Living in Light of Providence

by Derek Gentle

God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not in any wise to be the author or approver of sin nor to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures.

-- Providence, Abstract of Principles
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Normally all the choir members came early to Wednesday night practice at West Side Baptist Church in Beatrice, Nebraska. But one night, March 1, 1950, they all had excuses for being late. The church pianist overslept on her after-dinner nap, so she and her mother were late. A high school sophomore was having trouble with her homework. One couple couldn't get their car started. They, and those they were to pick up, were subsequently late. All eighteen choir members, including the pastor and his wife, were late. All had good excuses. At 7:30, the time the choir rehearsal was to begin, not one soul was in the choir loft. This had never happened before. At precisely the time at which the choir would have been singing, a gas leak was ignited by the church furnace and the whole church blew up. The furnace room was right below the choir loft! The word for such an occurrence is providence.

Providence means God has ultimate control of everything, big and small
The Bible teaches that God "works all things according to the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11). In fact, not a single sparrow "falls to the ground apart from your Father's will" (Matthew 10:29). Nothing is too insignificant for God's control and nothing is too big. "He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings" (Daniel 2:21). Benjamin Franklin stated,

The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of man; and if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?

Your place in time and your national heritage were selected by a sovereign God. "He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings" (Acts 17:26). God preordained the length of your life "In Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them" (Psalm 139:16).

What about the matter of providence and evil?
The Bible speaks of the "mystery of iniquity." There is much which God has chosen not to reveal. However, there are some things which are clear.

One thing Scripture makes clear is that God is not responsible for human sin: "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone" (James 1:13-14).

God uses the freely chosen, sinful actions of his enemies to accomplish His eternal plan. For example, in the crucifixion of Christ:

"For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done" (Acts 27-28).
Joseph could tell his brothers, "You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20). Millard Erickson says that God is like a judo expert using the momentum of others and turning it to accomplish His will.

Providence means that God has intimate knowledge of your life and needs
Jesus tells us that "The very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matthew 10:30). Previously, in the same Gospel, Christ spelled out the natural implication of this fact:

"Therefore do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things" (Matthew 6:31-32).

Providence impacts our life's direction
First of all, it means you can't be just anything you want to be. Sometimes, children are told that if they will work hard they can become anything they dare to dream. The Bible does not endorse this view. Jeremiah prayed, "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (10:23).

Providence places us in a strategic sphere of service. Mordecai told Esther, "For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place... Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).

Providence includes God's work of making us more Christ-like.
One of the most popular verses in Scripture is Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Verse 29 goes on to say "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son" The good in verse 28 is the being conformed to the image of Christ in verse 29.

Providence means that nothing can stop the advance of the Gospel.
Paul told his beloved Philippian brethren, "The things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel" (Philippians 1:12). He was in jail. Yet, in chains he is a spectator to the providence of God as He spreads the good news in spite of all.

Providence is about God bringing glory to Himself
"The Lord has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom" (Proverbs 16:4) "For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever" (Romans 11:36).