02 August 2007

Divine Providence in Disaster

by Phil Johnson

Note: Turns out that unbeknownst to us, there was an official ruling in the post-evangelical blogosphere yesterday that we've become much "too God-centered" in our quest to make sense of tragedy. We make no apology for our desire to be even more God-centered, but we are happy to see the post-evangelicals coming clean about the direction they are drifting.

Here's something I thought about in the wake of the Twin Cities' bridge collapse. For further thoughts in a similar vein, see Dan's blog today. See also Peter Pike's post at Triablogue. We didn't consult before writing and posting these articles. It was orchestrated by providence.
've often said that the doctrine of divine providence is what makes the truth of Calvinism inescapable for me. God's sovereign, providential control over the events of our lives is a truth that permeates Scripture (as we have been seeing recently in our ongoing series on Elijah.)



I love God's sovereignty, and not for any of the reasons you might assume. It's not because I enjoy arguing, and the doctrines of election and reprobation are always fodder for a good debate. (That's just a side benefit.)

But here is the real reason I love the truth that God is sovereign: It's the whole basis for my favorite promise—Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8:28).

How could we possibly know that if we didn't understand that God is working in all things, and He is ultimately sovereign over all things? How could God even make such a promise if He's not really sovereign?

See: if Romans 8:28 means anything at all, it teaches that God's sovereign, providential control extends to all things—including bridge collapses and other tragedies. Even the tiniest minutiae of life.

I once made that remark in passing, and someone came up to me and said, "Look, Phil—I agree that God is essentially sovereign over the big things, but I just have trouble with this notion that He providentially governs every tiny detail of our lives. Granting that God is sovereign, I still think there are some matters that belong to the realm of human free will." He said, "For example, There are three different routes I could take to get from my house to my office. And I don't believe it matters in the plan of God which route I take—as long as I get to my destination. I agree that God's sovereignty governs whether I get to my office or not, but I cannot conceive that He would bother with the issue of how I get there. Is it really right to portray Him as sovereign over every detail of life? Aren't there some things He doesn't govern? Doesn't it trivialize the doctrine of divine sovereignty to teach that God is concerned with the insignificant minutiae of our lives?"

I don't think so. If I held that view and got permanently paralyzed in a bridge collapse on the way to work, I would always wonder if somehow I had derailed God's design for me by taking the wrong route to work.

Remember: Jesus said the hairs of our heads are numbered, and that not even a sparrow can fall to the ground apart from God's sovereign providence (Matthew 10:29-30). Everywhere the issue comes up in Scripture, we see evidence of God sovereignly at work in every minute detail of life (Matthew 17:27). He is Lord of the small things, too, and just as much in control of the details in my life and yours as He was in Elijah's or Jonah's or Job's.

If you don't see that, your understanding of Providence is seriously deficient (cf. James 4:13-17).

But here's the good part: That means nothing can happen to you unless God gives His permission—and unless He has a good purpose in it.

You might be thinking, That's not much comfort if He still could allow a bridge to collapse under me. Why Does God permit bad things to happen if He could stop them, and especially if all His purposes are good?

We aren't given the answer to that question, but we are taught to trust in the ultimate goodness of God's providence even when we don't understand what good might possibly come from this or that disaster.

We are not promised an explanation for everything that happens to us. But (and here's where faith comes in) promises are actually better and more useful than explanations.

We cannot always decipher the purposes or read the meaning of God's providence. But we can always trust His promises. So we're simply told that God's purposes are ultimately always for our good—and it is the very essence of faith to hang onto that promise and trust God even when—especially when—it seems as if circumstances have spun completely out of control.

From our narrow human perspective, that is usually how major portions of our lives seem. Our lives begin with a cry and end with a moan. In between, we face a multitude of sorrows and trials. Everyone without exception experiences grief, and pain, and tragedy, and sickness, and affliction, and misery, and distress. All those things are part and parcel of life for fallen creatures. Some of us may think we've already had more than enough of life's trials, but there is still more trouble yet to come in the future. (Sorry to seem so gloomy, but bear in mind that death, the last enemy, still awaits us all, barring the Lord's soon return.) As Job said, "Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7).

For believers, however, our trials are always occasions for God's grace and blessings to be multiplied. As a matter of fact, the darkest providences that befall us often turn out to be the very occasions when God chooses to bestow on us His most abundant grace.

