Who Shall Declare It?
"Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them." --Isaiah 44:6,7
One of the results of the fusion of Greek philosophy with Christian doctrine was the introduction of the idea of secondary causes. The most blatant result of this union is Deism, which simply sees the universe as a clock, wound up by God, the First Cause, and perking along by itself since then. God, at best, is only a limiting concept, a necessary element to give us something as a fixed point in our thought.
The Bible knows nothing of such "secondary" causes. The inspired apostle's word was "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). It is true, of course, that there are things that look like "secondary causes." For instance, a car's brakes may fail so that it runs through a red light. The brakes fail because a part was defective. The part may be defective because inferior materials were used. The materials may be inferior because a supplier was trying to cut costs. The chain of cause and effect proceeds back to what philosophers call the First Cause, who is Himself Uncaused. This being is called God by Christians, who hope to prove His existence to unbelievers by showing that there cannot be a infinite chain of causes for then it would be impossible to know the difference between cause and effect, for all would be the same.
One of the important doctrines of Scripture is the Immanence of God, an aspect of His eternity. This doctrine simply affirms that God is eternally present in every point of time and every point of space. Because God is a simple being, He cannot be divided into parts, so where He is present, He is present in power, in knowledge, in will, and in all other attributes. He is therefore present in all the causes, and is the cause of all the causes directly. So Paul could say, "He is not far from any of us."
The ultimate effect of the introduction of secondary causes is seen in the work of men like Carl Sagan. In the modern world we have pushed the boundaries back farther and farther, with less and less for God to do, until at last, as Sagan puts it, "There is nothing for the Creator to do." [Introduction to Stephen Hawkings, A Brief History of Time] The more we find out about the "causes" of things, the less and less we need God, and the smaller His role becomes in our world. In this world of "causes" the Christian tries frantically to retain the idea of God by the introduction of "free will" and "responsibility," while God is pushed further into the background. He is retained as One who makes good things "possible" if we will use the means (causes) that He has provided for us.
In such Scriptures as Psalm 65, God is said to hear prayer and rule all things: He is the confidence of the whole earth. He has set fast the mountains, stills the seas, quiets the tumult of the people. He waters the earth, gives corn, and softens the earth with water. It is His goodness that gives pasture to the flocks. The Bible is full of such passages. Jesus Himself put it: "Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek): for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things" (Matt. 6:30)
When the Bible says that God is in eternity, that is simply to say that He does not dwell in time and space. He is the direct cause of every cause, not just the First Cause. He feeds the birds of the air; He clothes the lilies of the field; He numbers the very hairs of our head.
This is the reason that the prophet could say to Israel, "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40)
God moves the whole process, not just the beginning, for He is the Beginning and the Ending, and brings to pass everything in between.
One of the major reasons that the theologians have spoken of secondary causes is the desire to insulate God from the charge of bringing evil to pass. But aside from the fact that we do not need to defend God (He can take care of Himself, thank you.), the truth that God brings all things to pass does not make Him the author of sin, for His purpose is His own glory. With respect to the Jews, the death of Christ was a monstrous sin for which they suffered the loss of their city and their nation, but with respect to God it was the salvation of the world and the demonstration of His righteousness. The same act was evil with respect to the sinner, but righteousness with respect to God.
We do not live in a deistic dream. We do not have to deal with impersonal determinism. We do not confront irrationality and chance, for these are the imaginations of men's minds, and have no objective reality.
The truth simply stated is this: God is the cause of all things (Eph. 1:11,12). Because of this, Christians are led by the still waters and given their daily bread. He knows their needs before they ask of Him. He is acquainted with all their ways (Ps. 139). There are several important implications:
I. We are to be thankful for all things (I Thess. 5:18). How can a Deist be thankful? How can Arminians who hold to chance and human determination be thankful? Instead of thankful and joyful hearts, we rage against the dying of the light and against our bad luck and the conspiracies of men. We have not because we ask not. Why thank impersonal secondary causes? At least the heathen personified them, gave them names, and built altars to them. They filled the world with their vanities, their dead gods who could not speak, move, or do good or evil.
II. We are to pray for all things (I Thess. 5:17). God is good and does not take credit for what He does not do. If we are to pray without ceasing and give thanks for all things, then He is not at a remote distance from us, but a "very present help in time of trouble" (Ps. 46:1). It is He who makes desolations in the earth, and also who makes wars to cease. Our part is to "be still, and know that [He] is God" (Ps. 46:8-10). We are to pray and be thankful for all things simply because He is the one who brings it to pass.
III. We are to rejoice evermore (I Thess. 5:16). All things work for the good of God people (Rom. 8:28). We do not live in a stinking world. It is a stinking world only to those who are not the children of the Heavenly Father. The river of God's providence and grace satisfies the deepest longings of the souls of the saints, and makes them glad (Ps. 46:4).
IV. Our relationship to God is not mechanical, but personal. This is true of all men. Men are either the unthankful recipients of his kindness and bounty, and store up to themselves the wrath of God (Romans 2), and will be the personal objects of the wrath of God in the Lake of Fire forever (Rev. 10) in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; or they are the eternal objects of grace and mercy, and sit down at the marriage feast of the Lamb, with the One who has called them friends (John 15:15).
This is emphasized by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. When God would give the perfect revelation of Himself to the world (Heb. 1:1,2), it did not come in terms of principles and decrees and abstractions, but in the PERSON of our Lord Jesus. "Come to ME," was His invitation, "I will give you rest." Abstractions and rules do not save the soul, but Jesus Christ does. "Father, forgive them," is the cry from the cross. We are saved because before our eyes "Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you." (Gal. 3:1)
Away with the bondage of determinism! Away with the despair of chance! Away with the pride and arrogance of man! Away with bondage to the impersonal letter! May Christ dwell in our hearts by faith... so that we might know him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us! (Eph. 3:17,20).
These great truths are summarized in the great Heidelberg Catechism, Questions 27 and 28:
Q. 27: What dost thou understand by the providence of God?
A. The almighty, everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things come not by chance, but by His Fatherly hand.
Q. 28: What does it profit us to know that God created, and by His providence upholds all things?
A. That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.