In our greatest trials we are comforted when we remember that our Father in heaven has all creatures in His hand. Indeed, without His will they cannot so much as move. Our Father has planned everything that happens to us in this life. Even when He sends evils upon us, we know that it is in His love for us. Believing this, we remain patient in trying times, looking to Him with confidence for all that we need.
God’s providence refers to His everywhere-present power by which He upholds and governs all creatures, so that every event takes place precisely as He determined that it would. God is the sovereign ruler over all. He always accomplishes His purpose, directing all things to His glory, for the good of His people.
Determining and directing
Before the foundation of the world, our God determined every event that will occur. God’s counsel refers to the good pleasure of His will according to which He decreed all that will happen in time.
Every event was eternally determined by God and also directed by His hand. The same God who created by His word is continuing to govern all things. He performs what He decreed. This was true in the beginning when He created all things, and it continues to be true throughout history. Always it is His counsel that stands and the counsel of the ungodly that comes to nothing (Ps. 33:6-11).
Shortly after the resurrection, a group of praying saints praised God and said that they now understood that those who crucified Christ did “…whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:28). They understood that God determined the cross, and that He directed it by His hand. Yet, it is not just the crucifixion, but every single event that is determined and directed by our God.
Few believe this. Many deny that there is a God who is governing the creation. Of those who profess faith in God by far the majority speak of luck and entertain the notion that many things happen by chance.
It is not uncommon to find someone who thinks like the Philistines of old. When the Philistines were plagued, they concluded that Israel’s God might have sent the plague. But they also thought that it might have happened by “chance” (I Sam. 6:9). This same thinking is common among professing Christians. When something they view to be very bad or especially good happens to them, they may wonder whether God was involved. But normally they do not think of God having anything to do with the common occurrences of the day.
Scripture, however, is very clear that all events down to the smallest detail are determined and directed by the Almighty. He is the One who…
- Does all His pleasure (Is 46:10).
- Works all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11).
- Does as He pleases in the heavens, the earth, the seas, and all deep places (Ps. 135:6).
These verses teach that God not only could do as He pleases, but that He actually does as He pleases. He directs all things so that His purpose is always accomplished.
Providence and specific events
That God is doing this is, of course, invisible to the eye of man. When a man casts the lot or throws the dice, the outcome appears to be subject to chance. But God says that He is the one who determined what the result would be: “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Prov. 16:33).
When two people cross paths who did not intend to meet, it is commonly thought that this happened by chance. If the will of neither of the individuals was involved, it is thought that no one willed it. Yet we know from Scripture that God willed it. He was the One who had determined that these two people would meet. A believing husband and wife often think of this. Looking back at how they met, they give thanks to God for bringing them together.
By our God’s providence we experience many joys, but also sorrows. Occasionally, something happens that we dread, such as when a believer unintentionally harms or kills a person, say in a car crash. Though obviously the child of God did not desire it to happen, Scripture says that God willed it. Scripture specifically refers to such an event: “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee” (Ex. 21:12- 13). God appointed cities of refuge to which saints were to flee if they had killed someone unintentionally. Here we take note of the fact that when something like this happened, it was because God determined and directed it. The person who died is said to have been “delivered” into the hand of the one who unintentionally killed him. It is a comfort to us in such extremely difficult trials to remember that what took place was something that our Lord willed.
Miracles and the laws of nature
If you drop an apple and it falls to the ground, was that event directed by God? Or was it directed by the laws of nature? Or are both true?
Some may admit that God created all things, yet still insist that the movement of creatures is sustained and directed by some energy or laws that were infused into the creation at the beginning. Man in his pride looks at the movement of non-living creatures and declares that they move without God directing them, being governed by laws that operate without God’s involvement.
Scripture, however, speaks differently. The wind appears to blow with no one directing it, yet God is the One who commands and raises the stormy winds. Then, at His word, those winds become calm again: “For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof…. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still” (Ps. 107:25-29).
Repeatedly, we read that God by His word is causing the movement of the creatures that man thinks are moving only due to what is called gravity: “Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place” (Job 38:12).
When the sun’s shadow went backward ten degrees in the days of Hezekiah, it was very clear that God did that. But every moment the sun is moving at God’s command. Such miracles briefly manifested this ongoing invisible reality: all creatures are moving as directed by the sovereign hand of our God.
Though the miracles ceased when the Scriptures were completed, the reality they signified continues. Those today who seek “miracles” fail to recognize God’s hand in all the events that are taking place. Believing that our Father is governing all things, we are comforted knowing that all creatures are in His hand.
Applying this doctrine
Believing this doctrine of providence we continue to show concern for safety, for eating healthy, and more. We do not say: “Well, seeing as God has determined and is directing all things, and if I’m going to get sick or injured there is no way for me to avoid it, I might as well take no thought about health and safety.” We do not say this, for we understand that God has appointed means for us to use to promote health and safety, and that we are called not to reject but to make good use of these means out of a concern for ourselves and a love for our neighbor.
Believing what God says about His providence, we also continue to make plans for the future. Yet we do so keeping in mind that what we plan will take place only if the Lord wills. We often say: “Lord willing,” when talking about what we intend to do. This manifests a God-glorifying belief in the doctrine of providence.
Another manifestation is our prayers. Why would we look to our God for bread unless we believed that He is the One who provides it? Why would we pray to Him for deliverance from evil unless we believed that He is the One who sovereignly controls it? As we bow before our Father in prayer, we think on His providence. Remaining patient in adversity and thankful in prosperity, we go to Him to express our thanks and to bring our petitions. Praising and relying on Him, we have peace and joy as we go through each day, conscious of His fatherly hand lovingly directing us and all His people.