A column I wrote for Christian Today last week with the title Yes, God Is Sovereign. That Doesn’t Mean He Chooses Who Runs America generated an extraordinary quantity of Twitter abuse. Some might have taken exception to a slight hint of anti-Trump bias (a “serial sex pest, braggart, narcissist, bully and all-round loose cannon who has been described as the most unqualified person ever to seek high office”) but in general the critiques had two main thrusts. One was that the Bible teaches God is in control of everything. The other was that if you didn’t believe that you didn’t believe in his sovereignty.
Both are wrong.
Take the biblical texts. Here are a selection of the many suggested, and why I don’t think they can be used to argue God chose Trump as President:
“I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster. I, the Lord, do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). This doesn’t say that every time there’s prosperity or disaster God does it; it just says he does it. And it has nothing to do with Trump’s election.
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). An election is not the same as a roll of the dice.
“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Amen and amen. God will bring good out of evil; it’s what he does.
“He changes times and season; he sets up kings and deposes them” (Daniel 2:21). The clear biblical witness is that God is active in biblical history; no argument there. But whether his involvement extends to dictating the result of a US presidential election is a different matter entirely.
So, you see where I’m going here. A text without a context is a pretext.
From Christianity Today:
God has a wonderful plan for your life.
It’s evangelical orthodoxy, on a par with belief in substitutionary atonement and the sanctity of Spurgeon. It’s part of the salvation package, along with forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. Christianity isn’t just true, it offers the sure and certain knowledge that whatever happens to you is God’s will. If you don’t like it, it’s because you haven’t understood it.
I don’t believe a word of it.
Where does the idea that God has our lives mapped out for us come from? Biblically, it’s often related to Jeremiah 29: 11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” There are other verses that speak of him working behind the scenes to bring about a particular result.
The trouble is that in too much evangelical rhetoric, these verses have had a weight put on them that they can’t possibly bear. So we’re forced into all sorts of mental gymnastics to try to justify the idea that God has a plan for each individual, even when this idea so clearly fails the test of experience. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe God’s plans for anyone include bereavement, divorce, redundancy or large-scale tragedy.
It’s interesting to me that when a Calvinist seeks to defend against the charge of being a “Theistic Fatalist” he often argues “God not only ordains the end; but also the means” as if that is a point the Theistic Fatalist would in anyway deny.
That argument does not avoid the charge of Theistic Fatalism, but in fact affirms it. For what is Theistic Fatalism if not God’s determination of not only the ends but every single desire, thought and action (i.e. “means”) that bring about those ends?
What do the Calvinists think this qualification is accomplishing in their effort to distinguish themselves from the Theistic Fatalist? The belief that God unchangeably causes every meticulous detail of both the ends and their given means is at the very heart of Theistic Fatalism.
Are there Theistic Fatalists out there arguing, “God doesn’t determine the means,” while the Calvinists are going around correcting them saying, “No, no, no God does control the means too?” Of course not. Both systems of thought clearly affirm God’s cause of all things, including the ends and their respective means.
So, what is the Calvinist seeking to accomplish by pointing out a common belief that Calvinists share with Theistic Fatalists?
It appears to me the only real difference between a Theistic Fatalist and a Compatibilistic Calvinist is that the latter refuses to accept the practical implications of their own claims in order to remain consistent with the clear teaching of the Bible.