Coming to Grips With God’s Providence
Psalm 115, Genesis 50:20
Do all things really work together for good? A man and a woman meet at Bible College, fall in love and get married. Called to the mission field, they serve the Lord in a remote stretch of the Amazon River in northeastern Peru. While on a routine flight back to their houseboat, the Peruvian Air Force mistakes them for drug smugglers and shoots their plane out of the sky. One bullet rips through the mother and into the head of their baby daughter who was sitting in her lap. Both are killed instantly.
Why? Why? Why do these things happen? Why do they happen to good people, decent people, Christian people?
1. Providence Defined
There is a doctrine that helps us understand. If it does not answer every question, at least it provides the only possible foundation for understanding. Word “providence” has 2 parts - “pro” and “video” - put together, literally meaning “to see before.”
The word is not found in most modern translations of the Bible, but the concept is certainly biblical. Refers to “God’s gracious oversight of the universe.” Every one of those words is important. God’s providence is one aspect of his grace. Oversight means that he directs the course of affairs. Universe tells us that God not only knows the big picture, he also concerns himself with the tiniest details. 5 statements unfold the meaning of God’s providence in more detail -
He upholds all things. He governs all events.
He directs everything to its appointed end.
He does this all the time and in every circumstance.
He does it always for His own glory.
Teaches us several important truths:
A. God cares about the tiniest details of life. Nothing escapes his notice for he is concerned about the small as well as the big. With God there is no big or small. He knows when a sparrow falls and he numbers the hairs on your head. He keeps track of the stars in the skies and the rivers that flow to the oceans. He sets the day of your birth, the day of your death and he ordains everything that comes to pass in between.
B. He uses everything and wastes nothing. There are no accidents with God, only incidents. This includes events that seem to us to be senseless tragedies.
C. God’s ultimate purpose is to shape us into the image of Jesus Christ. He often uses difficult moments and human tragedies to accomplish that purpose. Many verses teach these truths - Acts 17: 28 “in him we live and move and have our being”, Colossians 1: 17 “in him all things hold together”, Hebrews 1: 3 “sustaining all things by his powerful word”, Proverbs 16: 9 “in his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”, Psalm 115: 3 “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him”.
The doctrine of God’s providence is really a combination of 4 other attributes: Sovereignty—He is in control. Predestination—He is in charge of how everything turns out. Wisdom—He makes no mistakes. Goodness—He has our best interests at heart.
He is in charge of: what happens - when it happens - how it happens - why it happens - even what happens after it happens.
This is true of: all events - in every place - from the beginning of time. He does this for our good and his glory. He is not the author of sin, yet evil serves his purposes. He does not violate our free will, yet free will serves his purposes.
We’re not supposed to understand all this. We’re simply supposed to believe it. I hope that clears up any misunderstanding!
2. Providence Illustrated - Joseph
Joseph was the favoured son of his father Jacob - he was envied by his brothers. They sold him into slavery to the Midianites who were passing by. They then splashed his “coat of many colours” with the blood of a goat to make it appear that he had been killed by a wild animal. They showed the coat to Jacob, who believed their lie and concluded that Joseph was dead.
Joseph was taken to Egypt by the Midianites. He was sold again, this time to Potiphar, head of Pharaoh’s security force. Joseph gained favour with Potiphar because the Lord was with Joseph to bless him. Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household, which included the land, the property and oversight of the other slaves. Because he was competent, confident and good-looking, Potiphar’s wife approached him about having a sexual affair. Joseph refused - he could not betray Potiphar and he would not sin against God. The woman persisted, one day when everyone else was gone, she tried to pull him down on her bed. Joseph fled, leaving his cloak behind. The woman was humiliated and accused him of rape. It was a false charge, but Potiphar believed his wife and had Joseph thrown in prison.
A. From Prison to the Palace
In prison Joseph prospered and gained the respect of his fellow prisoners and of the guards. The Lord was with him to bless him. The cupbearer and the baker were thrown in the same prison and Joseph befriended them. They both had dreams they could not interpret. Joseph was able to interpret them with the Lord’s help. The dreams came true - the baker was hung but the cupbearer was released.
2 years passed and Pharaoh had a dream that he could not interpret. The cupbearer remembered Joseph’s amazing ability and told Pharaoh who ordered Joseph brought before him. Joseph correctly interpreted his dream and was rewarded by Pharaoh, who made him the Prime Minister of Egypt. Not bad for a Hebrew slave who had been sold into slavery by his brothers!
