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Dropping the Ball and God’s Providence

Category Articles
Date December 17, 2010

. . . often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented thus far). (Rom. 1:13)

Steve Johnson, a wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills, dropped five passes recently [Nov 28, 2010] in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The most damaging drop, however, occurred in overtime when he dropped a perfectly thrown ball in the end zone which would have given the Bills the victory. After the game, Johnson tweeted God, saying ‘I praise you 24/7!!!!! and this is how you do me!!!!! You expect me to learn from this???How???I’ll never forget this!!Ever!!!Thx Tho. . .’

I heard, to his credit, that Johnson has since repented of his tweeting outrage against God. I was thinking about this incident recently in light of the Westminster Confession of Faith’s ‘take’ on ‘God’s Eternal Decree’, chapter three, paragraph one,

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever come to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

When we first hear Johnson blaming God we immediately want to say, ‘Come on. Get a life. You know you are responsible. Quit blaming God for your problems.’ But let’s think again. Can we really say that God had nothing to do with Johnson dropping the ball? To continue with a sports metaphor, is Johnson totally out of the ballpark in putting this on God?

Consider this. God does freely and unchangeably foreordain everything that comes to pass in the world (Eph. 1:11, Rom. 11:33, Heb. 6:17, Isa. 46:9-11). We must also say, however, that God does not thwart the will of man in the decisions he makes. Reformed theology, contrary to what some may think, is not opposed to the concept of the freedom of the will. The Confession states that God’s eternal decree does not violate man’s free ability to do as he pleases. Man daily makes hundreds of decisions and he is the author of them all. These fall out through what the Westminster Confession of Faith calls secondary causes. At the same time, however, with John Calvin we must also say that God’s will is and rightly ought to be, ‘the cause of all things that are.’ So while man is free to do as he pleases he is never totally free. He is never free to act apart from God’s divine decree.

R.C. Sproul illustrates this concept of the eternal decree and contingency by saying,

God not only knows all contingencies (things that could have happened but did not), but knows nothing contingently himself. That is, God need not wait for things to happen in order for him to know what is going to happen. He knows every word that we are going to speak. Before the word is even formed on our lips, he knows what it will be.

So, was Steve Johnson right in blaming God for dropping the ball? No, not anymore than Judas who could never say to God, ‘You and your people ought to congratulate me for betraying Jesus. After all, it has resulted in your people’s eternal salvation.’ We are totally responsible for all our actions, even dropping passes in the end zone in big games. Having said this, however, we also cannot say that God had nothing to do with these dropped balls. Though almost no one today calls himself a deist , most Americans are de facto deists, even Christians with some measure of doctrinal understanding. To deny the sovereignty of God ultimately is to deny his person, and that makes one an atheist. If God is not sovereign then he is not God. Deism concedes that God is creator but it denies his sustaining providence. So a deist would say, going back to Steve Johnson dropping the sure touchdown pass,
‘He is totally responsible for his actions. We live in a world of inherent forces. He dropped the pass because he failed to “look the ball in.”‘
It is true that Steve Johnson is completely responsible for dropping the ball, but it is also true that God foreordained the drop. Not only did God ‘know’ he would drop it, but he ordained it as well.
‘If so then, Al, doesn’t that mean that Johnson is off the hook, that he really can blame God?’
No. Things happen or fall out through secondary causes. Paul wanted to get to Rome but he tells us that he had been prevented.
‘By what – God?’
Ultimately ‘Yes’ but more immediately it was because God would not allow him to preach where others had already preached. God would not allow Paul to build on another man’s foundation (Rom. 15:19-22).

So practically how do we work this out in daily life? God is sovereign. He is the One who foreordains everything that comes to pass. Call it 100% God. On the other hand, we are totally responsible for our actions. Judas was. Steve Johnson was. So are you. Call it 100% man. So we live with this formula in full view – 100% God plus 100% man equals 100%, and God gets the pre-eminence. If you are in business, then this means you must plan, make your sales calls, train your staff, and be diligent in all you do. At the same time, God is going before you. Sometimes he ‘greases the skids’ and your work flows and you prosper. Sometimes he leads your skids through deep, soft sand, making your going arduous and exhausting. He not only is your Creator (the One who spoke and brought all the universes into being), and he is not only your Sustainer (the One who orders and performs all his holy will), but he also is your Redeemer (the One who saved you, is sanctifying you through trial and hardship, and who one day will glorify you in heaven). God is in heaven and does as he pleases (Psa. 115:3). He will work all things together for good to those who love him (Rom. 8:28). He will use your momentary light afflictions to produce in you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17). 100% God and 100% man.

Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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