Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Providence of God in a Nutshell

“My Father is working until now, and I [Jesus] am working.” (John 5:17)
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) 

Definition of Providence
 “Providence is the theological term for the continuous going forth of God’s power whereby He causes all features of the created universe to fulfill the design for which He created them. Creation explains how there happens to be a world at all; preservation explains why it still exists in good order; and providence explains how it will develop toward God’s eternally planned goal. It is the consummation in time of the plan of God made in eternity.” (Robert Duncan Culver)
“The unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill, he upholds His creatures in ordered existence, guides and governs all events, circumstances, and free acts of angels and men, and directs everything to its appointed goal, for His own glory.” (J.I. Packer)
“God’s providence is His constant care for and His absolute rule over His creation for His own glory and the good of His people.” (Jerry Bridges)

 
Misconceptions about Providence
1. It means God is in control of all things so we’re not responsible for the actions we make.
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Gal. 6:7)
2. It means God is in control of all things so God is the author of evil
“Every good gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17)
3. It means God has a purpose in everything and his purposes are always traceable.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)
4. It means all things work together for the good of every person in the world.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” (Romans 8:28)


The All-Inclusiveness of Providence
 
The physical world (Psalm 135:6,7)  |  Plant Life (Psalm 104:16)  |  People’s social position  |  (Psalm 139:16)  |  People’s success and failures (Psalm 75:6,7) | The time and circumstances of a person’s death (Deuteronomy 32:48-50)  |  Guidance and spiritual needs (Matthew 5:45; 6:8,11,26; Philippians 4:19)  |  His people (Philippians 1:12-14; cf. Ephesians 3:1)  |  Apparent calamities (Philippians 1:12-14; Philemon 15)  |  Temptations, trials, persecutions (1 Corinthians 10:13; cf. Daniel 3:17,18) 

 
Some Types of Providence
1. General providence – in his provision and care for all living creatures (Matthew 6:25-30).
2. Directive providence – guiding the course and destiny of the nations (Daniel 2:21).
3. Permissive providence – such as when God allowed Satan to assault Job’s family and possessions (Job 1:8-19). This demonstrates that while God permits sin in the world, he is never the cause of sin.
4. Safeguarding providence – in protecting his people, such as the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:8-27).
5. Restraining providence – by preventing sin and harm from happening, such as preventing Abimelek from taking Abraham’s wife, Sarah, as his concubine (Genesis 20:1-6; see also Psalm 19:13).
6. Limiting providence – such as forbidding Satan from destroying Job’s person (Job 1:12; 2:6).
7. Redirecting providence – such as when he turned the treachery of Joseph’s brothers into provision that saved many people’s lives (Genesis 50:20). Of course, the primary example of this last mode of providence was God’s work of redirecting the death of Jesus on the cross into salvation for the world (Acts 2:23).
 
The Application of Providence
1. It provides us meaning and purpose to life. Because God is the all-wise Creator and Sustainer of all things, we can be sure that we are not here by accident and everything has a purpose.

“To the person who believes in God the Creator, this world order is not an impersonal `nature', whose mechanistic systems mock our deepest needs and aspirations as people. Rather, it is a created order that reflects on the Creator, who is good and who continues to do `all things well'. Then we can see, as Paul saw, that `in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose'.” (James Houston)
2. It dispels fear and gives us certain hope for the future even amidst tragedies. We can be certain that nothing happens outside God’s sovereignty.
“The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God…. All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch His children unless He permits it. God is the Lord of human history and of the personal history of every member of His redeemed family.” (Margaret Clarkson)
“When we fully recognize God's omnipotence, we will both obey him and rest secure in his protection. We will have no superstitious fears. Some people think the stars govern the world, and worry about horoscopes. We can rest assured that the world is completely governed by the secret will of God, so that nothing happens without his permission, knowledge and will.” (John Calvin)
3. It gives us enumerable reasons to thank, praise, and worship God. Because behind all things is God’s sovereign power, we can glorify Him for all the loving providence He lavishes.
 “If God performs all things for us, then it is our great interest and concern in all things to study to please him upon whom we depend for all things…. Fear nothing but sin. Study nothing so much as how to please God. Do not turn from your own integrity under temptation. Trust God in the way of your duty. These are sure rules to secure yourselves and your interests in all the vicissitudes of life.” (John Flavel)

References:
Bridges, Jerry. Is God Really in Control?. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2006.
Calvin, John.
The Institutes of Christian Religion.
Culver, Robert Duncan. Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical. Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2005.
Demarest, Bruce and Matthews, Keith (Eds.). Dictionary of Everyday: Theology and Culture. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2010.
Houston, James. The Providence of God. Lion CD of the Bible and Christianity V 2.0.