header image
Home arrow Griffin's History arrow The Over Ruling Providence of God
The Over Ruling Providence of God PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Ivey   

Theologians generally embrace one of three positions concerning God’s involvement in the daily affairs of men.  For the sake of this discussion they will be categorized as Deism, Absolutism, and Over Ruling Providence.  Each position is not only distinct from one another; they also each have their own variations.  For instance, there is a variation of the Absolutism position we will call Determinism. 

Deism argues that creation together with all its inhabitants is like a giant clock the Lord wound up at the beginning of time and all things are now ticking along as God planned.  This position asserts God is not at all directly involved in the daily affairs of men or things.  For the sake of brevity, and because our focus lies elsewhere, we will not address the fallacies of Deism in this paper. 

An opposing position to Deism argues that God predestinated or, specifically predetermined every event of nature, all actions of beasts and all the thoughts, words and deeds of men.  This argument is sometimes referred to as the Absoluter position or Absolutism.  There are two logical inferences drawn from Absolutism.  The first is that although it may appear to be so, man does not really choose what he will and won’t do according to his nature.  This is because his will is secretly and specifically controlled by God’s predetermination of all his thoughts, words and deeds.  The second inference is that God is the author of sin since He predetermined to have man think of and do sinful behaviors.  Some who embrace Absolutism accept both of these inferences. 

There is a variation of Absolutism that denies the inferences just cited.  For the sake of distinction, we will call it Determinism.  It agrees with Absolutism, that God predetermined all the thoughts, words and deeds of men and all the events of nature.  However, Determinism denies that God predetermining all things logically infers He is the author of sin.  It counters this assertion based upon a principle of an unknowable mystery of godliness by which God was able to determine before what specific sins men will commit in order to bring about some good outcome He has purposed, while preventing Him from being the original cause of the sins.  There are several reason and scripture related arguments against invoking the mystery of God as grounds to overcome the tensions the Absolutism and Determinism positions infer in relation to God’s Holiness and man’s self-will.

Employing a mystery of God argument as grounds to deny the logical inference of Determinism creates its own moral tension.  How can God have a secret will that men commit sins, which contradicts his expressed will that they not commit sin?  And, if God compels men to obey His secret will, how can He justly chastise or punish them for disobedience?  Or expressed differently, how can God be just in punishing man for disobedience if He absolutely prevents him from obeying? 

The moral contradiction of the mystery of God explanation gives Determinism a sort of circular logic: God predetermined to have men commit sins by mysterious means that permit Him to contradict His expressed will in favor of His secret will; and, since He has ways we cannot know it was possible for him to do this and not be the author of sin.  Therefore no tension of moral contradiction exists.  This explanation does not answer the question; how can God be moral if He predetermined with absolute certainty that men commit acts he deems to be immoral?  The question is profound, demanding a specific answer; since, God provided numerous explanations of His will, The Ten Commandments for instance, that scriptures indicate are expressions of His morality.  “Good and upright is the LORD: therefore will he teach sinners in the way.  The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way” (Psa 25:8-9) and, “My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness” (Psa 119:172).  He also supplied numerous commandments that men follow these explanations of godliness to govern their behavior.  Simply put, God commanded that we behave according to principles expressing His will that were given to us by divinely inspired writers (Philippians 2:5, 1Timothy 6:11, Titus 2:12).  However, if sin exists as a consequence of His secret will this would seem to indicate that to some degree and in certain circumstances, God does not really want us to obey His expressed will as put forth in scripture.  

The moral contradiction inferred from Determinism’s mystery of godliness principle casts a shadow over the notion that scripture provides sufficient explanations of godly morality and ethical behavior because it infers that God has an unexpressed will as to how men are to behave that contradicts His expressed will.  This logical inference of moral contradiction brings under suspicion the accuracy of Paul’s assertion that scripture thoroughly furnishes instructions in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16-17).  This is because scripture fails to adequately express the moral grounds by which it is permitted for one to expressly forbid sinful behavior while secretly assuring it will occur.  Furthermore, such undermining of scriptural authority negatively impacts our understanding of Christian ethics since correct behavior is grounded in godly morality that is presented in the Bible.  For instance, scripture indicates it is a sin to cause others to commit sin.  (See: Proverbs 12:26, 16:29, 28:10, Ecclesiastes 7:26, Matthew 5:19, I Corinthians 6:9-12, 2 Peter 3:17).  Yet, if God predetermined to have men commit sins and thereby compels we do so, His own behavior is contrary to the expressions of His will we have cited. 

