In our last post, we looked at the drama that unfolded in Joseph’s life and how he responded to betrayal and false accusation. This humble man of God responded with a God-centered faith. How did he do it? What enabled this man to respond to his betrayers in a way that honored the Lord? The answer is critically important. Joseph understood the divine perspective. And he embraced a theological framework that informed his actions and attitudes.
In the biblical account, we find Joseph clinging to doctrine; in particular, the doctrine of Providence. The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith summarizes this vital doctrine:
“God the good Creator of all things in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for which they were created, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness and mercy.”
Several lessons flow from this critical statement.
First, God created all things and sustains all things (Gen. 1:1, 31; 2:18; Ps. 145:11; Prov. 3:19; Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:16-17). Simply put, God sustains what he creates. R.C. Sproul adds, “This refers to his absolute sovereignty, his eternal and inalienable right to govern and rule what he owns, and to dispose of those things according to the good pleasure of his will … We are under his authority and control.” Our God is the great Sustainer of creation! Sproul continues, “It is never arbitrary, frivolous, or capricious. He governs not according to polls or political expediency, but by his most wise and holy counsel.” God governs and sustains all things by his most wise and holy providence.
Second, God exercises absolute control over all things. Isaiah 46:9-10 declares, “… Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'” God’s control over all things results in peace and security in the lives of Christians. So Joseph, even in the midst of turmoil could rest in God’s Providential control of all things.
Third, this control includes all creatures and their actions as well as events in the natural world. Scripture is clear:
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:24–28, ESV)
Absolutely nothing is outside the scope of God’s comprehensive providence.
Next, this absolute control mobilizes the plan of God. Psalm 33:10-11 is instructive: “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” (Psalm 33:10–11, ESV)
Finally, it is important to recognize that all these things manifest the glory of God.
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV)
“so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:10, ESV)
“For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”” (Romans 9:17, ESV)
The Baptist Confession of Faith continues to articulate a biblical view of providence:
“Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without his providence; yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.”
Notice three important principles.
First, there is no chance in God’s economy.
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33, ESV).
Think about the implications of chance in God’s universe. Such a notion would inevitably lead to randomness, chaos, and purposelessness. “Mechanical fate is at the very heart meaningless, merciless, and hopeless. But the certainty of divinely ordered providence is meaningful, merciful, and hopeful,” writes R.C. Sproul. He continues, “Because God controls the universe, chance is ruled out, and because it is God who controls the universe, fate is ruled out also.”
Additionally, one must consider the doctrine of concurrence. Wayne Grudem explains the doctrine in simple terms: “God cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do.” Joseph is an example of concurrence – God directs Joseph and God directs his brothers to bring a purposeful conclusion.
God’s absolute sovereignty does not destroy the integrity of man’s liberty. Sproul rightly says, “We are not puppets with no volition, freedom, or power, but we have no volition, freedom, or power beyond the power and freedom given to us by God.” The doctrine of compatibalism teaches us that God is sovereign and we are responsible. So divine sovereignty is compatible with human freedom.
Finally, it is important to underscore this important reality, namely, the doctrine of providence does not deny the operation of secondary causes. It is true that God ordains everything that comes to pass. But God chooses to work, for the most part through means. In other words, as Jonathan Edwards reminds us, “God ordains the ends and God ordains the means.”
Joseph’s God-centered faith was rooted in sound doctrine. Is it any wonder that Christians who discard strong doctrinal moorings find themselves adrift and sail aimlessly to the distant shore of confusion? Joseph reminds us about the importance of theology. He reminds us that theology matters. May the doctrine of God’s Providence strengthen and encourage us. May our faith flourish as we stand on rock solid theological truths that will supply wind for our “sails” and lead us to the celestial shores – all to the glory of God!