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Jonathan Master (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of theology and dean of the School of Divinity at Cairn University. He is also director of Cairn’s Center for University Studies. Dr. Master serves as executive editor of Place for Truth and is co-chair of the Princeton Regional Conference on Reformed Theology.

Article by Tim Bertolet

The Goodness of God’s Providence

June 24, 2015 •

Providence is the doctrine of Scripture that teaches us that God is still in control of the universe which He created. He still exercises authority over all of the creation and the unfolding of history within His creation is not haphazard but according to the plan and permission of God. Louis Berkhof defines providence as “that continued exercise of the divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.”[1]

First, the Biblical picture of God is one who is a king who continues to exercise dominion over all His creation so that whatever happens within the creation happens according to the will of God (either the active will of God, or the permissive will where He, for His reasons, allows it). Consider that while many Christians today recoil from such an understanding of God King Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan, learned this the hard way. After seven years of being driven mad and eating grass like a beast of the field, the king who once lauded his own majesty turns and recognizes God’s majesty:

Dan. 4:34-35 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

God works all things according to the counsel of His will and does as He pleases (Ps. 115:3;  135:6; Eph. 1:11). God’s activity cannot be thwarted (Isa. 14:27). He is the one who causes  all things including: kings to rise and fall even determining the boundaries of nations (1 Sam. 2:8; Ps. 22:28; 66:7; Dan. 4:17; Acts 17:26b), plants to spring up or die (Ps. 104:14; 147:8-9),  and weather to come and go (Job 28:25-26; Ps 135:7; 147:8; Jer. 10:13; 51:16). What we would see as chance and accidents are things that have been ordered by God (Prov. 16:33). There is nothing within all creation which does not have its continued existence because of the mind and will of God and nothing that happens in all creation is outside of God’s control.

But why is this good? And do I, as the believer, regularly consider God’s providence to be good?

(1)  God’s providence means that the world is still God’s world. We should be grateful that God still rules His world. God created the heavens and earth and all that is in them. Sin entered God’s creation on earth with the fall of man and yet even with the curse of sin, God’s creation still belongs to God. This is good. The earth does not spin off its axis because God is still up holding the earth by the word of His mighty power. This is a cause for great praise.

(2)  God’s providence mean that evil cannot ultimately triumph. Just as God declares that the seas can only go so far (Prov. 8:29), God limits evil within creation. When God says to evil and wicked beings “this far, no farther” evil is restrained. This is most obvious in the life of Job—Satan can only do what God allows. This is of great comfort to the believer because when something wrong or horrible happens we are reminded that the evil rebellion and effects of sin are restrained by God. Cannot nor would we want to even imagine how far evil would go if God did not regularly restrain it and stop it. We are also reminded that evil will not triumph because God will exercise judgment as a righteous King.

(3)  God’s providence means that God exercises a special care over His children. Sometimes in the trials and horrors of life we feel like a rickety boat recklessly tossed about by the overpowering winds and waves violent hurricane force. God is stronger than all things. Nothing can succeed against God. We must remember how precious God’s children are to Him and how tender His care. We are not abandoned to be tossed about by hardship and trial. God’s care is so deep and extensive that He has even numbered the hairs on our head (Matt.10:30) because of this God says: Do not fear (Matt. 10:31). Part of God’s providence is His causing us to be preserved and enabling perseverance no matter the trial so that not even one hair will fall from our head unless God says so. The pages of Scripture are filled with countless examples of God preserving His people.

(4)  There is no such thing as luck, accidents, or coincidences. Have you ever been in a situation where you needed a certain set of incidents or circumstances to unfolded in a particular way? Have you ever found something happen to you that was “good fortune” or “luck”. Perhaps you narrowly missed a car accident or your boss offered you a bonus pay at the very time an unexpected bill was due. All of these things are gifts from God’s providential hand. If the world was run by luck and circumstance, I would have no one to thank for these seemingly random events. Even more, I could not ask anyone for these good gifts. Life would be a constant roll of the dice. Instead God runs His world and all that happens in it are from His guiding hand of providence.

There is much more that we could say about God’s providence. Certainly every believer has face situations where it has been hard to understand why God would allow a particular event. Here we are left with the mystery of God. He simply knows more than I know and my thoughts are not on the same level as His thoughts. I am left with no standing or right to question God in these times. Job learned instead in His trial to justify God. God’s ways are right and good all the time and in all events. In the end, this is the greatest good for the believer because life is about God and not about me.

[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 166.

Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as Interim Pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.


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