God in His sovereignty actively controls all that happens in creation, and He does so according to “the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). In other words, our Creator has a wise plan for His creation, and He works in His creation to bring this plan to pass. As we will see, this plan governs everything that happens, from the most significant events of history to seemingly random events like the roll of a pair of dice. But for now, it is enough for us to note that God has a perfect plan and purpose for all things.
In the categories of systematic theology, we often refer to God’s plan as His eternal decree. God has planned or decreed all things and thus they surely take place as He has planned, decreed, or ordained them. We can speak of God’s plan in its entirety as His decree, or we can speak of individual elements, plans, or purposes within the overarching plan as His decrees. Our Lord’s eternal decree for creation contains within it several individual decrees, each of which governs a specific event.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism—one of the best-known summaries of biblical, Reformation doctrine—describes how God executes or brings to pass His decrees. He does so in His works of creation and providence (WSC 8). The work of creation, of course, refers to our Lord creating all things ex nihilo, that is, out of nothing. Unlike some dualistic religions that say both God and the material realm are eternal, biblical religion insists that only the Lord has existed from all eternity. There was a point at which the only thing or being in existence was our triune Creator. As described in Genesis 1, this God at some point spoke the world into existence. He did not take elements that existed alongside Him; rather, He created the elements by the authority of His own words and fashioned them into the universe. He spoke and ordered creation to come forth, and the world was created (see also Heb. 11:3).
Because God created the world from nothing, we understand that He is wholly independent of creation and Lord over it. All that exists, even “the cattle on a thousand hills,” belongs to Him (Ps. 50:10). Everything is His because He made the universe and established all the natural laws and processes by which the universe continues to exist and through which plants, animals, and people continue to propagate themselves. As Creator, He established a stable order in which His creation could flourish.