Q. 8. How doth God execute his decrees?
A. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence.
God created everything that we understand to exist, everything we call reality. There was nothing, and God created everything ex nihilo through the power of His Word, speaking the universe into existence (Genesis 1). The universe continues to exist at His sufferance (Hebrews 1-2).
Philosophically, we can draw from these facts that God’s control over the universe is total. Nothing happens outside of His control. Does this mean that God wills for men to sin? This is generally the trap question that is asked, but it’s a good question.
Consider Exodus 3, where God tells Moses exactly what is going to happen in his interactions with Pharaoh. The Bible describes this hardening of Pharaoh’s heart against God in two ways: as Pharaoh’s decision (Exodus 7), and as God’s decision (Exodus 9).
Consider further the decision of Pilate to execute Jesus. In the interest of political expediency (hard to believe a ruler would act in such a way, isn’t it?), Pilate orders the only perfect man in the history of the world to be crucified. But apart from this sinful decision, none of us are saved. So did God will that this sin would happen? Was there any doubt that this event would come to pass exactly as God decreed? At the same time, Pilate was still responsible for his own actions, for this sin. He acted consistently in accordance with his heart: he did what he wanted to do. At the same time, there was zero chance he was not going to do it.
Jesus responds to our other difficult question – why do seemingly innocent people suffer and sometimes die? – in Luke 13. We are not given the explanations we think we deserve (and this galls us, particularly as Americans), but we are told to repent.
Paul addresses these hard questions in Romans 9, as well: make no mistake, the Maker will do as He pleases with His Creation.
It can also be helpful to step back from any narrow passage and consider the story arc of Scripture: from the very beginning, God is working to save a particular group of people from among all the peoples of the world. He will rescue His people from sin and death: this will happen. Noah is chosen, Abraham is chosen, Israel is chosen, and many others are not. Christians in the New Covenant are now God’s covenant people, and we pray (or at least, we should) that He increase the number of His people to fill the world! But some are going to judgment, and some to salvation, and even our repentance is a gift from God (2 Timothy 2).