As we have already seen repeatedly in our series on Elijah, God usually gives us sufficient grace without giving us a surplus of grace. "His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is [His] faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22-23). "He giveth more grace" (James 4:6)—but He dispenses His grace in accord with our present needs—often in handfuls and small measures, and rarely in superabundant portions. But the grace He gives is always sufficient. It is enough.

But sometimes, when God does want to lavish grace upon us in superabundant measure, the prelude to that is a dark and difficult turn of providence. Suffering is the pathway to glory. And hardship is the container into which God pours His grace. The larger the vessel, the greater the measure of grace.

But if you don't believe God is sovereign, how could you ever grasp that truth?

Phil's signature

First thing I did when I heard about the Minneapolis bridge collapse was e-mail our friend Todd Friel to make sure he made it home Wednesday. He didn't get an opportunity to answer my message till noon the next day, so it motivated me to pray for him and his staff all morning yesterday. But if you want to hear a very helpful discussion of the question "Where was God when tragedy struck?" download Thursday's first hour from Way of the Master Radio, and listen to Todd's interview with Mark Dever. Mark gives one of the finest succinct explanations of this issue I have ever heard. If you need a motive to pray for revival and reawakening in our nation, listen to both hours and take special note of the interviews Todd did with students close to the bridge collapse.



43 comments:

DJP said...

Thanks for this very timely and thoughtful reflection, Phil.

Al said...

May God's blessing rest on you Phil...

Having a proper understanding of God's sovereignty in place before tragedy strikes is so very important. That is why it is worth offending your dear Aunt Sally with all this talk of election, predestination, the hand of God in your cousin's cancer and the reason for a sure hope! Get it right early and find joy in the midst of difficulty.

al sends

Benjamin Nitu said...

Great thoughts, Phil!

jsb said...

Romans 8:28 is my favorite verse, so magnificent and comforting--for both Calvinists and Arminians! I like the way Clarke puts it, that God "presses into service" all things for our good. Thanks for the meditation during the eventful week.

Qjay said...

And where does accountability fit in? Surely then some could argue "Why hast thou made me thus?" (Romans 9:20)

I suppose Spurgeon said it best when he said

"That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. The fault is in our weak judgment...and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other."

candyinsierras said...

This post along with the Elijah posts are so good. Thanks.

I prayed for the folks at Bethlehem Baptist Church. They are located a short distance away from the bridge. John Piper also has a timely and thought-provoking article about the tragedy on the Desiring God blog.

SolaMeanie said...

Amen.

Where my thinking is on this issue right now (in addition to God's sovereignty) is the whole issue of justice. I was in a discussion with my mother this morning on the Prodigal Son. (Mom is Arminian but I've been working on her) She was discussing how "unfair" it was that the faithful son got the gentle rebuke, and the other son could go out and live wildly, then come home and suffer no consequences. (I disputed that notion, of course).

I tried to explain that none of us deserve anything from God other than justice, but instead we get grace, mercy and forgiveness. As soon as we clearly understand that we deserve Hell and nothing else, it's much harder to complain about "fairness."

As to the Minneapolis tragedy, Al Mohler had a great commentary on it yesterday.

Daryl said...

What a great comment on such a tragic event. You nailed it Phil.
Bang on.

Bless you.

Robert F said...

I know we can not pinpoint God's purpose in this tragedy, those purposes are many and interwoven, but I do rejoice that many Godly men have written so well on the sovereignty of God in all things as a response to this event.

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Brother Johnson:

Enjoyable and uplifting reading! I am sure it was of the Lord as it is very edifying.

This whole issue of the “Problem of Evil” is the “meat” of sober and deep thinkers, among both philosophers and theologians. Leibnitz coined the term “theodicy” for this area of discussion. It is the attempt to reconcile God and justice (“dike” from the Greek god of “justice”), the sovereignty, omnipotence, and goodness of God in relation to the real existence of evil.

I believe that only “High Calvinism” solves this seeming riddle, the belief that evil (sin, calamity, all kinds of evil) is “created” by God (Isa. 45:7). Supralapsarianism, though a hard idea for most to accept, thinking it betrays the omni-benevolence of God.

