Providence Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Providence

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Providence is God's loving control exercised over all things, expressing God's attributes as both Creator and Father. As Creator, God is absolutely sovereign over the creation, preserving it (Neh. 9:6, Acts 17:28, Col. 1:17, Heb. 1:3), co-operating with it in every act (Prov. 16:33, Matt. 10:29, Acts 4:27-28, Phil. 2:12-13), and directing it to God's appointed end (Eph. 1:9-12). As Father, God exercises his control with gracious benevolence (Rom. 8:28). Although no single Hebrew or Greek word for "providence" occurs in Scripture, it is the ink that wets the pen of redemptive history. Providence is the omniscient and omnipotent God's unblinking rule over history's wide arc. It is God's sovereignty writ small and large, in every cranny and contour of the created order, finding its clearest expression in the Creator's intersection with the creation through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In Scripture

As a Function of Divine Sovereignty "The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all" (Ps. 103:19). "Whatever the Lord pleases he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps" (Ps. 135:6). "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does what he wills with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can stay his hand or say to him, `What are you doing?'" (Dan. 4:35). "In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will" (Eph. 1:11).

Over the Natural Order "He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the animals their food. . ." (Ps. 147:8ff). "The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is the Lord's alone" (Prov. 16:33). "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.[ ]And even the hairs of your head are all counted" (Matt. 10:29, 30).

Over Human History "He makes nations great, then destroys them; he enlarges nations, then leads them away" (Job 12:23). "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will" (Prov. 21:1). "He changes times and seasons, deposes kings and sets up kings" (Dan. 2:21). "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" (Acts 17:26). "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).

Over Individual Lives and Free Action "Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed" (Ps. 139:16). "The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps" (Prov. 16:9).

Including Moral Actions "And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life" (Gen. 45:5). "Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today" (Gen. 50:20). "For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:27, 28). "For the scripture says to Pharaoh, `I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.'[ ]So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses" (Rom. 9:17-18). "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life" (Eph. 2:8-10).

Points to Ponder

Providence and free will. A fully biblical account of providence holds in tension the concepts of divine sovereignty and human moral agency. Rejecting both deism's denial of God's active agency in history and fatalism's denial of active human agency, biblical providence affirms that while God rules the hearts and actions of all humans (Prov. 21:1, Ezra. 6:22), humans are truly free agents in the sense that their decisions are their own and they are morally responsible for them.

Providence and the problem of evil. A robust doctrine of divine providence sharpens the existential problem of the apparently gratuitous amounts of evil and suffering in the world. Pastoral sensitivity must recognize that the doctrine of God's providence cuts both ways. That the death of a beloved child happened within the permissive will of God can be a source of either deep comfort or high horror. Perhaps in such cases it is helpful to frame providence as God's gracious presence in the silence of suffering. The narratives of Joseph (Gen. 37-50), Ruth, and Esther all explore God's redemptive action in the midst of pain and the absence of miraculous intervention. Providence also points to the redemptive suffering of Christ ("Providence made flesh") and God's settled intention to ultimately rid creation of evil (Rev. 21). Understood correctly, John Calvin notes: "The necessary consequences of this knowledge are gratitude in prosperity, patience in adversity, and a wonderful security respecting the future."

Providence and predestination. Zwingli notes that providence is the parent of predestination, the general description of God's sovereign control, of which predestination is its narrow application to the doctrine of salvation.

Providence and Reformed confessions. Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 27: "Q. What do you understand by the providence of God? A. The almighty and ever present power of God by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty — all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand" Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 28: "Q. How does the knowledge of God's creation and providence help us? A. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love. For all creatures are so completely in God's hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved."

Providence and Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving is the civic celebration of the doctrine of providence: "The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God."

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.