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Book Review: The Invisible Hand by R.C. Sproul

Is God really in control of all things? Many of us have asked this question, if only to ourselves. In times of trial and suffering, it’s not hard to question where God is and what He is doing. But He is there and he is not idle—and we begin to understand God’s purposes when we begin to grasp the doctrine of God’s providence.

“The culture in which we presently live has little room for thoughts of God’s providence,” writes R.C. Sproul in The Invisible Hand: Do All Things Really Work for Good. “But the word providence is too rich and too heavily loaded with crucial theological nuance to allow it to pass from our language without a fight” (pp. 14-15). First published in 1996, The Invisible Hand offers readers a greater understanding of God’s sovereign control over all things and how this neglected and nearly forgotten doctrine brings hope and confidence to God’s weary people.

Sproul explains that providence is not merely a synonym for God’s foreknowledge of events. It’s about God’s provision for and sustaining of His people in ways that are seen and unseen. He is sovereign over all things, whether great or seemingly insignificant. Nothing is outside of his grasp.

It was God’s providence at work in the life of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers only to become a ruler in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. Why? Because “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). It was providence at work again in the life of Moses, who not only escaped genocide and was later raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, only to later lead the Israelites out of slavery (See Ex. 1-15). It was providence that again saw Esther made the Queen of the Persian empire and Daniel appointed to a ruler in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. Through it all, God was preserving and providing for His people so that His purposes would be fulfilled. Is it any wonder, then, that Paul wrote these words in Romans 8:28:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Christians need to understand this—this high view of God’s sovereignty, His knowledge, provision and control over all things—is what allows us to have confidence in God Himself. “The Providence of God is our fortress, our shield, and our very great reward,” Sproul writes. “It is what provides courage and perseverance for His saints” (p. 210).

As comforting as this doctrine is, it’s also incredibly difficult for many of us to wrap our minds around. Questions of how God can rule over all things and yet man still be morally culpable, and the problem of evil, are but two that spring readily to mind. Sproul shines in his answers to these issues, readily admitting that there are no easy answers. You simply cannot come to an answer that’s going to satisfy everyone.

In making the distinction between primary and secondary causality, for example—“The primary, or first, cause—God—is ultimate and independent. Our causal power is derived from His power and ever contingent upon it” (p. 106)—he is quick to note that these kinds of distinctions do not get to the core of the matter. “There still remains an element of mystery that conceals the secret working of the providence of God.” It’s the same with the problem of evil. We don’t understand why evil exists; we only know it does. We don’t understand why God allowed Adam and Eve to sin; we only know that for some reason He did.

Ultimately, such matters should quickly bring us to our knees as we realize that they are far too high and lofty for us to truly grasp. We can but stand in awe of the God who is above all things and yet so intimately involved in all things. This is certainly the impact that was left on me as I read The Invisible Hand. I trust it will be the same for you.

Title: The Invisible Hand: Do All Things Really Work for Good
Author: R.C. Sproul
Publisher: P&R Publishing (1996 [reissued in 2003])

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