I think people who do not accept that God is the cause of evil, that nothing can come to pass without his decree (Lam. 3:37), because they have a false proposition in their minds that they hold to and which they think contradicts this “High Calvinism” and its explanation as to the why of evil. What is that proposition? A. W. Pink noted what it was. Others have also. It is the false proposition that says the Creator, in deciding to create intelligent creatures, could not but create them for their own highest and best ends. In other words, they believe that God had to create with this rule in mind. If he decides to create and living creature (intelligent or not), he must make that creature come to the greatest joyful end. So, by their false idea, God cannot create unfairly or make one possess a greater destiny than others. Actually, people who think this way are really “sublimated Universalists.”

If God knows beforehand that a certain creature, that he creates, will himself create great evil, and yet goes ahead and creates him, and then holds him responsible or accountable for that evil, which is, in my mind, the teaching of scripture, then it is inevitable that God too is, in a way, “responsible,” although he can never be “accountable.”

The damnation of the non-elect will serve to teach the elect about the goodness, mercy, love, forgiveness, and grace of God, things they could not have otherwise known without the willing and creation of the evil of sin.

When God created the first Adam it was in order to bring about the second Adam. The fall was necessary in order that the second Adam could come and bring about the new creation God has intended from eternity. The first creation is a means to the second.

Charles Hodge was an infralapsarian and he confessed that if the clause in Ephesians 3: 9,10 - “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” refers back to the preceding clause, “who created all things by Jesus Christ,” then this teaches supralapsarinism, that creation and the fall were unto (a means to) redemption. Hodge did not agree that the “to the intent” referred back to “who created all things,” but I think it obviously does.

Brian said...

So God works before during or after the tragedy? All 3 or just one, how do you know when God is working? That passage in Romans seems to suggest that God works for good in only a subset of the population (those who are called), without addressing how God works for those who have not yet been called to his purpose. Well if you're a christian you can take comfort in that promise, but if you're reading the Bible for the first time and see that then you would be left thinking "what kind og God would only work for the good of the Jesus Club, and leave the rest of us to suffer"? So i think the idea of predestination, if it is to be understood by someone who is not a christian, needs more explanation than romans 8:28.

centuri0n said...

Brian:

God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. (cf. Acts 17:24-25) That means He's not a deistic God who started the ball rolling and then waits for it at the bottom of the hill, so to speak, at the end of time: He's active in history and in this universe for the working out of His purpose.

So he is active before the tragedy, preparing people to receive it; active in the tragedy so that none whom He intends to be safe are harmed, and none whom He intends to suffer fail to suffer; and then active after the tragedy in all the consequences.

But look: it's not so that people will suffer or not suffer in a narrow band of perception: it is to demonstrate who He is as God and what He has purposed in all of creation. The objection, "well, he's just a giant sadist or bully to make certain than anyone suffers," misses the clear point from Scripture that our suffering turns us toward Him. It tells us something about ourselves and about God which God intends as the most-glorifying way of revealing Himself for all eternity.

The question, really, is only this: is it or is it not right for God, who we say is "worthy of all worship and praise", to act like a God who is worthy of all worship and praise. This about that -- If God deserves all worship and all praise, is it wrong (someone told me "selfish" this week, "conceited") for God to require that praise and worship?

If it is, when will we decide that the means by which He is drawing all that worship and praise are the right means?

Mike said...

Solameanie,

John MacArthur gave an amazing synthesis of the five messages he preached on the prodigal son at the 2006 Shepherds' Conference, Session 2. I really recommend it to anyone who is perplexed or intrigued by that parable. I'm sure you know, but the audio is available at the Shepherds' Conference website.

Phil Johnson said...

Stephen Garrett:

If you have read my notes on supralapsarianism or my article on hyper-Calvinism, then you know I don't approve of language that makes God the author, efficient cause, immediate cause, or "creator" of evil. The ideas implied by such language are unbiblical, inappropriate, and misleading (James 1:13-17). The notion that God "causes" evil in exactly the same sense that He is the source of all that is good would be a perversion of the truth I'm asserting here. It's not at all what I'm saying.

I'm not sure whether that's what you intended to say, either, but if you were suggesting that supralapsarianism makes God the author of evil, I have lots of supralapsarian friends who would be prepared to take you to task on that.

God is sovereign over evil, all right, and by His decree he is the ultimate cause of all that comes to pass. But He is not the immediate or efficient cause, author, or source of evil (wickedness, sin) per se. And that's a an absolutely essential distinction. Any theodicy that omits it is a bad theodicy. To declare God the "cause" of evil without explaining in what sense we mean this is to impugn God.