The Savior, in response to being tempted to commit sin told Satan that man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”. (Matthew 4:4).  Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 when he made this statement.  His response to the Devil implies the ability and authority of scripture to provide men with adequate instructions as to how we can live godly lives.  It implies that scripture provides us with understanding of God’s will and thereby helps us to resist temptations to sin.  It also suggests a relationship exists between the quality of our lives and how closely we follow God’s will as revealed by His word.  However, if God has predetermined to have men specifically commit sins then nothing, including scriptural understanding, can prevent us from committing the sins He has determined we will commit.  Furthermore, the text Jesus quoted is incorrect if God has a secret will by which all our thoughts words and deeds have been predetermined.  This is because our behaviors are based upon a secret will that opposes His will expressed by His word in that it predetermined we specifically commit sin.                  

In addition to inferring a moral contradiction, use of the mystery of God as grounds to dismiss the tensions of Determinism also appears to lack contextual support.  This is because scripture does not specifically assert that our understanding of the holiness of God in relation to Him bringing good from evil is a mystery.  Rather, it presents numerous examples indicating God employs over ruling providence by which he limits the scope and effect of evil so it will not hinder his purpose.  Scripture also exists that discusses the mystery of godliness in relation to Christ’s incarnation (Titus 3:16); and, there are numerous scriptures asserting that the mystery of why and how salvation occurs is revealed through the gospel (Mark 4:11, Romans 16:25, 1 Corinthians 15:51, Ephesians 1:9, etc.).  However, scriptural review does not appear to produce scriptures asserting that a mysterious feature of God’s holy character refutes the inference that He is the author of sin if, in fact, he determined before to have men commit sins in order to bring about good. 

This is not to suggest there are no aspects of God’s being that are unknowable to man.  Scripture indicates there are.  Texts such as Isaiah 55:8-9 suggest that God possesses both thoughts and ways (procedures) that are profoundly different from mans’.  For instance, God’s “I AM,” self-existence is something man cannot understand in a personal sense.  However, we can understand the concept of self-existence in human, or anthropomorphic terms.  We understand the concept of self and what it is to be, or exist.  We also understand that the initiation and fact of our existence, in large measure, resides outside ourselves.  We are not self-existing beings.  We come into existence as a consequence of procreation of others.  We need food, water, and shelter to maintain physical existence.  All of these things indicate we do not self-exist.  Using this information we can have some sense of how God’s existence is different from mans’.  The same pattern of understanding exists in relation to God’s omniscience, omnipotence and eternal being.  We understand these things based upon scriptures that express these concepts about the person of God in human terms that compare and contrast His being to ours.  Thus, where a need for us to know exists relative to God’s being He communicated it to us using human oriented concepts and terms that permit us to have at least a sense of the reality of His person, if not a comprehensive and factual understanding.  Thus, if God predetermined that we commit sins and this causes a logical albeit, erroneous inference that He is the author of sin, it seems reasonable that He would explain in scripture how He is able to have men specifically sin and not be the cause of their sinning.

Another argument against asserting a mystery of God argument in response to the moral tensions inferred from the Determinism position is that it can similarly be used to bolster the Arminian freewill argument.  They argue that man’s freewill and God’s sovereignty will be joined in eternity and because of this they can mysteriously cooperate in the work of regeneration for the present.  But as to how God uses mans’ will to believe savingly they cannot specifically explain using scripture.  Their argument infers that God employs mans’ sin based nature to bring about his salvation.  Thus, God’s holiness and man’s sinful nature work together to accomplish salvation; hence, God brings good from evil.  Therefore, if it is a valid hermeneutic tactic to invoke a principle of unknowable mystery of God to dismiss the tension determinism creates in the holiness of God and men’s wills the same mystery of God tactic can be reasonably used to support Arminian freewill theology.  In fact, there are a number of errant positions that can invoke this tactic to shore up their logical inconsistencies.

