Jerry Bridges is fast becoming one of my favourite Christian authors. In recent weeks I have read two books by Bridges on Christian living, entitled The Pursuit of Holiness and The Practice of Godliness. These books are written in a simple, accessible style, and are full of quotations from Scripture, so advocates of sola scriptura will not be disappointed.
Bridges contributed a chapter to the book I’m currently reading. Entitled Still Sovereign, the book is a compilation of fourteen articles by different authors defending the sovereignty of God from a Calvinistic perspective. The chapter penned by Bridges is entitled “Does Divine Sovereignty Make a Difference in Everyday Life?“ and is my favourite chapter of the book so far (I still have a few chapters left to read).
What I like about Bridges’ chapter is that his thoughts about divine sovereignty line up with my own beliefs in many ways. Throughout the chapter, Bridges quotes from Scripture to demonstrate the plentiful evidence for God’s sovereignty in every aspect of life.
First off, we see from the Book of James that God’s will is active even in the mundane tasks we carry out in our everyday lives:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (4:13-16)
Bridges then explains how many of us say the phrase ‘God willing’ in passing when we’re talking about our plans, even in secular society. But most people don’t realise that it really is true that nothing in our daily lives happens apart from the will of God. To not acknowledge this is described as ‘evil’ in James’ epistle.
Jesus himself also spoke about matters that touch on the issue of divine sovereignty. Here’s a quote that Bridges uses from the Book of Matthew:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (10:28-31)
I love what Jesus says here about the very hairs on our head being numbered, as it shows how God is present even in the tiniest detail of our lives. I often ponder how awesome it is that tiny insects behave in such complex ways (e.g. spiders who weave their webs and ants who build their tunnels and hills). In all the minutiae of life, as well as all the grand thunderstorms and earthquakes, God is in control.
Several pages later, Bridges makes an important confession: “It is of little comfort to me to know that God loves me if He is not in control of the events of my life.” This saying is a breath of fresh air! I get so much comfort myself knowing that God is in control of my life. But there is a flip-side to this knowledge, which Bridges doesn’t mention, which is that if all is under God’s control, there is no hiding place or escape route should God be angry with us and wish to punish us, as He did the Israelites on many occasions in Old Testament times.
Bridges goes on to discuss God’s sovereignty over people, and states “…the concept of divine sovereignty over people seems to destroy the free will of humans and make them no more than puppets on God’s stage.” This should bring a smile to the face of anyone who is familiar with my own writings and philosophy, as I believe this is precisely the truth of the matter and we shouldn’t shy away from it! It seems to me that so many theologians come desperately close to admitting we have no free will, but shy away from ever stating this explicitly, because of the implications in terms of the key Christian message about human responsibility for sin. It has been clear to me for many years that even those things we do which might be considered sinful are under God’s control. We are those puppets. I have never read a theologian brave enough to admit it, as it means we have to look at the fall of man and the atoning sacrifice of Christ in a wholly new light (more about this in my book, Ultimate Truth: God Beyond Religion).
More scriptural evidence that God controls our lives can be found in Proverbs 21:1, which states “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” This is true of kings and other world leaders and it is also true of all other human beings. As that famous Sunday School song goes, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”
If we are going to truly accept the sovereignty of God then we must be prepared to confess He is in control of both good and evil. I recently dedicated a blog post to discussing the evidence in Scripture that this is so, and it seems Bridges is in agreement as he quotes many of the same Scriptures as me to support this view. He also states “…as his children we can be sure that all evil intended against us by other people is either permitted or restrained as he chooses.” Bridges proceeds to explain:
God’s sovereignty over people does not mean we do not experience pain and suffering. It means that God is in control of our pain and suffering, and that he has in mind a beneficial purpose for it. There is no such thing as pain without a purpose for the child of God. (p 301)
In the human “dimension” of reality it still seems as though we do have free will, as we think our individual thoughts and make decisions to go to certain places and do certain things. But I believe that sense of free will is an illusion; it is a mode of mind that is completely under the sovereign control of God. Nevertheless, because we do feel that we are free, we should act responsibly. While he doesn’t completely deny free will, Bridges agrees with me on this point and states,
“…it must be emphasised that belief in divine sovereignty in the everyday affairs of our lives should never cause us to act imprudently or irresponsibly. The Scriptures repeatedly teach us our responsibility for prudent actions. The Book of Proverbs, for example, is filled with this type of teaching.” (p 303)
We should note the compatibilist paradox here – God is in control of all action and yet we are still encouraged in Scripture to make prudent decisions. The way I like to describe this is that whatever you do, God is doing through you.
In conclusion, then, there is ample evidence in Scripture that God is in control of every aspect of our lives. I believe that we can come to know this through intuition, contemplation, and reflection. I have written extensively on the subject of free will on this blog and in my books, and it is wonderful and refreshing to read the perspective of Jerry Bridges, whose views on the subject are not a million miles away from my own.