The context of Isaiah 45:7 shows that the "evil" spoken of there is catastrophe, destruction, and other consequences of sin—including things like collapsing bridges. Isaiah was not suggesting that God is the author or proximate cause of ontological evil.

"High Calvinism" has its dangers, and hyper-Calvinism has just as much potential for evil as the rankest brand of Arminianism.

We can discuss all this in a future thread perhaps. But if you don't mind, I'd like for this thread not to be hijacked by an argument about hyper-Calvinism or supralapsarianism. This post is about the goodness of providence, which is precisely the opposite of the notion that God "created" ontological evil.

lordodamanor said...

Brian,

I think that anyone either reading or hearing the Gospel for the first time, except that the eyes and ears of their understanding are opened first through regeneration are going to react the way you describe. But, the Scripture itself says that very thing.

When David wrote that there is nowhere that the Lord is not, it was not just idle speculation, if we are to understand that David was being carried along by the Holy Spirit when he wrote. We also have the testimony of Scripture that all things are upheld by the power of his might. Just these two explain the omnicience, omnipresence and omnipotence of God. It is a denial of God's nature, as David would find out in the Uriah incident, that is the very basis of man's separation from the knowledge of God and the cause of God's wrath toward man. The beginning of knowledge, understanding and wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Knowing his providencial care is paramount to our knowing him. Without the fear that God is sovereign over all we would not have sufficient reason to throw ourselves on his mercy. So we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling knowing that it is God who is working both the willing and the doing of his good purpose in us. (The word for pleasure, or good purpose here means God's will.)

So, when a person reads of God's aweful deeds, with out the Spririt of Christ, he will without question, condemn the Lord as a "harsh taskmaster, reaping where he has not sown." But we know, that there is nothing that God has not sown, John 3:21, 4:38. We are told in Romans 1, before Romans 8, that God is sovereign over all and that his wrath is being poured out against all of man kind who suppress the truth in unrighteous. It is not that they are ignorant of his sovereignty, it is that they hate it. So they contrive a god fashioned after their own imaginations, limited as they themselves are.

To cap this, the words purpose, good, and providence, when related to God speak of who he is. It is our human understanding which is below God's, and also weakened by sin that disallows us to see what is meant by the "goodness" of God. For us, in our human understanding a phrase like, "It is your kindness that leads us to repentance," falling on sinful ears will fail to take into consideration that all the "evil" that befell the children of Israel was for their "good," and most often because they sinned and brought it upon themselves. Not that they weren't already sinners deserving God's wrath, but that kind of kindness to us is folly, but to God, according to Scripture, it is all good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Yes, even the deaths of those across the seas who die from any number of natural calamities, never having heard the name of Jesus. Those calamities the Lord says are of his making, so that the vessels of mercy would be made to know of his glory. And the key is "those who love God, who are called according to his purpose," so that they are enabled to love him. Without that love they hate what he says he does.

How little we can perceive of the way of the Lord, but blessed is he whom the Lord chooses and causes to approach Him and walk in his way, Psalm 65, Ezekial 36. But, blessed also are those who God causes to walk out of his way, Isaiah 63,64. Because, if they are his people, he remains faithful to them, even though we are not faithful towards him.

For a great look at how providence brings us hope:

http://www.sfpulpit.com/2007/07/31/hoping-in-the-god-of-hope-part-5/

Connie said...

Well done and so needed, not only in light of the recent tragedy but every day. God's providence is always good--every bit of it.

I agree with Al that "Having a proper understanding of God's sovereignty in place before tragedy strikes is so very important"!

Also appreciated your comments on supralapsarians and would be interested in future posts.

4given said...

This is excellent.

Stephen Garrett said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Phil Johnson said...

Stephen: Again, please don't hijack this thread with that debate. We'll take it up at a later date.

Sewing said...

The concept of God's absolute sovereignty would be difficult to explain to someone who has not yet been touched by His grace—it sounds to someone who isn't ready to hear it, like God is the author of evil.

The difference between authorship of versus sovereignty over evil is even harder to explain, because then it sounds to the non-believer like a Christian is trying to "smooth over" or "explain away" the question of divine authorship of evil.

