Thursday, May 14, 2009

5/14- Providence and Responsibility

5/14- Providence and Human Responsibility

“You must bear witness in Rome” (Acts 23:11). “There will be no loss of life among you..and not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” (Acts 27:22,24). “Unless these men stay with the boat you cannot be saved” (Acts 27:31).

Calvin: Profane men with their absurdities foolishly raise an uproar, bso that they almost, as the saying is, mingle heaven and earth. If the Lord has indicated the point of our death, they say, we cannot escape it. Therefore it is vain for anyone to busy himself in taking precautions. One man does not dare take a road that he hears is dangerous, lest he be murdered by thieves; another summons physicians, and wears himself out with medicines to keep himself alive; another abstains from coarser foods, lest he impair his weak health; another is afraid of living in tumble-down houses. In short, all devise ways and forge them with great purpose of mind, to attain what they desired. Now either all these remedies which attempt to correct God’s will are vain; or else there is no fixed decree of God that determines life and death, health and disease, peace and war, and other things that men, as they desire or hate them, so earnestly try by their own toil either to obtain or to avoid. Also they conclude that believers’ prayers, by which the Lord is asked to provide for things that he has already decreed from eternity, are perverse, not to say superfluous. To sum up, they cancel all those plans which have to do with the future, as militating against God’s providence, which, without their being consulted, has decreed what he would have happen. Then whatever does happen now, they so impute to God’s providence that they close their eyes to the man who clearly has done it. Does an assassin murder an upright citizen? He has carried out, they say, God’s plan. Has someone stolen, or committed adultery? Because he has done what was foreseen and ordained by the Lord, he is the minister of God’s providence. Has a son, neglecting remedies, with never a care awaited the death of a parent? He could not resist God, who had so appointed from eternity. Thus all crimes, because subject to God’s ordinance, they call virtues. But with respect to future events, Solomon easily brings human deliberations into agreement with God’s providence. For just as he laughs at the dullness of those who boldly undertake something or other without the Lord, as though they were not ruled by his hand, so elsewhere he says: “Man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord will direct his steps” [Proverbs 16:9 p.]. This means that we are not at all hindered by God’s eternal decrees either from looking ahead for ourselves or from putting all our affairs in order, but always in submission to his will. The reason is obvious. For he who has set the limits to our life has at the same time entrusted to us its care; he has provided means and helps to preserve it; he has also made us able to foresee dangers; that they may not overwhelm us unaware, he has offered precautions and remedies. Now it is very clear what our duty is: thus, if the Lord has committed to us the protection of our life, our duty is to protect it; if he offers helps, to use them; if he forewarns us of dangers, not to plunge headlong; if he makes remedies available, not to neglect them. (I.17.3,4)

If God has created all things, governs all things, and if God knows what will happen before it ever does, and even decrees it, then how does human responsibility fit in? Calvin really doesn’t answer, except to rule out that God is only in charge of part of the universe and we are in charge of the other part. For Calvin, it is almost a waste of time to try to figure it out because the Bible doesn’t explain how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility fit together. But scriptures recognize God’s sovereignty and human responsibility together.
There are several examples of this. Samuel was told “Tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin” (I Sam. 9:16), and then it seemed an accident that Saul, who had been responsibly looking for his father’s donkeys found them close to Samuel. The Exodus was predicted by God, but the people had to be willing to leave and follow Moses. It was predicted that David would sit on the throne by Samuel, but David had to be willing to take steps to be king. Certainly Jesus’ death was predicted (eg. Isa. 53, Ps. 22) yet the Romans and Jewish leaders played a part and are responsible for their actions. Judas was predicted to betray Jesus- in the Psalms and by Jesus himself, yet he is held responsible for his actions. Paul was told he would bear witness in Rome (and thus survive the shipwreck), and that no one would lose their lives, but when the shipwrecked, they were to try to swim and float. We could go on and on. There is a juxtaposition between God’s foreknowledge plus even directing the future and human responsibility for their actions.
Yancey pointed out that a friend in alcoholics anonymous used to have a problem with how human responsibility and sovereignty interacted. He asked the question, "How can a person accept full responsibility for her actions even when she knows that family background, hormonal imbalances, and supernatural forces of evil all contribute to that behavior? Yancey quotes a character in Faulkner- "I ain't got to, but I can't help it." ("I Was Just Wondering" p. 44) In AA people are taught to take responsibility and to stop rationalizing by blaming in effect providence.

Prayer: Lord, let me find the balance between trusting you and being responsible. Help me to pray all I can, do all I can, and trust all I can, knowing my abilities are also gifts from you.

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