Over the past few weeks, we have been exposed to the deepest darkness of living in a fallen world. The news of more police brutality and rioting in Baltimore have cluttered Twitter feeds. The devastating earthquake in Nepal, which has claimed thousands of lives, has left us all speechless. Brutal violence. Senseless natural disaster. Witnessing both of these events within the same week is overwhelming to the human soul, or at least to the compassionate human soul.
Regardless of your worldview, feelings of helplessness fill your heart in light of such injustice and tragedy. And as we continue to call for justice in the cities of America and run to repair in the mountains of Nepal, we are left with questions of the divine. Where is God in all of this rioting and rubble? Some would say God is nowhere. Others would say he would love to be there, but has his hands tied because of human free will. However, the God of the Bible is much bigger than this.
The London Baptist Confession of 1689 says God is “the first and best of beings.” He is a “spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable” in his being and in all that he says and does. There is only one “living and true God” and this God exists as Trinity—“there are three persons in the one God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are equal and eternal.”
Clearly this God is quite big and majestic. God is entirely transcendent while being remarkably immanent. In the midst of the turmoil of the Baltimore riots and the Nepal earthquake, a question and answer from an age-old catechism can help us see where God is in this dark night.
The eleventh question of the Baptist Catechism (1689) asks, “What are the decrees of God?” The answer is: “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby for his own glory, he has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”
The doctrine of God’s providence and sovereignty takes the bigness of God to an entirely new level. It is through his providence and sovereignty that God reigns supreme in the chaos of this world. The word “providence” doesn’t appear anywhere in Scripture, but it has traditionally been used to describe the way God relates to his creation. In contrast to theologies of God that limit God’s activity in the world, God’s providence can be understood as his continual involvement with everything he created.
God’s providence stands in contrast to things such as “fate,” “luck,” or “chance.” God’s providence and his decrees indicate that nothing happens randomly or without a specific purpose. This doctrine teaches us that nothing is outside of God’s control. He is so utterly sovereign that he doesn’t simply know that things will happen, but he causes all things to happen. In some mysterious way, even bad and evil things fit into the eternal plan of God (Isa. 45:6-7). Because of God’s providence, we cannot become fatalistic when suffering comes.
There are three main things about God’s providence and sovereignty that can help us see where God is during tragedy: (1) God has an eternal plan, (2) God’s eternal plan is based on his perfect will, and (3) God’s eternal plan is for his glory. The God who existed before all things is the one who plans all things. God decrees (or plans) everything that happens according to his perfect will and for his glory.
God’s Eternal Plan
The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations (Psalm 33:11).
God plans all things from eternity past. This means that the creator of the universe is in complete control of the universe. He plans all things according to the purpose of his will and he foreordains everything that happens. We make plans and break plans all the time. I am the world’s worst for this. I will plan a surprise trip for my wife in a certain city on a certain weekend and then two weeks later I will make a reservation at a hotel in a different city on a different weekend than my original plan. Our plans change. Our plans can also be motivated by selfish or sinful desires.
However, God plans in a different way—he decrees. A decree is an authoritative order issued by a king that everyone in his kingdom must obey. God is the king of the universe. The decrees he makes are eternally set and they are unchangeable. God planned both your creation and salvation before the earth was made (Eph. 1:3-11). Before God made anything, he planned everything he would make, how everything would work, and what everything would do. God gave orders for everything that would ever happen. God is intimately involved with his creation. Be encouraged by the fact that God not only knows what you are going through, but he planned what you are going through.
God’s Perfect Will
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11).
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3).
None of this would be good news if God were evil. If God were working for your destruction, the fact that he planned all things would be quite scary. However, we know the character of God. He is love (1 John 4:8). He is eternally good, merciful, gracious, and kind. God bases all of his decrees on the counsel or purpose of his will. In other words, God decrees all things based on what he wants. God’s desires are elevated and fulfilled in his decrees. Be encouraged by the fact that God has planned all things according to his perfect will. His perfect and sinless purposes will be accomplished (Isa. 46:10).
God’s Perfect Motive
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 40:5).
[E]veryone who is called by my name whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made (Isaiah 43:7).
What is God’s purpose in decreeing all things? What is the goal he has in mind when he foreordains all things? God has his glory in mind. God’s decrees are for his glory. God decrees both the creation and salvation of man for his glory. God does all things to make his glory known. His motive in everything he causes to happen is his glory. Seek to reflect God in this sense by making his glory known in everything you say or does. Pray for God’s glory to be known and experienced among the nations (Ps. 96:3, 8).
God’s decrees are his eternal plans for everything that happens, including the creation and salvation of man. God’s decrees are always based on his perfect will. God’s decrees are always for the purpose of making his glory known. In light of the chaos in Baltimore and the destruction in Nepal, marvel at the bigness of God. Rest in the fact that the God of heaven and earth isn’t reacting to these events or any form of suffering that happens to you. Instead, he is actively involved in every aspect of life. Our God reigns, even over Baltimore and Nepal.
Mathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.