The Providence of God is comforting

Ds J Bruintjes
NGB artikel 13
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God did not create the world, sit back relax, and rest. No Jesus himself says, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working." What is he doing? He is upholding and governing this vast universe he has made. He has written the notes out and is now directing the symphony of history and creation to their ultimate end. God is present. Here in this moment. In this place. God is present in every moment, in every space.

The God we worship is not a God that is somehow involved just in salvation. Let’s not limit our God. Our God is involved in all the affairs of creation, in the affairs of politics, and economies, he is involved in your life every second of every day. If he was not you would not be here He is interested in world events. He is interested in climate change debate. He is interested in the destructions of eco-systems. He is directing all things for the sake of the church in Christ. And he cares intimately about all things – why? Because he made it all!  This is about God directing all things to his glory! This is the doctrine of providence.  

This doctrine makes the presence and reality of God absolutely inescapable. He is here directing this whole worship. You will be faced with God when you go outside and enjoy the day. He is so involved that not even a hair can fall from your head in this hour without his direction. Each leaf I see on the tree, each insect I encounter confront me with the evidence and nearness and mightiness of MY GOD!

The Providence of God is comforting.

  1. He upholds and governs creation
  2. While not being the author of evil

God upholds and governs his creation

Did God return “home” after creating and start with another project and leave this universe to it’s own devices. The Scripture is unequivocally clear on this. As we read in Job, “If it were his intention and he withdrew his Spirit and breath, all humanity would perish together, and mankind would return to the dust.” In other words, if God was not involved, we would be as the song goes, “dust in the wind.” In fact, this is often the judgement of God upon sin. When we sin he withholds his providential hand, things return to nothing.

We see this in Jeremiah were the prophet tells us that the world was undoing itself because of the people’s sins. After naming the peoples sin in the previous chapters he says in Jeremiah 7:23 -25 says, “I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone. I looked at the mountains, and they were quaking; all the hills were swaying. I looked, and there were no people.”

Do these words remind you of something? He starts with talking about the Earth being formless and void? What does that remind you of? Then he ends with no people in it. as if he follows the arc of Genesis 1. Genesis 1:2, “Now the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the deep.”  This is the punishment of Israel’s sin. Sin bring about the destruction of the very created order itself. Sin is personal but its effects are universal.

But even this is also part of his providence: God choosing to remove his hand and he is leaving his people over to the sin, and its results which is death. Indeed, for there to be any life. For there to be anything God must constantly be at work.  He not only created but upholds it. without him they die. As we read in Psalm 104: 29-30, “When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.”

Also, in the famous passage in Romans we learn that all people when confronted with creation are confronted with God. Creation is the  visible proof of the invisible. The material evidence for the immaterial God. This is God’s creation and he care for it through his Son. And this proof is everywhere. Acts 14:17, “Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Indeed to the one whose eyes are open when the young lion roars he is seeking his food from God (Ps 104:21), He knows it is God who gives the lilies of the field a glory that surpasses even Solomon’s (Mat 6:29-30), It is God who feeds the raven and knows the fallen sparrow. God is present in the ordinary day to day moments of existence. Do you see him?

When the creature made in the image of God contemplates creation, she cannot escape the impression of a higher power “in, with, and over” the tangible world of the five senses. And yet that idea of Gods providence only serves to condemn them. All people experience Gods providence, but only when you believe it does it become a great comfort. For this work of governing and upholding all things is done for the sake of those on whom he has placed his electing love.

The doctrine of providence is closely connected with creation, which is connected with new creation, which ultimately finds it source in Jesus Christ. All things hold together in Christ, but all things are also being reconciled to Christ. We read,  For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross

Do you see the flow of this passage? All things things are made in him and for him (doctrine of creation). All things hold together in him (doctrine of providence). And what does it say next – He is the head of the body the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn of the dead (doctrine of recreation)! You see how closely his creation is tried to providence, is tied to recreation. With its author and end, being Christ. But not only the author and end, but also the way to get to that end. God is present in Jesus Christ! And it is though his body the church that he announces the ministry of reconciliation that all things are being reconciled to Him again! Providence has a purpose – to restore all things into right relationship with God. We have a purpose to announce that God has come into creation! So that it may glorify God.

” So all things were not just created  in Him, they were also created for Him and though him as we read. Not only were they created in him, and for him and through him, they are also held together in him at this moment.

Why? To reconcile all things to himself through the cross.” And toward that end god is directing all things!

God made it, God governs it. Absolutely. There is no rival. Nothing and no one sits on his level. No one is his equal. No one will challenge him. What he says will happen. This means that there are zero surprises coming into the throne room of God. God has never said, “whoops, I did not think of that!” No everything has happened at his direction. The symphony is moving from movement to movement, just as he intended. All they way to that grand finale we read about in revelation.

 Nothing happens without his direction. As Job says when arguing with his friends about his predicament, ““But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Go ask your animal friends Job says – they seem to know who is in control. They know God is present in the daily moment. Jesus does the same with a more positive example: Go look at the birds and see how God cares and governs them! Is he not also governing you who are much more important to the affairs of the kingdom?  

While not being the author of evil

He rules all things. And governs all the affairs of this world. Does that shock you? When you look around you, are you surprised? I mean what about all the evil? What about all the wrong things? Why do the wicked prosper? Why do the righteous suffer? These are questions the saints have asked throughout the generations.

