Trust is believing that ultimately God’s purpose will prevail – even amidst the apparent triumph of evil and when good seems so overwhelmed. God is working out His purpose. Even when we are hard of seeing and hearing how it happens, it will have its victory.
It is that time of the year – the old one concluding, and a new one beginning – when superstitions and pseudo-sciences are at their peak of influence and following. Polka dots and round fruits to represent wealth. Preference for pasta to symbolize long life. Feng Shui to manipulate good energies. Zodiac and Chinese calendar-cycle to divine the secret charm of the coming year. The options are numerous. Each is an exercise in false hope.
A well-instructed Christian will not give credence to any of these superstitions. It is not because the Christian’s alternative is fatalism. A what-will-be-will-be attitude is not Christian at all. Certainly, it is not according to the Word of God. A Christian is as much concerned as anyone else for the new year’s prospect. He has his expectations. He hopes. But he holds steadfastly to something more certain than superstitions. It is called providence of God.
Concept of Providence
It is not a word that is commonly used in the English Bible. In the KJV, it only occurs once (Acts 24:2), and there it only means the foresight of Felix’s leadership. The one time it occurs in the NIV is closer to our sense, in Job 10:12, You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit. But while sparse in occurrence, the idea pervades biblical thought. In systematic theology, providence is put under the category of the works of God – after His predestination and creation. Where predestination is the plan of God from eternity past (also called decrees), providence is the execution of the plan in time and history. In the simple assertion of Reformed theologian Hermann Bavinck, “according to Scripture and the church’s confession, providence is that act of God by which from moment to moment he preserves and governs all things.” [ Hermann Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 2: p. 596 ]
The pervasive “all things” in the coverage of providence is intended to spare nothing from God’s governing control. All created things are in the two modes of either remaining in the same state, or changing into another state – in philosophical language, being or becoming. Belief in providence holds that all states of being remain as they are by the preservation and provision of God. As Nehemiah exalts God: You alone are the LORD; You have made heaven, The heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, The seas and all that is in them, And You preserve them all (Neh 9:6). Even the changes, the becoming, are directed by the purpose of God. In contrast with the pagan deities, the prophet asserts, The LORD of hosts has sworn, saying, “Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, And as I have purposed, so it shall stand…” For the LORD of hosts has purposed, And who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, And who will turn it back? (Isa 14:24, 27).
Theologian GC Berkouwer summarizes, “All things, having once proceeded from God’s creative hand, are still utterly dependent upon his omnipresent power… all things are indebted for their existence to the preserving act of God; let God cease to act and the universe will cease to exist. This concept of sustenance opposes every claimant to absoluteness in this world – gods and idols, and any who would autonomously and sovereignly pretend to a self-sufficient existence.” [ G.C. Berkouwer, The Providence of God: p. 50 ]
The assertion of Scriptures is as emphatic when it pertains to God’s providence in the affairs of mankind – human actions and intentions. This happens without any infringement of man’s moral accountability and responsibility. When men do the evil, the culpability is theirs; but even the evil does not happen outside God’s providential purpose. Sometimes, God restrains the evil (Gen 20:6); and at other times, He lets loose man’s own evil devices, So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices (Psa 81:12). In this, humans remain ‘free agents’ in their actions. Their will is not coerced contrary to their nature. Providence must not be stretched to the denial of human freedom and moral responsibility. In the language of the Confession, “God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that it is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil.” [ 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: IX. 1 ].
Use of Providence
How are we to use the concept of God’s providence in facing the prospect of 2019?
It is a corrective to the heavy emphasis on the miraculous and spectacular. A dominant faction in Christian circles has inculcated the expectation that God’s acts of power are to be seen in the miraculous and supernatural. Its effect is the impoverishment of faith – reducing it to a magical formula that is more pagan than Christian. Many are blind to the wonder of providence that is often hidden in ordinary motions – human or natural. The 19th century English preacher, CH Spurgeon, puts it eloquently:
Everything is in the Divine purpose, and has been ordered by Divine wisdom. All the events of your life – the greater, certainly; and the smaller, with equal certainty. It is impossible to draw a line in Providence and say this is arranged by Providence and that is not. God’s Providence takes everything in its sweep- all that happens. Divine Providence determines not only the movement of a star, but the blowing of a grain of dust along the public road. God’s Providence knows nothing of things so little as to be beneath its notice, nothing of things so great as to be beyond its control. Nothing is too little or too great for God to rule and overrule. [ Spurgeon’s Sermons “The Hairs of Your Head Numbered” #2005. Mt.10:30 ]
It is an inspiration to the real challenge of faith – to trust in God. In his book, Trusting God, author Jerry Bridges makes an impressive comparison between obeying God’s commands and trusting God in our circumstances.
Why is it easier to obey God than to trust Him? Because obeying God makes sense to us… But the circumstances we often find ourselves in defy explanation. When unexpected situations arise that appear unjust, irrational, or even dreadful, we feel confused and frustrated. And before long we begin to doubt God’s concern for us and His control of our lives. [ Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: ch 1; from the back cover ]
Trust is believing that ultimately God’s purpose will prevail – even amidst the apparent triumph of evil and when good seems so overwhelmed. God is working out His purpose. Even when we are hard of seeing and hearing how it happens, it will have its victory. As Stanley Grenz confidently assures,
Despite appearances to the contrary, the world historical process is going somewhere. God is directing human affairs to the final revelation of his sovereignty and reordering of the universe in the new heaven and the new earth. In his time, God will act decisively. And even now he invites us to orient our lives around his ongoing program. By means of allegiance to God revealed in Christ we can exchange the disorder of life for a new order marked by community or fellowship with God, others, and all creation. [ Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God: 123 ]
Believing in God’s providence, we can own the language of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563):
Q28: What does it profit us to know that God created and by His providence upholds all things?
A28: That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.
What a comfort the providence of God truly is! May it be the foundation of your hope in 2019. A God-blessed New Year to all!