God the Father is our Creator. The world in which we live was designed and put together by a God who is not only almighty but also good and faithful. But our God did not stop there. He also upholds and governs it with his counsel and providence, said the catechism in LD 9. He keeps the world from falling apart and ensures that things happen the right way.
In LD 10 we focus on this idea. What do you understand by the providence of God? Our first thought might be how God provides us with food and shelter and all things we need for everyday life. But the catechism wants us to have a more complete picture of God’s providence. How he is involved in all circumstances of our life. So that we can learn to know, love, and trust him more.
In good times and bad times —
1. We’re in the Father’s hand
2. We have the Father’s love
3. We trust the Father’s plan
We’re in the Father’s hand
We use the word “hand” figuratively to express influence and control. When you “handle” something, you exercise influence. You can have “a hand” in something; that means that you helped it happen. You can have things “in hand”; that means you are in control.
Do you have your life in hand? We have some influence in our life, but we quickly find out: many things are outside our control. During a drought, a farmer cannot be blamed for the poor harvest. It would be unfair to fail a student because he was sick during an exam. On the other hand, it would be silly for a wedding photographer to take credit for the sunny day.
There are many good and bad circumstances beyond our control. Weather, earthquakes, lightning strikes, epidemics, coincidences that may be “lucky” or “unlucky”. Even when we have some measure of control, we often cannot foresee the outcome of our actions. That raises the question: Who or what is in control?
The Christian answer is: God the Father, who created heaven and earth and all creatures, is still very much in control. He upholds and governs them. “Upholding” means that God ensures that things continue to exist. “Governing” means that he ensure that things happen according to his will.
Some people say that God does this work indirectly, simply by allowing the “laws of nature” to do their work in the course of time. But the catechism insists that God’s involvement is much more than that. It is personal and direct. As with his hand. God not only left his fingerprints in the creation of this world, but has his hand in the continued existence of every single thing he made.
We can work out this metaphor of God’s “hand” of providence in more detail. Church father Irenaeus said that the Father works in the world using “two hands”: his Word (or the Son) and his Wisdom (or the Spirit). Like creation, providence is the initiative of God the Father, performed through the Son, completed in the Holy Spirit.
Our Triune God is completely, personally involved in everything that happens in the world. The catechism defines this providence as God’s almighty and ever present power. Nothing escapes his attention or control. Nothing happens without his knowledge or permission. Jesus said: “not one [sparrow] will fall to the ground apart from your Father[, and] even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Mat. 10:30f) The catechism, in q&a 28, concludes that all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot so much as move. Or, in the more modern language of R.C. Sproul, “there is not one rogue atom in the universe”.
Q&a 27 lists some things that come to us by God’s providence. The growth of plants. The weather needed to make them grow. Success in farming and other jobs. Food on the table. Your health. Your wealth. All these good things come from God. When we receive such prosperity, q&a 28 reminds us that we ought to be thankful to him. Not pretending that it is all our doing. Sure, a farmer may work very hard, but ultimately his work would be useless without God providing the rain, the sunshine, and the growth; as well as the farmer’s own ability to do the work. This principle applies to any work that we do and any success that we have.
But q&a 27 also lists negative things. Bad times instead of good times. Adversity instead of prosperity. Droughts. Hunger. A bad market. Disease. Poverty. God has a hand in these things as well. He said so himself: “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Is. 45:7)
Things happen not by chance, not by some uncaring cosmic lottery that just happens to give some people a good deal and others a bad deal. Nor are we the plaything of a whimsical deity, or of a bunch of gods and goddesses that are continually fighting with each other. And while it is true that there are evil powers at work in the world, their activity is well within God’s control. Think of the story of Job: Satan himself had to ask God’s permission to bring suffering and pain into Job’s life.
God has a hand even in the bad things. Even in your suffering and hurt and loss. That can be hard to accept. When God’s providence brings you pain, you may get angry or rebellious. You may cry out: “But why, God?!” In the Bible, Job did not understand why God allowed Satan to take away everything he had. Joseph did not understand why he had to be sold to Egypt and spend years in jail. We may never understand the reason for our suffering. There is no easy answer, and often there is no answer at all.
We have the Father’s love
Does it matter where the bad things come from? Does it matter that they come from God, rather than from evil powers or pure chance? Yes, because the God who is in control is the Father. That makes all the difference. In all the challenges we face, we can be sure of two things: the Father gives us these things in love; and he uses them to forward his magnificent plan.