When these questions come up we need to do what scripture does, and remind ourselves of the promises of God. And see how God even uses evil toward his good ends. In terms of personal evil used by God we have the story of Josephs brothers selling him into Egypt as a slave. Joseph confess this was Gods doing. In terms of societal evil God who raised up the most brutal nation, the Assyrians to conquer Israel, and then after the Babylonians to take out the assyrians. This helps me to believe again that God is doing something in my time with the evils in our life personally and as society.

And above all we look to the cross. If God was in full control by using the most horrific deed in history in the crucifixion of Gods own son, Jesus the Messiah, for the greatest good of all mankind, then surely, he is in control of all the evil perpetrated in our time. It was Gods foreordained plan to have Jesus given up to the leaders and crucified in the worlds most unfair judgement ever handed out.

 The powers of dankness are  frustrated again and again and again as their plans to destroy are used by a sovereign God to glorify himself in his people. The nations may rage, the people may throw off their shackles but the one enthroned in heaven laughs (Ps 2).

Yet it brings us to the age-old question: If God is sovereign and everything is going according to his plan, then I don’t need to be responsible about anything. And that is where this confession also approaches this subject with great humility and yet honesty. For the clear answer is yes, we are responsible. The Belgic Confession says, “God is NOT the author of Sins which are committed, nor can he be charged with them.”

Gods sovereignty and our responsibility are not mutually exclusive. Consider, for example this statement in Isaiah 10:5: “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger.” At first glance, this makes no sense. If Assyria is an instrument of God’s anger, why is He pronouncing woe (or judgement) on the Assyrians? how can a people come under divine judgment while at the same time functioning as a rod of God’s anger?

First of all: God holds Israel fully responsible for their disbelief; fully responsible for their idolatry; fully responsible for their rebellion and their rejection of Him, His Word, and His worship. So He commissions the Assyrians to come against them. Notice verse 6: “To capture booty, and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.” That’s strong, decisive language.

Yet Assyria sees it as just another opportunity to conquer another country and another god, they do not acknowledge God in taking this land and so God holds him responsible and says, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.” In other words, evildoers do evil not because they are forced to, but by their own evil intent. Sinners want to sin, so they sin. But God still uses it for his own purpose.

And Isaiah never makes an attempt to resolve or explain away what many would regard as a paradox. Scripture gives no indication that God’s wrath against Assyria was anything but just, reasonable, and appropriate. Indeed we would consider it reasonable and just. In the same way as you would see Gods punishment on Israel as just.

 The Bible is simply not concerned with reconciling divine judgment with any human assumptions about justice or fairness. Sometimes we can want that form  God. We want to be the judge of the judge of all the earth. We want God to be accountable to our standards. We want to understand him. We want to put him in box. But if he had our standards of justice, if he could be understood by us and fit in our box, he would be a very small God indeed.  

We see the same tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in Acts 2. During Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, he said, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (vv. 22–23).

Christ died under God’s authority, in His timing, and according to His plan. And yet! Yet Israel was guilty—both for their collective hand in His death and for their failure to believe in Him as Messiah.

But in the prayer of Acts 4 in verse28 we read that all these guilty souls conspired together “to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” Isaiah 53:10 agrees, identifying the Lord as the One responsible for the Son’s death: “The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.” That does not mean those who executed the Christ were innocent! The people were entirely rebellious and murderous, and for them, it was an act of pure evil. But that Act from Gods eyes was the beginning of the end of evil.

We see those seemingly contrasting truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility repeatedly, in every part of God’s Word. But Scripture never attempts to ease the apparent tension. We need to remember that it’s not our job to hold God to whatever standards our meager minds might suggest. He Himself is the standard of true righteousness, and He never acts in a way that would contradict His righteousness justice, love or mercy.

Why is this all so important for us? Because we can think: “If God is going to save us anyway, and its all grace, and God is fully in control then it does not matter if I do this little sin.” Or  “If God is directing the symphony of creation and history toward a new heavens and new earth it does not matter how I treat this one!” This is a lie from hell. God does care. And will hold all those accountable.

As Paul says shall we keep sinning so that grace may increase? BY NO MEANS! There is no way that those who are in Christ will not also care for the creation, will not also hate sin personally and societally more and more even as they understand that sin increases Gods grace and therefore also the glory of the work of Christ on the cross.

We can find peace in his sovereignty and providence. For he is governing all thigs, upholding all things, and moving all things to their directed end even while not being the author of sin, and yet using evil for our Good. In this way God’s providence is inextricably linked to redemption and salvation. He is governing all things for the sake of those who have been chosen in Christ. This is a great comfort.

And its not like this was written by a man that was never faced by these questions. The person who penned this article was constantly in danger of his own Life. He had to visit his own congregation in the secrecy of darkness and was always wondering about safety. Yet this article gives not a hint of frustration on his part with the uncertainty of each day. He was perfectly safe in the hands of his gracious, wise, and sovereign God and Father.  Even with all the powers of evil and temptation arranged against him.

I hope you see how this helps you to live as a believer in the midst of this world filled with evil, and pain, and suffering, and darkness. This doctrine gives you a reason to face every day trusting that God is doing something through it all. That he is at work, that he is near. He is present.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust Him for His grace;

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,

Unfolding every hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste,

But sweet will be the flow’r.