The Providence of God

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more than they?

Matthew 6:26

Jesus is talking about God’s providential care for us and the rest of His creation.  The providence of God joins His grace, Christ’s sacrifice, and many other blessings He bestows as clear proof of the great love He has for us.  God’s providence can be easily misunderstood, though.  We must understand that it works in our lives in ways that are not necessarily miraculous or supernatural.

The providence of God actually works in our lives in two ways: in a general way and in a special way.  Generally, God cares for and supervises all of His created universe (Psalm 104:14; Matthew 6:26).  He watches over the affairs of humanity overall, both saints and sinners (Matthew 5:45).  It is the providence of God that creates and destroys governments, for example (Daniel 2:21).  While it is true that God’s general providence is special in that it get sot the particulars of the smallest details of every single aspect of His creation and is active everywhere, the Bible also teaches that there is a more special care over the lives of the spiritually good than there is for those who are wicked and do not fear God (Psalm 37:23; Matthew 6:33; Romans 8:28).

The term “providence” comes from the word “provide,” which in turn comes from a Latin term which means “to foresee.”  The Greek term used in the New Testament that corresponds with this means “forethought” and is translated “foresight” (Acts 24:2) and “provision” (Romans 13:14).  Therefore the idea behind “providence” signifies foresight and forethought, which in turn imply a future end, a goal, a definite purpose and plan for attaining that end.  We must remember that ultimately God’s goal for us is what is best for us spiritually, not materially.  Material blessings may come from God’s special providence (Matthew 6:33), but it is also true that God may allow hardships to come into our lives if He thinks they’ll help us grow spiritually (James 1:2-4).

Remember this too.  Just because the Bible promises God’s providential care doesn’t mean that we don’t need to do anything.  Does not God want us to pray for the food He provides for us (Matthew 6:11)?  Doesn’t the Bible say, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10), or, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives…he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8)?  God works in our lives (Philippians 2:13), but He still wants us to work out our own salvation also (Philippians 2:12).

We must also remember that not everything results from God’s special providence.  Many either credit or blame God for every good or bad thing in life, but some things happen simply because of chance (Ecclesiastes 9:11).  Other things happen due to the activity of Satan (1 Peter 5:8-9; Job).  Other things may the consequences of the actions of evil men.  Regardless, I am comforted by the reminder that God’s special providence helps us to overcome such evil (Romans 8:35-39).

I t is not easy to know when something is coincidental or providential.  Job’s friends assumed that God’s plan is that bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people, and they were wrong.  Both Job and the Christians in the New Testament were righteous and bad things happened to them.  Good things often happen to the wicked (Job 21:7-13).  Again, the Bible does speak of chance (Ecclesiastes 9:11).  So we can easily misread what happens and come to wrong conclusions, especially if we don’t have a good knowledge of the revealed will of God in Scripture.

The best we can do is to be like Mordecai (Esther 4:14).  He didn’t presume that God had put Esther into her position for the specific purpose of rescuing the Jews; instead, he wondered if such was the case.  Be like him, and also remain open to the possibility that God’s will may be different than you think (James 4:15).  In the meantime, thank Him for everything in your life both good and bad (Philippians 4:6).  Remember that He ultimately is the only one who knows exactly how and if His providence works in your life in a specific way.  In the meantime, know His revealed will in Scripture and obey it.