Written by Paul J. Bucknell on January, 17, 2020
The Providence of God: Confidence of the Wrong Being Rightened
You are not alone!
We all face situations that go beyond our capabilities to handle; that is part of being human. Even Christians should not delude themselves that they can bypass the difficult and even tragic circumstances that they might find themselves in (Rev 12:17).
There are, of course, troubles that we can avoid. We ought to do that. Peter, for instance, openly advises believers to stay out of trouble. Sinful decisions bring painful results. “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience?” (1 Peter 2:20). And again, but in a different context, “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (1 Peter 4:15). Our poor decisions bring trouble into our lives. But this is another topic—the topic of chastisement and judgment. This article, however, addresses the way the Lord watches over His people in times of affliction.
Deliberately surrendering one’s life to the Lord’s master plan because we are convinced His way is always best.
The trying situations come upon the righteous not because of their laziness, drunkenness, immorality, or sin. Their afflictions arise from people’s hatred, bitterness, and insensitive nature.
But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. (1 Peter 2:20)
16 But if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 18 And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? 19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (1 Peter 4:16, 18-19)
Peter breaks the delusion that God keeps His people from fiery trials, even when walking uprightly (1 Peter 4:12). The key phrase, “who suffer according to the will of God,” provides clear proof for this. Peter follows a similar vein in Isaiah 53 and establishes there, as in Job, that the righteous man will face trials at times.
A Larger Perspective
I want to provide a larger perspective of God’s will that builds up the believer’s trust in God no matter what circumstances he faces. The theme centers on a theological term called ‘providence,’ meaning that God always kindly carries out His goodwill towards His people even through trials and persecutions. So notice, we are speaking about believers here, not the unbelievers who reject God’s place in their lives. (Unbelievers need to focus on God’s redemptive plan, why God sent His Son to die on the cross for sinners.)
Behind the doctrine of providence lies the basic biblical teachings:
I have not fully mastered this lesson. Each life challenge becomes another lesson in my long textbook. Just before Thanksgiving with more than fifteen guests coming, I hit a deer on the highway, our gas stovetop started smoking (not the food!), and our refrigerator started to leak oddly. Each of these could have brought panic and doubt about God’s help to care for these international guests. But thanks be to God; I could calmly trust Him for solutions—some immediate and temporary while others for longer-term solutions. For example, there were no available workmen before Thanksgiving Day, so I took it as a call from God to don my workman’s cap and get that stove working so my wife could cook for the people coming the next day! My wife exclaimed, “Oh, what are you doing! You will break it.” I replied, “It is broken, but I am trying to get it somewhat working.” God was my help; He helped me get half the stove working.
- God kindly cares for His children.
- The Lord is generally involved in our world.
- God controls all of the affairs of humanity.
- God carefully oversees our personal affairs.
- The Lord powerfully and wisely entwines our minds and situations to conduct His higher purposes.
Providence gives us renewed opportunities to trust God for the affairs of life. Another example is the rotten wood under one corner of my roof. Just as winter was moving in, I discovered all this bad wood high up off the ground. I took steps to care for the situation, but none of the four construction/roofers that agreed to come out came out to even give me an estimate. All disregarded my several pleas for help. Winter, however, proceeded to come. The rain and snow would fill those gaping holes—becoming bad news. Well, I again donned my painter’s cap and warily climbed that 25 feet to cover the gaps in the wood with plastic before the contractors would come—perhaps not until springtime. God graciously gave me a break in the weather, along with the needed courage to cover the problem. I didn’t blame God or even the contractors, though they did not speak honestly to me. This became another of the many life circumstances to watch how God specially provides.
Being older, or having written much on anxiety doesn’t develop trust, but if I grab hold to the lessons from my many experiences, I can learn to trust God for what the next lesson I face. I concluded that I didn’t need to climb tall ladders at my age due to having recently broken my foot twice. But God deemed it otherwise. My foot could handle a tall ladder. Providence teaches that God’s people can trust Him completely to interweave their circumstances with His love towards them—ALWAYS! The truth is amazing. His steady love accompanied by His power and all-encompassing wisdom make it so that I can forever live in light of His wise arrangements for my life.
Though my above examples of simple, troublesome home situations, this is also true for fierce afflictions such as when Christians face persecution, obstinate officials, or horrible evil. It remains valid for tension in personal relationships. God is equally in control and lovingly brings us through these situations. It’s this faith that rings brightly before God’s throne. Let me now share more of how this one word ‘providence’ summarizes a plethora of truths for our lives.
