In high school I decided, in a rare burst of literary inspiration, to tackle Daniel Defoe’s classic novel Robinson Crusoe. The book got the best of me, and I never finished it. But what I did read left an imprint. It was Robinson Crusoe that first introduced me to the idea of Divine Providence. The main character of the story—shipwrecked on an island, learning to survive in a primitive wilderness alone—reflects on his life and his current situation. As he does, he begins to detect a design in all of it. His life is not the product of chance. Rather, there has been a guiding hand, upholding and directing it all. This recognition leads Robinson Crusoe to acknowledge and to worship and to trust the Creator, whose unseen hand has been scripting every detail of his life.
That’s Divine Providence. As we’ve seen in Part 1 and Part 2 of this short blog series on providence, the Heidelberg Catechism defines God’s providence as
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.
This is no abstract, head-in-the-clouds doctrine to ponder. It has incredible bearing on our life, our peace, our joy. As the Reformer John Calvin says,
When once the light of divine Providence has shone in the believer’s heart, he is relieved and liberated, not only from the extreme fear and anxiety which had previously oppressed him, but from all worries. Because, as he rightly rejects the idea of chance, he can confidently put himself in God’s hands. What a comfort! He knows that his heavenly Father has all things in his power, directs them as he wills and rules them by his wisdom, so that nothing can happen unless he orders it… While the world seems to go on its random way, [believers] know that God is at work everywhere, and they can be secure in this.
There are many questions I still have as to how God’s providence works alongside our choices and actions and even our prayers. The Bible affirms both that God is in control of all things and that we make real, meaningful choices. I don’t fully understand how that works, but I believe it.
And the Bible affirms that God has eternally decreed all that comes to pass and that what comes to pass is affected by our prayers. Again, I don’t fully understand how that works, but I believe it.
So I’ll leave you with a quote to ponder on this, one that makes me stand in awe of the bigness of God. This one’s from Charles Spurgeon. The gist of it, I think, is that God ordains both the ends and the means to those ends. We, by the providence of God, get to be a part of his providential working in the world. Spurgeon, of course, says it much more beautifully and eloquently. I hope these words do more than just tie your head in knots (which they will), but also make you smile and marvel at the wise and wonderful Providence of God.
Oh! To think of this; that you a puny man may stand here and speak to God, and through God may move all the worlds. Yet when your prayer is heard, creation will not be disturbed; though the grandest ends are answered, providence will not be disarranged for a single moment. Not a leaf will fall earlier from the tree, not a star will stop in its course, nor one drop of water trickle more slowly from its fount, all will go on the same, and yet your prayer will have effected everything. It will speak to the decrees and purposes of God, as they are being daily fulfilled; and they will all shout to your prayer, and cry, “You are our brother; we are decrees, and you a prayer; but you are yourself a decree, as old, as sure, as ancient as we are.” … Do not say, “How can my prayers affect the decrees?” They cannot, except in so much that your prayers are decrees, and that as they come out, every prayer that is inspired by the Holy Spirit to your soul is as omnipotent and as eternal as that decree which said, “Let there be light, and there was light;” or as that decree which chose his people, and ordained their redemption by the precious blood of Christ. You have power in prayer, and you stand today among the most potent ministers in the universe that God has made. (Spurgeon, The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life, 60)