Ordained by God?

(Jennifer Judson) #1

Yesterday in Sunday School class discussion a class member said something like this: When I look back over the last few years I see why God made all these challenges happen so that I would grow to where I am now.

I recognize in general her comment was meant to show how God uses our circumstances to grow our faith, understanding, wisdom, etc., but it did get me wondering, should we think of these circumstances as things God made happen? Or, is it challenges that God used for our benefit after our own choices or perhaps the choices of others brought about the circumstances? I would imagine it can be either, or both.

I know from my own experience how blessed I’ve been to see God at work in the middle of my crisis. I have tremendous gratitude for that. But am I (or should I) also seek God’s guidance in determining what brought me into that crisis to begin with? Of course many circumstances are not of our own making: natural causes, economic downturns, other people making destructive choices, etc. But in cases where my own choices put me in the crisis, am I abdicating responsibility when I say, “I see why God did that…”?

I’m not at all suggesting that was the case in this woman’s life, but it made me wonder if in the past I’d taken enough responsibility for my actions. More times than naught, in my own life, I’m sure the proper response should have been, “if it weren’t for the grace of God in that circumstance I’d be so much worse off. I don’t deserve his love but once again I am blessed by His mercy and faithfulness. I repent of my selfish choices. Enable me Lord to walk from this point on with the wisdom and let me always extend to others the grace you have shown me.”

Appreciate any thoughts and comments.

(SeanO) #2

I think there are two dangers when we attribute a particular event in our life directly to God:

  1. abdicating responsibility for our role in the outcome (as you mentioned)
  2. accusing God without knowledge (think of Job)

The simple fact is, as Job discovered, that the inner workings of the universe are a mystery to us. We know that God is our Shepherd who loves us and guides us - that all things do indeed work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose - but I believe it is beyond us to play connect the dots with the events in our lives. Only God can see the whole picture and we must trust Him to make it beautiful.

But, as you mentioned, we should grow in wisdom through the events of our lives and not simply say “God did it, therefore it is”. The experiences of our lives are opportunities for growth if we reflect on them through the lens of the Scriptures with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and act on what we see.

(Keldon Scott) #3

I am with you. Consider divorce for example. I know God hates divorce. Therefore, "God would not, IMHO, have “made that challenge happen.” However, he can take that which he hates which we choose to hone us, to chisel us, or even work for the good of those who love the Lord.

(Melvin Greene) #4

I would agree with @Keldon_Scott, and @SeanO. The only thing I’ll add is that I also believe that God through the Holy Spirit can lead us into a situation that will bring a time of suffering and testing. I think of my own experience here. God led me to reinlist in the National Guard during the height of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was deployed to Afghanistan and when I returned, I entered a very dark time because of PTSD. God, of course, helped me through it, and looking back, I can see how that prepared me for the ministry I’m in now. I see that a little like Jesus being led out into the wilderness to be tested.

The thing is, I can look back on that dark time and actually thank God for leading me through the “valley of the shadow of death.” I am being blessed by God using me to minister to others.

(Jennifer Judson) #5

Thank you, gentlemen for your wisdom.

When I’m the teacher in the class and these things come up in discussion, I’m in a better position to suggest a different perspective on what we attribute to God, or believe to be God ordained. I do this gently, but where there are class members of mixed Biblical understanding, I don’t want anyone to walk away with the impression that God is responsible for all terrible things that happened in their life just to teach a lesson. I think that would create a lot of confusion going forward.

But I wasn’t the teacher and felt I shouldn’t interrupt the vibrant flow of the class discussion. But it was just one of those times where something doesn’t sit right with your spirit.

(Brian Weeks) #6

I agree, Jennifer, this can be a difficult and sensitive topic and one that can even cause tension within the church, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to discuss these sorts of topics here as we extend mercy and grace to one another just as we would to one outside the faith. I’d like to offer some thoughts and biblical texts in the interest of seeking how you and others understand them.

It may be challenging to believe, but some Christians, like me, hold precious and find great comfort and strength in affirming that God ordains even the suffering they endure because this suffering has intrinsic purpose because God ordained it for a purpose. It could be your fellow Sunday school class member feels this way.

