Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Providence of God
Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive,’” Genesis 50:1-20NKJ
Question 18 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the works of providence?” It gives the answer, “God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to his own glory.” Last week we examined how God created His chief creature on earth, man. This week we will look at how God governs, sustains, and rules over all of His creatures.
God’s works of providence are different from His works of creation, in that the former works never end, but continue as long as the creature continues. God is not the god of Deism, who winds up all of creation like a clock, and then lets it run out as it will. The moment God finished creating, He began to powerfully preserve, govern, and order, “all his creatures … and all their actions.” Jesus referred to God’s incessant works of providence when He justified His own “working” on the Sabbath, before the Jews who were persecuting Him: “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father has been working until now, and I have been working,’” (John 5:17). In other words there is a sense in which God is always working. If God were to totally “rest” for even one moment, the entire creation would blink out of existence! For “in Him [Christ] all things hold together,” (Col. 1:17). Creation has no power to exist apart from God’s continuing works of providence towards it. Thus, Christ “upholds all things by the word of His power,” (Heb. 1:3).
All of God’s creatures and all of their actions are ordered by God. Jesus exhorted His disciples to fearlessly follow God based on this principle: “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows,” (Matt. 10:29-31). Not even a single hair of our heads can be disturbed in any way that is outside of God’s plan for all things. And the best part of this doctrine of providence is that the God who is in total control of all things, does everything for His own glory! “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps,” (Ps. 135:6).
God’s providence is especially over the decisions and actions of men. If this were not true, then about 99% of everything in your life would be outside of God’s power! For everything from your health, to your job, to your access to clean water and nutritious food, to whether the world is at war or peace, and a million other things are all determined by the decisions of men. The Bible affirms, of even the most powerful men, that all they do is by the providence of God: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will, (Prov. 21:1). Perhaps the most powerful King who ever lived declared of God (after he had been humbled by Him), “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35).
All of the most precious promises of Scripture depend upon God’s providence: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” (Rom. 8:28). The only way this verse can be true is if God rules over all things! Since God is good, His absolute rule over all things is always good, wise, holy, and just, and for His glory and our good. As the verse at the head of this article declares, the patriarch Joseph understood the providence of God. Upon the death of their father Jacob, when Joseph’s brothers feared that he would use his great power and position to take vengeance on them, he allayed their fears by professing his belief in God’s all-encompassing providence: “you meant evil … but God meant it for good.” Joseph believed that God, by His great power, ruled over all of the wicked actions of his brothers, in order to bring glory to His name and blessing to His people. Joseph humbly submitted to God’s providence in His life, knowing that it was the best thing for him … and that was what made all the difference!