does God react?

With Calvin’s theological merger of creation and providence in mind, the bulk of the debate within me is whether God’s providence includes man’s choices. On one side, there is the “no-risk” view of divine providence, as outlined by Paul Helm in his book The Providence of God. The objection is the “risky” view of divine providence, as outlined by John Sanders in The God Who Risks, which claims that God’s providence is limited – perhaps limited by God himself – and that God adjusts his plans, if necessary, to our choices.

The theological quandary is this: Does God takes risks or not in providentially governing the world? Does God only act or does He react as well?

For Calvin, God takes no risks, because he has preordained all the events of nature and history. “What for us seems a contingency, faith recognizes to have been a secret impulse from God.”[1] God knows the past, the present, and the future. Psalm 139 affirms God’s providence, His exhaustive knowledge of the details,

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

When reflecting on this Psalm, Calvin wrote, “… nothing can elude the divine observation – a truth which he illustrates from the original formation of man, since he who fashioned us in our mother’s womb, and imparted to every member its particular office and function, cannot possibly be ignorant of our actions.”[2] He knows not only the number of my days, but also the details of those very days. Calvin’s God providentially guides and governs. He does not “predict human behavior correctly most of the time, but always with the possibility that men may falsify those predictions.”[3]

God cannot be unaware or uninformed of our choices. Sin included. Helm well summarizes the issue of sin, “The breaking of His will became part of the fulfilling of His will.”[4] (insert long pause) Calvin agrees by writing, “but since the order, reason, end and necessity of those things which happened for the most part lie hidden in God’s purpose, and are not apprehended by human opinion, those things, which it is certain take place by God’s will, are in a sense fortuitous… nothing will take place that the Lord has not previously foreseen.”[5]

Calvin believes that God does not pace back and forth, nor scratch his head, curious as to what our choices will be. Calvin believes “there is no such thing as fortune or chance” and “anyone who has been taught by Christ’s lips that all the hairs of his head are numbered [Matt. 10:30] will look farther afield for a cause, and will consider that all events are governed by God’s secret plan.”[6]

We choose according to His plan. The divine will is never thwarted in any respect.

However, . . .


[1] Page 210, McNeill, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 1.

[2] Page 129, Calvin, Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 5

[3] Page 42, Helm, The Providence of God

[4] Page 48, Ibid.

[5] Page 209, McNeill, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 1.

[6] Page 199, Ibid.

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