Not Unlike the Spider: Musings on Sovereignty

Steve Norman | OnFaith Voices By on

I was driving to the office the other day when I saw something peculiar — on the SUV to my left was a large, complete spider web that reached from the back bumper all the way to the bottom of the rear window. There, in the middle of her masterpiece, shimmering in the morning sun, was the spider.

I wondered: “What in the world is she thinking right about now?” She’d likely woven this brilliant web over night, in the quiet darkness of some suburban garage. She awoke to the deafening roar of the vehicle’s engine starting, and clung to her web for dear life as her new home barreled down the road, reaching speeds of 50 miles per hour. And so, the spider — now possibly the world’s fastest — finds herself in a circumstance she can’t possibly comprehend, through no fault of her own.

At various points in our spiritual journeys, we are thrust into similar scenarios. Despite our best efforts, we struggle to discern any semblance of coherence in God’s plan. We wonder if the one we believe to be omniscient has any clue when it comes to leading through the maze of our daily lives. Maybe the writer of Proverbs 20:24 said it best: “A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?”

I have a milestone birthday coming up this week and I’m trying to avoid the cliché, morbid introspections that generally accompany them. However, I can’t help but pause for a moment to look back over the last few decades and agree with the aforementioned proverb.

Indeed, God has been directing my steps. I certainly would not have ended up where I am — in my family, in my character, in my career, or in my spiritual formation — had I been left to my own devices.

I’m not unlike the spider hitching a ride down the highway. I have my system, my agenda, my plans — a web of my own spinning and striving. But too often I find myself asking God to work within my self-contained system. Sometimes I forget God can pick up my whole world and move it in the direction of his kingdom. Of course, this leads to all sorts of compelling conversations about the intersection of divine sovereignty and my will.

My favorite illustration for communicating this tension appears in A.W. Tozer’s 1961 book The Knowledge of the Holy. He writes:

An ocean liner leaves New York bound for Liverpool. Its destination has been determined by proper authorities. Nothing can change it. This is at least a faint picture of sovereignty.

On board the line are several scores of passengers. These are not in chains, neither are their activities determined for them by decree. They move about as they will. They eat, sleep, play, lounge about on the deck, read, talk, altogether as they please; but all while the great liner is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined port.

Both freedom and sovereignty are present here and they do not contradict each other. So it is, I believe, with man’s freedom and the sovereignty of God. The mighty liner of God’s sovereign design keeps its steady course over the sea of history. God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfillment of those eternal purposes which He purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began. We do not know all that is included in those purposes, but enough have been disclosed to furnish us with a broad outline of things to come and to give us good hope and firm assurance of future well-being.

Tozer sees God’s purposes for creation, for humanity, for redemption as both clear and established — we make autonomous choices and deal with individual consequences. But the arc of God’s movement in our families, culture, and world often transcend that which we can consciously identify and comprehend.

So we, like the fast-moving spider, are left with another choice. We can ask, “How can I understand my own way?” as we anxiously wring our hands over the parts of our lives we can’t control. Or we can ask it with a curious smile, and simply hold on for the ride, believing that in every circumstance, God invites us to trust, obey, and enjoy him.

OnFaith Voices is a series of perspectives about faith.

  • Doug

    Great thoughts, Steve. Love Tozer’s perspective on God.