Use of the mystery of God as grounds to refute an inference that He is the author of sin if He predetermined to have men commit specific sins in order to work His own will for good appears to employ a pseudo-hermeneutic principle:  Doctrinal inconsistencies may be overcome by mysterious features of God.  If it is valid hermeneutic practice to explain away logical inference, absent scriptural example and/or context specific principle on the grounds that a thing is not and cannot be known or understood, then I must conclude I am free to believe whatever doctrine I choose to believe and mark out its inconsistencies using the same tactic.  I am free to be an Arminian because I can use the mystery of God argument to explain how God can use mans’ depraved will to bring about his salvation.  If I can blindly accept an argument that infers God is the author of sin and have the inference refuted on the grounds of things I cannot understand I am left to wonder what other claims I will be asked to believe based upon my ignorance; which, suggests another weakness in the mystery of God assertion:

The mystery of God principle of the Determinist position undermines an essential functional component of the Gospel; that, it is conveyed from faith to faith.  Faith is not leap of faith and it is not blind faith.  Faith is reasoned faith.  The gospel is powerful because God uses it to transcend spiritual impression, or unction to rational comprehension.  Furthermore, without exception its ability to transcend spiritual unction to rational understanding involves logic.  The gospel is logically consistent to those who have spiritual connection with God.  It makes sense in their rational minds.  The book of Job, which as the first book of the Bible to be written I believe is a sort of gospel primer, demonstrates this point.  It was spiritual unction that caused Job to understand his need for a redeemer.  We gain a sense of the unfolding of spiritual impression into rational expression as the Gospel in chapter 9 with Job’s question, “I know it is of a truth: but how should man be just with God?”  The process of gospel revelation of spiritual unction transcending to rational expression continued in chapter 19 when he said, “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”  Notice, the rational grounds of Job’s assertion, that the redeemer lives, is His presence on earth at a future time.  The credibility of Job’s gospel was not predicated on blind faith.  Job said there would be tangible evidence.  He implied that the facts of the events would unravel the seeming mystery of how a man can be just with God. 

Paul’s message to the Corinthians concerning the resurrection of the dead confirms that the process of transcendence of spiritual unction to reasoned understanding that Job exercised is a basic principle of how the gospel functions.  His argument implies we do not exercise unreasoned faith to believe the Gospel.  Paul used this principle when he cited the fact that more than five hundred people (most of whom were still alive when he wrote) saw Christ alive after he was crucified and buried as grounds to assert the reality of the resurrection of the dead.  He did not ask his audience to blindly accept his word.  His statement implies he wanted readers to consider the significance of the existence of eyewitness accounts of the resurrection of the Savior as grounds for believing in their own resurrections.

Inference of moral contradiction, lack of contextual scriptural support, faulty hermeneutical tactics, and undermining of the power of the gospel refute the assertion that a mystery of God principle counters the argument that Determinism logically infers God is the author of sin.  Reason dictates a conclusion that sin began with God if He predetermined and thereby compels men to commit sin.  However, such a conclusion contradicts many texts that explicitly assert God is holy and just and hates sin.  Therefore, we will consider the principles of over ruling providence for understanding of how and to what extent God is involved in the affairs of men.
Like Absolutism and Determinism, Over Ruling Providence suggests that God is sovereign in working his purpose in heaven and earth and none are able to successfully act in opposition because of the superiority of His omnipotence and omniscience.  However, unlike them it asserts that God works His will by overruling, or restraining by superior knowledge and power whatever evil acts or intended consequences that potentially could stand in opposition to His will.  Far from predetermining and thereby compelling what sins men commit, over ruling providence concludes that God suffers evil to exist to the degree it suits His purpose; yet does not permit its unfettered exercise, nor to in anyway hinder Him from accomplishing His will.  It asserts that God, in assuring His own will be done, determined from all time to limit the scope and effect of evil either by outright preemption or else by counteraction whereby He directly exercises His sovereign power to prevent the outcome practitioners of evil intend. 

