Saturday, May 9, 2009

Freedom under Providence

News flash: Olivia and I are moving back to Richmond, Virginia! Few viable job leads had materialized in Plainfield or anywhere else in nearby Chicagoland, so I contacted my old district in Richmond, Henrico County Public Schools, and within a week I had three interviews lined up. I was eventually offered a biology/chemistry teaching position at Henrico High School, and I was able to negotiate for an extended, higher-paying contract.

As the reality of a move to VA drew near, we trembled at the thought of leaving behind Olivia's home of eleven years. I've become more comfortable living here, too, and yet another major move is certainly less than ideal. But we realized that in the absence of a compelling reason to stay in Illinois, this was clear provision from God in answer to prayers for employment. We knew that neither option--staying in IL or moving to VA--would be sin. We had good, God-fearing motives for each. But we knew we had to quickly make a decision, so we trusted God and went for it, believing that even in a big move such as this, God would be with us.

I felt the freedom to make this decision because I know that "finding God's will" is not about reading a fortune in tea leaves, gazing in a crystal ball for each move, or wanting to see the whole future laid out before we step out in faith. That's condemned as abominable sin, in fact (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). It's easy to get plagued by wanting to know God's secret will for our lives, all the particulars and plans, when those mysteries are never for our knowledge anyway (Deuteronomy 29:29). As servants under God's covenant lordship, all that matters is living by what he has revealed, that is, trusting him and being guided by his law. As we trust and obey his revealed will or "will of command" we can be sure that he will uphold us and carry out his exact plan for our lives, his "hidden will" or "will of decree." My former pastor Kevin DeYoung once preached,
We must renounce our sinful desire to know the future and be in control. We are not gods. We walk by faith, not by sight. We risk because God does not risk. We walk into the future in God-glorifying confidence, not because the future is known to us, but because it is known to God. And that's all we need to know.*
Here I think only a historic Augustinian/Reformed view of God's sovereignty and providence can give us humans true, meaningful freedom.* In an Arminian/open theistic view, even in "middle knowledge," God does not control all that happens in the future. He merely knows all that is possible, but human choice directs its course. If "God's will for my life" were really some sort of secret string of pearls I must continue to discover--specific choices and actions I may miss or stray from--then unless God controls me like a puppet, I could inadvertantly thwart his will. "Dang, God wanted me to do that, but I guess I missed it and ended up doing this instead. How was I to know? Both seemed like good options at the time. Can I still get back on track with his plan for me?"

In the biblical truth, however, everything is secured by God. I may fail to follow his revealed will--his law--but I cannot thwart his true purposes for me (his "hidden will" or "will of decree"). "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 19:21; see also 16:9, 33; Ephesians 1:11). I can rest in knowing that when I'm faced with two or more choices, neither of which is sinful, then I'm free to really choose and know that all that follows is in God's hands and is according to his plan. I don't have to fear ruining God's will for my life. Only in this way are my choices truly free. And I can rest assured that even when I fail in sin, the Potter does not throw out rebellious, deformed clay. He rather reshapes it again in patience and grace (Jeremiah 18).

In addition, because God has the sovereign power to actually bring the consequences and fruit of my decisions to pass and to make them stick, only a Reformed view makes my choices truly meaningful, more than just vain hopes thrown cast to the winds of chance. God has the ability to "establish the work of our hands for us" (Psalm 90:17), giving lasting weight to our choices and actions. Otherwise I would have no confidence that my decisions to follow God would not be corrupted by someone else; the world would be ruled by existentialist Angst. But it is not so, for "the earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" (Psalm 24:1).
*DeYoung, pastor at University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, MI, has now put his excellent sermon series "Wisdom and the Will of God" into a new book format titled Just Do Something. I'm really looking forward to reading it.
** This is not to say that others outside the Reformed tradition do not hold similar views, but they've largely been influenced by Augustine or the reformers.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Exciting news, Andrew! Praise God.

I agree with much of what you say here, and just happen to agree with Augustine and the Reformed on some things, because they are Scriptural.

I think you need to keep reading. In my view God is in control. But it's neither in some deterministic way in which every thing we do is controlled by him in the end, nor is it in just a voluntaristic way in which what I will is simply what God goes along with, and works with. It's much more dynamic than either.

I am not enamored by open theism, nor do I think that Arminianism (like Calvinism) doesn't have its problems.

I think a better reading and understanding of the Hebrew Bible- the Old Testament, would have benefited Augustine immensely. He, and Luther and Calvin brought into the their reading of the Biblical text, issues from their time, which while they were important, their import of them into the Biblical text really ends up losing a lot. I'm becoming more and more convinced of that. I only wish I had time to read like I want.

But I'll get back to your post later, as I find your thoughts here interesting.

And blessings on you and Olivia, and on your move to Richmond!

Ted M. Gossard said...

I am willing at times to think outside the box, but I need to keep reading myself. God indeed does secure the future. I really want to read on time and the nature of time, along with space, matter and energy. But from the text of Scripture, I would say that God knows exactly what he is going to do in the end in Christ. And God knows his will in Christ-oriented ways for our lives.

But to get to the Hebrew Bible thought: what we do matters and makes a difference. Rewards are to be taken seriously as well as loss. Salvation is of God, but to say that humans are simply acted upon by God or else condemned, does not seem to ring true from either the Hebrew Bible, or from that our New Testament. Really more to say on this, and on the Reformers. We have to move on, I wouldn't want to go back and live in their theology, and if they were alive today, I doubt that they would either!

But that's just a part of what I think on this, from my relatively undeducated understanding. But I'm going to keep reading. And I'm sure you will as well.

But yes, "freedom under Providence." May God grant that his will in Christ is fulfilled well in you and in Olivia's and in your children's lives- and in all the remaining days for each of us in Jesus.

Ted M. Gossard said...

(...I'm not speaking of a wholesale abandon of their theology, but open to mistakes they made, more what I'm getting at.)