A famine affected the Near East. Jacob told his sons to go to Egypt and buy some grain. In the process meet Joseph - but they don’t know it’s Joseph. Then Joseph reveals his true identity. They are shocked and then scared because they betrayed him and now he is in a position to get even. But Joseph doesn’t do that. In fact, he stuns them with these words: Genesis 45: 5 – 8a
B. The Pharaoh Meets Jacob
The brothers go back to Canaan and tell their aged father that Joseph is still alive. He can’t believe it but eventually they convince him to come to Egypt. He is reunited with the son he had given up for dead many years ago. Then he meets the Pharaoh who offers to let Joseph’s family settle in Egypt for as long as they like. Here they live in peace for many years. Jacob dies at the age of 147. Now it’s just Joseph and his brothers. They fear that Joseph will now take revenge on them. So they tell Joseph, “Oh, by the way, before Dad died he told us to tell you to treat us kindly.” It sounds like just one more deception to cover their guilt. Listen to Joseph’s response. These are the words of a man who believes in the providence of God: Genesis 50: 19, 20
KJV - “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Both sides are true. “You meant it for evil"—what the brothers had done was indeed evil and Joseph doesn’t sugarcoat the truth. They are 100% responsible for their sin. “God meant it for good"—this doesn’t mean that evil isn’t evil. It just means that God is able to take the evil actions of sinful men and use them to accomplish his plans. Joseph saw the “invisible hand” of God at work in his life. He understood that behind his conniving brothers stood the Lord God who had orchestrated the entire affair to get him to just the right place at just the right moment to save his whole family.
C. At Just the Right Moment
Joseph says, “Though your motives were bad, God’s motives were good.” Though it took years for God’s purposes to be clear, in the end Joseph saw the hand of God behind everything that had happened to him. At just the right moment his brothers threw him into the cistern - the Midianites came along - he was sold to Potiphar - Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him - he met the baker and the cupbearer - the cupbearer remembered Joseph - Pharaoh called for him - he was promoted to Prime Minister - Jacob sent his sons to Egypt - the brothers met Joseph - Jacob’s family moved to Egypt - Pharaoh offered them the land of Goshen - they settled there and prospered.
All of this happened at “just the right moment” and “just the right way” so that the right people would be in the right place so that in the end everything would come out the way God had ordained in the beginning. God never violated anyone’s free will, yet everything happened as he had planned. That’s the providence of God in action.
Romans 8: 28 “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”
3. Some Implications of God’s Providence
A. Providence frees us from bitterness.
If ever any man had the right to get even it was Joseph. We get bitter because we doubt God’s goodness and don’t see his invisible hand at work in our lives. We think God isn’t involved in our situation - that’s why we get angry and try to get even. If you really believe God is at work in your situation, you can just stand back and let God do whatever he wants to do.
B. Providence gives us a new perspective on our tragedies.
God is involved with us even in the worst moments of life. I believe that in the great issues of life we will generally not have an answer to the question “Why did this happen to me?” We won’t know why our mate got sick or why we lost our life savings or why God didn’t intervene when we were being sexually abused. Most of the time we are left to wonder why these things happen. But it is at this point that God’s providence is so crucial. It doesn’t tell us everything we would like to know about the mysteries of life, but it does assure us that God is there and that he cares for us. He is somehow involved even in our darkest moments in a way we cannot see—and probably wouldn’t understand even if we could see it.
Because of God’s providence we can keep believing in God even in the face of many unanswered questions. He can bear the burden of all our unanswered questions.
C. Providence gives us courage to keep going in hard times.
Because God is there, we know that he cares for us, even when life is tumbling in all around us. “Life is hard but God is good.” Psalm 115: 3 “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” That’s what God’s providence does for us. It doesn’t answer every question, it doesn’t make our problems go away, and it doesn’t give us an easy road. But it does tell us that there is a pattern to the seemingly random events of life and that God is designing something beautiful out of that which now seems to be only a chaos of clashing colours. Life is hard—make no mistake about that, but God is good. Both those statements are true all the time for all of God’s children.
D. Providence forces us to make a choice by faith.
The older I get the more I understand that faith is a choice, not a feeling. Many times we won’t feel like believing in God. But faith is a personal choice we make to believe that God is good and that he can be trusted in every situation. Faith rises above feelings to choose to believe even when our circumstances are against it.
E. Providence helps us understand why Jesus died.
Acts 2: 23 “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” There you have both sides of the truth. Jesus died “by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” That tells us that the Cross was not an accident or some afterthought in God’s plan. But who crucified him? Peter is preaching to the men who participated in that evil deed. “You, with the help of wicked men, put him to death.” His death was no accident. God foreordained it from the foundation of the world. Yet the men who crucified him were guilty of the most heinous crime in human history. They were morally guilty, but what happened to Jesus happened because of God’s divine plan. God’s providence leads us to Jesus and Jesus leads us back to the Cross.
“He Maketh No Mistake.”
My Father’s way may twist and turn, My heart may throb and ache
But in my soul I’m glad I know, He maketh no mistake.
My cherished plans may go astray, My hopes may fade away,
But still I’ll trust my Lord to lead For He doth know the way.
Tho’ night be dark and it may seem That day will never break,
I’ll pin my faith, my all in Him, He maketh no mistake.
There’s so much now I cannot see, My eyesight’s far too dim;
But come what may, I’ll simply trust And leave it all to Him.
For by and by the mist will lift And plain it all He’ll make,
Through all the way, tho’ dark to me, He made not one mistake.
In the end that will be the testimony of every child of God. Until that morning comes and the sunlight of God’s presence fills our faces, we move on through the twilight still believing that though life is hard, God is good. When we finally get to heaven, we’ll look back over the pathway of life and see that through all the twists and turns and seeming detours that “He made not one mistake.”