Working for a Sovereign God
Our young adult Bible Study has been going through the book of Daniel, a relevant book for today for many reasons. As we studied the first two chapters I was struck by the theological balance between personal responsibility and God's sovereignty displayed throughout.
A major theme in Daniel is God’s sovereignty, as the book really paints God in a magisterial light. He is not taken by surprise at the successful invasion by the Babylonians of Jerusalem--rather the text says that “The Lord delivered Jehoiakim” into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar (1:2). God is then the one who gives Daniel favor in the eyes of the Babylonian leader (1:9), and God is the one gives the four young men knowledge and understanding (1:17). He is the one who is working out everything according to the counsel of his will; and in the book of Daniel that reality is undeniable. Furthermore, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2 is proof that God is the one who sets up the mightiest empires and God is the one who will establish an eternal Kingdom that will never pass away.
But Daniel does not let a deep understanding of God's sovereignty lull him into a passive position or a deterministic posture. What is unfortunate is that many left brained believers who have some conception of God's sovereignty erroneously figure: if God is in control--why should I try to do anything at all? If God is going to save all the ones he is going to save--why evangelize? If God is going to raise up kings and put down princes--why vote? In fact why do anything at all if God is so sovereign?
In attempt to make the Bible a comfortable system that makes comprehensive human sense, we can often arrive at unbiblical conclusions.
But when we look at Daniel it is interesting that he has no problems whatsoever working with all his might in light of this all-knowing, all-powerful God. There is no dilemma in his mind between God's sovereignty and man's personal responsibility. When Nebuchadnezzar threatens to kill off all of his staff because they cannot tell him his dream before interpreting it, look at the initiative Daniel takes: he enquires as to why the King’s decree is so harsh (2:15), he goes to the king to ask for time (2:19), he explains the matter to his three friends (2:17), he urges them to plead for mercy from heaven (2:18), and once the dream is revealed, Daniel praises God in what is often called the Psalm of Daniel (2:20-23). Does this human effort imply God is not in control? Not at all! Clearly for Daniel there is no dilemma between urgent and intense human work—and a complete trust in God as sovereign king.
Daniel is not the only one either. In fact, if you look at many of the saints in both the Old Testament and the New you will find that they seem to marry these two seemingly contradictory ideas (another great illustration is Paul in Acts 27): God is in complete control, yet I am going to do everything in my power to serve and obey Him. And while God knows the end from the beginning, He is still going to hold me fully accountable for how I lived my life.
The application of this is: a high view of God’s sovereignty should never paralyze us. It should never be an excuse for lethargy. If anything it should give us full confidence that true effort and obedience to Him will not be squandered. Our work in Him will not be for naught. And the greatest privilege in this life imaginable would be for us to be used by God as a part of his heavenly, eternal work.