What Is Providence?

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion… according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Peter 1:1–2).  

- 1 Peter 1:1–2

Joseph’s life is among the clearest examples of how God providentially works out His plan in history, and it provides us with a good opportunity to examine the doctrine of providence more carefully. Therefore, before we see it worked out fully in Joseph’s life, we will now take a break from Genesis to study the doctrine of providence using The Providence of God, a teaching series by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

For centuries the idea that the universe is a closed, mechanical system has dominated Western thinking. Both science and popular culture largely assume the universe exists “in a box” and is not subject to influence from something or someone outside of this box. Happenings within it result from chains of cause and effect that are ultimately initiated by spontaneous events within the box.

Some atheists belittle anyone who believes there is something “outside the box.” Yet their view is something of an anomaly, historically speaking. Whether or not the author was a Christian, the writings of philosophers, scientists, theologians, artists, and so on from ages past are filled with references to something guiding everyday life. That is, they repeatedly mention the idea of providence.

If we analyze the term providence etymologically, we find the Latin words for “before” (pro) and “see” (vide). In its most basic sense, God’s providence refers to His seeing something beforehand. This is not just a reference to time, although our Creator does indeed see the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:8–10). The Almighty’s seeing of something before it happens does not result simply from Him looking “down the corridors of time.” He knows the future because He has ordained it, even the precise number of our days (Ps. 39:4). The Lord’s providence also refers to space. Everything is before God’s eyes at all times. Nothing can escape His vision (139:7–12).

This truth is a great comfort for the believer. Jesus tells us we are of more value than the sparrow, which never escapes the Lord’s sight (Matt. 10:28–31). Ultimately, divine providence reminds us that there is a God in heaven who not only knows our sins, He also knows and cares about all of our joys, tears, aches, and fears.

Coram Deo

Even we who believe in God can sometimes be guilty of living our lives as if He did not exist. How often do we drive around town, work at the office, dig in our gardens, read a book, prepare our food, and so on without thinking that our Lord is watching and sustaining us? As you go about your business this week, endeavor to keep yourself aware of the Lord’s presence no matter what you are doing. Remember that He loves you and is working through you.

Passages for Further Study

Ps. 94:18–19
Jer. 23:23–24
Zech. 10:1–3
Luke 12:22–34

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