While calling for change, the president-elect ran a theme throughout his campaign proclaiming “Yes we can.” Clearly the American people at large were enamored by this theme and got worked up into a political stupor that was almost hypnotic. Yet, I had my doubts whether this rhetoric was meaningful without the necessary justification and rationalization. What exactly was the grounding for the chant “Yes we can?” Do we really believe we have the power to change things? Even though we live our lives as if we can and do make a difference–that what we do really matters–I wonder whether or not we’re missing an important presupposition behind our actions, to wit: We are created beings and have no power whatsoever to do anything without the permission of and means provided by our Creator. This “Yes we can” attitude seems to leave out an important person in the “we” formula, namely, God! You see…

Jesus, speaking of true believers, claims:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:1-5

The Apostle Paul, speaking of the entire human race, insists:
‘For in him [God] we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Acts 17:28

The story of Job tells us that:
The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Job 1:12

Proverbs reminds us:
The LORD works out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster….In their hearts human beings plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps…The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. Proverbs 16:4, 9, 33

Isaiah says:
This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back? Isaiah 14:26-27

Luke writes:
This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. Acts 2:23-24

I could go on, but you get the idea. In short: God is absolutely sovereign. He is completely self-determined and free with respect to anything outside his own being and purposes. In other words, God is free to be himself and nothing other than himself compels him to be or do anything. God does whatever pleases him with his creation (see also Job 23:13; 42:2; Ps. 115:3; Pr. 21:1; Dan. 4:35).

Humans are not automatons who act outside the boundaries of God’s will. We are constrained by two forces: 1) our natural bent toward or away from sin (depending upon which side of the cross we stand; see Romans 6:15-18) and 2) God’s meticulous sovereignty.

Of course, as sovereign God uses means as well as ends to accomplish His purposes and one means that he uses is our choices. But (and this is an important “but”), no human choice truncates or trumps God’s plan for our lives. From this, two truths obtain:

  1. God, as supreme Creator, is ontologically ultimate; humans are not. Therefore, what we do matters but will always and forever be within the boundaries of the Creator’s permission. 
  2. God, as meticulously sovereign, controls every instance of every human action and brings about His purposes for His glory, despite our fleeting agendas. God is on the throne; humans are not.

Thus, “No we can’t”….because “apart from [Jesus] you can do nothing” that is not already permitted and governed by God!


  1. Thanks Paul for posting this very important perspective on the providence of God. This brings up the whole matter of whether or not our actions or our prayers even matter. If we can’t do anything outside of the power of God, and if what we are going to do is limited by the sovereignty of God why do anything at all right?

    I addressed this in one of my papers; I’ll copy/past an excerpt here:

    “How can prayer be meaningful if God has providentially determined the outcome and the means? The answer lies in the question; prayer is a means by which God carries out His purposes. For instance, when Moses interceded on behalf of Israel (Ex 39:9-14) he did not change God’s mind. Instead Moses changed the situation. If God decreed that He would destroy Israel without a mediator, he can also decree that He would redeem Israel with a mediator. Moses’ plea changed the situation according to which God acted consistently and providentially. In this regard, we should be greatly encouraged that our prayers not only matter, but that they are the means by which God has providentially determined that he will bring about his purposes.”

    So while it is true that apart from God we can do nothing, it is also true that by the power of the spirit, God will accomplish His purposes through us. What an honor to be use by God in this way and to be given the ability to partake in His will.

    “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do” (Jn 14:12)

  2. Great post and points. Whether the phrase “Yes we can” holds any merit to reality though I think that at the least it has given people a sense of identity, cause, passion, purpose and excitement. They are more motivated to contributing to the well-being of the country and hopefully more unified in doing so. We saw the same thing after 9/11 with a sense of patriotism, unity, and passion for a great country. Of course the pessimist in me says that if history tells us anything (like after 9/11) this excitement will shortly wear off. “Yes we can” but the question is: For how long?

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