God is able to do this because He is omniscient and omnipotent, all knowing and all-powerful.  In His omniscience the Lord foreknows all there is to know about every person’s fallen nature, whether the person be wicked or righteous, including all aspirations to commit sins in every conceivable situation or circumstance.  With this knowledge God predetermined, or set limits as to the extent and outcome of sins He suffers people to commit.  The limits were set and are maintained by God’s power to assure that His will to accomplish His own purpose prevails in an immediate sense of temporal deliverances, such as His providential intervention when David slew Goliath, and the ultimate sense of the resurrection, when God will completely subdue sin and receive all honor and glory. “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). 

Omniscience is not predetermination.  It is all knowing.  It does not follow that knowing a thing will occur inevitably causes its occurrence.  While God obviously knows all, His own activities, including predeterminations are products of a holiness that hates sin.  Thus, it is illogical to presume that God causes men to sin by predetermining they do so.  This assertion is consistent with God’s declaration to the inhabitants of Jerusalem in Jeremiah 19:5.  “They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind:…..”   Certainly, God foreknew the Israelites would engage in Baal worship.  However, if he did not ordain it by command, nor introduce the idea by speaking, nor did it occur in His mind to have them worship Baal, how then could He have predetermined to have them do so? 

The principle of God exercising overruling influence in the affairs of men avoids the tensions inferred from the Absolutism and Determinism positions in relation to the doctrines of God’s holiness and man’s will.  This is because it asserts that God’s omniscience and omnipotence enables Him to remain holy by suffering men to act sinfully as a consequence of their own wills; yet, not hinder God from working His sovereign will.  He works His will using overruling providence to influence men to do things that are not sinful and suffering then to commit only those sins that do not impede His purposes.  In this way God both orders the steps of good men and limits evil (see Psalms 37).  

Scripture indicates absent God’s grace in their hearts or else when providentially left alone men will choose to do evil.  This assertion is supported by texts such as Romans 1:20-32, 3:9-18 and Genesis 6:5.  Man’s depraved will, absent the influences of saving grace and/or providential restraint, seeks to act upon every evil thought man perceives.  In such circumstance the description of mankind immediately before the flood is the status quo; “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  (Genesis 6:5).  Absent God’s grace and/or providence, Job’s declaration in response to the misery of his own condition would be the universal mindset of humanity: “Man that is born of a woman is of a few days and full of trouble.”  (Job 14:1).  The continual experience of every human being would be constant commission of sins and painful endurance and sinful opposition to the sins committed against them.  All humanity would have the common experience of short, miserable lives.  It is by over ruling providence that God protects His children from unrestrained and unending assaults by the wicked and one another.  “But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD: he is their strength in the time of trouble.  And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.”  (Psalms 37:39-40).  

God does not permit wicked men to fulfill all their wicked desires.  For instance, the outcome of World War II indicates God did not permit Hitler to fulfill all the intentions of his wicked will.  By overruling providence God restrained the evil dictator from totally annihilating the Jews and from conquering Europe, North Africa and the Soviet Union.  In counteraction to Hitler’s plans omnipotent God gave wisdom, resolve and courage to those who stood against the dictator, while suffering him to go so far in accomplishing his wicked venture, but no further.

According to the principles of overruling providence God is not accusable for Hitler’s sins.  He did not cause Hitler’s rise to power.  He suffered it, along with the dictators’ sinful actions, but only to a limited extent.  God did not initiate nor sponsor Hitler’s evil thoughts and deeds.  Neither did God place in Hitler’s mind the evil theories of Nazism, nor the idea of world conquest and the Holocaust, nor the tactics the dictator would use to accomplish his goals.  According to the overruling providence position all of these things occurred as a consequence of Hitler acting according to his own will and abilities, which God suffered.  However, God foreknew all of Hitler’s intentions and tactics; and, by overruling providence of both preemptive restraint and counteraction, did not permit him to accomplish his wicked goals.  For instance, by withholding wisdom to rule God turned Hitler’s own ego against him.  As the dictator retired on the eve of D-Day he arrogantly commanded that he not be awakened during the night, which prevented the movement of twelve Panzer Divisions to the front.  The Divisions could only be redeployed on his orders.  Had they been immediately moved to the front they could have likely repelled the invasion and certainly would have inflicted many more Allied casualties.  Hitler was defeated.  He committed self-murder according to his own will and God’s purpose.  His wicked scheme was destroyed.  There was no Thousand Years Reich in which evil men would rule and evil deeds prevail. 

