Week 3: Providence
“Individuals are not really separate from God any more than from one another. Every man, woman, and child all over the world is feeling and breathing at this moment only because God, so to speak, is keeping him going.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pg. 180
When it comes to the concept of “Providence,” most of us as Christians probably haven’t spent much time unpacking its meaning, much less its significance in our lives. Perhaps it is due to not really understanding what it really means. Defined as “divine guidance and care” (Merriam Webster Dictionary), C.S. Lewis reminds us that God is not at all separate from us. In fact, the opposite is true. God is not only not separate from us, but rather God is the one who is keeping us going. Unlike deism, which believes that God set creation in motion and stepped away, the doctrine of Providence sets forth the notion that God is very much involved in our everyday life. It provides us a helpful perspective and a welcome reminder that God is a big God. Unfortunately, when caught up in the circumstances of life, it is easy to lose sight of this. We are quick to see God as ineffective and uninvolved. No doubt, this is due to our human nature, our limitations and our lack. None the less, it does not minimize our condition and challenges us to see God as He really is.
From the beginning of creation, God created through the spoken Word. As an artist, He created with intentionality and grace and, in His eye, all was good. Being full of purpose, His breath gave us life. The essence of His being was relational by nature and this would be His defining trait. Therefore, nothing is left to fate, and luck (chance) does not have a role in how our lives play themselves out. God is as active in our lives today as He was when all things began. Throughout history, we see that nothing in existence is pre-determined. As an active participant and in partnership with us, God’s role in our lives gives us both value and meaning.
Providence is the belief that God is at work in our lives to fulfill His purposes. God is there to guide us and He is there to direct us. “He is at work within the very structures of time and space. He is at work within the patterns of human interaction, habitation and migration to bring about His purposes.” (Café Theology, pg.97) According to Paul, this purpose is "so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him-though indeed He is not far from each one of us." (Acts 17:27, NRSV) His goal, ultimately, is relational. He searches for us and our response is to seek Him in return. Our decisions and plans are in partnership with a God who ultimately desires oneness with His created order.
GOD’S PLANS TAKE ACCOUNT OF OUR CHOICES AND DECISIONS
God’s plan is to take account and work through the choices and decisions we make. Life is not pre-determined as fate would suggest. Providence teaches us of God’s overarching purpose to work through all things. Choices and decisions are avenues in which this happens. God actually works through our choices and decisions. Jonah, for example, was instructed to inform the Ninevites that they would be destroyed. Upon receiving the news, the Ninevites repented. Through this choice of turning to God, they were not destroyed. Their destiny was profoundly impacted through their actions. It was not too late. God took into account their change of heart and ultimately did not destroy them. It shows us how God is not a fatalist and His plan is adaptive and responsive. It really does matter how we live and how God uses our choices and decisions to work out His plan.
GOD’S PURPOSES ARE NOT RESTRICTED TO ANY ONE NATION OR GROUP
God’s Providence is seen as embracing all people. Though Israel is known as the chosen people, God’s love is not restricted to just this race. In fact, it is offered to all those in God’s creation. God does not discriminate. On the contrary, it would go against His nature in the created order. The bigness of God incorporates all of creation and it is not limited. He is at work in all things. It is we humans who limit Him and neglect how big He really is. This myopic mindset is what creates a lack of understanding and thus division. This is the opposite of what God intended.
GOD’S PLANS ARE OFTEN HIDDEN FROM US
Unlike other religions, Christianity stands apart in the idea that God can be known. We see this throughout the history of our tradition. He has revealed Himself in many ways, beginning with His interaction with the created order. His presence is clear from Adam and Eve to Noah, Abraham and Moses. The revelation of His Holiness through the establishment of the law provides added knowledge of the Creator. The Words of the prophets give us an example of His presence in the lives of His people, while the Incarnation stands as the greatest revelation of His nature. And yet, when it comes to our day to day life, His plans are often hidden from us. Sometimes, it is hard to see how He is working in our lives. Job is an example. Suffering and struggle were never really explained. Though we don’t know why this is the case, we learn that the “workings of Providence are often opaque.” Curiosity and wonderment, when allowed, will keep us in a healthy pursuit of God.
GOD’S PURPOSES ARE AGAINST EVIL
God is good. This is foundational when it comes to the concept of Providence. From the beginning, He has been determined to rid creation of evil and restore its goodness. Though evil is allowed, it is never acceptable. God is good and there is not a part of Him that is evil. God is not capable of committing evil. He limits it, works against it and suffers from it. God can bring good from evil and will ultimately destroy it.
GOD’S PURPOSES ARE CHRIST-SHAPED, CHRIST-ENABLED AND CHRIST-DISCLOSED
And finally, God’s purposes center around the person of Christ. Through Christ, we see God in action. His pursuit is key. Through the Incarnation, the Cross and the Ascension, all things become new. The Incarnation is defined as the bridge leading us to God. The Cross is the defeat of sin and death, which reconciles us to God. And the Ascension allows the Spirit to work in new and creative ways. The doctrine of Providence teaches us that God is at work in and through us. He is relational. He is not an absent, uninvolved God, but just the opposite. It teaches us that God is with us in all things. Though we are responsible for our lives and actions, we are not alone. It is through Him we are guided, directed and ultimately shaped to be who He is creating us to be. Therein lies our Christian hope.
- How do you define the “Providence” of God? What does this look like?
- How would you describe His plan and purpose for His creation?
- How have you seen His purpose and plan play out in your life?
- What role does evil play in the doctrine of Providence?
- How does Christ play into God’s ultimate plan of revelation? How significant is the Incarnation, Resurrection and Ascension to God’s purpose for you?