The Trouble with Providence
This article started when I pondered on some of the difficulties those around the world are now enduring. I thought of the escalating hassles our brethren in India are facing as radical Hinduism is less ashamed of their Hindu-nationalistic fervor. (I wonder how those who esteem life can cause so much hatred and death.) I recently went to Siliguri, India and had a great time there, but soon afterward, they captured a pastor that similarly went there right after me. This treatment gets really close to my life. They put him in prison, at least initially, and now keep him bound in that city for a trial they keep putting off.
An image came to my mind—something like a big puzzle piece. We, given our particular situation (i.e., our puzzle piece), spend much time trying to figure out how our piece fits into the whole picture of God’s sovereign will.
This is where Christians try to figure out not only how they should respond to different situations or people, but also what decisions they need to make, and why God allows (or causes) us to encounter such situations. Our life’s situation is our puzzle piece. And so, we do our best to figure out the best pathway we can. Perhaps, a wife is wondering how to respond to her unfaithful husband who got caught viewing porn again. Each situation calls for answers. The more difficult the situation, the more we typically wrestle with God. Jacob serves as a great example of how God works through life situations to train Jacob.
For example, if we take a broader perspective, as given in the Book of Esther or 1 Peter, we learn not only to think about our life but God’s call and purpose for our lives. Although this change of perspective might seem small, it is enormous. Suddenly, we see that the purpose of our lives is not our wishes or convenience but to fulfill the purpose for which God created us.
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NASB)
What do you see in Esther 4:14? Mordecai wisely sees the present queen’s position from a different vantage point. Although the word “God” is not in the Book of Esther, His providence is amply seen. Esther has to decide between guarding or risking her life. But in her plight, if she guards her life, she might lose it. After all, she is also a Jew. Mordecai knows the battle between choosing for oneself and for others. He can see that it is probable that “you have…attained royalty for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
This story reveals the important perspective of our lives—none of our lives is inconsequential. Each plays an invaluable role. Yes, God has a way to use others if we fail, but still, God is cheering us on to look beyond our innate desires that attempt to preserve our comfort and convenience. Our worldliness will cause us to miss our heavenly call. When we catch a vision of what it means to live in light of God’s greater purposes, our life challenges are no longer accidental or incidental, but purposeful.
The Greater Perspective
Faith is how salvation but also the means by which we continue to live in light of God’s powerful and purposeful presence. Faith enables us to recognize God’s presence and live in light of His wishes. Without faith, we live by sight, and the things on earth wholly influence us. But with faith in God, the grasp of the worldly sights begin to fade to the background as we see the important place of heavenly things.
God’s person and purpose, then, begins to take up an all-important place in our lives. We cease looking at our lives merely in terms of how others might think of us or how we can get ahead. Life changes for us. Now we can move forward and deliberate on what God wants for my life.
One of the greatest changes in my life occurred when God called me into missions. This happened in my second-floor dorm as I looked across the campus, watching many students go back and forth across the Orono campus. It would have been like any other day, but then God pointed me to examine the needs of the lost. They need the Lord. After I assented, He pointed out that Christ is coming soon. So I had to again agree with Him on the urgency of my participation. The Lord had already been regularly powerfully speaking into my life through my devotional time with Him. But this ‘calling’ led to a greater perception of God’s mission program and sought my participation in it. The urgency of it led me to switch from my engineering program to readying for the Gospel ministry—whatever that meant. I immediately started proceeding down that pathway because of these events. Having gained a glimpse of what God was doing, He invited me to join Him in that work. For me, it meant I left what would be an engineering career (the field which still fascinates me).
When God enlarges our faith, we are called to live in light of what He allows us to see. This life calling is true not just for those going into ministry but for all believers who are called into serving Him.
The Greater Picture
What we need to understand is that our puzzle piece (i.e., life) is just one part of His massive puzzle. And though small, we dare not conclude that our piece is unimportant. Just by observing God’s involvement in our lives, we know our lives play an important role in His comprehensive plan, reminding us of our need to live responsibly before Him in all aspects of life. But let us broaden our picture of the world.
For us to understand God’s providence, we must understand the way His sovereignty interfaces with our world. And remember, though we speak of Esther—or Jacob, Adam, Joshua, we are not to conclude that these are the only people God involves Himself with. They are examples of the way God interacts with people in the world. If we jump to the New Testament scene where the Holy Spirit dwells in each believer, this truth becomes all the more evident. Each body member crucially serves the whole. When we begin to understand our essential place in this world, then our eyes and ears begin to look at our surroundings differently.