While it is not possible to know the details of why God suffered Hitler to commit so much evil, some good effects of the outcome of the War are understood.  One is that nations of the world rejected fascism.  They also agreed to cooperate to avoid another worldwide conflict.  Also, Hitler’s example points to a principle of God’s righteousness in the resurrection:  He will judge the wicked according to the things they have done (John 5:28-29).  This principle helps us understand why God suffers so much evil in the world, which often appears to us to be nothing more than the senseless cruelty and brutality of the wicked.  He endures it with much longsuffering so that in the resurrection, with an indisputable righteousness of glorious judgment, God will condemn to Hell all the wicked, including the likes of Hitler, who are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction (Romans 9:22), for the things they have done (John 5:29).  

A scriptural example of how, based upon His omniscience and omnipotence, God is able to leave men to act as a matter of self-will while yet accomplishing His own purpose is seen in the account of original sin in the Garden.  As a result of His omniscience God perfectly knew the personalities and minds of Adam, Eve and Satan.  He also foreknew all of the events that would transpire in Eden.  He knew Adam would commit original sin.  However, it cannot be reasonably inferred that God determined to have Adam sin.  This is because according to scriptures existence of the Garden, and Adam and Eve’s presence there were not predetermined for the purpose of having Adam sin.  Rather, scripture asserts that creation exists to glorify God (Psalms 19:1, 33:1-11).  Man also, was created as a consequence of God’s purpose to ultimately receive glory (Isaiah 43:7, 48:11, I Corinthians 15:28, Revelations 4:11). 

As to Adam’s presence in the garden, had God placed him there so that he would sin and created a circumstance that made it impossible for him to act otherwise then it could be reasonably claimed that Adam’s personality and will were manipulated so as to compel him to commit sin.  And plausibly, the manipulator would be the instigator of his sin.  However, if Adam was placed in the Garden for some other reason and then chose to disobey God, he acted as a consequence of his own will.  If such was the case then Adam, and not God, is solely responsible for his actions that resulted in original sin.  We understand that God did not place Adam in the Garden so that he would commit sin based on two statements of scripture.  First, in Genesis 2:15 God explicitly stated His purpose for Adam’s presence there as opposed to elsewhere.  “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” (Gen 2:15).  And secondly, in providing for Adam and Eve’s natural sustenance God explicitly warned Adam against committing sin and supported the warning with a promise of terrible consequence if he disobeyed.  “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”  (Genesis 2:16)

To believe that God put Adam in the garden and gave him a commandment which forbade him to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in order to have Adam disobey God’s expressed will is to presume to know an unstated, secret will of God that was contrary to His expressed will.  Such presumption brings us face-to-face with the moral dilemma of the mystery of God assertion.  It would be duplicitous for God to have forbidden Adam from eating the fruit while secretly compelling him to do so.  This is because the obvious implication of God forbidding Adam from eating the fruit is He did not want Adam to do so.  However, if God had determined before to have Adam eat it, then His secret will would have been His true will and the implication that God did not want Adam to eat the forbidden fruit would have been misleading.  God’s expressed will would have been nothing more than a deceptive pretense to condemn Adam and his posterity to death.  Such a notion begs the question, would it right to punish Adam for disobeying God’s expressed will if in doing so he obeyed God’s secret will?  If so, would it not be just as reasonable for God to have punished Adam for disobeying His secret will had he not eaten the forbidden fruit?  If God had a secret will that Adam eat the forbidden fruit then Adam is the victim of an immoral paradox that compelled him to disobey God whether or not he ate; and, since disobeying God is a sin, Adam would have committed sin in either case.  Conversely, how could Adam be accused of sin if whatever he did obeyed God’s will?  If he ate the forbidden fruit he obeyed God’s secret will.  If he did not eat it he obeyed God’s expressed will.  

