How do you respond to Acts 17:26?

“From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live.” (cf. Dan. 2:21)

In this passage Paul is preaching to Epicurean and Stoic philosophers (17:18). His goal is to show them that, in contrast to their idols, God created and cares for all people (vss. 24–26). The reason why God gives time and place to nations, Paul says, is “so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us” (vs. 26).

The statement certainly implies that God is sovereign in a general way over nations. But it also implies that he does not meticulously control people. God wants to be found and “now commands all people everywhere to repent” (vs. 30). Yet many people from every nation refuse to do this. Indeed, most of the philosophers Paul was preaching to rejected his message (vss. 32–34).

Though God controls the general parameters of human freedom he does not meticulously control humans and thus does not always get his way when it comes to the decisions they make. Thus Paul says that part of God’s goal in working in nations is for people to “search for God” and “perhaps find him” (26). Because he created free agents, God can’t guarantee people will find him. To the extent that the future is left open for free agents to determine, the future can only be spoken of as a “perhaps.”

Related Reading

What is the significance of Deuteronomy 13:1–3?

Moses tells the Israelites that God allowed false prophets to sometimes be correct because “the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.” If God already knows such matters with certainty, Scripture’s inspired description as to why such testings take place…

Topics:

What is the significance of Joel 2:13–14?

“Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him…?” As we have seen, God’s willingness to alter his course of action—even after he’s prophetically announced…

Topics:

What is the significance of Genesis 2:19 ?

“So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was the name.” God wanted Adam to have authority over the animal kingdom…

Topics:

How do you respond to Exodus 4:11?

“The Lord says to Moses, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” According to some compatibilists, this passage teaches that all infirmities are willed by God. This interpretation is not required, however. Three things may be said. First, as a matter of…

Is There Room for Doubt in Faith?

Many Christians today assume that faith is the antithesis of doubt. In this view, a person’s faith is thought to be strong to the extent that they don’t question their beliefs or struggle with God in whom they believe. As widespread as this view is, I believe it is unbiblical and profoundly unhelpful. My experience…

How do you respond to Galatians 1:15–16?

“…when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me…I did not confer with any human being…” As with Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5), John the Baptist (Luke 1:13–17) and other God-ordained prophets, Paul was aware that God had decided on a…