The Almighty and Ever Present Power of God
Nov 10, 2016 | Kevin DeYoung
Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?
A. Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that lead and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 27).
This is my favorite Lord’s Day in the entire Catechism. I love its poetic description of providence. “Sovereignty” is the word we hear more often. That’s a good word too. But if people run out of the room crying whenever you talk to them about sovereignty, try using the word “providence.” For some people God’s sovereignty sounds like nothing but raw, capricious power: “God has absolute power over all things and you better get used to it.” That kind of thing. And that definition is true in a sense, but divine sovereignty, we must never forget, is sovereignty-for-us. As Eric Liddel’s father remarked in Chariots of Fire, God may be a dictator, but “Aye, he is a benign, loving dictator.”
The definition of providence in the Catechism is stunning. “All things,” yes all things, “come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.” That’s a remarkable statement.
And a biblical one too.
To be sure, God’s providence is not an excuse to act foolishly or sinfully. Herod and Pontius Pilate, though they did what God had planned beforehand, were still wicked conspirators (Acts 4:25-28). The Bible affirms human responsibility.
But the Bible also affirms, much more massively and frequently than some imagine, God’s power and authority over all things.
The nations are under God’s control (Psalm 2:1-4; 33:10), as is nature (Mark 4:41; Psalm 135:7; 147:18; 148:8), and animals (2 Kings 17:25; Dan. 6:22;Matt. 10:29).
God is sovereign over Satan and evil spirits (Matt. 4:10; 2 Cor. 12:7-8; Mark 1:27).
God uses wicked people for his plans—not just in a “bringing good out of evil” sort of way, but in an active, intentional, “this was God’s plan from the get-go” sort of way (Job 12:16; John 19:11; Gen. 45:8; Luke 22:22; Acts 4:27-28).
God hardens hearts (Ex. 14:17;Josh. 11:20; Rom. 9:18).
God sends trouble and calamity (Judg. 9:23; 1 Sam. 1:5; 16:14; 2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Kings 22:20-23; Isa. 45:6-7; 53:10; Amos 3:6; Ruth 1:20; Eccl. 7:14).
God even puts to death (1 Sam. 2:6, 25; 2 Sam 12:15; 2 Chr. 10:4, 14; Deut. 32:39).
God does what he pleases and his purposes cannot be thwarted (Isa. 46:9-10; Dan. 4:34-35).
In short, God guides all our steps and works all things after the counsel of his will (Prov. 16:33; 20:24; 21:2; Jer. 10:23; Psalm 139:16; Rom. 8:21; Eph. 1:11).
It’s worth noting that Lord’s Day 10 is explaining what the Apostles’ Creed means when it says, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” If God is the Creator of all things and truly almighty, then he must continue to be almighty over all that he has created. And if God is a Father, then surely he exercises his authority over his creation and creatures for the good of his beloved children. Providence is nothing more than a belief in “God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth” brought to bear on our present blessings and troubles and buoying our hope into the future.
You can look at providence through the lens of human autonomy and our idolatrous notions of freedom and see a mean God moving tsunamis and kings like chess pieces in some kind of perverse divine play-time. Or you can look at providence through the lens of Scripture and see a loving God counting the hairs on our heads and directing the sparrows in the sky so that we might live life unafraid. “What else can we wish for ourselves,” Calvin wrote, “if not even one hair can fall from our head without his will?” There are no accidents in your life. Nothing has been left to chance. Every economic downturn, every phone call in the middle of the night, every oncology report, yes even every election, has been sent to us from the God who sees all things, plans all things, and loves us more than we know.
As children of our heavenly Father, divine providence is always for us and never against us. Whether we are happy about Tuesday’s election, indifferent, distraught, or scared, we know that God is on the throne and the end is not in doubt. Jesus has crushed the head of that nasty snake and is preparing a place for us.
Whatever of your hopes or fears come true, God will never be untrue to those who love him and have been called according to his purpose. He will always lead his people, always listen to the brokenhearted, and always love his children. God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform. If we can’t predict a national election, what makes us think we can predict God’s plans for the next four years? What we do know is that our God never takes chances, never loses his way, and will never let us down. The unmoved Mover who moves all and is moved by none is not an impersonal force but the God who is my Father in heaven. We cannot often read the inscrutable lines of providence, but we can always trust the Author and Perfecter of our faith.