“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Providence of God

Over the next few posts I want to examine God’s providence in four, (hopefully), progressive stages. This post will examine God’s providence from a high-level. I want to look at, and hopefully answer the question:

How do we define God’s providence?

What spurred these posts was a series of difficult events that have affected our little church. I felt that the study would be helpful to those going through difficult times.


So what do we mean by ‘God’s Providence’? The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines providence in the answer to Question 11: “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

Notice what the Catechism says: we often think of God’s providence in a static sense – not in the sense of actively preserving and governing all things. We (most of us) believe that, while God controls the events in the world, he does so in a reactive way – responding to situations as they crop up, as opposed to the Biblical perspective that states that God is actively involved in a second-by-second upholding, and governing all things.

Then, we must ask, what exactly does He control? Many would say that God only does the good things, but has no control over the bad ones. While I would agree that God is not the first cause of evil, He uses the evil works of fallen man and Satan to fulfill His purposes. To paraphrase J.I. Packer “The nature of God's "concurrent" or "confluent" involvement in all that occurs in his world, as - without violating the nature of things, the ongoing causal processes, or human free agency - he makes his will of events come to pass, is mystery to us, but the consistent biblical teaching about God's involvement is overwhelming…”

While it is unbiblical to state that God is not in control of all things, it is equally unbiblical to state that God is the root cause of evil – rather He uses the evil that exists in this fallen world to make His perfect will come to pass.

Let us consider an example found in Genesis 50:15 – 20 -- When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him." So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this command before he died, 'Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

In the Scripture cited, Joseph’s brothers had committed an evil act, they admitted it; they had thrown their brother into a well, and then sold him to traders who took him into Egypt to be auctioned off as a slave. We can only imagine Joseph’s mindset initially; this young man who had had such grandiose dreams about people bowing down to him etc. He must have been traumatized, hurt and bewildered. Yet, God had a plan – and as Joseph rises in importance in the house of Potiphar, it seems that God HAS taken care of him, but wait! Potiphar’s wife trumps up a charge of attempted rape against Joseph and he is sent into prison… Where is God in all of this? Another evil deed – the lie of Potiphar’s wife has tossed our hero into the jailhouse! But wait, maybe the baker or the cupbearer will speak well of Joseph when they get before the Pharaoh? Nope, they forget about him! Does it seem like God has been involved in this at all? Does there seem to be a plan? No, at least not a good one!

And yet… Eventually Joseph does climb the rungs of power ending up as the second most powerful man in Egypt. And in this role he not only saves the lives of many Egyptians, but also the embryonic tribe of Israel! And in Genesis 50, we find Joseph explaining God’s providence to his frightened brothers. What THEY meant as evil, God meant for good. Their evil plan was driven by their jealousy of Joseph, the first cause of the evil was in their own hearts – yet, God used the evil deeds of the brothers to save the nation of Israel!

God is no absent watchmaker! Hence, the definition, again from the Westminster Catechism, which fits very nicely is “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

More on this in my next post....

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