Chapter 2: Is God ‘over-involved’ in the World?

In Chapter 2 we examine whether God has already predetermined everything that happens and consider what consequences such a view would hold for petitionary prayer. Does prayer make more sense, or less, if God is in total control? What’s the point of praying if God’s will is going to happen anyway? Is prayer really just about God changing me?

Sermon accompanying chapter 2

Preached by Chris Band at Headington Baptist Church, Oxford on 4th September 2011
Download the study guide.

Questions

Please be aware that this chapter touches on a number of philosophical and theological issues. There is less engagement here with biblical texts which might be a legitimate concern for some group contexts
  1. Read Psalm 24:1, 1 Tim 6:15-16 & Acts 14:17. How is God’s sovereignty to be understood in the light of these verses? [pp.38-39]
  2. Read the paragraph on p.39 beginning “We are examining here …”. Do the group believe that God’s will is always done (theological determinism)? What are the benefits and the drawbacks of the notion that God meticulously controls everything?
  3. Read the two central paragraphs on p.41. Is our will really free if God has already (before creation) decreed what we will do?
  4. Does prayer make more sense or less if God is in total control? Is the idea of God controlling everything and everyone a greater expression of his sovereignty or a lesser one? [pp.42-43]
  5. Do the group believe in the categories of ‘chance’ and ‘risk’? What impact might God’s providential involvement in our life have on these categories? [p.43]
  6. Does the belief that the divine will is always done make God indirectly or directly responsible for the evil and suffering that we encounter?
  7. The ‘Greater-Good Defence’ [p.44] states that God permits evil and suffering because a greater good will ensue with it than would have occurred without it. Do the group find this explanation satisfying or would they attribute evil purely to human free will (the ‘Free Will Defence’)?
  8. If we believe that God’s will is going to happen anyway, what possible rationale can be given for prayer? [pp.45-47]. Read the quotation by Helm on p.46. Do the group agree with this viewpoint?
  9. Might the belief that God’s will is always done lead to a subjective understanding of prayer (which focusses on God inwardly changing us) at the cost of an objective understanding (which expects God also to be changing the events and circumstances around us)? [pp.47-49] Do any within the group tend towards a subjective approach to prayer, and if so, are they able to articulate why?
  10. Conclude by reading the summary bullet points [p.52]. Take time to pray, thanking God not only for the gift of free will, but also for his own sovereign power and wisdom through which he ultimately triumphs over all the forces that oppose his kingdom and his children.