The following words of mine come from a response I gave to my friend Grant in the previous post. I think it covers some important ground, so I’m posting it as a separate blog post:
In some clergy circles in which I run, God’s sovereignty is almost a bad word, which blows my mind because Wesley himself certainly had a high view of it.
What turned me around on the subject more than anything was reading C.S. Lewis and, oddly enough, a Jewish Holocaust survivor named Viktor Frankl.
But honestly: if we believe that God has the power to grant our prayer petitions, and will do so at least sometimes (and even most Methodist ministers still believe that!), then it follows, logically, that, indeed, everything happens or doesn’t happen for a reason—unless we believe that God will answer prayer only arbitrarily.
If we pray for something, for example, and we don’t get it, then we can only assume that God has a good reason for not giving it to us. It’s easy enough to imagine that he does have a good reason, given that only God can foresee all the possible outcomes and effects throughout all of history of granting or not granting our petitions.
Do you see what I mean?
I had an argument once with a Methodist minister who said that while he believes that God has the power to intervene, and sometimes he does, often God just lets things run according to the laws of physics.
So, for example, if a boulder rolls down a mountain and happens to flatten a man in its path down below, God merely “lets physics run its course” and kill this person. God has nothing to do with it.
And I said, “Yes, but what if that man’s mother was praying that very morning for his safe travel to his destination. God didn’t grant her petition. Why? Did he not hear it? Did he not care? Did he not have the power to stop the man from being in its path at that exact moment? Could God not have redirected the boulder—not even miraculously, but by arranging before the creation of the world to have a small twig fall in the boulder’s path to steer it off its course?
God could have done that and it wouldn’t even involve a “miracle.” (In fact, I believe God intervenes in this way all the time.)
Or did God hear the mother’s prayer, consider it alongside every other circumstance happening at that moment and all future moments—alongside every other person living at that moment and all future moments—and foresee that intervening in that case (to prevent nature from running its course) would cause some greater catastrophe later on? And if God considered all that, then there’s no way around it: even the boulder flattening the man happened for a reason.
Moreover, any loving God in his providence can’t merely “let physics run its course” because the death of that one man sends ripple effects across all of history. His death affects so many other people’s lives—people living and not living. It has a profound impact on future generations. At what point would my friend start believing that God’s providential care “kicks in” and God starts “intervening”?
I hate to even use the word “intervene” because it makes it sound like God’s involvement in our lives is an exceptional event, rather than a continuous occurrence—as if there were moments in our lives when God isn’t intervening, and that can’t be true: Every breath we take and heartbeat we enjoy is a completely gratuitous gift of God. Every moment of life is given to us directly by God. He sustains us at every moment. So he’s continuously intervening.
The only theological question at stake for us Wesleyans is that God enables through his Holy Spirit our free acceptance of rejection of his saving grace.
That’s it! When planning the future, can God not foresee that free choice and arrange history accordingly—without abridging whatever freedom we need to love God and others?
This view of God’s sovereignty doesn’t seem very difficult to understand. But what am I missing? Where am I wrong?