…You’re Sitting in the Wrong Chair!
Please read Proverbs 3:5-6 in your Bible.
(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)
CONTEXT: This third chapter of Proverbs is an example of the content of the book. It presents reasons and means to live an intelligent life based on the faith conviction that God is real and He rewards those who earnestly seek him. Chapter three is a father admonishing his son to make the pursuit of wisdom a lifelong practice. He lists many benefits to wise living to encourage this practice. In the middle of the chapter we find two verses that put in focus how divine will and human will are to work together.
The way the world works is a combination of providence and prudence.
- Providence is God’s will deciding what happens.
In circumstances from mundane to miraculous, the Bible teaches that God sets a path before us. He is not distant, but is intimately involved in our lives, knowing our hearts (Psalm 44:21), the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7), and our future (John 3:20).
God is also at work in the great movements of human history, directing the affairs of nations. In Proverbs 21:1, God directs the heart of the king like men direct the channel of a river.
Deism is the mistaken notion that God created everything then left it to run on its own. It is another example of vain philosophies that attempt to take God out of the picture. Let’s be clear: any teaching that limits the power of God or gives any being equality with God is a false teaching.
- Prudence is our own will deciding what happens.
“Prudence” is defined as self-discipline achieved by the use of reason. It can be emblematic of a notion central to our culture that a person is only limited by their imagination and determination; any of us can become anything we want.
The Bible does command self-control (Titus 2:12) and includes it as one of the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Superficially, self-control and self-determination look similar but self-control is something achieved with God’s grace. Self-determination is just a subtle way of excluding God from the details of everyday life.
Self-determination is one extreme. The opposite end of the spectrum might be called “determinism.” The Bible’s commands would not be necessary nor could we be held responsible for our choice if all our choices were being made for us. Divine determinism may sound religiously correct, but it is not a biblical doctrine.
- The Bible’s witness is more complicated: it holds both providence and prudence in tension.
Herein is the difficulty: our human nature wants to simplify and to eliminate tension. To be faithful to the Scriptures, we must hold onto both providence and prudence. Let’s use Proverbs 3:5-6 as an example.
Proverbs 3:5-6 tell us prudence is a virtue when it is God-centered, not reliant on reason or any human power. There are three expressions that develop this teaching.
First, TRUST IN THE LORD WITH ALL YOUR HEART. In the Bible, the HEART is the center of a person’s inner life, both intellect and emotions.
Second, LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING. By faith we appreciate that God offers unlimited resources; success is more likely as we trust in Him.
Third, IN ALL YOUR WAYS ACKNOWLEDGE (recognize) HIM. Give God the glory; draw attention to Him, not yourself.
Providence is in evidence here in form of the promised reward: HE WILL MAKE YOUR PATHS STRAIGHT or “will direct your paths.” In life and in Proverbs, the straight path is the best. In Proverbs, the “crooked path” is a word picture of a life of folly and sin. It ends in death (Proverbs 9:18).
Theologically, we understand that human free will is a delegation of the authority of God. Rather than choose everything for us, God allows us to make our own choices and to experience the consequences of those choices. God helps believers to make the right choices by supplying His word, the Holy Spirit, and the Church. He exerts His will bring us to circumstances and gives us experiences that also shape our decisions. After we decide, God exerts His will to bring about positive or negative consequences to teach us and to bring about His will.
Our life with God is not a matter of divine will OR human will but the interplay of both. All of this is to direct our attention to God, to rely on Him more fully and love Him more dearly.
In both the details and in the big picture, God is so powerful He does not rely on our meager powers, but out of love He chooses to make us His partners in bringing about His will. In our daily living, we exercise prudence but put our trust in providence. We live wisely and righteously, seeking God’s will and choosing to walk in His way.
Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, Proverbs, Tremper Longman III