The Timing of God's Providence
One of the oldest sayings of the ancient church summarizes the essence of the relationship between God and His people: Deus pro nobis. It means “God for us.” That is what the doctrine of providence is all about. It is God’s being for His people. “What then shall we say to these things?” Paul asks. If God is for us, who can be against us, and who can separate us from the love of Christ? Is it going to be distress, peril, the sword, persecution, suffering, sickness, or human hostility? Paul is saying that no matter what we have to endure in this world as Christians, nothing has the power to sever the relationship we have to a loving and sovereign providence (Rom. 8:31-39).
The first three chapters of the confession (*WCF) remind us that both the world around us and the Bible that has been given to us reveal that there is a true God who has decreed all things. From there the confession goes on to tell us how God executes those decrees. In chapter five of the confession, and throughout the confession, we see how ‘God the great Creator’ providentially upholds all things, or, as the letter to the Hebrews says, how ‘he sustains all things by his powerful word’ (Heb. 1:3).
God ‘directs, disposes and governs’ his creation – all of his creatures, all their actions, and all of those parts of creation that cannot act. This comes as no surprise for those who are familiar with almost any part of the Bible. Is not providence the wonder for which the psalmist praises the Lord, the Lord who ‘does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths’ (Psalm 135:6)? Certainly this is the precise point Paul preaches to skeptics in Athens, reminding them that ‘God gives all men life and breath and everything else’ and ‘determines the times set for them and the exact places where they should live’ (Acts 17:25-28). And this perfect providence is the message God communicated to a very quiet Job after he foolishly demanded an interview with his Maker (Job 38-41).
All things are in God’s hands, but this would bring little comfort to God’s people if we ever ceased to remember that these are good hands. All providence is God’s ‘most wise and holy providence.’ We can trust him and know that he is right. Of course, this providence is ‘most wise and holy’ (cf. Prov. 15:3; Ps. 104:24; 145:17) because it is in perfect harmony with God’s ‘infallible foreknowledge’ (cf. Acts 15:18; Ps. 94:8-11), and ‘the free, and immutable counsel of his own will’ (cf. Eph. 1:11).
It is comforting news that we can trust God’s providence. The reason Jesus spoke of his care for the sparrow was to assure us of his care for us. This is comforting news, but by far the most important news is that God’s providence works for the praise of his own glory among his people on earth and among the powers of heaven itself (see Eph. 3:10).
Recall Joseph, who extolled the glory of God’s power when reflecting on how the Lord took a sad attempt to destroy one brother and used it to save a whole family (Gen. 45:7). Consider Paul, who wondered at the glory of God’s justice in punishing Pharaoh, and his goodness in saving selfish Israelites (Rom. 9:17). And never forget the psalmist, who knew for himself the glory of God’s mercy, and therefore sang of his ‘abundant goodness’ (Ps. 145:7).
And how abundant is that goodness and mercy! The remarkable thing is that God not only counts every hair on our heads but every sin in our lives; and yet in his ‘wisdom’ and ‘power’, and with a sacrificial ‘justice’, he shows us the splendor of his providence in providing us with his Son.
We have seen that the story of Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt is a wonderful story of the providence of God. Several times in the story it seems as if his life is ruined and that there is no hope for his future; however, the purposes of God cannot be hindered by the evil actions of others or by the circumstances that appear to be devastating. Joseph’s faithfulness and his God-given abilities are used by God in each situation to accomplish his purposes.
Someone has written, ‘While sovereignty addresses God’s authority to rule and govern his creation, providence addresses the manner in which he does so.’ And in Joseph’s life we see God’s loving hands at work, even if the timing may be different than we would expect. Hence, ‘God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.’ Will you trust him in your life? Join us this week as we learn of God’s heart for his people.
In Christ’s love,