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What does God do?

A sermon by Rod Benson

What does God do? Last week, we looked at “who is God?”  Today, I want to build on the foundation laid last week, and suggest to you that the bible teaches that God is particularly active in creation, revelation, and providence.

So God creates, speaks and plans.  I have spoken in the past about God’s self-revelation. Today I want to focus on God’s work in creation and providence.

Atheist philosopher Quentin Smith writes:

the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing and for nothing…. We should…acknowledge our foundation in nothingness and feel awe at the marvellous fact that we have a chance to participate briefly in this incredible sunburst that interrupts without reason the reign of non-being.[1]

In contrast, Christian theologian Robert Farrar Capon, who obviously believes in creation according to Scripture, says this of creation:

One afternoon, before anything was made, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit sat around in the unity of their Godhead discussing one of the Father’s fixations. From all eternity, it seems, he had this thing about being. He would keep thinking up all kinds of unnecessary things – new ways of being and new kinds of things to be. And as they talked, God the Son suddenly said, “Really, this is absolutely great stuff.  Why don’t I go out and mix us up a batch?”

And God the Holy Spirit said, “Terrific! I’ll help you.” So they all pitched in, and after supper that night, the Son and the Holy Spirit put on this tremendous show of being for the Father. It was full of water and light and frogs; pine cones kept dropping all over the place and crazy fish swam around in the wineglasses.

There were mushrooms and grapes, horse radishes and tigers – and men and women everywhere to taste them, to juggle them, to join them and to love them. And God the Father looked at the whole wild party and said, “Wonderful! Just what I had in mind!”[2]

The universe really is wonderful. And the doctrine of creation, the study of everything that exists as a result of God’s activity, is equally wonderful.

There are two problems about creation for us today. “For over two hundred years theology has had a tendency to surrender talk about the cosmos to science … [and] the dominant theological tendency has been to recognize (capitulate to?) the power and privilege of science in western European society.”[3]

Parallel to this is the insistence by some in the church that the universe was made by God some 6,000 years ago, and anyone who disagrees with such a notion is not only mistaken but denies the plain teaching of Scripture and the gospel of salvation. This is what I call the surrender of science to religious fundamentalism.

But I do not want to directly engage with either of these problems today. What I want to do is affirm the divine origin and continued sustenance of everything that exists as part of God’s wonderful plan for humankind revealed in Scripture.

The Bible teaches that God created everything – the world, people, angels – from nothing: that there is a person behind creation, separate from what is created, and greater than the universe. One of the most majestic verses in all of Scripture is Genesis 1:16b, “He also made the stars.”

But the Bible also teaches that God did not merely set everything up and then walk away, leaving entropy to do its work. God is actively, moment by moment, active and engaged in his work of sustaining the universe. God specifically does this through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Col 1:16).

What is the purpose of creation? It is not accidental. It is not just there for powerful men to exploit, and to impose their own purposes on it. God calls each of us to respect the divine purpose of creation, and work with God in pursuing that purpose.

What might that entail?

First, “Creation is made for the Son … It depends upon Him for its original existence, for its present flourishing and for its future fulfilment.”[4]

Second, creation exists to praise its Maker, and reflect his glory, as Psalm 19: 1 declares. See also Psalm 148.

Third, creation expresses beauty: before any practical purpose, the universe is simply beautiful. Most of what exists has never been and will never be seen by human eyes. As Michael Lloyd observes, “Creation, in the reckless profusion of its beauty, reflects something of the gratuitous glory of God.”[5]

Fourth, creation is there for its own sake, and for its own pleasure; “created things proclaim and please God through the sheer enjoyment of pleasure.”[6] See also Psalm 104.

The doctrine of creation also reminds us that we are part of this glorious creation, and are of intrinsic worth, deeply valued and profoundly cherished by God – which is why God is so deeply saddened when we wander from the path of godliness, and our love for God grows cold, and we forget or suppress the knowledge of our Creator. This is one of the greatest tragedies of human existence.

This brings us to the second great work of God I want to talk about today: the providence of God. The biblical doctrine of providence takes its name from Genesis 22: 8, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering” (also v. 14), and is classically expressed in the story of Joseph whose abduction and deportation to Egypt were seen subsequently as the divinely intended provision for the later needs of his famine-stricken family (Gen 45, 50).[7]

Providence is the term we use to describe God’s care for the world, his care for everything that exists, especially

God’s own act by which God orders all events in creation, nature, and history, so that the ends for which God created them will be in due time realized … Providence is like prudence on a cosmic scale. Prudence is the behaviour that acts circumspectly, in harmony with sound reasoning, to avoid extremes and seeks appropriate means for intended ends.[8]

Theologians sometimes speak of “general” and “special” providence. In general providence, God

works through regular and uniform natural laws, not by arbitrary incursions into the natural order; in special providence, God works in special contexts and with particular persons who trust God, who fervently pray, who are responsive to the specific promptings of grace, and who through experience learn a sense in which all things work together for good.[9]

As we come to understand the providence of God in all its grandeur and grace, we are humbled and moved to wonder and worship, we are filled with gratitude and trust because we are learning vital truths about the nature and work of the God we have come to know through Scripture, and we grow in the confidence that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).

The providence of God is also apparent in human history. God works behind the scenes to achieve his sovereign purposes through historical events and human actions. This is the “governmental” aspect of divine providence, highlighting the power of God, and his purposes for the future.

Biblical scholar S.N. Williams notes that the story of God’s Old Testament people from the call of Abraham to the return from exile “encourages the belief that history is genuinely open, according to whether people obey or disobey God … However, this must also be integrated into a wider picture.”[10] He goes on:

Human actions do not take place independently of God’s purposes. God knows in advance what people will do; he does not take risks with an unknown and unknowable future. The future is sometimes described as being decreed by him.[11]

Thus, “the active responsibility for bringing history to its destiny lies with God and God’s active decisions about what will or will not be.”[12]

These ideas lead theologians to argue and write too many books.  Williams observes that

while faith seeks understanding, it does not live by understanding the providential ways of God. The confidence of the believer is born of the conviction that God is utterly trustworthy in character and promise, and this generates deep humility … providence ultimately finds its appropriate response in praise.”[13]

There comes a time when the voices fall silent, and the chattering of words in books and blogs comes to an end, and in the majestic silence of eternity, we take our place among the millions of the redeemed, and the holy angels, and declare:

Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb … Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen! (Rev 7:10, 12).

 


Sermon 672 copyright © 2016 Rod Benson. Preached at Lithgow Baptist Church, Australia, on Sunday 15 May 2016. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).


References

[1] William Lane Craig & Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), p. 135.

[2] Robert Farrar Capon, The Third Peacock (London: Harper & Row, 1986), p. 9.

[3] Jonathan R. Wilson, A Primer for Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2005), pp. 68-69.

[4] Michael Lloyd, Café Theology: Exploring Love, the Universe and Everything (London: Alpha International, 2012), pp. 22-23.

[5] Ibid., p. 26.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Bruce Milne, Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief (third edn; Nottingham, UK: IVP, 2009), p. 107. See also Job 10:12.

[8] Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology (New York: Harper Collins, 1992), pp. 143, 144.

[9] Ibid., pp. 164, 165.

[10] S.N. Williams, “Providence,” in T.D. Alexander & Brian S. Rosner (eds), New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Leicester: IVP, 2000), p. 713.

[11] Ibid., p. 714.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., pp. 714-715.

Categories: sermons

Rod Benson

Theologian, researcher, teacher, writer, foodie, husband, dad. Works at Moore Theological College.

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