I preached this message in 2016.
For some people, the Universe seems like one huge domino setup. God might have been involved in the beginning, setting up all the pieces, but he hasn’t been involved since he knocked over the first domino.
Over the last ½ year, I’ve been taking time to look over the Mennonite Confession of Faith. Today I’m looking at Article 5 of our confession, titled “Creation and Divine Providence”. I would sum up the article title as “The work of God”, but that doesn’t quite cover all of what Article 5 is.
The word “Creation” in the title of Article 5 is fairly easy for us to understand. When we say creation, we are talking about God making the universe out of nothing. And just to be clear, when I say God I do mean the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, because all are mentioned in some form in scripture as being involved in Creation.
“Divine Providence” in the title of Article 5 is a little more complicated. For some, divine providence essentially means “God is in control”. The word “Providence” implies foresight, that God could see what was going to happen and prepared for it. Divine Providence implies that God intervenes in his creation. Where Creation was the work that God did at the beginning, “Divine Providence” is the work that God continues to do and will continue to do.
If we use the domino analogy, how do you view the work of God? Did God setup the universe, like a set of dominoes at the beginning, and using his foresight was able to predict everything that would happen so all he needed to do was knock down the first domino? Or is God knocking down each individual domino one piece at a time? Or is God stepping in only occasionally to help his dominoes fall in line according to his plan? Or, do you think it is a completely worthless to even think about using dominoes as an analogy?
When it comes to Creation and Divine Providence there is lots of theological discussion on the topic, but our confession of faith only has 4 paragraphs. Our confession attempts to strip out the fluff and leave us with something that is a more practical approach to the topic.
Creation… vs. Evolution
In our previous confession of faith adopted in 1968, we said “We believe that the Genesis account of the Creation is an historic fact and literally true.”
This is a statement that we no longer make in our ’95 confession. There are still many Mennonites that believe the Genesis account to be literally true, but there are others that have struggled with the debate of Evolution vs Creation and either believe the Genesis account to have symbolic meaning or they’re just not confident in how Creation in Genesis should be interpreted.
The 3 main points of the first 2 paragraphs of our confession are: (1) God made it all (2) God keeps it all going and (3) only God is worthy of worship
In 2 Timothy 2:23, Paul warns Timothy to avoid foolish and stupid arguments. Our confession takes this to heart by avoiding the Creation vs. Evolution debate. I consider this to be a wise move. The Evolution vs. Creation debate is a very intellectual debate. I have spent some time studying the debate and as far as I can see, it doesn’t change how Christians should be living their day to day lives in a practical way, so it shouldn’t be a stumbling block in our confession which is why our ’95 confession avoids the topic. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be debated, but I am saying it shouldn’t take center stage.
Instead, our confession makes a very ambitious claim within the first two paragraphs that is the real game changer, something that our old confession doesn’t mention, where it says “We believe that the universe has been called into being as an expression of God’s love and sovereign freedom alone.” This line says a lot and it also doesn’t say enough. It answers, to some extent, the profound question: Why are we here? The universe is created as an expression of God’s love and as a choice God made.
For many people, it isn’t hard to believe that God created the Universe. The hard part is believing that the Universe is an expression of God’s love. Some of you might be rebuking me in your mind thinking that it is easy to see God’s love in creation, but there are billions of people on earth who have had nothing but hardship all their life and millions that have lived almost all their lives in despair. Our confession claims the Universe is an expression of God’s love, so then, how is pain and suffering an expression of God’s love?
And so our confession leaves us this one significant challenge: Showing the world that the Universe is created as an expression of God’s love.
Predestination vs. Free will
When I was a young man and I moved out of my parent’s home for the first time, I learned how much I took my parents for granted and I appreciated how much work my Mom and Dad put in to making life at home livable.
With this in mind, paragraph 3 could read a little like this: We acknowledge that we simply take God for granted in our very existence and that we lack the true understanding of the work he does to keep the Universe alive. The main point of paragraph 3 is that God is always working and that life in our Universe depends on God being involved. Just like parents work against the disorder in a household, God works against sin and evil in the world, limiting it’s effect and sustaining life despite it.
The phrase in paragraph 3 that catches my attention is where it says “God … limits the forces of sin and evil”. A phrase that I often hear Christians say is “God is control”. Paragraph 3 seems to imply that “God is in control” but it’s interesting that our confession only says that God is limiting sin and evil, not stopping sin and evil and this leaves us with a big question: Why only limit sin and evil?
When someone says “God is in control”, it is a simple and deep theological statement which can create a negative impression. For example, would you tell a man, who’s wife and children died in a car accident because a drunk driver ran a red light, that “God is in control”? What does that say about God? That God willed the light to be green for his wife so that a drunk driver would run a red? Why not make the light green for the drunk driver? If God is in control, couldn’t God have made the light red for his wife and children? Did the man sin so that his wife and children died and he would suffer?
Our confession doesn’t use the phrase “God is in control”. There is a lot of debate on this topic. Do humans have free will to make choices about their destiny, or are we just dominoes controlled by God, predestined to go to heaven or predestined to go to hell?
Our confession doesn’t answer this question. It’s perhaps another one of these senseless arguments, kind of like the ones that Paul warns Timothy about. Our confession leaves us with this simple understanding: God is always working on our behalf.
The Tower of Babel represents human ambition and ingenuity. God came down to see the tower and knew that working together, nothing would be impossible for these people to accomplish. The purpose of the tower was so that these people could make a name for themselves.
The final paragraph is a practical response to our belief about Creation and Divine Providence. (1) It reemphasizes that only God is worthy of our worship and that worshiping anything else is idolatry. (2) Have faith that God is always working on our behalf.
We often take God’s work for granted and our society takes advantage of the fact that we don’t notice how God works day to day. The message of our modern society is this: humans are in charge of their own destiny. If there is a loving God, then why is there pain? Therefore: Believe in yourself. Trust in yourself. Praise the work of your hands.
I will admit, human progress is impressive. Consider the many inventions and discoveries over the last 100 years alone. From flight, to cell phones to modern medicine. I have noted that on TV and in movies and books, humans are more often portrayed as our own saviors. Essentially, we’ll save ourselves. We don’t need God because we can love ourselves.
Our message is contrary to our culture’s and it’s built on the idea that God created the Universe as an expression of his love and sovereign freedom. Our message is this (1) trust only in God because we cannot survive without him and God will save us, and (2) we are created as an expression of God’s love (3) God is the only one worthy of our worship.
Let’s not focus on arguments that don’t go anywhere. As Paul warns Timothy in 2nd Timothy 2:23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.
The challenge for most people isn’t Evolution vs. Creation or Predestination vs. free will, but it’s simply this: Am I loved? That is just about the only argument you need to win.