Even the basic idea that the only just sentence for any of us is eternal perdition, is difficult message to convey in this day and age, without being dismissed as an unloving kook (to put it mildly). It sounds like "fundy" judgementalism. It's definitely something that needs not by shying away from it, but definitely with tact and delicateness.

There seem to be only one way to deal with this, and this lies at the heart of the wondrous joy of the Good News! Why we preach, and why we evangelize! Why Carey went to India or Taylor to China! What the Holy Spirit worked through Edwards and Spurgeon! And it is this...Any discussion of God's sovereignty over (but not authorship of) sin—and the consequences of sin—MUST be accompanied by the free offer of the Gospel, by the invitation to come and drink from the fountain of life. It must be made clear to the listener that God is calling all to salvation—because he is! It is not the effectual call—giving the listener ears to hear—but it is the outward call: it's the call of John the Baptist! It's the call of the Spirit and the Bride in Revelation 22:17. Imagine how horrific a picture Jonathan Edwards would have painted, had he preached Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God without the glimmer of wondrous hope at the end of that sermon!

And yet, somehow, all of this won't make sense to the non- or not-yet-believer, and may well—if mishandled—scare away those whom He is calling. And someone like Edwards couldn't preach that sermon today without being run out of town on a rail (even he ran into trouble!). It seems that Biblical pastors today who teach on God's sovereignty, on his righteousness and on his mercy, must be honest in preaching against sin and must make the clear the eternal consequences of unrepentance, but in a way that doesn't scare away those whom the Lord has not yet readied to receive such teaching.

The Lord didn't even lead me to discern the doctrines of grace until after He had saved me, let alone the full implication of what He had saved me from. (At first, I thought I'd just "accepted Jesus," Arminian-style!) But then, by the working of the Holy Spirit, I could look back and start seeing the pattern of God's hand in my own life, and the richness of the teaching of the doctrines of grace in our pastor's preaching.

And after six months of learning the joy of his grace, mercy, and kindness, he led me this week to meditate on his righteousness, wrath, and severity. Only when I was ready, did he cause a chain of events to happen that led me to discern clearly from Scripture, the only right fate any of us deserve for our sinfulness. And what is the reaction? Fear and trembling, and the realization that we must go forth in the proclamation of His outward call, so that those whom He effectually call will hear the Gospel and be saved. And though we must teach on the total enslavement to sin that God cannot abide, we must also teach the Gospel of God's grace and lovingkindness, which though none of us deserve, he has so mercifully granted.

Words on a blog. Sorry for this long and somewhat rambling comment. I've been wrestling with this. If I'm taking things on a sideward tangent, please forgive me.

Sewing said...

In a nutshell: He is sovereign over all but the nature of His sovereignty and the doctrines of His grace are subtly complex—in the same way that the Trinity is complex, or the cosmos, or a human eye, or the way that his self-revelation is so delicately woven throughout the tapestry of Scripture. They are subtly complex, as befits a being who is all-present, all-knowing, and all-powerful, eternal and transcendant, and so far beyond our human understanding, —layers of an onion that He peels back one by one as he teaches us His ways. But they are nevertheless knowable. The grace He has given us has been sufficient to make His ways knowable.

Sewing said...

"In a nutshell." Hah!

A gentle rebuke if I've taken things off-topic is most welcome.

Daryl said...

Well done Sewing,

What we know for sure is that we can't be sure what God was trying to do when the bridge collapsed, but whatever it was, He got it done.

SolaMeanie said...

It seems to me that if we also take into account what a privilege it is to be able to serve God in the presence of His enemies, this can help our humanity cope with difficult circumstances. The world is watching to see how God's children react when faced with all sorts of adversity. In His sovereignty He allows these things in our lives, and how we respond will hopefully bring Him glory.

Unfortunately, I must confess that I don't always respond that way to adversity. That's when I take comfort in His promise that I am predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. I'll get there eventually, even if the conforming takes a bit of bruising.

Sewing said...

I should have added that of course, many Christians struggle with these questions too—is God really sovereign? How could He allow sin to exist?—and there's nothing wrong with that. We just trust that by His grace, He will guide us and teach us in His ways, and in His time.

Silly Old Mom said...

If my daughter hadn't dropped her sandal while climbing over a rock at high tide, my husband wouldn't have hurt his scoliosis-afflicted back.