All things in life, good and bad, come to us not by chance, but by his fatherly hand. They come from the father who knows what we need and what we can handle. In the words of Psalm 103:13f:
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
Even Christians fall into the trap of thinking that their suffering reflects God’s hatred of them, and that he is punishing them for their sin. But if you think that, you think too small of God’s love. Don’t look at yourself and your love for God, which is often weak and fickle. Rather, look at Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God the Father loves the Son—that fact is beyond doubt. And if we believe in the Son, Jesus Christ, then that love is also for us. The love of a perfect Father, who is always there for us.
The catechism points us there in q&a 28. We can have the firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love. Here we hear the echo of Romans 8:35ff:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers,
nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Not the worst disasters, not the most terrible circumstances, no disease or death itself can force a wedge between God and us, whom he loves because of Jesus Christ.
That is marvellous news! Let’s not take it for granted. Be thankful in prosperity, says the catechism, because that is when you experience directly the deep love of the father. But even when the bad times come, you should be aware of God’s love, even behind these things. And then you will find the strength to be patient in adversity. You don’t have to be thankful for the bad things; after all, suffering is not ultimately part of creation’s design, and while God controls even evil, he did not make it. But be patient; trust the goodness of the Father, even when he allows you to suffer for a while.
We trust the Father’s plan
When Job had lost his possessions, his children, and his health, he said: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10) Faith teaches us to acknowledge God’s providence even in bad times. But we can also have Christian hope: the certainty that in the end, the Lord will make all things right. That after all the bad times, the ultimate good time will come. The Bible describes this hope as follows (1 Pet. 5:10):
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
You see, God our Father has a plan of salvation that spans all of history. The heart of that plan is our Saviour Jesus Christ. God has provided him as the final answer to all that is bad in this world. God’s providing care for us is never separate from his salvation.
We live in a special time, the second-last stage of the plan, which the Bible calls “the latter days”. The Kingdom of God has come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, and is growing in his church, but it has not reached its full glory. This is a time of waiting and looking forward. It is a time in which the people who belong to Jesus must walk the way of Jesus.
That sheds a different light on the bad times we must endure. It is normal for Christians to have to suffer for the sake of Jesus. Taking up the cross and following him. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) Sometimes the difficulties are a direct result of the world’s hostility to God. It may also be that the Lord uses suffering to shape us, to kill off our old sinful self and bring to life our new self of the Holy Spirit. We must learn patience and endurance. When God gives us a difficult burden to bear, it may well be that he is teaching us.
But then it is all the more important that we know of his plan. He will make all things new. Even death cannot stop God’s plan of bringing his people to glory. It is that hope that especially keeps us going. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom 8:37) It is only a matter of time, of patient waiting, and the Lord Jesus will be revealed as the glorious king.
God the Father is our Creator, but he is also the Provider. He gives us everything we need. Everything is under his control. With his own hand he upholds and governs all things, including everything that happens in our lives. There will be good times and bad times, but they all come to us by his fatherly hand.
This is not an easy doctrine, because we often don’t understand why we must go through the difficulties and suffering. But if we have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father, our faith and hope will win out over pain and fear. The work of Jesus Christ proves it once and for all: there is no limit to the love of God, and he will bring everything to its perfect endpoint.
Our calling is to receive the providing care of the Father in faith and love. Then we can be patient in adversity and thankful in prosperity; and above all, full of confidence and praise for our heavenly Father, whose love endures forever.
- God upholds and governs the universe. Define both verbs.
- Explain what R.C. Sproul meant by: “There is not one rogue atom in the universe.”
- Why is it important to know that all things come from God’s fatherly hand?
- How should we respond to good things in life? and to bad things?
- We live in “the latter days”. How does that help us understand what happens in our lives?
- When bad things happen to us, does that mean that God is angry with us?
- Does God cause evil to happen? Does he make people sin?
Suggested Bible reading schedule
|Monday||Genesis 50:15-26. How does Joseph speak about God’s providence in v. 20? in v. 24?|
|Tuesday||Psalm 104. What do v. 27-30 teach us about God’s providence?|
|Wednesday||Isaiah 45. How does God’s dealings with Cyrus show his almighty power in providence? How does this passage connect providence to salvation?|
|Thursday||Psalm 73. God’s providence often seems unfair to us. What truth gave him perspective and peace? Where did he learn that truth?|
|Friday||Matthew 5:43-48. What attitude should we learn from God’s providing care?|
|Saturday||James 4:13-17. What fact about our life do we learn here? How should that inform our attitude toward everyday tasks?|