With regard to how this relates to human responsibility, God’s foreordination, does not at all lessen my responsibility for my thoughts, emotions, and actions. A few examples of where God seems to ordain suffering for some good while not relieving human responsibility that come to mind are:

  • Joseph sold into slavery: God meant/intended/planned the evil committed by Joseph’s brothers for good, but his brothers committed evil (Genesis 50:20)
  • Israelites’ slavery: God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 7:3, et al); God hardened his heart for his glory (Exodus 14:4, 17-18); Pharaoh was responsible for hardening his heart (Exodus 8:15, 32, 9:34, et al)
  • Job: God pointed Satan to Job and handed Job over (Job 1:8, 1:12, 2:6), but Satan did the tempting; All the suffering that befell Job are ultimately ascribed to the will of God (Job 1:11, 1:21, 2:5, 2:9, 2:10, 42:11); Job’s relationship with and adoration of God was deepened (Job 42:5)
  • Paul’s suffering: Given by God to keep Paul from conceit (2 Corinthians 12:7)
  • Death of Lazarus: Willed by God for the glory of God and the faith of Jesus’ disciples (John 11:4, 6, 15)
  • Killing of the Son of God (arguably the greatest sin and suffering ever): Ordained by God, yet those who committed the sin were responsible (Acts 2:23, 4:27-28)

The cross of Christ, interestingly, seems to display the most vivid juxtaposition of God ordaining the most horrible suffering ever in order to bring about the greatest good ever. Yet, in all his ordaining, I affirm God does so while remaining perfectly holy and good (James 1:13, 17; 1 John 1:5; Isaiah 6:3). The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way:

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

What do you take the above accounts and texts to mean regarding God’s role or lack of role in ordaining those instances of suffering, and how that does or does not lessen human responsibility for that suffering? Why do you think your classmate believes God ordained the challenges in her life?

I’m interested to learn your perspective here and why you believe what you believe. And, I sincerely can understand why you and others may find discomfort in and even reject this idea of God ordaining everything, including all suffering. I just wanted to share that there are Christians, like me, who cherish this idea as an unshakable rock during our times of worst suffering - that we know it will work out because God purposed it from before creation to work for our good. I think this challenging subject you’ve raised, Jennifer, is one of meaningful relevance and importance to the everyday life of Christians and one I’m always eager to further explore. As such, I look forward to more discussion here.

(Jennifer Judson) #7

Thanks, Brian for your thoughtful post. There’s a lot to mull over with this and I do believe your answer to be harmonious with the Reformed Church. I appreciate and respect these beliefs, but I myself am Wesleyan / Arminian in my heart. I like to think of it as being in different columns on the same page, maybe?

I am in agreement with much of your post. God’s hand in history is undeniable, as illustrated throughout scripture–including the examples you shared.

I’ve just finished the “Suffering” RZIM course so I’ve been thinking a lot about this. For now I will keep this in the first person and say that in any suffering I experience I am confident that God is in control, that God has a purpose for my life, and because I love him, he will work all things together for good (whether or not I can concretely see the good in that moment).

I can’t specifically say what the woman in my class understood it from the Westminster Confession perspective, though I’m pretty sure she was raised in the Wesleyan tradition (we’re Methodist).

Concerning a specific comment like the one I’m addressing, I would never emphatically tell anyone that God did or did not do something in their life. As Sean remarked, there is knowledge we simply to not possess. But I don’t think it outside or your beliefs to always question what personal responsibility is in play that brought about the difficult circumstances. God is in the process of molding us, but in our rebellion are we resisting those lessons?

From your post:

I admit I find the statements in this paragraph to be contradictory. I’ve not yet found myself able to agree with the statements that God both “unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass” AND “neither is God the author of sin…” It seems to me for the statements to not be contradictory he either is the author in both, or not. I find comfort in the big picture that God is in control (and in charge) of the universe, the final script is written, and events that impact my personal life negatively may further the plan of God, but in the small picture of day to day suffering of loved ones I do not find comfort that God has ordained this. I believe God may have allowed it as consequences. I believe God can use these sufferings. I believe God is in the thick of it with us. But to unequivocally state that God has willed all my sufferings is a tough sell.

