Having considered God’s act of creating all things, we move on to the subject of providence. We are comforted knowing that the God who created all things has not forsaken His creatures, but continues to care for all that He has made. The Almighty King, who is also our faithful Father, continues to govern His creatures according to His will, directing all things to His glory and for our good. This ongoing activity of our God is what we refer to as His providence.
The English term “providence” is used in more than one sense. The term has the literal meaning of “foresight.” A man praised for his providence is commended for looking ahead and providing or preparing for the future. In theology, however, the term is used for God’s act of determining all that will happen and constantly directing all His creatures, upholding and governing them according to His will.
As one might expect, this subject is rather broad. Lord willing, the following will be treated in separate articles:
- The Creator upholds His creation, caring for all the living creatures and blessing specifically His people in Christ.
- God, before the foundation of the world, determined all that will happen in time, and He constantly directs all things to accomplish His goal.
- God not only permits evils but sends them, and He does so with a positive purpose.
- God is governing all things by Jesus Christ, who is sitting at His right hand executing His counsel.
We begin by considering the Creator’s ongoing care for us and all His creatures.
Caring for the animals
That God upholds all things means, in the first place, that He causes them to continue to exist. God created all things by speaking His word, and He continues to uphold all things by the word of His power.
In the second place, that God upholds all things means that He provides His living creatures with what they need to continue to live. He provides food not only for man but also for the animals.
The vast multitude of animals all need to be fed each day, and Jehovah God is the One who feeds them. Our Lord tells us this repeatedly. He implies this in His question to Job: “Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God.” (Job 38:41a).
God desired Job to think about the answer to this question. We do well to think about the answer ourselves. Day after day it is the Almighty Creator who is continuing to provide all His living creatures with the food that they need.
The animals are fed by Him, and they look to Him for their food. That is what the Scriptures say in more than one place. We sing of this in the psalms: “The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God” (Ps. 104:21). The lions, God says, seek their meat from Him. We confess this again when singing another psalm: “The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:14-16). The same idea is expressed in yet another psalm: “These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good” (Ps. 104:27-28).
God would impress upon us the fact that He who made this world and is transcendent above it is also in this world providing for His creatures. Everywhere present is the living God, caring for the multitude of creatures He has made.
Giving the ungodly what they need to live
God gives food to the animals and also to human beings. He gives food even to the ungodly who blaspheme His name. The Creator is the one who “giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). For as long as He wills that an unbeliever’s bodily life continue, God will continue to give him the food and breath that he needs.
The unbeliever should thank God for the good things that God gives him, but he refuses to do so. The prophet Daniel rebuked the wicked king of Babylon for praising his false gods and refusing to praise the God who was granting him the very breath he needed to live: “Thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified” (Dan. 5:23b). The unbeliever receives many good things from God and yet refuses to glorify Him. For that he is and will be justly punished.
Receiving these things in unbelief, the ungodly man does not profit from what he receives. He receives the material things, but he does not receive the word of God’s blessing that is necessary truly to profit from them.
God’s blessing is necessary to profit from the material things we receive. We believers recognize this and ask our heavenly Father to bless our food each day. The unthankful unbeliever, however, does not make this request. As a just judgment of God, his food is not blessed. Though he may have plenty to fill his body, he does not receive the gracious word of God’s blessing and remains unsatisfied in his soul.
Providing for us in both body and soul
Though God gives food and drink to all human beings, it is specifically His elect people whom He graciously upholds.
Note how the following verse speaks of God upholding only His people in Christ: “For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the Lord upholdeth the righteous” (Ps. 37:17). This same idea is found in the prophets: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Is. 41:10).
Unlike the unbelievers, we who trust in God have a twofold life, a bodily life and a spiritual life.1 Having a twofold life, we require a twofold food: material food for our body and spiritual food (that is, God’s Word) for our soul. Our Father in heaven provides us with both, blessing our daily bread that He provides for us and granting us spiritual nourishment and strength for our soul.
In Scripture, God points us to His care for the animals and then assures us that He cares also and especially for us, His people. Life and everything we need to continue to live comes to us from our God. It is our Father in heaven who gave us life (our bodily life and our spiritual life), and all that we need continues to come to us from Him. There is nothing that we need that we can provide for ourselves. Every moment of every day His invisible hand is upholding us.
God cares for His creatures, and we His people are His creatures. Our Lord refers to Himself as the Creator of His people: “I am the Lord, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King” (Is. 43:15). He has also caused us to be new creatures in Christ: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (II Cor. 5:17). “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Eph. 2:10a).
Having created us in Christ, He continues to provide us with all that we need. Though we sometimes doubt this, He is providing us what we need even during times of adversity. The truth of God’s providence gives us great comfort in such trials.
Cared for in the midst of dangers
We enjoy great comfort and peace when we meditate on the truth of God’s providence, though we are aware that we are surrounded with dangers on every side. In a moment we could be hit by a car, could fall from a great height, be killed by a violent storm, or taken down by a deadly disease. Our fields may be destroyed by a flood, or our possessions stolen by an intruder. Yet we have comfort and peace in the midst of these dangers, knowing that our Father in heaven is in control of all of these things. We have no doubt that He will continue to care for us, averting the evil or turning it to our profit.
When meditating on God’s providence, we are not overwhelmed with fear and anxiety about what may happen. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil. God is with us, just as He promised that He would be. We have no doubt that He will care for us. He who loves us and sent His Son to die for us, will certainly remain with us, upholding us each day and granting us all we need.
1 The unbelievers have no spiritual life. Their spiritual heart is dead.