“Providence” is a theological term describing God’s ruling and governing of His creation. “Meticulous” providence depicts God as ordering and directing everything—every detail in the universe. In Ephesians 1:11 we are told that God “works all things according to the counsel of His will.” And consider the words of Romans 11:36: “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (emphasis added in each case).
What relationship does God have to the good things that happen? What about the multitudes of seemingly insignificant things? What about disasters, or tragic events? What about sin? Does the Bible portray God merely as an all-knowing and all powerful responder to otherwise natural or human events? Or is He shown to be the sovereign Designer of all things?
Every Good Thing
Though Paul instructed the Philippians to work out their own salvation, He assured them of God’s providence when he added that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). Though we “press toward the goal” of perfection as Paul did (Phil. 3:14), we understand that it is God who has begun and will complete the good work in us (Phil. 1:6;). We are not passive, but our efforts are the work of God’s providence from beginning to end.
“Insignificant,” or “Natural” Occurrences
In teaching His followers not to be fearful about persecution or death, Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matt. 10:29). Notice that Jesus did not say, “apart from your Father’s knowledge.” He was not merely saying that God knows when a sparrow falls. He was saying that even something as seemingly insignificant as the death of a sparrow is according to God’s decree and purpose. Also, consider how common it is to see animals searching for their own food. Is God involved even in this? The Bible tells us that He is—that every creature receives its food from Him (Ps. 104:27-28; 145:15-16; 147:9). Remember that it is God who “gives to all life, breath, and all things (Acts 17:25).
Destructive or Tragic Events
When a pilot loses control of an airplane and hundreds of people are killed, are we supposed to believe such a tragic accident happened according to the counsel of God’s will? When an earthquake kills thousands of people, is it really appropriate to say that it happened according to God’s purpose? What about destructive storms? What about devastating droughts that bring famine? Aren’t these events just “accidents” or “natural occurrences”?
To answer these questions biblically, consider the following passages: “I am the Lord, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things” (Is. 45:6-7). “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed?” (Lam. 3:37-38). “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth. He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; He makes lightening for the rain; He brings the wind out of His treasuries” (Psalm 135:6-7). “Moreover, He called for a famine in the land; He destroyed all the provision of bread” (Psalm 105:16).
Clearly, in each of these passages, God is not merely shown to be the One who responds to tragedies and brings good out of them. He is the One who causes them to occur, all for His own purpose. And this should bring great comfort, because no matter what (or who) we see as their ultimate cause, tragedies do happen. How much better to understand that even in our greatest losses and most unbearable pain, God has a good purpose.
Preview of part 2: If God really works everything according to the counsel of His will, does this mean that even sinful actions are according to His decree and purpose? If this is the case, how can men be held responsible for their actions? And if God uses sinful behavior to accomplish His purpose, How can He be morally blameless? In the next insert, we will address this difficult issue. We will also discuss the benefits of God’s providence for Christians, and the ultimate design of God’s providence—to glorify Himself.