If God secretly predetermined to have men commit sins the moral contradiction presented in Adam’s case extends to His dealings in the affairs of all men.  This is because God asserted in scripture that all men should obey His will not to lie, cheat, steal, kill, extort, etc..  However, if God has secretly purposed to have men do these things then, paradoxically, disobeying God is obeying God.  Thus, a man could as equally be judged to have sinned if he obeyed God’s expressed will not to lie or steal, as he could be if he did these things in obedience to God’s secret will.  The resulting conclusion is that obedience is disobedience and disobedience is obedience.  The assault such a theory does to God’s righteousness and holiness compels one, as a matter of reason, to discard the notion that beyond His omniscience, God specifically predetermined the sins men commit.  Because, when carried to its logical, albeit, absurd conclusion, the idea that God predetermined all the sins men commit gives rise to an equally logical, albeit, even more absurd inference; that God is not only the author of all of sins, but also the original sinner.

In contrast to such notions, God’s holiness and righteousness remain intact when His omniscience and omnipotence is exercised on the grand scale that overruling providence requires.  This is because it asserts that while God foreknows all the sins men will potentially commit in every conceivable circumstance, He does not predetermine what sins they will actually commit.  Rather, in conjunction with His omniscience, God’s omnipotence has set limits as to what sins He suffers men to commit according to His purpose. 

The principles of overruling providence provide an explanation as to how God employs omniscience and omnipotence to turn sin against sin to a good outcome, while not predetermining to have men commit sins.  Christ’s crucifixion is one such example.  God suffered wicked men to commit sins against the Savior, but only to a limited extent when compared to what they would have done had God permitted them more time, resources and freedom from the influences of Jewish culture and Roman authority.  Their limited actions resulted in Jesus’ presence on the cross where the Savior accomplished the Father’s will of forgiveness of the sins of the elect.  “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” (John 12:27)  Also, despite His suffering them to mock, beat and crucify the Savior, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ God overruled their sinful intentions in defeating the outcome they desired, which was to eliminate Jesus’ influence once and for all.  By overruling the intent of their actions God accomplished His own sovereign will to bring glory and honor to Himself and the Savior and to forgive sinners.  Thus, God turned sinful action back against sin by limiting its scope and effect and accomplishing His own purpose.  He overruled the evil intentions of wicked men to bring about the good outcome of forgiveness of sins.
Evidence that God employed a principle of preemptive overruling providence by limiting the nature, scope, duration and effect of the evil actions taken against the Savior is also presented by the language Peter used in Acts 4:26-28 to describe the crucifixion.  “The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.  For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.”  The phrase “determined before” in this text is interpreted from the Greek word proorizo.  Other places in scripture this word is interpreted predestinated.  However, the interpreters correctly understood that in the context of Peter’s statement the English word predestinated was an inaccurate interpretation of the thought the Apostle expressed.  The transliteration of the Greek word proorizo to English is: pro: before; and horizo: horizon.  According to Strong’s Dictionary the word denotes limiting, or setting boundaries.  Peter’s language suggests that God limited what could be done to Jesus.  Other texts also suggest God employed preemptive overruling providence to establish the limits of what was done to Christ.  God controlled the time of Jesus appearing on Earth and the place he would appear (Luke 1:26-37), the specific moment Christ permitted himself to be taken by his accusers (John 7:8, 7:30, Matthew 26:18), and the time and circumstance of Him giving up His life on Calvary (John 10:17-18).  Thus, the things that could be done to the Savior were limited in their nature, scope, duration and effect.  In this way, God preemptively set the limits of what Christ would suffer in order to prevail in having His will accomplished.

