Celebrating the Providence of God
One of the strongest motivations in a person’s life—possibly right next to self-preservation—is the desire to order or control the events of one’s own life. Typically we tend to gravitate toward order and predictability and away from chaos and surprise. Man is inherently given to laying out plans envisioning a preferred predetermined future, and he usually reacts negatively to interruptions and alterations of those plans. One of the hardest things for Christians is to surrender the proclivity to control their own destiny. Mostly we go about establishing our life’s plan and pursuit and then ask for God to sign off on it. How easy it is to overlook a little truth tucked away in the Old Testament that alerts us to the reality that “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Pro 19:21 NIV).
A few years ago Frank Sinatra popularized a song entitled “My Way” which captured so much of the spirit prevalent in so many believers’ lives today. Some of the lyrics went like this…
And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.
I’ve lived a life that’s full.
I’ve traveled each and every highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
How awful it would be if this reflected the essence of how a Christian really lived his life. Do we really want our epitaph to read, “He did it his way”?
In thinking about this issue, aren’t we really addressing the question as to how much God is truly involved in the everyday thrust of our lives? Maybe a more accurate question would be to ask what we truly believe concerning God’s involvement in our daily lives. Is God simply a passive and remote observer of our lives or is he somehow intricately and actively involved in them? My experience with Christians has shown me they run the entire gamut in this regard from believing God is completely dissociated from interaction with man to believing that God will obediently perform whatever we ask based on our claiming his promises. As with any system of beliefs, the truth usually lies somewhere between the illogical extremes that man can take them to.
The Old Testament is replete with narratives describing God’s interaction with his chosen people. From the garden of Eden through the formation of Israel to the post-exilic restoration we see the palpable involvement of God not just in the life of Israel but also in the lives of other nations as well.
The word most associated with this concept of God’s interaction with man is “providence.” Checking an online source dictionary.com renders the word thusly: the foreseeing care and guidance of God or nature over the creatures of the earth. Merriam-Webster defines providence as divine guidance or care. Interestingly providence is seen first and foremost as God’s foreseeing provision for man. The word actually has very limited use in the Bible itself showing up only several times. However, even though the specific word is not employed with frequency its meaning is illustrated profusively throughout the Bible in innumerable accounts of God’s interdiction in the affairs of men.
Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology contributes the following: providence, then, is the sovereign, divine superintendence of all things, guiding them toward their divinely predetermined end in a way that is consistent with their created nature, all to the glory and praise of God.
The Greek New Testament word for providence is προνοέω: to provide, to think of beforehand; to provide for one, to take thought for, care for. A well-known verse from 1 Timothy uses this word thusly: Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8).
When we boil all this down we basically have a concept that emphasizes aforethought and nurture. It is the idea of predetermining what is needed for the caring of others. Maybe the greatest biblical illustration of this is seen in the passage from Revelation that describes Jesus as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” God’s perfect prepared in advance with aforethought provision for the eternal lives of his created ones.
Undoubtedly God is intentionally involved in the affairs of men. Biblically and historically God has done this in the interest of bringing man into his own ultimate intention—that of conforming us to the image of Christ. Since growing us up into the full stature of Christ is the end game, any attempts on our part to draw or cajole God into supporting and furthering our personal ambitions is sheer folly. God is only interested in sponsoring in our lives that which falls within the confines of his eternal purposes.
In thinking about the providence of God many Christians often get hung on the horns of the dilemma of whether God literally caused an action or simply allowed it to happen. I believe this is a moot issue which should be dismissed outright since it literally doesn’t make any difference one way or the other. Since God’s motives are eternally founded in an ineffable love for us as expressed through Christ and his sufferings, any action or inaction he sponsors can only be interpreted as being for our eternal well-being. The Apostle Paul seemed to make this abundantly clear when he informed the believers in Rome…
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (Rom 8:28 NLT).
There is incredible rest in accepting this truth. The temptation for many is attempting to divide all circumstances into one of two categories—good or evil. There are good things and there are bad things. There are desired results and circumstances and there are unwanted and regretted events in our lives. We almost always assign a value of good thing or bad thing to most every circumstance in our lives. However, since God uses everything in our lives as potentially shaping tools in conforming us to the image of Christ, it becomes nonsensical to assign pejorative attributes to certain happenings while welcoming others.
This is not to say that many of life’s circumstances are not difficult, painful and challenging to accept and work through. It is simply establishing that given our faithful responses, God is more than able to form something of Christ in us through the difficult and challenging times. How we interpret and respond to our circumstances often has to do with our life orientation and perspective. We typically see things either from a temporal or an eternal point of view. If our focus is principally temporal—this worldly—we will inevitably divide our circumstances into either good or evil in nature. Having an eternal perspective—seeing things from God’s point of view—releases us to put our trust in the Lord and believe that given our faithful responses he will use any and all life events to grow us up more into Christ.
Learning to accept all things as from the hand of God is to realize that his providence is kind of like a two-sided coin. On the one side we find the activity of God pleasant and easily embraceable. In the other side we discover that our faith is being stretched and that we must choose to exercise our will in biblically sound and faithful ways.
Maybe the best biblical example of faithfully confronting ostensibly disastrous circumstances was Job.
But Job replied…Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.
One of the greatest renderings of this eternal truth is found in Hannah Whitall Smith’s classic book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. Therein she offers the following insight…
What is needed, then, is to see God in everything, and to receive everything directly from His hands, with no intervention of second causes. And it is just to this that we must be brought, before we can know an abiding experience of entire abandonment and perfect trust. Our abandonment must be to God, not to man, and our trust must be in Him, not in any arm of flesh, or we shall fail at the first trial.
This is the ultimate in faith, trust and self-abandonment to God. It is the placing of one’s self entirely in the hands of God trusting him for one’s eternal well-being. With it come the rewards of complete rest and peace, a spiritual tranquility that surpasses anything the world could possibly offer.
Unquestionably God is at work in our daily lives striving to bring us fully into the likeness of his dear Son. The only question remaining is whether or not we will choose to discover him in the midst of what we would normally categorize as untoward circumstances. At this juncture I can only remind myself and others that our heavenly Father’s timeless challenge still remains…
“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live…”