From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. – Acts 17:26-17
This is part of St. Paul’s sermon while preaching in the public square in Athens, Greece. He is pointing out how God, after creating the world, did not leave such as a human builder does, but that He continues to preserve and oversee His creation, His work. This is an important matter to understand because when we look around creation with our own eyes, it appears as if God is passive and has left everything up to us.
But we must instead look at our world and at individuals through the eyes of faith. If we do this, we don’t merely see “self-determination”, but we see something far better.
In the text, Paul proclaims that everything that happens is determined by God beforehand, from eternity, that He has set an end for everything, including how long a person shall live. People tend to think their lives are carried out solely by their free-will, but in truth, God is always behind the scenes so that they do not act or go beyond what He has decreed from eternity. In a society who thinks everything is about individualism and free-will, this is a most difficult thing to consider. And because of sin, which always seeks to strip God of His glory and power, it is all the more difficult even for the most pious of believers.
But the truth is that God directs both the good and the evil. God does not create evil, but He uses evil for His plans, and He either limits good and evil, or He lets good and evil take their course so that whatever He wants is accomplished. He uses both good and evil to accomplish His grace and His wrath.
Consider, for example, the life and events surrounding Joseph and his enslavement to Egypt. His brothers intended him harm, but God turned it into something good, not only for Joseph, but also for his entire family and the generations of the Hebrews to come. While the evil forces and kingdoms raged against God to try and destroy Him and strip Him of His glory, God was there, behind the scenes, ultimately making those same evil forces and kingdoms work for Him and His plans.
Another example of this is the first few centuries of the Christian church. With all the bloodshed, the persecution, the martyrdoms, the imprisonments and the threats, it should have been enough to completely wipe out every last Christian from the planet. But instead, God, working behind the scenes, not only grew the Church but made very faithful and bold believers who were willing to endure everything for the Gospel. Even today, in a nation where most people have all but abandoned God and His Word, He is working to accomplish His eternal plans. We may find it hard to see, but it is true none the less.
And something for every Christian to look forward to is what will happen on the Last Day when every enemy of God and His throne, every kingdom who tried to subdue Him, every philosophy who tried to “think” Him away, they will all be exposed, and their works and thoughts laid bare, and they will have to give answer. They will clearly recognize their…error…but in terror because they will finally realize that nothing happens beyond God’s control and everything they did to crush Him ultimately led to wrath. Believers will rejoice greatly on that Day because we will finally see our own glory and our justice, but all those who served evil and did evil to God and His Church will receive their fiery reward in full.
This is a great comfort for we who believe. Knowing that all things are in God’s hands, and He works all things for our good, there is no reason to fear or lose heart even in the midst of our worst suffering or trials. We can instead, fully believing in His promises, declare, “God has not left the stage; He is here, and His plans are being carried out just as He determined from the beginning. As I rest in Him, so too are His plans for me ultimately for my good.”
Mighty Savior, thank You for remembering me in Your eternal plans and purposes. Help me to see that, in this life, I do not determine my steps or my years but you have determined it all for me. Keep me humble and confident in You alone, and help those who do not recognize Your great workings to repent and believe. In Your name, amen.