Joseph presents another example of overruling providence in relation to what he experienced as a consequence of his brothers’ hatred of him.  In Genesis 50:20, Joseph stated; “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”  In this text the words thought in the phrase “thought evil” and meant in the phrase “God meant it unto good” are the same word; chashab.  According to Strong's, chashab means: think, plan, esteem, calculate, invent, make a judgment, imagine, count.  Thus, his brothers thought, or intended an evil outcome against Joseph while God thought or intended to bring about a good outcome.  It is obvious that a thing cannot be morally good and morally evil at the same time.  Thus, it cannot be that the acts of Joseph brothers could be morally good if they were carried out as a consequence of immoral evil intentions.  Therefore, it cannot be that the word “it” in the phrase “God meant it for good” can reasonably apply to the sinful deeds perpetrated against Joseph by his brothers.  However, by overruling providence the Lord can prevent evil acts from occurring, or else can prevent them from accomplishing their intended purpose.  By his providential intervention in preventing Joseph from being murdered, which his brothers first purposed to do, God counteracted a planned evil act.  He thereby prevented the intended evil outcome the brothers desired in order to assure that His own will would prevail.  He counteracted their intentions to kill Joseph by burdening Reuben to successfully plea for Joseph’s life, thereby limiting the nature of their sins to selling Joseph into slavery.  The Lord then counteracted their intentions to have Joseph suffer a miserable existence the rest of his life by ministering to him to strengthen his faith so that he would not be discouraged by his harsh treatment and circumstances and lose faith.  God thus acted on His own good intentions in a holy and righteous way to bring about the good outcome of fulfilling His own will to have Joseph save many people.  (Incidentally, an inference of far-reaching significance can be drawn from Joseph’s statement.  His relationship with Pharaoh set the stage for Jacob’s offspring to become the nation of Israel and the Savior to come out of that nation.)

Perhaps the most revealing example of God’s over ruling providence is presented in the discussion He had with Satan regarding Job.  In reply to God’s query as to whether Satan had considered Job as a target of his evil the devil complained that God had a providential hedge around him.  His response implies God was preventing Satan from bringing evil into Job’s life.  Never the less it is obvious from his response that Satan had considered what he wanted to do to Job.  The Lord gave Satan access to Job, but limited what he could do.  He could not touch Job’s person. “And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand.  So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.” (Job 1:12).  Later, Satan rationalized that his failure to prompt Job to curse God was the result of not being able to physically afflict him.  In response the Lord lowered the providential hedge a bit more, but still limited what Satan could do.  Satan could not take Job’s life.  “And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.  But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life. (Job 2:4-6).   This example plainly indicates that God suffered evil to occur against Job but limited the extent of its scope and nature.  However, it does not imply, neither can it be reasonably inferred, that God specifically determined what acts Satan would employ.  He knew what Satan would do, because God is omniscient.  However, His foreknowing of sinful action does not make Him the originator of the action.  Rather, God determined to over rule Satan’s power to do certain things to Job, which things Satan no doubt thought to do and would have done had God permitted.  This demonstrates how God preemptively limits evil as he works his own will.  God’s purpose in permitting Satan to afflict Job was to bring Job to repentance; because, although he was “a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil” (Job 1:7, 2:3) Job was never-the-less “righteous in his own eyes” (Job 32:1) and needed to repent from his sin of self-righteousness.  Thus, God did not put into Satan’s mind the specific things he would do to Job.  Rather, Satan acted, as a matter of his own will, limited only by the constraints of God’s over ruling providence as to what he could not do to Job.   

The argument that God exercises overruling providence against the sins of men in order to insure that His sovereign will prevails avoids the tensions the Absolutism and Determinism positions logically create with regard to God’s holiness and man’s will.  This is because it does not suggest that God has specifically predetermined to have men do evil acts and thereby compels them to do the acts in order to create circumstances in which His will can be done.  His holiness is not sensibly challenged since overruling providence controls circumstance by employing an omniscience that knows all the potential of every man’s depravity and an omnipotence that limits by preemption or counteraction what evil a man can do in a given situation.  Thus, the principles of overruling providence discourage any inference that God is the author of sin.  God suffers men to commit some sins while providentially hindering them from committing others as it suits His purpose to work His own sovereign will.  In this way, God intervenes in the affairs of men to work His own will in all things while leaving us to act as a matter of self-will.  Therefore, we are responsible for whatever sins we commit and God’s holiness is not logically challenged.

< Previous   Next >


The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.