The Significant from the Insignificant
If God is sovereign, how do we determine the significant from the insignificant? I often hear the layman exclaim how God’s hand was in this or that, but they seem somewhat selective in their testimonies. If something good happens, God is often referenced. When something bad happens there is also the desire to find God in the matter. But what about the seemingly insignificant things? What about the rolling stone? Are we to see God’s hand in absolutely everything, if His hand is in fact in absolutely everything?
Of course the first thing we have to address is those two little letters at the beginning. There is no “if” about God’s sovereignty. He is absolutely sovereign over all things. He ordains whatsoever comes to pass, from the rise and fall of nations to the rise and fall of each dust particle in a gentle breeze. There is, of course, no genuine distinction between significant and insignificant events, because everything ties together. Read through the book of Ruth and consider the sundry details about which even the writer says “And it came to pass” that ended up not just in Ruth’s marriage, but ultimately in the creation of King David, and eventually in the birth of Jesus. Even the world understands this as it confesses, “For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of the shoe, the horse was lost. For want of the horse the rider was lost. For want of the rider the battle was lost. For want of the battle the war was lost.” The big things are made up of the small things. As one wise theologian says, “There are no maverick molecules.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that your concern is invalid. There are two problems that are far too common within the evangelical church as we seek to understand the sovereignty and providence of God. One is what I call the Superman theory of providence. Someone narrowly escapes a car crash, and suggests “God was really with me there.” And He was. Trouble is, His sovereignty not only extends to keeping the cars an inch apart, it also extends to the cars getting that close in the first place. God is not in heaven passively watching the two cars start to get too close, then jumping into a phone booth (kids, ask your parents what that was), donning his suit and flying to keep the cars apart. He was in control of the whole thing, just as He is in control in our nice, uneventful trips in the car.
The second problem is our incessant and erroneous desire to read His providence. It is one thing to say “God brought this to pass.” It is altogether a different thing to say, “God brought this to pass because…” We who are Reformed are particularly tempted to this error. I remember once reading a sermon in which a Puritan pastor told the story of finding the tattered remains of the Book of Common Prayer that had been eaten by a church mouse. As a Puritan the pastor didn’t care for the Book of Common Prayer. He explained to the flock that even God’s littlest creature the mouse knew the Book of Common Prayer was no good, that God had sovereignly brought to pass the destruction of the book. On the latter point he was dead on. God, from all eternity, ordained that that particular mouse would chew up that particular book. Why He did so, however, is a mystery. Had I been there for that sermon I would have, hopefully graciously, asked that pastor, “Isn’t it equally plausible to suggest that the reason God had that mouse eat that book was so we would know that even the tiniest creatures know to feed upon the Book of Common Prayer?” One event, two radically different but equally plausible understandings of Why.
Grasping the sovereignty of God ought to humble us. First, we should be humbled to consider that we are under the care of a God who controls all things, down to the hairs on our head. We live our lives not only coram Deo, before the face of God, but also within the power of His almighty hand. Second, we should remember that a God so powerful, well, His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways. We should not be quick to read His inscrutable purposes. We should, however, be resolute to trust them.