If he hadn't hurt his back, he wouldn't have taken that Flexall stuff that his uncle offered him. And if he hadn't taken that Flexall stuff, he wouldn't have been groggy the next day -- too groggy to drive more than 15 minutes on the freeway on our way home from the beach.

If he hadn't been too groggy, I wouldn't have offered to drive.

If I hadn't been driving, we might not have taken the truck route with our brand-new 30' trailer. If we'd loaded the trailer a little better, the rig wouldn't have started to sway as much as it did.

Major fishtailing. On the truck route. While I'm trying to pass a semi.

So when I rolled the trailer, we found ourselves upright in the truck, blocking every lane of traffic, without having hit that semi or anyone else, and without a scratch on us -- me (20 weeks pregnant), dh, three kids under eight.

It should have taken hours just to get us to the side of the road. Instead, it took maybe 30 minutes, tops.

Before I'd even gotten out of the truck, the Metro Freeway Service Patrol was there. So was a big Hummer-like thing full of Air Force guys. Thank God He put them in traffic behind me before I knew I would need them.

I should be dead. But by the sovereignty of God, I'm merely behind on my housework. Like always.

God's in control of both the big things and the little details. He preserved me and my family in spite of my inexperienced driving, in spite of all of our wrong decisions.

I got to watch Him at work through every detail of that day, and it was astonishing. And to think that the heavens are the work of His fingers, and He still stoops down to help silly old moms like me, even when we're well on our way to getting ourselves into "heap big trouble."

And to think that it all started with my daughter and her dropped sandal.

I think about that busful of kids who survived the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, and I say to myself, "There He goes again." But I say that when I think about the people who didn't survive, too.

The sovereignty of God? Election? Predestination? They're not dusty books locked up in an ivory tower. They're real -- right in the middle of our lives, to the point where we're practically tripping over them.

silly old nana said...

Amen to your post, Phil.

to Silly Old Mom: Remember, the housework you will always have with you (especially with kids)and there won't be any dust or rust in heaven. But there will be all of God's children in heaven, which are more precious to Him than anything else this old earth has to offer. Thanks for testifying about our heavenly Father's infinite goodness in caring for every aspect of His children's lives. Oh, for grace to trust Him more and humility to know Him more.

donsands said...

"Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7).

For believers, however, our trials are always occasions for God's grace and blessings to be multiplied."

Very exceelent post. Encouraging, and God glorifying.

God is sovereign over ever bullet fired in a war. He is Sovereign over every Star He created with His breath, and He named them.
And He will judge every thought of every heat and mind, of every person who ever lived since Adam on that Day.

This is a majestic soverign Lord, that the Church needs to have it's eyes opened to once again. Not all, but the great majority.

Thanks again for such a fine teaching.
Some very good comments as well.

jsb said...

"I don't approve of language that makes God the author, efficient cause, immediate cause, or "creator" of evil. The ideas implied by such language are unbiblical, inappropriate, and misleading"

Well said, Phil. God is sovereign, but not deterministic with regard to moral evil. That's so important to remember. I greatly appreciate the distinction you make.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

How's about Amos 3:6 for theocentrism?

"If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?"

Sewing said...

Silly Old Mom:

Your story is so humbling and edifying. The Lord be with you.

Just a few months ago, after I was saved but before I was baptized, I came closer to death than I ever have in my life. My car spun out of control on the freeway, and I was wrestling with it, hurtling between the ditch on one side and the concrete divider on the other. Miraculously, though I came within inches of both the ditch and the divider, I never plunged into the ditch, nor did I hit the divider. When the car finally stopped, I'd been spun 180 degrees, looking backwards at the stunned drivers behind me, all of whom had amazingly been able to slow down and stop.

And like you, there was not a scratch. I was badly, sorely shaken, and yet unhurt, and even more amazingly, the car was fine too, and I was able to complete my drive to work, and go about as if it were just another normal day, albeit in a state of utter shock. It certainly taught me just how fragile life really is, and just how quickly and easily it could all end. All our fleshly desires, all our dreams and aspirations, all our earthly treasures would come to an end—and the only question left would be, how did we use our time to serve God? Did we fritter it all away in chasing a career, or indulging in frivolous hobbies, or consumed in addiction to alcohol, gambling, or worse? Did we listen to God? Did we pray to him and medidate on His word? Did we try to walk every day the way He intended for us to walk that day? (Tying into the idea of daily sufficient grace....) Or did we fritter it all away? In every day of our walk with the Lord, did we serve Him (and ourselves through Him), or did we serve ourselves first and Him only as it was convenient?

