A production of Sola Media
Core Christianity: Tough Questions Answered

What Is the Providence of God? {Lord’s Day 10}

by William Boekestein posted March 10, 2022

This article is part of our weekly series, “Our Life’s Comfort: One Year of Being Shaped by the Scriptures.” Read more from the series here.

(27) Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?
A. Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures,and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chancebut by his fatherly hand.

(28) Q. How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?
A. We can be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature will separate us from his love. For all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.

Every doctrine of the Christian faith is essential. But they are not equally transparent in our lives. Apart from a theological discussion, I might not know your position on the Trinity, or the virgin birth. But in a very short time, no matter what the conversation topic, most of us expose our understanding of providence. We get angry when crossed. We worry when uncertain. We complain at inconveniences. We boast at success. Indecisiveness, shame, and impatience are examples of giveaways of a low view of providence. God wants something better for us.

The best place to start understanding providence is creation. God “still upholds and rules” everything he has made “by his eternal counsel and providence” (LD 9). The God whose hands formed the sea and the dry ground (Ps. 95:5) continues to shape what happens in those realms by his “mighty arm” (Ps. 89:13). He still providentially holds in his hands (Rev. 1:20) the church he led through past danger (Exod. 13:3; Neh. 1:10) so that God’s people endure trials but are never overcome.

The Truth of Providence

God’s providence is his “almighty and ever present,” upholding and ruling power. God’s strength is not theoretically unlimited; he actually exercises his might over everything. God’s power is comprehensive and inescapable. “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he” has “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place … he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘in him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:25–28).

Some people only think of providence in crises—why did God do this? Others only acknowledge God when things go well—God has provided! But providence is shorthand for how God governs all things so that everything happens “not by chance but by his fatherly hand.” He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). God’s hand is behind “rain and drought, fruitful and lean years … health and sickness, prosperity and poverty.” And this knowledge is essential. Without a doctrine of providence we would still face drought, famine, sickness, and poverty, but without a sense of the oversight of a loving God.

Someone might respond: What good is a God who brings upon us drought, famine, sickness, and poverty? But the question betrays immaturity. Did no good come by our parents sometimes withholding the things we wanted—like cotton candy three meals a day? Weren’t they right to sometimes cause us pain—like ordering that tonsillectomy and disciplining us for running into a busy street? Aren’t we surprisingly thankful for the hard times we have faced—like those financially lean years that formed our empathy for the poor, and the sicknesses that taught us to trust in Jesus? And we can’t even yet judge the matter from the perspective of eternity! C.S. Lewis wrote that “Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even … agony into a glory.” One day the blessed will be able to say, “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.”[i] To put it differently, when we “cross that great horizon, clouds behind and life secure … the calm will be the better, for the storms that we endure.”[ii]

Providence is good news. The world is not independent of God, and this truth is good!

The Beauty of Providence

Providence helps us stay on course as we journey through this vale of tears (and smiles).

Providence Gives Believers Patience in Adversity

Patience is enduring hardships cheerfully. Patient people wait through troubles knowing that “the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). God is always doing something good for believers no matter how unpleasant the moment. If nothing else God is testing our faith to produce steadfastness, which is the way to maturity and completion (James 1:3–4). If Old Testament saints like Job (Job 1:21), Joseph (Gen. 45:5, 8), and David (2 Sam. 16:11–12) could trust God—even when his providence seemed to frown on them, we who have greater revelation can do so better.

Providence Gives Believers Thankfulness in Prosperity

It sounds easy to be thankful when things go well. But it isn’t. Too often we live as if, “my power and the might of my hand have gotten me” this blessing (Deut. 8:17). We can be as forgetful as nine of the ten lepers Jesus once healed. Or, we can be like the one who alone found joy in God in his prosperity (Luke 17:11–19).

Providence Gives Believers Confidence for the Future

There is literally no end of the list of things to worry about. But John Calvin reminds us that, “These events rarely happen, or at least not all the time, nor to all … and never all at once.”[iii] He’s right. Our worries are often fictions that never materialize. And we seldom reflect on the millions of disasters, large and small, that didn’t befall us. To put it positively, we too seldom let God’s generous history with us shape our view of the future. We should face an unknown future by constantly raising Ebenezer stones—memorializing God’s help by remembering that “Till now the Lord has helped us” (1 Sam. 7:12). If God has sacrificed Jesus for our sins, can any difficult providence cancel his love for us? (Rom. 8:31–39)

Providence Gives Believers Peace about the Past

Through the lens of divine providence Joseph looked back on trauma he endured half a lifetime ago. His brothers’ sins robbed him of the family life everyone wants. But he believed that “God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). We could lose present joy because of “what might have been.” We might have married better, gotten a better career, or been better parents. But despite our sins and weakness—and those of people around us—this is the life God wants us to flourish in right now.

Providence implies both responsibility and reward. Yes, we should be patient, thankful, hopeful, and at peace in all circumstances. But the duty is also a gift. We live best when we believe that in Christ God loves us, no matter how little else we understand of his providence in the moment. In God’s gracious economy even the worst events can reveal his endless love.

[i] C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce in The C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperCollins, 2017), 503.

[ii] Matt Papa and Matt Boswell, “His Mercy Is More,” quoted with permission.

[iii] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.17.10.

Sign Up for Email Updates