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17 & 18 February 2024 (Pastoral Page) MAN PROPOSES, BUT GOD DISPOSES.

By Dr Peter Lim

This is presidential elections year in the USA. While the courts have yet to decide whether Donald Trump is eligible to stand for a second term as president, many are already fretting over the outcome of the legal proceedings and its implication. Christians, however, can take heart that God is always in control – “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.” (Psalms 33:10-11). God’s rule over the nations is clearly affirmed in the Bible - “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.” (II Chronicles 20:6). In the New Testament, God’s ordination of rulers is spelt out thus “. . . for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1). The well-known aphorism “Man proposes, but God disposes” indeed encapsulates the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.

“Providence is normally defined in Christian theology as the unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill (Psalms 145:9; cf. Matthew 5:45-48), He upholds His creatures in ordered existence, guides and governs all events, circumstances, and free acts of angels and men (cf. Psalms 107; Job 1:12; 2:6; Genesis 45:5-8) and directs everything to its appointed goal, for His own glory (cf. Ephesians 1:9-12).” (J.I. Packer in an article on “Providence” in The New Bible Dictionary, 3rd Edition, IVF, page 979). Packer also states that “Providence is presented in Scripture as a function of divine sovereignty.” In line with this definition the ultimate fulfilment of God’s providential rule will culminate at the second coming of Jesus Christ when He will be hailed as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” (Revelation 19:16).

The annals of the Jews are replete with instances of the outworking of the sovereignty of God, the most dramatic of which are probably the crossing of the Red Sea and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. This latter development is of course a fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant. The providence of God for His chosen nation is best summed up by this verse – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jerimiah 29:11).

We learn about God’s sovereign will at a personal level from verses like “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9); “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21). Jesus also taught clearly on God’s sovereignty – “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father . . . So don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31). The lesson here is that if God exercises His sovereign control over the destiny of the ordinary and almost worthless sparrow, surely our lives are in no danger of being overlooked.

This teaching is reflected in the life of Joseph, son of Jacob, who was sold into slavery by his jealous siblings. Although unjustly incarcerated for many years he was finally installed as Pharaoh’s right-hand man, having charge of the whole of Egypt (Genesis 37, 39-41). The critical operative in this narrative are the words “the Lord was with him” (Genesis 39:2, 3, 21, 23) signifying the sovereignty of God over his life. Another well-known example of God’s sovereign intervention is the salvation of the Jews from genocide through the courageous action of Mordecai and Queen Esther, as recorded in the Book of Esther in the Old Testament. But more often than not, God is seemingly inactive and silent and we do not see the outworking of His sovereignty in the face of evil. In such circumstances we have to accept in faith and with equanimity that “. . . in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

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