The Lord is sovereign over all.

I can add as well, that the senior pastor at our church—this deeply Biblical man whose preacing on God's grace, God needed me to hear to be saved (and only after many, many years of the Lord's teaching me that all ways but His are false)—was rescued from a life of sin when he was badly shaken up by just this kind of horrific highway near-accident that you and I endured. In his case, the Lord was calling him to eventually save the lost souls of my city—including this once-lost soul who's writing this.

The Lord is sovereign over all.

And like you, I thought exactly the same thing about those kids on that bus. He still has work to do through them.

But one day, He will call us home too. Until then, we must trust in Him, listen to Him, and let Him do His work through us. We must wait for, and receive gladly, the bread He gives us each day.

David Cho said...

there was an official ruling in the post-evangelical blogosphere yesterday that we've become much "too God-centered"

Could you provide links? I'm curious.

centuri0n said...

David:

We son't link to that blog anymore.

Phil Johnson said...

David Cho: "Could you provide links? I'm curious."

No, I'm not going to link to it. Google the phrase and you'll find it.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

"But if you don't believe God is sovereign, how could you ever grasp that truth?"

Who does not believe in God's sovereignty? Do you mean as you envision God's sovereignty? Is God sovereign enough to bless man with some finite sovereignty, or is He limited in His sovereignty?

Perhaps you might have said, "If you do not see God's sovereignty as I do you will never see the truth that I see". The length and breath and depth and workings and interaction of God's sovereignty is a vast mystery that no sinner, blood bought or otherwise, is capable of fully surrounding with his over hyped seratonin knowledge collector.

God is sovereign, all poor Arminians believe that. Maybe not in lockstep with others.

northWord said...

There but for the grace of God go we. Indeed.

There is nothing more liberating, more blessed than to be fully aware through faith of God's perfect will - from the hair on our head to the major catasrophe. No matter the stuation His hand is always moving, always cradling us in His perfect love.

Well said and much needed response, Phil.
I just have one clarification inquiry, you used the words: "...but bear in mind that death, the last enemy, still awaits us all, barring the Lord's soon return.)

death is only an "enemy" to the lost, no?

John Piper's first response to the bridge collapse (Putting My Daughter to Bed Two Hours After the Bridge Collapsed)hit the nail of God's sovereignty and providence squarely on the head

Silly Old Mom - One of the best responses I've ever seen in here. Perfect summation.

centuri0n said...

Hey Warhead:

You're apparently not well-educated enough to understand Amos. I feel sorry for you.

David Cho said...

Cent wrote:

We son't link to that blog anymore.

Oh really?. So when did the policy take effect?

Phil Johnson said...

David Cho:

Read the last line of this post, and notice the lack of any link or context for the claim being made. Since the author of that accusation was also the person who suggested we're "too God-centered" in the way we talk after a tragedy, I was trying to show him the same deference he showed to the individual[s] he was complaining against.

Now that you have outed him, please take the matter up with him if you want to pursue it any further. This comment-thread is not the place for debates about whether criticism should never be anonymous, or always linked. That debate is off-topic here.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Franklin, you done gone and hurt my feelin's.

ADieL said...

FYI: It wasnt Mark Dever that Todd Friel interviewd... it was Dr. Steve Lawson.

God bless you brother.

Phil Johnson said...

ADieL:

Todd interviewed both Dever and Lawson that day. Follow the link I gave to that program. You'll see that Dever is listed in the summary. It's well worth listening to again if you missed the Dever interview. He explains why "Where was God?" is exactly the right question to raise in the wake of a tragedy like that.

David S Baker said...

great insight, and very good job on this blog altogether. im new to this whole blog world but i am starting to enjoy the views of others so much more this way. i am a new Calvinist who was a free willer all the way before. i to love these doctrines because i feel it's what made Christianity real for me. before i really felt i had done something and i was owed something (though i never would have said that), now im free to let God be God and love him for it. may God bless your ministry!! and if you ever get the chance stop by my little blog sometime, thanks -
(no clue how to link to my blog sorry)
thoughtsongodbydave.blogspot.com