Providence: God's care for usIntroduction
Providence is God's active maintenance and organization of creation, with particular reference to the Christian community. It is one of the special blessings given to members of the Kingdom of God.
There are some who say that when God created our world he wound it up like a clock, stood back and let it go. If this is so, everything in our world happens as a part of the natural course of events. Only human intervention disrupts the course of nature. On the other hand there are those who argue that God runs everything in our world. Moment by moment, he controls everything; nothing happens outside of his control.
There are problems with both these views. The first one implies that God has nothing to do with his creation: history, human society, natural events - everything moves haphazardly forward. The other implies that God is behind natural disasters; he causes the earthquake that destroys thousands of people.
To what extent then does God involve himself in our world, and in particular, our personal lives? How we answer this question will affect the way we serve Jesus: it will affect our prayer life and how we handle tragedy; it will determine how we handle a question like "Why did God let this happen to me?"
The Holy Spirit provides
God's involvement in, and control of, creation is a ministry (work) of the Holy Spirit, Job 33:4, 34:14-15.
The Holy Spirit actively involves himself in the day-to-day affairs of our world by maintaining the creation and by intervening in, and organizing, nature and human affairs. He does this to bring in the Father's Kingdom. Let us look in more detail at God's providential involvement in our world:
1. General Providence
This is God's work, through the Holy Spirit, of maintaining the universe in line with his design.
God's involvement in the day-to-day affairs of our world is limited to maintaining it in line with his original design-plan. When the human race turned against God, everything should have disintegrated, but because God planned to draw from the human race a people to be his own for eternity, he restrained the self-destructive reaction that had been set in motion. Our world has been terminally affected by sin. Yet ,God in his mercy maintains much of the beauty, peace and order of his original creation; he is still Lord of the heavens and of the earth, Matt.11:25.
Our Creator God maintains his design-plan in the following ways:-
i) Keeps us human. He gives us life, Gen.2:7, understanding, Job 32:8, but above all, a conscience, Rom.2:14-15. It is because of this it is even possible for an unregenerate person to act in love, Lk.6:33.
ii) Orders society. He generally maintains orderly government, Rom.13. One important reason for this is that peace and security give greater opportunities for the preaching of the gospel, Act.17:26-27. When you think about it, left to ourselves, we couldn't even govern a chicken-coup.
iii) Restrains evil. At this present moment, the full force of evil is restrained and will not be able to break out until just before Jesus' return, Job 1:12, 2:6, 2 Thes.2. If this was not so we would destroy ourselves within weeks. For the present, our world is ordered so that good usually triumphs over evil, a fact which has always fascinated humanity. Note how many adventure or science-fiction stories that deal with the theme of the triumph of good over evil.
iv) Upholds nature. Although nature groans and creaks because it has been affected by human rebellion against him, Rom.8:22, God still upholds the natural order so that it remains a blessing for all people, Matt.5:45, 6:26, Lk.6:35-36, Act.14:17.
So, is God the cause of the earthquake that destroys thousands of lives? No. Natural calamities are part of the self-maintaining, re-creative forces of nature which have been disrupted by human rebellion. God simply restrains the self destructive forces set in motion by our rebellion and so maintains his creation to fulfill his ultimate plans for it.
2. Special providence
This is God's activity, through the Holy Spirit, of intervening in and organizing nature and the affairs of humanity, so that in the last day, his Kingdom will be set up in great power and glory, Eph.1:11. God has chosen to use his people as the means of bringing in his Kingdom. So it is, that as we work for him we find that he actively involves himself human affairs.
God enacts his providential care in three ways:-
i) Preserving his people for service. Protecting us from evil and enabling us to stand against temptation.
ii) Cooperating with us as we seek to do his will. Assuring us that we are his and empowering us to be able to do his work.
iii) Ordering events about us so that we might be able to achieve his will. The extent of this intervention is much debated. We are best to take the view that although miracles are not beyond our God, he does seem to work within the natural flow of cause and effect.
In a bit more detail, here are some examples of the ways the Holy Spirit intervenes in nature and human affairs, as we seek to serve our Lord in bringing in the Kingdom:-
i) Gathers a people to himself to serve him, Eph.1:11, Gal.1:15, Rom.9:19-24.
ii) Cares for us while witnessing for him, Matt.10:26-31. He even gives us the words to say, Lk.21:15, cf.Exodus 4:11,12.
iii) Controls and orders earthly governments to bring in his Kingdom, Ex.7:13, Josh.11:6, Job 12:23, Ezra 6:22.
iv) Protects his people, Ps.4:8, 5:12, 63b. He restrains the attack of Satan, enabling us to resist temptation, 1Cor.10:13. He preserves us for service, 2 Kings 19:27-28. He will protect us in the day of the great tribulation, Rev.3:10.
v) Supplies all we need to serve him, Gen.22:8,14, Deut.8:3, Phil.4:19.
vi) Answers our prayers, 1 John 5:14-15.
vii) Maintains the church, Deut.8:18, and purifies it, straightening it out when necessary, Isa.10:5.
viii) Empowers us for service, 1 Cor.12:6.
ix) Empowers us for obedience, Phil.2:12-13.
x) Reveals the truth, Matt.11:25, 1Jn.2:27
xi) Assures us that we are his.
So then, God intervenes in our world to achieve the establishment of his Kingdom. He controls, changes, organizes .... whatever is necessary to bring about his will. The amazing fact is that he chooses to use us as the instruments of his will. This he does out of the goodness of his nature, for we are the most ineffective of instruments. He chooses to use us for our own good, for it is through responsible service that we are prepared for our service to Christ in eternity.
Now for the big question is. How does he organize people and events to achieve his will? Is it always a miraculous intervention - ie., does he reverse, suspend, change the course of nature, bend people's minds, force them to act in a certain way? As already noted, God is quite able to perform miracles, and at times he does just that, but most often he seems to work through the natural course of events, which is indeed a greater miracle than that of direct intervention. God can use everything that happens to us for his ultimate good, Rom.8:18. He even uses the free willful acts of sinful people, Act.3:13.
Providence and the believer
Don't let anyone tell you that God's providential involvement in your life as a Christian means that from now on he will protect you from trouble, pain, sickness, worry etc. In fact Jesus described discipleship as "cross bearing". He promised trouble, pain, persecution and even death, Lk.2:16. Discipleship does not guarantee freedom from the rough-and-tumble of life. We have to stand in the face of life's challenges with the rest of humanity.
Yet we do experience great blessings from God's providential involvement in our lives:
i) We, with the rest of humanity, experience the general order and beauty of creation.
ii) We experience the joy of playing our part in his new community of friends, the Kingdom of God.
God's will focuses on his plan to gather and prepare a people to be with him and rule with him for eternity. During this coming week, try to place yourself in the centre of his will and see if you can see his mighty hand at work. How did his will touch you, how does it touch your church fellowship and the secular world?