By Your Providence

Sunset

God’s providence is something that many people take for granted, yet do not have a definitive way to explain it. We often resort to a “who knows” approach in trying to explain providence, citing the example of Mordecai as he spoke to Esther about her position as Queen: “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

If we are going to talk about God’s providence, instead of taking a “who knows” approach, allowing anything and everything to be attributed to God, we should endeavor to speak where the Bible speaks. What does the Bible say about providence?

The word providence is used only one time in the Bible. Furthermore, it is used in reference to a human governor, rather than of God. Does this mean that there is no such thing as divine providence? No. But if we examine the way this word is used, it will help explain what God’s providence is.

After Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor, ‘Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation, we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness’” (Acts 24:2-3).

On this occasion, Tertullus praised Felix for certain things that were being done under his jurisdiction. By his providence reforms were being carried out (“very worthy deeds are done” – KJV). Was Felix physically and personally doing these worthy deeds? No, others were carrying out these reforms. But it was by his providence.

How does this happen? Any government official, whether we are referring to Felix or the President of our country, will use others to do their work. If a war is to be fought, the President will have his generals and soldiers fight it. If a road project is to be done, a crew of construction workers will complete it. If he signs a piece of legislation into law, law enforcement officers and various government agencies will enforce it. The leader of the government will take credit for these things as he is the one ultimately behind them. But he did not do these works directly and personally. He did they by providence – giving instructions (explaining what he wants to have done), providing resources (whatever is necessary to complete the work), and offering incentives (compensation for the workers to motivate them to carry out their task).

One of the greatest examples of God’s providence in the Bible is the story of Joseph. While we should note that direct divine revelation is involved, we are able to see God’s providence working much like the providence of Felix would work. God gave instructions (the dreams to Pharaoh with Joseph’s interpretation), resources (the seven years of plenty), and incentives (preserving the people of Egypt and saving the children of Israel).

God at one time worked miraculously and directly with mankind. He no longer does this today. It is by providence that His work continues. We have a part to play in this. Paul said, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). The way Felix would accomplish things through providence is how God is able to accomplish things today.

God Has Given Instructions – It is God’s intention that Christians engage in “good works” (Ephesians 2:10). What are good works? They have been defined for us in Scripture: “All Scripture is inspired by God… so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In His word, we learn of the earthly responsibilities we have. We also find what we are to do in our spiritual service to God and how we are to do it.

God Has Provided Resources – Not only has God given instructions, but He has also provided the resources we need to carry out those instructions. For our survival here on the Earth, God has provided everything we need in His creation (Genesis 1:11; Acts 14:17). For our spiritual survival, He has given us everything we need in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), including His word (2 Peter 1:3; Acts 20:32), the avenue of prayer (Philippians 4:6-7), our fellow Christians (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and the local church (Hebrews 10:24-25).

God Has Offered Incentives – Just as our physical work is rewarded, our work for God is also rewarded (Matthew 25:21). We have been given the incentive of escaping the terrible fate of punishment for sin (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 10:31), while also being offered the hope of eternal life (1 Peter 1:3-4).

On any topic relating to spiritual things, instead of letting our speculation run wild, we must speak according to what we find in the word of God (1 Peter 4:11). If we are going to talk about providence, we should not classify it as something mysterious and undefinable, or else we should simply quit talking about it. Instead, we can show what God, through His providence, has provided for us – instructions, resources, and incentives. Then we should be busy using these things to do His work and carry out the responsibilities we have in this life.


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Comments

  1. Alan LaRue says

    Are you suggesting here that God’s providence is limited to the things He has already provided in times past, things like the Word, and also the weather and the fact that food grows, and that our bodies are capable of fighting disease? It would seem that it is your intention here to say that is the limit to His involvement.

    Usually, when people talk of God’s providence, they’re talking about Him actively providing things which we need: Answering a prayer for healing, not by miracle, but by causing something to happen naturally. Or answering a prayer for rain by causing some weather pattern to change in some fashion that the rain will fall when otherwise it wouldn’t have. These actions would fall under the definition of providence, just as would the President ordering some action, or Congress funding some agency.

    You hint that, perhaps, He does work this way, when you allude to the seven years of plenty in Joseph’s time, yet your paragraph on “Resources” implies that the work of providing has already been completed.

    So the question is, do you believe that God is active in managing our world today? And if not, what is the purpose of prayer, other than to ask for forgiveness and to express thankfulness?

    Thanks for your time.

    -Alan

  2. Alan, thanks for the question.

    You’re right. When brethren typically speak about providence, they are talking about some behind the scenes, yet direct, involvement from God. Any talk about providence then becomes mere speculation and uncertainty based upon the premise that God is somehow directly involved in the manipulating of certain events, conditions, or situations still today.

    The purpose of this article was to show what we can know about God’s providence. What has God provided? (Provide is the root of providence.) He has given instructions so that we might know what to do in any given situation. He has provided resources, supplying us with everything we need to serve Him and carry out our responsibilities in this life. And He has given us incentives through the blessings of doing right and the ultimate reward of heaven. These things we know. Yet when brethren speak of providence, they often want to speculate on any number of things.

    Regarding prayer, there are many reasons why we pray. You mentioned two – asking for forgiveness and expressing thankfulness. We pray because we are told to pray. We pray that we might obtain the peace of God (Philippians 4:6-7). We also pray in order to help mold our will to God’s (Matthew 6:10). After all, any requests that might be granted are those that are according to His will (1 John 5:14-15), for His will will be done in all things.

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