This week at our cfCollege Bible study, the question of God’s sovereignty came up, as it often does. All roads, it seems, lead here. How does God rule over his creation? Is God in control of everything? What about evil and suffering? What about our decisions and choices? Can you miss God’s will? Can you mess up his plans? Sure, God has good plans and purposes for us, but what if we don’t do our part? What if we don’t hold up our end of the deal? Or someone else gets in the way? What then?
Questions like these take us into deep waters. They take us into realms of mystery that only God himself fully knows, so we have to proceed with caution. Yet God has revealed certain things to us, and it is our glory to humbly search them out (see Prov. 25:2).
A helpful place to begin is to recover the theological category of “divine providence.” Providence refers to the way God sustains, provides for, and governs his creation. It encompasses the way he directs the planets’ paths, and the way he directs your life steps.
We’re going historical, so hang with me here. The Heidelberg Catechism, a major Protestant document written in 1563, provides a helpful definition for us. The providence of God is
the almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were, by his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth, with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.
That’s pretty all encompassing. Nothing comes by chance. All comes by his fatherly hand. Of course, that raises some questions for us, but it’s a good starting point for our thinking.
And why should we study this? What good will it do? Here is the answer from the Catechism:
That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love, since all creatures are so in his hand that without his will they can not so much as move.
That’s another huge, all-encompassing statement. Without his will, no creature can so much as move. Wow! The implications of that are incredible, and again, it raises plenty of questions.
Next time, we’ll wade into some of those questions. We’ll look at how God’s providential ruling of all things relates to evil and suffering. And we’ll ask how our choices fit into God’s predetermined plans and purposes. For example, if God has determined what will happen, do our prayers really matter?
For now, though, let’s ponder the wise and wonderful ways of our God who providentially works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11) so that not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from his will (Matt. 10:29); and no purpose of his can be thwarted (Job 42:2); and all things work for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28); and nothing and no one can ever separate us from his love (Rom. 8:38-39).
To believe actively that our Heavenly Father constantly spreads around us providential circumstances that work for our present good and our everlasting well-being brings to the soul a veritable benediction. Most of us go through life praying a little, planning a little, jockeying for position, hoping but never being quite certain of anything, and always secretly afraid that we will miss the way. This is a tragic waste of truth and never gives rest to the heart. There is a better way. It is to repudiate our own wisdom and take instead the infinite wisdom of God. Our insistence upon seeing ahead is natural enough, but it is a real hindrance to our spiritual progress. God has charged himself with full responsibility for our eternal happiness and stands ready to take over the management of our lives the moment we turn in faith to Him…It is as if God were saying, “What I am is all that need matter to you, for there lie your hope and your peace. I will do what I will do, and it will all come to light at last, but how I do it is My secret. Trust Me, and be not afraid.”