"...then we must conclude that the storms that blow against us are not from God. They are part of the natural order which follows a course of natural law." [Jim Evans, quoted in the Opelika-Auburn News, C1, 3 September 2005 under "Where is God in the Storm?"]
In response to the above quote concerning Hurricane Katrina made by a pastor near Auburn, Alabama (where I used to live), Paul Stith, of Grace Heritage Church
(where I was once a member), made the following comments:
Why is it that we feel compelled to let God off the hook, as it were? Why do we want to find comfort by saying that God had nothing to do with this? Are we really better off with a God who is little more powerful than the Red Cross, running to the disaster to hold our hand in the aftermath? This is the god that some have constructed in their imaginations.
In stark contrast to this "god of our imaginations" the Bible presents God as omnipotent [that is, "all-powerful"].
God’s omnipotence is majestically and undeniably demonstrated in the first act of creation in which the universe was created out of nothing by God's Word, but often we are distracted by the visible matter around us in such a way as to miss the continuing activity of God throughout creation. We may be quick to acknowledge God as Creator, as I am sure the pastor quoted from the article above would do, but fail to glorify God by declaring that “He sustains all things by His powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). That ‘all things are sustained by God’s might’ should clue us in to what the phrase “all-mighty” really indicates, namely, that “God’s omnipotence brings out every phenomenon of existence. This is the essential and sufficient cause of all things.” [Fredrik Brosche, Luther on Predestination (1978).]
Therefore we see that God’s omnipotence is not a static phenomenon. God is not a clockmaker who builds and then leaves His invention to run according to the mechanics He has set in place. Nor is He an absentee parent who only visits on occasional holidays. Nor does He even act within our lives often. Rather He is constant- like the very breath we breathe and the beating of our hearts- the activity of nerves carrying information from our minds and the contracting and relaxing of our muscles- providing all power necessary for our every action- “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). So when the Bible declares, “He is before all things and by Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17), we can be sure that without Him all things would fall apart into oblivion.
And God is not like some computer program that simply allows a video game to run- neutral to the outcome of the game- He is not passive in His sustaining power. Rather the Bible declares that He is the “One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). And this is to our great benefit as He works all things “together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
God’s active power over His creation is seen throughout the Scriptures:
· In inanimate creation (Job 37:6-13; 38:12, 22-32; Ps. 104:4, 14; 135:6-7; 148:8 Matt. 5:45)
· In animals (Job 38:39-41; Ps. 104:27-29; Matt. 6:26; 10:29)
· In seemingly random or chance events (Prov. 16:33)
· In the affairs of nations (Job 12:23; Ps. 22:28; Dan. 4:34-35)
· In the will of kings (Ezra 1:1; 6:22; Ps. 33:14-15; Prov, 21:1)
· In the will of believers (Phil. 2:13)
· In every aspect of our lives (Job 14:5; Ps. 139:16; Prov. 16:9; Prov. 20:24; Jer. 10:23; Matt.6:11; Gal. 1:15; Phil. 4:19)
And so we see that all power belongs to God and that any power an individual may seem to have is actually derivative. John 19:10-11 and Romans 13:1 prove this concept and allow us to know that God establishes all authorities and works through ‘em: whether they be just or tyrannical.
Is God then, therefore, the author of evil? Not at all. God never creates evil, nor does He entice anyone to evil. This is made clear in passages such as James 1:13-17. But God can never be inactive in His creation, which is entirely dependent upon His sustaining and ordering activity, as examined above. Rather, God is constantly working out His purposes through His entire created order, regardless of the will of His creatures. And so we see that there are times in which God empowers men to work according to their own corrupt nature and achieve His good purposes (as in the cases of Pharaoh and Judas) and there are times when He transforms the nature of His creatures to achieve His good purposes (as in the cases of Rahab and Paul). As Luther also explains:
Here you see that when God works in and by evil men, evil deeds result; yet God, though He does evil by means of evil men, cannot act evilly Himself, for He is good, and cannot do evil; but He uses evil instruments, which cannot escape the impulse and movement of His power. The fault which accounts for evil being done when God moves to action lies in these instruments, which God does not allow to be idle. In the same way a carpenter would cut badly with a saw-toothed axe. Hence it is that the ungodly man cannot but err and sin always, because under the impulse of Divine power he is not allowed to be idle, but wills, desires, and acts according to his nature.This is sure and certain, if we believe that God is omnipotent [emphasis added]; as it is also certain that the ungodly man is a creature of God, but one which, being perverted and left to itself without the Spirit of God, cannot will or do good. God’s omnipotence makes it impossible for the ungodly man to escape the action upon him of the movement of God; of necessity he is subject to it, and obeys it; but his corruption, his turning of himself from God, makes it impossible for him to be moved and to act well. God cannot suspend His omnipotence on account of man’s perversion, and the ungodly man cannot alter his perversion. As a result he sins and errs incessantly and inevitably until he is set right by the Spirit of God. [Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, translated by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston (2002): 204-205]
And as God works out His perfect purposes through sinful people, He also sovereignly works out His purposes through the natural world, which has also been impacted by sin in such a way as to often be grossly inhospitable to the people for whom it was originally created to provide:
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:19-25 NKJV)
[This blogpost is adapted from a post originally published on 9/7/05.]
Labels: Christian worldview, Reformation Theology