The Providence of God
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”- Genesis 50:20
Divine providence, though it was once spoken of reverently by people throughout Western culture, is today but an afterthought for the vast majority of people both inside and outside the church. Our society is dominated by naturalistic materialism; we are conditioned to think that we can explain everything by reference to fixed causes within a closed universe that is not subject to divine intervention. Though believers confess faith in a Creator who continues to work in His creation, we often end up living as practical atheists, failing to recognize the Lord’s continual guidance and control of everything that happens. Scripture, however, cautions us never to ignore God’s providential ordering of His creation. Biblically speaking, providence refers to several different activities of our Creator in this world. First, there is the sustaining providence of the Lord. God did not just create the universe and then walk away, leaving it to depend on itself for its own existence. Instead, the Lord continues to sustain all of creation. As we noted a few days ago, if our Creator were not actively sustaining that which He has created, it would simply cease to exist. God, through His Son and by His Spirit, upholds the world by “the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). That is the only reason why everything continues to exist. Providence also refers to divine concurrence, which is the Lord’s working in and through His creation and His creatures to bring about what He has planned. Concurrence affirms that in all of our activities, God is working at the same time we are working. We may not have the same intent, but the Lord is acting through our actions and intentions to fulfill His plan for creation. Perhaps the clearest example of this is the story of Joseph, at the end of which we read that what Joseph’s brothers meant for evil, God meant for good (Gen. 50:20). Joseph’s brothers did not sell Joseph into slavery apart from the decree of the Lord. In fact, God’s decree established that they would sell him into slavery and that the Lord would work through this decision to save many people. God’s working in the situation was pure, for although the selling of Joseph into slavery was an evil, our Creator had a righteous intent in permitting it. Joseph’s brothers truly intended to do him harm, and God let them do that so that He could put Joseph in a place to save the world from a horrible famine. Thus, we derive great comfort from God’s providence. Because the Lord ordains whatsoever comes to pass, we can be sure that He is always working—even in the midst of evil—to bring about a marvelous good (Rom. 8:28).
Only if God ordains all things can we be confident that He is working all things together for our good. Because even evil is a part of the Lord’s plan, we know that there is a reason for every bad thing that happens to us, even if we do not learn the reason on this side of heaven. God is not the author of sin; that is, He is not morally responsible for it. But He uses sin and all other things to bring about our good and His ultimate glory.
Passages for Further Study