Book I Chapter XVI Section 1-9
How involved is God in His creation? Did He set up the laws of nature then step back to observe the outcome? Does He intervene only at certain times in order to fashion His desired outcomes? Does He control every motion within the universe moment by moment? Where do we put God’s involvement on the spectrum from blind watchmaker to micro-manager? This is the issue Calvin addresses in Chapter 16.
Calvin begins by refuting the notions of chance and fortune. He reasons that while inanimate objects are subject to innate properties, yet they “exert their force only in so far as directed by the immediate hand of God”. They are merely instruments which “God constantly infuses with energy” and uses for His purpose. Calvin then illustrates this point using the example of the sun (and earth). He points to the occasions in the bible when at the prayer of Joshua and Hezekiah the shadow of the sun was stopped or moved back, respectively. Thus, although the earth appears bound by natural laws which govern its motion, it in reality it is governed by God.
So, God is able to overrule natural law when He so chooses, but isn’t this just a special case? Not so argues Calvin. By referring to many passages speaking of the intimate governance of God, Calvin argues that “not a drop of rain falls without the express command of God”. Here Calvin agrees with Augustine, who taught that “if anything is left to fortune, the world moves at random”. What seems to others as chance, “faith will recognise as the secret impulse of God”.
If we really believe that not one sparrow falls to the ground without His will (Matthew 10. 29, along with many other passages of similar teaching) then it is logical to believe that God is intimately involved in every single action within creation. While it may be logical, its hard to get our head around. How can all the seemingly random acts of creation – including animals, humans and the cosmos – at all times, in all places, over all history, be controlled and guided by a divine hand?
As finite creatures limited by time and space this is a hard concept to grasp. Much easier to say that God is in charge in some abstract disconnected way and that he occasionally steps in for the odd miracle or two. But He has not left this option open to us. This teaching gives us some insight into what omnipotent and omniscient really mean. How big is our God?
This doctrine immediately leads onto two key questions: if absolutely everything that happens is governed and directed by God, then how can we understand the occurrence of evil in the world and what role do our decisions and actions take in God’s providence? It is these questions that Calvin addresses in the next chapter. I’m looking forward to it already!!
“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…So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10.29+31
Father, we see something of Your amazing power and care as we meditate on these truths. Help us resist the temptation to try explain how You do it, but rather help us to become lost in wonder and adoration at Your intimate involment in our world. Thank you for Your loving and personal care, Amen.