There are things of God we/I will never be able to fully wrap our/my minds around. I fully believe God is perfect and sovereign. Just as Jesus chose to lay down his divinity on the cross (not use his power), I believe God chooses to let us choose to love him it is a similar yielding of his power. I don’t find that to be in conflict with sovereignty, but if full agreement with love. (Like when we let children win at a game we could easily win because we love them and delight in their joy of winning.)

In terms of suffering and apologetics with an unbeliever, I am interested in how you would present your views. Especially when someone is using suffering as an inpediment to belief, finding it incongruent with a loving God. From any perspective it’s a very tough discussion to have and yield results in a softened heart.

(Brian Weeks) #8

Jennifer, I appreciate you taking the time to help me better understand why you believe what you do with regard to this subject. I can now better see why what you believe here is comforting to you and what I believe seems contradictory. Please continue to share with me any additional thoughts you might have if and as they come to you.

That’s a good question you asked in your concluding paragraph. Depending on the individual situation, I’d hope to eventually make it to sharing with them the good news and how it’s relevant to their suffering. Namely, that God did not remain distant from suffering, but, as John Lennox says, instead, chose to enter into it on our behalf at the cross of Christ making a way so that we might have the hope of escaping suffering, and even have full and everlasting joy in him.

And, if the question were raised of whether or not God ordained that their suffering happen, I would share what I believe can be a massively glorious and comforting truth. You’re right, some will be and are turned off by this. However, just as some are turned off by this idea, others find exceeding comfort and strength and sustaining joy in a God that ordains all that comes to pass. And so, I’d share with them what I believe the Bible says about this, just as I would expect someone who did not affirm the idea of God’s providence in everything would likewise do so because they too believed they were also sharing the truth.

It seems that in every major Christian doctrine lies a paradox. For example, some find the idea of the trinity a stumbling block to faith, silliness, offensive, or even heresy. And, I can’t fully rationally reconcile the doctrine of the trinity. In scripture, we see two sets of claims that are paradoxical: one being, three persons. This seems contradictory and against our rationality. But, because we believe we see both of these truths (one being, three persons) plainly in scripture, we create a new category in our minds for the reality of this belief we call the trinity and we confidently affirm both paradoxical claims as beautifully true. I feel similarly with regard to the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God as it relates to human responsibility. At the same time, however, I can sincerely see how you do not and, instead, find comfort in what you believe here.

I appreciate your generosity, Jennifer, in the time you’ve taken thus far in helping me better understand what you believe and why you believe it, as well in the opportunity you’ve given me to share my thoughts. If you do ever discover what might lie behind what your fellow classmate said, I’d be interested to learn. And I think your concluding thought is a wise reminder for all of our evangelistic-apologetic endeavors: From any perspective, this discussion of suffering is tough to have with an unbeliever and yield a heart softened for the gospel.

(SeanO) #9

@Jennifer_Judson @Brian_Weeks I think it is amazing that no matter what view we take of God’s role in relation to evil, we can still point others to the cross as a place where they can find resolution. Ravi says that at the cross love, justice, evil and forgiveness converged - once in history the great paradoxes collided and love was the victor.

I also hold to the free will of man and find the idea of covenant to be illogical if we cannot choose to obey of our own will. Also, I think it is a logical leap to jump from God ordaining suffering within the context of salvation history - such as the Cross or Joseph or Paul - to God ordaining stubbed toes or cancer or outbreaks of diseases. That does not mean God does not ordain those things - but I think that salvation history is not appropriate evidence that He does.

However, I also enjoy pondering how Christian determinism or predestination may function.

I think that one important distinction is that simply because things are ordained by God does not necessarily mean they are ‘fated’.

fatalism - the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable

causal determinism - every event is necessitated by antecedent events

In causal determinism, it is possible that God set the universe in motion in such a way that He knew what would happen and yet our decisions still have an impact. In other words, the decisions are inevitable but they are still meaningful.

That is assuming that God is not ordaining our decisions but rather the course of history. Some people hold a more strict form of determinism where God ordains everything we do.

Curious to hear your guys’ thoughts.