Bible Question:

Does the providence of God preclude any decisions/purpose on our part? If God has preordained our “existence, ” what good are our prayers and our Christian life? If we have been ordained to go to hell or heaven, why does it matter what we believe or how we live?

Bible Answer:

Scripture is clear that God is in absolute control. He has either decided in eternity past or on a day-to-day basis what He wills to permit or wills to force to happen in our lives. The desire of every Christian should be that the Holy Spirit completely control us. That is what it means to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) or to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). When this happens, the Holy Spirit will control our emotions, thoughts, attitudes, desires, words and steps. It is amazing how many Christians want to be Spirit filled but object to the thought of not having free choice. God is in control of our lives and desires His Holy Spirit to be in even more control.

God’s Control

God has been in control since the beginning of the world and the universe, and He continues to be in control according to Colossians.

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (NASB) Colossians 1:16-17

He made the world and He continues to hold everything together. Sometimes I have wondered what would happen if He “let go.” Is it possible that 2 Peter really describes what happens when God releases control?

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (NASB) 2 Peter 3:10

God controls more than just the big picture. Listen to a few verses,

PassageArea of Control (NASB)
Psalm 139:16Our Days Are Determined. And in Thy book they were all written, The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.
Job 12:10Our Lives Are In His Hand. In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind?
Acts 14:17He Gives Rain & Seasons. He . . . gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.
Daniel 2:21 He Controls Times, Epochs & Nations. And it is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men, And knowledge to men of understanding.
Proverbs 21:1He Controls Our Heart. The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.
Ezra 1:1 An Example of Control. Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation . . .
Proverbs 16:9God Ultimately Controls. The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.
Proverbs 20:24Our Steps Are Determined. Man’s steps are ordained by the LORD, How then can man understand his way?
Psalm 127:1Lord Must Helps Us Work. Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.
Psalm 127:3Children Come From Him. Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Most of us would not have much trouble with these verses. We understand that God is actively involved in our lives, controlling the events around us, and influencing our hearts by His Holy Spirit.

Problem of Sin

Yet, scripture also teaches that on occasion, God is directly and absolutely in control of our decisions and the events surrounding us. The Lord moved Joseph’s brothers and Pharaoh to accomplish His purposes.

PassageArea of Control (NASB)
Genesis 37:28; 45:5; 50:20He Used Evil To Save Egypt. Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they . . . sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt.God sent me before you to preserve life.And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.
Exodus 4:21; 8:15; 9:12Lord Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart. And the LORD said to Moses, ” . . . I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them . . .And the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart . . .
2 Kings 22:21-22Lord Uses An Evil Spirit To Inflict Ahab. And the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’
Job 1:8God Motivated Satan To Inflict Righteous Job. And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD.

These verses may seem unfair to us, but God uses evil to accomplish His purposes. He is not the author of sin. He does not sin. But in order to inflict discipline (Pharaoh and Ahab), to cause growth (Job), and sometimes to cause a greater good (Joseph), He uses evil to accomplish His purpose. From the mere fact that He permitted sin to exist, we know that He is willing for sin to exist. Otherwise, He could have prevented it. This does not mean that He sins, created sin, or causes us to sin.

Conclusion:

God is in total control of His creation down to the smallest event in our own lives. God directly intervenes to change events and the hearts of men and women to accomplish His purposes. God willed sin to exist, determined who would be saved, has determined the length of our lives, and when the creation should be destroyed. Yet, sin became a reality when Adam and Eve sinned. He permitted it to exist. In that sense He willed sin to exist. Many object to the idea that God has determined who will be saved. Yet, God also says that if anyone wants to be saved, we can be. It is our decision. Does this make sense? No, but He promised that it was true. All we need to do is respond if we want to be saved. What it must mean is that anyone who wants to be saved has been selected. Does that make God evil? The answer is that none of us deserve to be saved. We are all sinners. Our parents (Adam and Eve) caused this to happen. So it does matter how we live. He does not control every decision. We close with this passage,

You do not have because you do not ask. (NASB) James 4:2

That does not sound like everything is determined. Do you want to be saved? If so, tell Him!