"Who Knows?" – Some Thoughts About God's Providence and Our Decisions

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In two weeks Kristi and I will be leaving a city and congregation that we dearly love to begin working with the brethren in Valrico, Florida. We are very excited about the new work we will do and the new friendships we will make, but at the same time it is very daunting to follow in the footsteps of a dear friend and mentor. We would certainly appreciate your prayers.

Deciding when to make a move or when to change careers is one of the most stressful choices any of us must make. And when our concern is to do what will most please the Lord and will most benefit His kingdom, the stress in some ways intensifies. No one wants to let God down! So how do we know God wants us to do when we are faced with these dilemmas?

The Bible clearly teaches that God rules the world, that He has purposes He intends to accomplish, and that He intervenes in human affairs to see those purposes fulfilled. The shorthand way to describe God’s sovereign control over creation is providence. The Bible also teaches that God’s ways are far above ours, and that unless He reveals Himself to us in His word we have no way of knowing what His purposes are (Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 2:1-13). This presents a challenge to us: to what extent does He have a specific plan for each of us, and how are we supposed to make decisions in light of those plans when we don’t even know what they are?

Many people believe that God has a comprehensive plan for our lives, a master blueprint for every decision we are supposed to make. Rick Warren’s bestseller The Purpose Driven Life presents this view. He writes: “God also planned where you’d be born and where you’d live for his purpose. Your race and nationality are no accident. God left no detail to chance” (page 13, his emphasis). I do not believe this view is scriptural. While it is true that God did have a specific plan in mind for key individuals in His redemptive purposes (such as Abraham, David, and Jesus), no text of Scripture teaches that God has such a comprehensive blueprint for each of us.

I think the story of Esther can shed some light on these issues. The basic plot of the Book of Esther revolves around a decree by King Ahasuerus (incited by the villainous Haman) that all Jews living in the Persian Empire be killed.  As it happens, a young Jewish orphan named Esther had become the new queen of Persia, and when her guardian Mordecai learned of the plot he sent an urgent message for help to his niece:openbible3

“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).

Here are some basic points that we can learn from Mordecai’s message:

First, none of us can really know how God’s providence works. As Mordecai asked, “Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Mordecai does not appear to be sure that Esther’s placement in the palace was God’s doing. In retrospect, it certainly appears this way, but in real time, not even Mordecai would make a definitive claim. While all of us can think of moments when blessings seemed to come our way at just the right place or time, and while we should “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), none of us can speak with certainty about the providence of God.

Second, God’s ultimate purposes will be carried out whether we understand His providence or not. God had an eternal plan to save the world through the family of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). The king’s decree threatened this plan. After all, the Persian Empire was so large that an order to exterminate the Jews in the Persian Empire would be tantamount to the global annihilation of the Jews. But whether Esther chose to work on behalf of her people or not, God’s plan to use Israel to bless the nations would not be thwarted. This is why Mordecai was so certain that “relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place.” And this is why his uncertainty about Esther’s role was ultimately irrelevant. Mordecai knew He could trust in God to be faithful, and so can we.

Third, rather than speculate about God’s providence, we must commit to faithfully serving Him wherever we are. The real issue before Esther was not to ask herself, “Is this why I was made queen?” or “Is this why I was orphaned?” The real issue facing Esther was, “What is my duty to God and His people right now?”

God expects us to make every decision in our lives based on some very basic principles revealed in Scripture.

  • Will my decision glorify God? “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
  • Will my decision be good for my family? “Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind” (Proverbs 11:29).
  • Will my decision allow me to serve others? “Through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

And all the while we can be sure that God is indeed at work, working through faithful disciples to achieve purposes greater than we can imagine (Philippians 2:13). I don’t understand how it all comes together, and it is pointless to speculate about it. But I don’t have to decipher God’s hidden workings. All He asks of me is to trust and obey – that is plenty for me to take care of.

Shane Scott