Saturday, January 21, 2006

Recommended Reading-THE INVISIBLE HAND by R.C. Sproul

A few years ago a friend of mine started an “awareness campaign” to get Christians to think about the use of the word “luck” and its variations. He pointed out that when Christians use the word “luck”, they are usually referring to God’s providence. Since God is sovereign—“luck” doesn’t really exist. Fortunately he wasn’t legalistic about it, and we even had some fun with it. When he went to Bible College in Toronto his church had a going away gift- a box of the cereal, “Providential Charms.” In God’s providence he is now the pastor of a Baptist church in BC.

When I first read R.C. Sproul’s THE INVISIBLE HAND, I thought of my friend. God’s providence was (and I am sure still is) an important doctrine to him, both when times are good, and when times are bad.

The subtitle of this book is, “Do all things really work for good?” Sproul answers that question, and others. This is not a book about how God can make your life better, or that you’ll never have troubles again. Sometimes providence takes us through hard times.

Sproul starts there, with a chapter called, “Hard Providence.” The Bible has many examples of God’s providence, in good times and bad-that is one of its recurring themes. He first uses his family and then David as an example.

If we understand the providence of God and love the God of providence, we are able to worship Him with the sacrifice of praise He inherently deserves when things occur that bring pain, sorrow, and affliction into our lives…It is a worship of faith that is rooted in trust.

He then takes a closer look at what providence means, and how our view of the word has changed. Providence comes from words meaning “before” and “in front of.” However, it means more than just foreknowledge. It also includes giving sustenance-or “providing” (from the same root words). Even that merely scratches the surface—God’s providence means he upholds, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures, actions, and things—“to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.” (See the Westminster Confession of Faith-Chapter 5- paragraph 1)

From here Sproul looks at providence in many forms and settings. First is providence as provision. Here the biblical example is Genesis 22-where Abraham trusts in God, and obeys—even if it means sacrificing his son Isaac, who was (and is) the fulfilment of a promise of God to Abraham.

The life of Moses is another example of God’s providence. One thing after another played a part in Moses’ life. The growing number of Hebrew slaves caused Pharaoh to fear them and order the deaths of the male infants. This lead to Moses’ mother setting him in a small ark and his being found by Pharaoh’s daughter Moses grew up in the royal household, but ended up in the desert as a shepherd for 40 years before he came back to Egypt to lead God’s people out. And that’s just part of it. There was no “co-incidence” or “luck”; it was God’s providence at work.

We see Jacob—and how events seemed to conspire against him. Sproul looks at how those events were part of God’s providence. This also introduces Joseph, who gets more coverage later-Sproul wraps up Jacob’s life this way,
In the final analysis, the providence of God was enough for Jacob. It should also be enough for us. Jacob lived to see something of the hidden hand of God. He did not see all of the purpose of providence unfold before his eyes, but he saw enough.

God’s providence also works with politics and government. He shows the biblical role of government, and several passages that reflect on that. Romans 13 is a common passage used in discussing how God views government. Psalm 2 covers government rebellion against God. The first earthly government is seen in Genesis 3:22-24. The angel posted at the east gate of the garden was an example of law enforcement—a responsibility of government. He digs deeper, showing Who is behind government.

Sproul also extends this to the rise and fall of nations. He looks at the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, and the words God spoke through him against Israel for their sins against Him. He also looks at the fall of Babylon in Daniel. Here we see not only the invisible hand of God’s providence—but also a visible hand in Daniel 5:25-29.

Sproul introduces us to the idea of concurrence-or how things work together, or come together. I know I have sometimes looked back and was able to see how God caused things to come together. I may not have seen it at the time, but couldn’t miss it afterwards. The idea of concurrence is a hard one for some people, because we want to at least feel like we have some control. We don’t want others bossing us around. We even extend that to God sometimes.

Concurrence really comes together in the life of Jacob’s son Joseph through the latter chapters in Genesis. Although Joseph’s older brothers meant to get rid of him, one way or another, and they lied about it to their father, God used it for good. Sproul points out that God could have used different events—but He didn’t. Sproul concludes, “They (the events in Joseph’s life) took place ultimately because of the perfect intentionality of God.”

An objection to the idea of providence seen so far is how that relates to us. There is concern God’s sovereignty and providence make us puppets, so Sproul answers this by looking at primary and secondary causes. God is the primary cause. We, and all creation are secondary causes—we do play a part.

This sets up a look at providence and history. He covers different views we have had about history, and links them together. It is through history that God revealed Himself to us, and in history that Christ was born, lived, suffered, died and rose. This history of God’s revelation, and of Christ’s saving work intersects world history at many points—all history is in his hands.

Sproul looks at the implications and meaning of all this for the Church, and the idea of “To God alone the glory.” He doesn’t avoid problem areas such as evil or pain. He addresses counterfeit “miracles.” And as in any discussion of God that involves us, there is mention of prayer. Sproul’s hope for this book is that it would act as a stimulus for us to “delve deeper into the matter (providence).” My hope is that we would all see God’s hand in all things, and not in a “fuzzy” way—but in a deeper sense of His providence.

The Invisible Hand is published by P & R Publishing.
(although the Monergism link says Banner of Truth. They may have published an earlier edition.)


Blogger stauf46 said...

I bought a copy of this excellent book at a garage sale last summer for $1.50. What luck! :)

BTW, the people who sold me the book have now started attending our church.

Thanks for the review!

Terry Stauffer

6:21 PM  
Blogger tank said...

Good book i read it a few years back

4:55 PM  
Anonymous brent said...

Thank you for introducing this work by Sproul. My wife and extended family and I have just been discussing God's Providence. My cousin was killed in an accident, and at the same time an uncle has been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. Many of us believe that all things work out for the good for those who love God. Your comments and Sprouls book may be encouraging.

10:36 PM  
Blogger pilgrim said...

Thanks for the comments.
That's one of the reasons I do this blog & recommend reading.

12:49 PM  

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