully involved in Creation or that He does not care enough to be involved in every aspect of Creation. In essence, by making the assumption that things happen by random chance, I am making a bold theological statement that God is not in control of all things.
How must we address this issue? Simply put, we must recognize that nothing happens outside the control, decree, ordination, and will of God. God is presented in Scripture as being both powerful and intimate, and we must always remember both of these things when asking ourselves questions about our circumstances and the role God plays in everyday life. I propose the concept of meticulous and total providence, the idea that all things are under the hand of God and that He is both the architect and designer of all things. This may sound like fatalism, which I do not hold to, and I will address that later in this post.
The idea of God being sovereign over all things and in control of all things must impact our worship, prayer, devotional life, preaching, and every other aspect of life. We must always remember who it is we pray to, the One who holds the cattle on 1000 hills (obviously meant as a comparitive statement to Rome, the city built on seven hills), who control the weather and storms and causes rain to fall or the sun to scorch, who draws men and women to Himself as He sees fit (Romans 8-10), and who causes nations to rise and fall based on His good pleasure to act as He sees fit (i.e. the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, etc.). This is not the God so often portrayed in our churches, where the concept of making God more like “one of us” as Joan Osbourne sang has caused us to see God as a buddy, as someone who wants a friend to sit with Him because He is lonely and needs us to feel better. That concept of God is heresy and an insult to the witness of Scripture.
When looking at Scripture, we see that there are many times where life seems to not make sense, where God’s servants are treated unfairly and punished wrongly. Last night in DIVE time with the Youth, we looked at the life of Joseph. Joseph could look at his situation in life (his sitz im leben for you German scholars) and see it as either conicidence, that things have just happened and he has been dealt a bad hand of cards, or that it falls together under this universal application of all things we commonly refer to as the “Will of God.” Our response to his circumstances reflects how we interpret our own circumstances. Do things just happen, or is there a purpose, a meaning behind them? If we are honest with ourselves and honest with Scripture, we have to come to the conclusion that all things do indeed work together for the good of those who are called of God. There is purpose, there is meaning, like in Job suffering is not experienced in a vacuum but is all part of the plan of God.
Then you ask, how is this not fatalism? Simply put, there is a complex paradox involving the will of God and the decisions of men that enables it to be both predetermined and part of God’s sovereign will and to be a very real and conscious decision for us. I do not believe we have libertarian freedom, but that we choose to do that which is most appealing to us and of our greatest desire. We make real decisions on what to do, where to go, who to follow, how to respond to the witness of Scripture as to the identity and reality of Christ and the Gospel. An honest reading of Scripture should lead you to this balanced view. It is not a contradiction of wills or of logic, because God exists on a plane of existence that is not bound by time, space, or other limitations, whereas we are. Therefore, our conceptual understanding of the nature of God is limited to what He has revealed about Himself and is bound by our time-space limits. He exists outside of our understanding, and much like the clay is not allowed to question the potter, we must never consider the wisdom and decrees of God to be “unfair.” Fairness is something we perceive, but we must remember that God is faithful to His word and when He says that He will work all for good and for His Glory, we must trust Him at His word axiomatically.
Let’s never put God in a box and limit Him and what He is capable of. As the Church, we must seek His face, repent where we have failed Him, and pursue Him unashamedly towards the glorious end that He is, to the glory of the Father through the Son by the Spirit. May I never have a small view of God or perceive Him as a buddy or as a lonely friend, but as the sovereign King of the universe who through the purchase of His Son has permitted a sinner such as I the oppportunity to share in the glories of His Kingdom.