“I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’”
Superintendency — also known as predestination — is an inescapable concept in the heart of every man.
A fair and biblical understanding of the idea will elevate our hearts. It promises to bring cheer even among the humdrum things we consider such as local economy and free markets.
To avoid a shock in our minds, let’s think obliquely about what to many is a trying subject. Consider briefly the person of Rick Smith, whose job title in Hamilton County contains the very word we are considering.
Mr. Smith is a superintendent. He oversees a department of state operating in Southeast Tennessee’s most populous county. In his care are 42,000 students. His job at offices on Hickory Valley Road in Chattanooga is to “[oversee] management of the school system.” What’s more, he “exercises authority over personnel decisions (hiring/firing); recommends policies to School Board for approval; works to implement vision/mission of school system.” These tasks describe the scope of his authority. His teachers have intentions about their work, but whatever Mr. Smith intends within the framework of law is superior to theirs, and overrides their intentions and plans. In other words, teachers may plan a class’ destiny for a week or a semester. But Mr. Smith’s plan superintends theirs.
Mr. Smith’s job description is analogous to the idea of predestination. We have destination, then predestination — an end behind an end. A purpose behind a purpose. A greater goal behind a lesser one. There stands a destination, and a destination that precedes and superintends it. You as a human being exercise your will every moment and every waking hour. You make plans, you enter contracts, make agreements, make a lifetime vow to your wife, you bring children into the world and impose your worldview and intentions on them, paying for their dental work along the way.
You partake of destination. In your calling in the office, in your career as an employer or staffer, you work toward a series of destinations. Other destinations touch on family, retirement, whether you should liquidate that mutual funds and buy $1,000 in silver quarters (as I have suggested). You proceed along myriad intentions.
The glory of a secret, almighty will
Your intendency over your home, your business and your occupations are accounted for in the Christian conception of reality. It accounts for the authority exercised by a government official such as Mr. Smith.
God is sovereign over all things, and exercises a lordly providence and jurisdiction over events personal and private, and great and global. The claim begins in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The scriptures on every page present God as all holy, just, majestic, righteous, powerful, beautiful and perfect. As Christians like to say, God is omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (all present) and omniscient (all knowing). To avoid offering a silly conceit or an meaningless incantation, we should understand God’s sovereignty as encompassing superintendency. If God is God, as the church every Lord’s Day teaches, then God oversees destinies. If we understand Supt. Rick Smith’s authority and government, we see how it mirrors that of God. Mr. Smith acts with creaturely authority in the template of divine authority.
Indeed, every human authority acts analogously under God’s. Mr. Smith oversees the destinies hundreds of licensed state employees who control children five days a week during the school year in the same way that God knows the hairs on your head and superintends the world at His pleasure and in terms of His law and His secret counsels.
Mr. Smith, “dedicated to helping all students succeed to their highest potential,” as the webpage says, isn’t merely making things up as he goes. He is a predestinator only to a point. He takes his orders from state government and an agency in the executive branch of Gov. Bill Haslam, the department of education. Mr. Smith predestines, but he has people and rules and policy papers behind him, controlling what he does. To subordinates he is superintendent; to superiors he is a servant.
Conditions under which local economy thrives
Now that we see we need not shrink from discussing predestination, I have a proposal for Southeast Tennessee and Chattanooga to prosper. Its people must locate correctly the source of predestination and superintendency, as they are taught at church. If we dislike or distrust God, or flat out hate Him, we will give superintendency to man. We will live out the concept by believing with all our hearts that it resides in the U.S. Congress, President Obama and the justices of the supreme court. Perhaps that is being too narrow, too specific. We may generalize our sense of salvation, hope and destiny in the abstract state, that vague powerful entity that does no wrong and whose prerogatives must be fiercely guarded, that dreamed-of state.
But if we love God and are confident in His mercy upon His people, we will perceive from scripture that nothing occurs outside His sovereign will. That, in fact, even the most wicked things occur by His superintending plan — wicked things such as the crucifixion of the innocent Lord Jesus and the destruction of the nation in which He was born in 70 A.D. at the hand of Roman occupiers.
Healthy, glorifying alternate direction
If we’ve been given the grace to love God, we will tend in a different direction than those who seek salvation and predestination from among men.
We covet liberty; we govern ourselves in holy living, in terms of the 10 commandments. We will love God’s law as King David does in Psalm 119, but not mislay its purpose, the scope of which is to convict fallen man of his sin. If we love God, we will intend toward the conceptions of free market, free enterprise (service to others) and a personalistic and localized economy.
Don’t get me wrong. Local economy and free market are not a salvation in themselves in a spiritual and eternal sense. But they are fruits of Christianity, evidences of its existence in the quiet holy lives of God’s people.
If predestination belongs to an all-powerful and all-gracious God, join me in celebrating God’s goodness to our city and His many blessings upon it. And join me in seeing that as the national power slowly loses its grip on reality in the growing crisis, we might apportion to ourselves a greater measure of self-government and local control, which are rewards upon a people who praise God for His might and do not shrink from seeing God as the great superintendent.
— David Tulis is the host of Nooganomics.com, a talk show 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays at 1240 Copperhead AM in Soddy-Daisy. A deacon at Brainerd Hills Presbyterian church, he is married and the father of four children.