Although God’s Word plays a crucial role in directing us, let us not downplay God’s work through the world He made and the plethora of events issuing from it. We can’t fathom how God can work through these events. Now Satan only cleverly links several situations to tempt us (i.e., through exposing a tempting ad at a particularly weak time in our lives), but this is nothing like God’s massive plan. God’s plan, including His redemptive plan, always goes many layers deeper than the evil one’s device. God’s plan encompasses all evil, temptations, suffering, abuse, etc. He is not responsible for it (look at the Book of Job), but He can carry out His purpose despite such evil. We find ourselves at the crosshairs of this evil somewhere along the way. The cross is the clearest example of the righteous being exposed to the brutality of evil (Acts 2:23-24).
Book of Esther
The Book of Esther starkly reveals God’s providence, though the word “God” does not appear. God rules through the events, dreams, and even mad devilish schemes. The immaculate timing, however, is where we see God’s plans converge to bring about His purposes.
God’s immaculate control of timing is perhaps not seen more clearly than in chapters 5 and 6 of Esther. Chapter five meticulously records how the evil Haman seeks to eliminate his arch humiliator, that is, Mordecai.
Then Haman went out that day glad and pleased of heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate and that he did not stand up or tremble before him, Haman was filled with anger against Mordecai. (Esther 5:9)
When we turn to chapter 6 (the original text did not have chapter separations), all of a sudden, the plot thickens. The moment Haman orders the 75-foot gallows to be built (last verse of chapter 5), King Ahasuerus can’t sleep. “During that night the king could not sleep so he gave an order to bring the book of records, the chronicles, and they were read before the king” (Esther 6:1). Now, from all the records and chronicles that could be chosen, which one is selected for him to read? And in that one scroll, which account does he hear but that of the need to reward Mordecai—the same archenemy of Haman.
By verse 11, Haman is much humiliated by rewarding this archenemy the same admiration that he desired. But this is not the end. The story continues! However, it is sufficient for us to point out that the annihilation of the Jews throughout the empire incurred God’s wrath with such specificity to set up Haman on his own gallows.
Even with the most powerful men in the most powerful kingdoms on earth, God with ease carries out His marvelous purposes. Nothing hinders Him from exercising His sovereign purposes. This providence of God is not just a universal force at work but has a witty mastermind guiding it. When someone dared to exterminate His chosen people, the Lord stood up for them.
Several conclusions about God are to be found here from this Old Testament account. God’s power is not only mighty and blunt but clever and purposeful. The Lord controls the time and interests of mankind. Before the world of clocks, the Sovereign One timely manipulated how and when the characters took their part in each scene. He oversees all issues, people, and situations.
When we step into the New Covenant, every genuine believer also becomes part of His people. God’s involvement in our lives is no less than it was in Esther or Mordecai’s lives. We might doubt such a statement, but we ought not to underestimate God’s investment of His only Son in our lives. God deliberately controls the good and bad that happens around us. The truth of God’s providence ought not to haunt us but confirm God’s greater purposes in our lives.
Faith, then, is our confident response to God’s promises which enables us to work out all of His purposes in our specific life situations. God has revealed His great purposes (Mat 28:17-20) and instructed us to join Him in this mission. Nothing need to hold His people back from seeing to it that God’s supreme purpose extends His grace to all of His people. “All authority in heaven and earth” has been given to Jesus. Yes, the evil one will seek our worse, but we can trust the Lord to timely undermine his evil devices and bring about a greater good.
Frankly, the series of trouble that recently happened to me did not at all appear to have any relation to me sharing the Gospel. But just the same, the Lord is concerned that I always walk uprightly full in His confidence. I can trust Him explicitly! All of His people can always trust the Lord for the circumstances that come into our lives. They will, at times, seem very bothersome, but that is okay, for God will work out the details in a favorable way just at the right time.
So anxiety, stress, worry, nor fear need be part of our lives. The providence of God has not only tolerated evil’s presence for a while but assuringly brought His grace into our lives to live above the evil and eventually sees its judgment—if not in our lives, in the days to come.
- What does the providence of God mean?
- What scriptures do you use to help you understand and define the providence of God?
- How do you respond to difficult circumstances?
- How does the article relate God’s providence to our difficult circumstances?
- How does the Book of Esther, in particular, highlight the sovereign providence of God in relationship to evil? (Read the book as necessary.)
- Can you trust God to work out a greater plan that undermines the presence of evil in this world, which perhaps has negatively impacted your life? Explain.
For Further Study
The Providence of God : Knowing and carrying out God’s will can be rather confusing! How do we really know what God wants? Even more basic, is God really ...
The sovereignty of God and the providence of God wonderfully blend together. The sovereignty of God is more abstract asserting God’s overall control and ...
The second big step is to see God’s providence even oversees man’s malice ( Romans 8:28). Questions Have you completely forgiven the other? In spite of their ...
... Omnipresent God | Exalted God | Faithfuness of God | Wisdom of God | Mercy of God | Wrath of God | Love of God | Sovereignty of God | Providence of God ...